Back to the Bubble

Still on theme we took the T-bahn one stop along the way as we didn’t have enough time to walk all the way into the city. When we emerged from the subway Jonas’ started with his factual knowledge. “Here was where all the poor workers of the city used to live, but now people like me have pushed them out so they can no longer afford them”.

Jonas’ then walked us up some rocks. Apparently this is where all the kids like to drink. All we knew is that it was extremely windy, but we had a great view across the Riddarfjärden to the city centre on the opposite bank.

The cold was a bit too much so we continued walking. We passed Jonas’ favourite fika place, which was unfortunately closed, and a street full of art gallerys that Jonas loves to have a peak in through the windows. Here are some more factoids that we learnt from our host;

  • Sweden used to be a backward country until the 1940s with most people working in agriculture. This was quite surprising to us as Sweden is now a big economy, so we assumed it had been like this for a while. Similar to all other western powers, apparently not.
  • Sweden wasn’t involved in World War II, but as they saw all the other countries modernizing after their citys had been demolished they decided they should do the same. So they demolished all their old buildings themselves and put in nice tower blocks instead. What a tremendous error that was!
  • Part of their backwards nature meant that most people were against having a railway network put into the country as that was a sign of industry which equalled bad.
  • The socialists were in power for 70 years – which pretty much makes Stockholm a socialist dream. This included the city being built on the “ABC” principle – home, work and commercial areas were all separate in the city. This is changing a bit now though as a few little shops are appearing in people’s neighbourhoods.
  • It takes a long time for big construction projects to get approved because everyone can file a complaint about it. This is a reason why it took 40 years to decide to build an underwater tunnel for trains – even though there is only one train track in and out of the city at the moment which is unsafe. It was originally built to handle ten trains a day but today takes 550.
  • The Nobel Prize is kept in Stockholm City Hall.
  • No one actually lives in Gamlastan (even though it’s really pretty) and is mainly just for tourists.
  • Artists are subsidised by the government to work and live in old houses that need to be preserved. There is obviously some controversy over this.
  • Jonas had studied first at Upsala, then Leiden, then Cambridge.

We walked across a bridge into Gamalstan and here we bought some touristy souvenirs, myself some badges (I actually had a variety to choose from), and Klemetnina some postcards. Jonas pointed out buildings telling us all about them like how Parliament was 100 years old. Klementina and I weren’t as impressed with how old the building was as much as Jonas thought we would be, though we faked it of course. Stockholm (and the Netherlands too as it has only existed for about 450 years) made me realise that England was a really old country and I appreciated it more for that.

[Parliament]

Suddenly the train station was in sight and I realised our week was over. Jonas told us one more fact; that this train station was special as trains could leave through both sides whilst normally in cities all trains terminate there. We then said our thanks and goodbyes. We were on time for the bus to the airport. However this was not enough for us to be getting this bus though. As we tried to enter a lady told us the bus was full and we would have to wait half an hour for the next. Great. Luckily we had planned the airport regulation “arrive at the airport 2 hours before your flight leaves” so we would be fine. We finished the rest of the Rekordilig cider and caught the next one.

[Jonas and I]

We again didn’t answer our query of whether Klementina can just go straight through to security as she went to the desk while I disposed of our water in the toilets. We still had another problem though as Klementina still didn’t have an entrance stamp into Sweden in her passport. We thought we go through security and then find the passport control and tell them what happened. However when we got to the gates there was no one at passport control. We were confused what to do now and pondered it until we decided to go talk to security about it. After several radio calls a guy came over and took both our passports. I was excited as I might be getting a stamp too, even though I didn’t need one. Unfortunately my wishes were not granted as he came back saying “sorry I didn’t need to take your passport”. No stamp for me or proof I had been to Scandinavia (sorry Nordic countries). Klementina comforted me saying her stamp wasn’t that good quality. It wasn’t the same.

At the gate we met another UCUer who said we could use her OV rail card when back in the Netherlands to get to Utrecht. We were happy with this as it meant we got 40% off our train fare. When we arrived in Eindhoven we saw even more familiar faces returning to UCU after their own exotic trips to Spain and Morocco. I was jealous of them even though we had obviously had a better time than any other person at UC. Winning the hitchhike, seeing a new country everyday (Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Sweden), staying with awesome couch surfers and fulfilling our wish of visiting Scandinavia (sorry Nordic countries) and for the same cost as travelling directly back from Belgrade. Plus all of this with the great travelling companion of Klementina. I am only in the Netherlands for a year and the holidays at Exeter do not match up with those at UCU so we will not be able to defend our hitchhiking title. And we are also not sure of when our next adventure will be with our plans diverging as Klementina can’t visit me in the UK as she’d have to buy a €90 visa, she has to work in America for the next two summers and I will be revising over the Christmas and Easter holidays next year. Then who knows what we will be doing after we graduate. I hope we will meet up and do it again.

We sat on the bus, train, then another bus reminiscing of the trip, what we had learnt. Which apparently wasn’t how to say please, thank you and sorry in all the languages we encountered. We made this our goal for next time. Nonetheless it had been an amazing trip.

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Stockholm Archipelago – Boating and Sunsets in Sweden

We we’re in for a treat. Jonas’ local bakery had the title of the fourth best bakery in the world! Before we had gone to the supermarket to get some supplies for boating on the Archipelago latter. Here we saw for  real the Swedes ideas about buying alcohol. Supermarkets are only allowed to stock beer up to a maximum of 3.5%! If you want anything stronger then there is only one shop in Sweden, which is state owned,  where you can get it. Luckily cans of Rekorderlig (strawberry and lime flavoured cider) were below 3.5% so I could introduce Klementina later on.

We bought other picnic nibbles and now it was time to go to the bakery. Jonas bought some amazing olive bread, apple bread and croissants. In the shop Jonas told us that Swedes love queuing where I was a little offended about as that’s a British thing! Klementina and I also bought some nice Swedish pastries. We ate the bread with cheese and an amazing jam. It was all delicious.

[Klementina modelling the tasty olive bread]

[Klementina’s pastry]

[My custard pastry]

As normal we were rushing to get the T-bahn to central Stockholm. After this we needed to catch a bus out of the city again to where Tobias lived, the couch surfer who had organised the boating event on the archipelago. We arrived at the destination 30 minutes late after all the other guests had already been picked up and taken to the house. We had to wait for Tobias to come back to the bus stop, but now he had no transport, hence we continued the theme of the trip and hitchhiked from the road. We got a lift fairly soon from Lift 10 – Non-Swedish guy who went to Thailand. Nichola:3 Klementina: 6 Tobias:1. We were surprised to get this lift as Jonas had told us a story where he was hosting some girls who wanted to hitchhike to Norway and back, but no one picked them up for hours and in the end a police car did and took them home.

When we arrived we were amazed by the site that greeted us. Tobias’ house (well not really his as he was an au pair) was amid a forest and sat right on the edge of the archipelago, where you could look across and see all the other islands around you. It was beautiful. Tobias had managed to get quite a group together with couch surfers from Iran (Nona), China (Li Di), Hawaii and three Germans. Tobias himself is English and from Okehampton in Devon (the same county my university is, and my grandpa lives).

Up to this time I was curious what kind of boat we would be using and it turned out to be a rowing boat. We couldn’t all fit inside it and so there were discussions about whether people should just potter around in the boat as they wished or go with the original plan of rowing to an island, even though it would take two trips because of the group size. I tried to steer the decision and whether it worked or not what I wanted happened. Next stop that island over there! However we stayed in the group to go second, hence I ran over to the rocks and started to climb and explore. Klementina came too. Our group decided to walk around the bank to a closer pier to make Tobias’ rowing easier. We took the adventurous climbing route and the Germans took the more conservative one. Klementina said how this was a trait of theirs and they reminded us of Alex from campus.

[Our supermarket beer]

[My favourite picture]

We enjoyed a cheap supermarket beer and awaited Tobias’ return. Soon we were in the boat being rowed across the sea. It was great. Then we were on the island. What to do now? We grabbed another beer and explored of course. We thought no one else was on the island but there turned out to be others in the house there. We chatted and also chatted amongst ourselves too. Also learning more facts;

  • Tobias gets paid €350 a month as an au pair plus he gets somewhere to live and food as well. It sounded like a dream job as he was basically hired because he could speak English i.e. he could teach the children.
  • Chi Tea isn’t Russian, it’s Chinese.
  • The woods nearby contained foxes, hare, deer and – in the north – moose.
  • Not every 18-21 year old goes to uni – this is obvious, but we didn’t consider it as an option when talking to Tobias as he was our age and we were trying to work out how he had managed to live and do so many things that we listed on his couch surfing profile. We are very jealous of his life. We were also jealous of everyone else’s as they were able to travel whilst at uni, unlike at UCU.
  • “Hi” means shark in Swedish so there is a joke that some Swedes are in the sea, but there is a shark in the water and they are shouting “Hi, hi!” to shore, but the people on the shore just wave back!
  • Tobias had a good experience hitchhiking in France, which is in complete contrast to our experience.
  • The guy from Hawaii even more surprisingly was told it was illegal to hitchhike in the Netherlands and didn’t manage to get a lift between Delft and Bonn. Even crazier he was also told he had to sign in with a Dutch police station when he arrived. This might be true in Macedonia, but in the Netherlands? No.
  •  There are no public toilets in Sweden and you have to find a MacDonalds if you want to use one. Well there are, but you don’t want to use them, Tobias used one and found a plucked and skinned goose remains inside!
  •  It’s illegal to drink in public in Sweden, but no one cares. “In Croatia it’s very illegal.”
  • The UK and Sweden share all the same nautical terms because of the Vikings.
  • Klemenetina’s favourite question of the trip “Have you ever been to Bulgaria?” when she lives in Macedonia and they border each other!
It started to get chilly so we rowed ourselves back to shore. We then all venture into Tobias’ accommodation. It was really cool and like a tree house as you had to climb a ladder to get there. Here he had a special surprise for us as he was hatching chicken in the microwave! They were nearly ready to be born so when you shone a light through the egg you could see the chick inside. Tobias also said how beautiful the sunset was over the archipelago and we could believe that so Klementina, Nona and I decided to stay to watch it. It was so peaceful and nice to sit amongst all the nature and just take it all in. Especially as the next day we knew we’d be returning to UCU to a very hectic work schedule. Here Klementina made my favourite comment “How high up are we?” when we were sitting on a pier 30cm above the sea. I could see why she said this as we were around mountains and so you couldn’t tell it was the sea, it could’ve been a lake.

[Tobias’ home]

Nona was kind enough to offer to show us around Stockholm. On the way to catch the bus Tobias took us past the only Buddist temple in Sweden which was close by. We had excellent timing and caught our connecting buses by stepping off one and the next one arriving straight after. When in the city Nona showed us Gamla Stan (the main street), city hall and we walked along the port. It seemed such a contrast to the countries we’d been in and it felt a little boring. Perhaps this is because everywhere I had been this year was the Balkans and Central Europe so Stockholm just looked like London to me.  Hence not that exciting. Jonas had told us that the Swedish thing to do is to get Fika – which is what you do when “you go for coffee” i.e. have a warm drink and a little pastry. Klementina and I did this but it was insanely expensive. I spent €8 on a hot chocolate and a little cake.

[Klementina, Tobias and I]

[Klementina’s “fika”]

[My fika]

It was late so we thanked Nona, said goodbye and went back to Jonas’ place. Here we decided our plans for tomorrow to wake up early and walk into the city centre to see more of Stockholm and get our bus to the airport at about 11am. Our trip was almost over.

We also decided to watch a movie as Jonas had a home cinema system. He showed us a few Swedish films and we decided on “Let the Right One In”, as I knew my dad had raved about it and Hollywood had also done a remake “Let Them In”, so it must be good. I watched the very beginning but knew I would be falling asleep during and there I stayed until morning.

Belgrade – What’s Serbian For “Don’t Cut My Fringe”?

Being woken at 4am by a police officer is not a good start to the day, but it is expected when you are taking a sleeper train. After a second wake-up call from the Serbian as well as the Croatian police we arrived in Belgrade at 6.10am. If I’m honest the view from Belgrade station was nowhere near as nice as Zagreb – a block of buildings covered in adverts with a busy road separating us from them. However, when we turned around to look at the station, it was actually a really beautiful building.

We didn’t know what to do in Belgrade so we tried to find the tourist information. It was closed, but would be opening soon so we grabbed a cheap pastry from the bakery and ate it whilst watching the pigeons. We went back as it was supposed to be open, but it wasn’t so we waited some more. Typical Serbians (apparently). When it had opened we received a map with a suggested walking route. We dropped off our bags for the cost of €2 and headed in the designated direction.

It was quiet in the city as it was early in the morning and the shops hadn’t even opened yet. This wasn’t doing much for my opinion of the city as it just appeared grey and lifeless (this changed later in the day when more people and atmosphere arrived). We walked past a clock counting down to the Olympics and a poster that intrigued us as it was of a politician but he was anti-EU. Klementina had said how all the Balkan countries were trying to get into the EU which made me think that the UK, with UKIP, was the only country with real anti-EU sentiments. Klementina just explained it was for an opposing party and we moved on.

Our route was taking us towards Belgrade Fortress and as it came into view it was really charming. The stall holders that lined the path were just setting up and we had a look at one lady’s who had a lot of postcards. All of her merchandise was old such as postcards of Yugoslavia. Some even had messages on where someone had posted it before. She also had a lot of old bank notes from the former Bank of Yugoslavia and told us how they had the record for the largest printed bank-note at 500,000,000,000 dinar. Klementina bought one of these and I bought a collection of notes with Nikola Tesla on the back. Klementina explained how there is a lot of dispute amongst the Balkans about which country he belongs too. He is a big name in science in this area and this was reinforced recently when  I had asked for the name of a famous scientist. Klementina immediately said Tesla where as to my mind Einstein and Newton are at the forefront. Tesla to me is just someone who has something to do with magnets, as a Tesla is the unit for measuring magnetic flux density. Otherwise I don’t really know what he did. Naive? Probably.

We reached the fortress and walked to the edge where we occupied a bench for a long time. In front of us was where the  Danube and the Sava met and here we considered it to be the right time and place to eat the rest of our Speculoous spread  (it wouldn’t be allowed on the plane later anyway). We enjoyed the sun and moved on a little to sit on a wall, where Klementina had a little kip. I was enjoying the scenery and after a little persuasion Klementina joined me to see what the rest of the city had to offer.

In our ramblings we ended up at The Residence of Princess Ljubica which is a museum that is furnished how it was when the Princess lived there. It was a nice house and it was good to do something cultural. However other things were more pressing at the time – we needed a haircut. Serbia was the cheapest country we were visiting on our travels and as we weren’t prepared to pay the expensive prices of Dutch hairdressers we thought we should get it done here. After a semi-wild goose chase trying to find a hairdressers we eventually found two. They were much more expensive than Klementina was expecting, but it was still cheaper than in the Netherlands, so we went for it.

Klementina went first and looked as if she was enjoying her head message whilst she was being shampooed. I, on the other hand, had a very different experience from the man doing my hair. He was very forceful and I was quite glad when he was done. Klementina later said that he was pleading to the other hairdressers to let him wash my hair and they in the end reluctantly gave in. Now was the tricky part, trying to explain how you want your haircut when you know they might not fully understand what you are saying, as English is not their first language. This problem was strengthened by the shop giving me the hairdresser who knew the least English and had to be translated what I wanted. In the end it went quite well, but not perfectly as they didn’t quite understand what I wanted when I said I wanted a side fringe and tried to give me a full fringe instead. Luckily I stopped her before it went too far and now I will just have to wait for this little short piece of fringe on my left to grow out..

As we walked back to the station we were to caught up in chat and had walked to far. However here Klementina had seen signs for the Temple of Saint Sava (Serbia’s largest Orthodox temple). Before when we were going to the Fortress it was too far away, but as we had now walked in the opposite direction and past the train station, it no longer seemed that far on the map. It turned out to be much further and I was getting annoyed as my idealised time schedule for catching the flight to Stockholm was starting to not be adhered to. This was made worse, as once we had got there we did not know the direction to get back to the station as what we were seeing, the map and what people were telling us wasn’t matching up. In the end we power walked back to the station to collect our luggage and catch the bus to the airport.

After some confusion on which station exit to use and which bus to take we were on the more expensive but faster mini-bus to the airport. This didn’t matter though as we were going to catch the plane. Klemetina and I had a dispute, that we still don’t know the real answer to today. I said we didn’t have to go to the desk as we were hand-luggage only, but Klementina insisted she had to, perhaps because she is not an EU member – we are not sure. Whilst I held our place in the queue she went to the front and asked if this was the case. She then came back for the passports and returned saying I needed to go show mine. However when I went to the desks I was not sure who she had talked to and so stood awkwardly next to the queue. A lady then asked me what I was doing to which I replied my friend said I needed to show my passport as I was hand luggage. The lady then confirmed that I didn’t need to and could go straight through to security, in the process she did not enquire about my nationality. Who knows?

Belgrade became one of our favourite airports as we moved through security and passport control easily, the waiting room was comfy and the plane left on time with no hassle. It was amazing.

Late in the evening we arrived at Stockholm Skavsta and surprisingly we didn’t have to go through passport control. This didn’t make sense as we had just come from Serbia which was a non-Schengen country so they should have been checking. I asked Klemetina if we should go back as she would need an in stamp in her passport, otherwise we might have trouble when we tried to leave on Sunday. In the end we decided not too and instead decided to have problems with the ATM in the airport deciding to not work. This meant we had to pay for the bus to Stockholm with the more expensive option of Euros and not Krona.

The bus to Stockholm was a ridiculous two hours and on here we learnt what had happened with passport control. Apparently someone had forgotten to close a door which meant we were able to walk straight out. Others who were waiting for their luggage had been called back, but as we only had hand luggage we were long gone by the time they noticed. I thought this was quite amusing as this story would definitely have been in the newspapers if this had happened in the UK. On the bus we killed time by discussing our mid-university crisis and what we were going to do with the rest of our lives.

Arriving in the city we had a problem as we hadn’t decided which of our two hosts to go to as we hadn’t received information on how to get to either of their homes. I wanted to stay at Tobias’ the first night as we would be going boating on the archipelago with him the next day and then Jonas on the second night. However Jonas came through with how to get there first so we decided to go with him. We navigated the Stockholm T-bahn and met Jonas by the flower shop at Telefonplan station near where he lives. Jonas was full of information and told us how the area was called Telefoneplan because it was where the Ericson headquarters was and also there was a tall building there which the company used to stretch wires. His house was also an old workers house.

At his house he gave us the very important Swedish house tour which every Swede apparently will give you when you visit. This is because Swedes are very house proud – especially because there is a cultural difference that Swedes tend to socialize more in each other homes than in bars. Some other facts we learned that night include; Sweden and Finland used to be the same country and hence they share a similar taste for food, but oddly a completely separate language – not even with the same root. There are more Swedes in the USA than Sweden as lots of people moved there to make more money during a depression and these people have obviously had a lot of children since then. Anyone in Sweden can afford a house with a basic salary, such as a bus driver. The degree that you get will be related to the job you get afterwards, where as in England it is much more flexible and you can get most postgraduate jobs with any degree. Of course we also learned that Scandinavia is not a term that encompass Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland but actually the correct term for this is Nordic countries.

Whilst we were learning all this we were enjoying a true Scandinavian meal. It was pasta with some butter melted over it. “So what do you two think of your first Swedish meal?”. It obviously wasn’t that Swedish.

When a natural pause came in conversation we realised it was really late and we had to get up early to make it to the boating tomorrow.  With Jonas’ help we set up an air mattress on the floor and did a final check of all the information for the trip. We were very excited for the next day, especially as in Croatia we had seen that the Stockholm archipelago was one of the top 500 things to see in the world.

We Took The Midnight Train Going To Belgrade

We awoke at student time (about lunchtime) then Blake showed us to the supermarket where we would acquire breakfast. Here I was very excited as I realised I could have bacon for breakfast (an idea that is inconceivable for those on the continent) and as Blake was Canadian he was very happy for this too. Klementina being both continental and vegetarian/wannabe vegan didn’t share my excitement.  The egg and bacon sandwich of my dreams was not to be had though, as people have a strange idea of bacon. You’d think a Canadian would be knowledgeable on the subject. I tried to explain how you have to cook bacon, but Blake and Klementina insisted some ready cooked stuff was also bacon. This might have been true as it did look like bacon, but not the kind I wanted. Blake also insisted bacon was ham, when I said this imposter was more like ham. Bacon is a subsection of ham. Anyway I eventually gave in as this wasn’t getting anywhere. Perhaps it would be okay.

[Imposter bacon]

[Real bacon]

I was given the task of cooking this bacon and Blake would do the eggs. It seemed odd and I had no clue when it was done as it didn’t change form, just temperature. I plated up and then let Blake have a go with the eggs telling him to keep the yolk runny. We then joined Klementina at the table who had brought some bread, yoghurt, fruit and Ajvar. Ajvar was a sweet pepper paste that we had when visiting Klementina’s home town in Macedonia. However she guessed it would not be the same as her mum’s home-made version, but at least Blake could semi-experience it.

[Ajvar being enjoyed]

Breakfast was alright. It was nice to have something different from bread and cereal as an option. However the bacon, I think it was dried, didn’t fall apart like it was supposed to, but the yolk did go all over my hands, as it should do, I’d give it a 6/10.

The plan for the day was to visit Zagreb’s museum of contemporary art. After some confusion in direction of the correct bus stop we made it there. We spent a good 3 hours inside, which was more than I expected. I liked it a lot as I like modern art far better than fine art. However it doesn’t quite work as well when you are unable to read the description about the piece. This is something we all agreed on. The museum, as one of the installations, had two metal slides you could go on. I have been on slides like this in the Tate Modern in London and I was very curious if these were the same. Looking it up now it is by the same artist and is similar to the “Test Site” installation he did in the Tate Modern, but the one in Zagreb is purpose-built for that museum and isn’t the same. Mystery Solved.

[Zagreb]

[Tate Modern, London]

My favourites were a well that had a projector in it that projected a film onto the ceiling above in a circle the same size as the well. I also liked a work “On Holiday”, which when it was exhibited the artists had actually gone on holiday and inside the museum was empty with just adverts on the outside.  I liked the idea.

When we left the museum we realised it was getting late and so headed into the centre so we could look at it in the light of day. We wandered around some more and played the “try to find a semi-traditional and exciting place to eat” game. We saw somewhere that served Goulash and went in. After ordering we realised everyone else was only drinking beer in this place. We were a little worried, but when the food came out it was good. I had Goulash and pasta, Blake had the same and Klementina a vegetable sauce and pasta.

For pudding we went to an ice cream shop where I had banana ice cream with a Rockie Road brownie. I asked Klementina to tell the staff to put the brownie and ice cream in separate bowls, a request they both thought was odd. The fact is I like my ice cream to be cold and my brownie warm and when you put them together, the part where they touch is neither one of these. Who wants that?

We wandered round the town some more and mentioned the shortest funicular in the world, which we knew was in one of the cities on our travels. Blake then replied it was in Zagreb so we went to check out this must-be-seen sight. It was amazing as a very short funicular could be. The pictures are bad, it was dark again.

You may have noticed that we aren’t in Belgrade yet. That is because our plan was to get the overnight train there, leaving at 23.55 and arriving at 06.15. Hence after our meal we went back to the apartment to pack and try to arrange couch surfers for Stockholm as we would be arriving there the next day. No one had accepted us yet. Luckily after a few emergency requests we had received two offers, one of which by a guy who was also hosting a boat trip in the Stockholm archipelago the next day. Find out how that went in a later post.

Maja kindly gave us a lift to the station and we said our goodbyes to Andrea and Blake at the apartment, who didn’t realise we were still planning to travel that day. Blake was also leaving for Serbia in the next few days, but we wouldn’t be able to meet up. Getting the tickets was a bit scary as many things had to be written and stamped by the lady behind the desk making us think the train might leave without us. We also used up all our Croatian Kune paying for the ticket, so it was lucky we had enough.

[Zagreb Station]

We ran to the platform and managed to get on the train. It was one of those old-fashioned ones with a corridor on one side of the carriage and cabins on the other. We had a hard time trying to find somewhere to go. Firstly the conductor said we were trying to get into the first class cabins, which wasn’t allowed. Secondly the corridors were full of people trying to do the same and thridly all the people inside the cabins were obviously trying to keep the whole thing for themselves, even if there were six seats and only two people. In the end we joined a cabin with an old couple. We later found out this was a good move as these people were obviously frequent users of this train and opened our eyes to the fact this train was the coolest train ever. When you wanted to sleep you could pull the bottom of the seat on both sides of the cabin and it made a bed! With one side slightly raised so you could have a pillow. I was very impressed, especially as these were just the basic seats. It was much more fancy than a sleeper I had caught in England and far more comfy than the floor of David’s in Venice. We were on our way to Belgrade in style.

[The picture doesn’t do it justice – I didn’t take any and the internet was limited too]

Zagreb – To Hitch Or Not To Hitch? That Is The Question.

“Grostilna 6estica” was our destination – the traditional Slovenian restaurant Xena had told us about. It was really cute inside – like an indoor garden within a conservatory. Tina got mushroom soup within a bread roll and I got some dumpling soup. It was much nicer than that restaurant we care to forget yesterday. Stomachs full we moved onto the station.

We first checked the bus station, the next bus was on Friday. Not helpful when it was Wednesday. It wasn’t looking good. We tried the train station next door and thankfully there was a train, but it would be leaving in 3 hours time. With a long wait happening whatever we did, we decided to  see if we could hitch a ride from the main road. We walked past a sign saying Zagreb on the way to the station so it couldn’t be impossible.

[The train station]

We walked along the road we believed to be the right direction, but we couldn’t find a petrol station to  start at. We took a turn off the road to see if we could work a car park. No luck, so we walked a few metres further past a bush and there was a petrol station. Yay! We started to get into the routine, me making the sign and Klementina trying to grab them whilst they were filling up. However when I turned round Tina was hugging someone. Tina knows a lot of people, but I thought it was unlikely for her to know someone in Ljubljana. I went over to investigate. It was “Lift 7”– the girl who gave us a lift to Ljubljana the first time!! What an insane coincidence. She however confirmed our suspicion that this road was not going towards Zagreb but Austria. We were wasting our time.

Disappointed we sat on the grass outside the petrol station and decided what to do. It was pretty obvious we would walk all the way back to the station and get the train. Our hitchhiking luck had run out. Oh well it was still an adventure.

When we arrived at the station we still had a bit of a wait for the train. We chilled and looked at all the graffiti around us, with Tina commenting that these were real trains because of the art splurged across them.

Arriving at Zagreb we realised we didn’t have any Croatian Kune. We’d have to change some of our euros, however I have a bank card that allows me to withdraw money anywhere in the world with no conversion fee! Plus the exchange rate I get is basically business. It seemed obvious to use this instead as we’d get a better deal. We knew the exchange rate so when confronted with the ATM we selected 2000 Kune at an exchange rate of about 1 EUR to about 7 HRK. If you are good at maths you will see what I just did. The aim was to draw out about 20 euros worth and actually I had drawn out more like 200! What a stupid mistake, especially when I had confirmed with Klementina if the 2000 was correct. What a fool.

[The view from the station]

[Foolish me]

With nothing I could do about it I sat outside the station feeling stupid whilst Klementina found out how to get to our hosts Maja and Andrea’s place. She came back out from the station saying the people inside were the most helpful ever. They had looked at which buses to get and printed out a Google map of how to get there. However it was not necessary to get the bus as Maja had texted us saying she could collect our stuff and take it back to the apartment if we liked. We waited for a confused face to arrive, and it did, along with another male one. This was Blake, a fellow couch-surfer, from Canada, who was also staying at their place. He was to show us around the city a bit, while Maja ran some errands.

[Blake]

Zagreb was much grander and larger than Ljubljana. Unfortunately it was dark when we arrived so the photos aren’t amazing. Blake had been here for a while so knew the area, but not so much the history. This was fine though and we enjoyed seeing everything.

[We’d previously read this ball was famous, we don’t know why]

[Street market]

[Kaptol – Zagreb’s cathedral]

[Here’s a better picture – not by me (shh!)]

We were hungry, