Travelling Light

Medulin, Croatia to Ljubljana, Slovenia: Hitch-Hiking, September 19, 2014

As much as we enjoyed our time on the Adriatic coast, it was all too soon time to bid farewell to our British friends and move on to our next destination.

We were heading back to Ljubljana, and since the bus cost 54 Euros each, and took almost twice as long as Google said the drive would be, we decided to try hitching back to Ljubljana. At the end of the season, there is a good flow of traffic from the coast toward Trieste and Ljubljana, so we should have no problems picking up a ride.

Many thanks to Squeek Feeney, who just happened to have packed a thick black marking pen in her beach holiday luggage, and to Hannah for knowing where the Konsum supermarket puts its cardboard at night.

Our first host was Mario (which is a Croatian name as well as an Italian name, possibly because Istria was a Roman province), who took us from Medulin to Pula, and dropped us in what he said was the best place to catch a ride north.

He had just been on an overnight trip to get spare parts for his boat, and he was heading out fishing after he dropped us off.

Before long, we had our second ride, from Samuel, a student heading home for the weekend.

We had a great chat about life, travel, and relationships, and he even went a bit past his turn-off to drop us at the entrance to the tunnel under Učka Mountain.

This was a tricky location, because there is a toll just before the tunnel, and people needed to pull into a service station just before the toll booths to pick us up.

Eventually, a lovely lady called Sanya stopped and offered to take us to the other side of the mountain.

She was turning off there, but she told us where to stand to catch the traffic heading toward Ljubljana.

This was an even more tricky location, because it was the beginning of a freeway, and the only place where people could pull up was the start of a slip lane.

We waited for over an hour there, and another couple who were hitching to Trieste came long to stand in the same place. When they heard how long we had been waiting, they decided to walk further onto the freeway, even though you aren’t supposed to hitch on the freeway.

We had been waiting so long at that point, that we decided to start walking north on the freeway and hope that someone would pull up and offer us a ride.

Just as we were saddling up with our backpacks, we got a ride – from a highway maintenance truck!

They had been past us at least twice, and obviously felt sorry for us.

We had a leisurely 70kph ride alone the 130kph freeway with them to the border.

We walked through the truck lane at the border, since we had arrived on a truck, but there was nobody there. We were heading across to the car lane when a border policeman appeared and told us off for driving into the wrong lane. It took us a little while to get across to him that we didn’t have a vehicle at all!

Our passage through no-man’s-land was delayed by half an hour due to hot chocolate. We had to spend our last few Croatian dinars on something, right?

We passed on the tax-free Nutella, tempting though it was.

Darkness was falling as we took up our position just north of the border, and there was the occasional sprinkle of rain. It didn’t seem to provoke sympathy from the drivers, though, as we had to wait over an hour again.

Finally, we were picked up by a lovely Slovenian couple, Dina and Bojan, who took us all the way to Lubljana, and drove is to a hostel they recommended. The hostel turned out to be ridiculously overpriced (27 Euro per person for dorm beds!!!), so they loaded our backpacks back into their car and took us to another hostel.

They said they would have taken us back to their place, except that their daughter had a houseful of friends staying for the weekend, so we we must come and stay with them next time we are in Slovenia. People are wonderful.

We ended up walking with our bags a little closer to the middle of town, where cars are not allowed, and finding a hostel right in the centre. It was nearly 10pm by this stage, and they had no private rooms. They did, however, have a three empty five-bed dorms, so we got a private room with five beds at a lower price than a private room with two beds. Score!

And the beds on the mezannine level could be pushed together – even better.

We went to a bakery to get some burek and hot chocolate for dinner, and made it in just before they closed. They said we could eat inside, because they needed to clean out all the cabinets.

“What will you do with all the food?” we asked, looking at the rows of sandwiches, bread and pastries.

“We’re not sure,” they said. “Usually a man comes and takes it away, but he has gone to Macedonia for the weekend. You can have it if you like.”

So we sent the next couple of hours wandering Ljubljana, looking for poor people to feed. Our first stop was our hostel (backpackers are always poor and hungry), and a Bulgarian girl called Elena joined us in our quest.

This girl was so thrilled to be given food that she said we had saved her life, and asked if she could hug Jenny.

We ran out of hungry people before we ran out of food (it was Friday night, and the  homeless people are driven out of their usual haunts by drunken teenagers, so they were hard to find), so we took the remainder back to our hostel. Apparently, a group of guys had arrived after we did, starving hungry, and they were very happy to get free food.

The next morning, we got to appreciate the view from our bedroom window by daylight.

We packed up our gear, because we were relocating to an Airbnb place owned by Eric, the same person we stayed with on our last visit to Ljubljana a week ago. (It seems like a lot more than a week!)

After dropping our bags at Eric’s, we went on the Ljubljana Free Tour. This is a tour run by volunteers, who essentially keep themselves alive on the tips they receive at the end of the tour.

Now that the fog was gone, we could see that there was a castle in the hill! It was completely invisible last time we were here!

According to our tour guide, Slovenia is the only country with “love” in its name, and it is the nation of love.

Instead of politicians or soldiers (or horses!), the statue in the main square is of the National Poet. Across the square, a statue of his muse, Julia, looking out a window has been placed on the side of a building in his line of sight. Romantic lot, the Slovenians!

Of course, in real life Julia spurned his advances and married someone else, and he spent his life pining after her, following her around, and generally behaving like a stalker. At least in posthumous fame he gets to look at her – from a suitable restraining-order-like distance.

Between the river and the cathedral is a marketplace (Monday to Saturday), which becomes a carpark on Sundays.

Along the riverside is the “forum”, designed by an architect called Jože Plečnik, who had a thing for Roman features, especially columns. The tour guide referred to him as “JP” because his name came up many times during the tour. Apparently, if you have your head down in a map anywhere in Ljubljana, you run the risk of walking into a random column in the middle of nowhere, courtesy of JP.

Ljubljana has many bridges, including the famous “triple bridge” at the main square. The original stone bridge was getting very crowded and dangerous, so two additional side bridges were built to separate the pedestrians and bicycles from the motorised traffic. They were designed by JP.

Slightly upstream is another bridge, known as the Shoemakers’ Bridge, because the original wooden bridge was the place that cobblers set up stalls (to avoid the tax on shoes that was levied as you went in the town gate).

Flanked by columns supporting nothing at all, it was designed by – you guessed it – JP. He thought that bridges should be like squares, centres for commercial activity, musical performances, and socialising. And columns.

Downstream from the triple bridge is the brand new Butchers Bridge, so named because the building next to it is the meat hall of the produce market (in the forum building).

JP actually designed this bridge, too, but there was not enough money to build it at the time. His original design was somewhat altered at the time of building, because we can now build glass strong enough to walk on, and everyone was quite sure that JP would have wanted the sides of the bridge to be see-through to the flowing water below.

Had JP been consulted, he might have pointed out that the boat landing under the bridge, the glass sections above it, and women in skirts might be an irresistible combination for teenage boys and ageing voyeurs. As it is, woman just need to be aware … or wear pants.

The Butchers Bridge is also where Slovenes go to pledge undying love by attaching a padlock and throwing the key into the river. Some go so far as to have their names engraved on the lock, while others just write them on with a Sharpie.

The next bridge along is the Dragon Bridge.

Opinion is divided as to why there are dragons everywhere in Ljubljana.

One school of thought says that Ljubljana is where Jason slayed the dragon while fleeing the guardians of the Golden Fleece (during the time when the Argonauts were carrying their ship through the swamps on their way from the Black Sea to the Adriatic). The other is that the order of St George was very strong in the area in the Middle Ages.

There is even a dragon on the coat of arms of the city of Ljubljana, although technically it is a lindverm (somethign like a wyvern), not a proper dragon, because it only has two legs.

The tour finished up at this monastery, which was repurposed into a performance space after years of being empty and decaying, at the suggestion of – yet again – JP.

He did the design for free, and lobbied the city to put the money into renovating it, just to see the building come to life again.

Ljubljana is a lovely city to wander around – the centre is pedestrian-only, and every year they close off another street to cars. Most of the old buildings are well-maintained, and there is a good buzz of activity day and night. It’s not too big, and of you have mobility issues, there are free golf carts which buzz around during the day to help little old ladies get home with their groceries (or anyone else who needs help).

There are lots more photos of Ljubljana in the album: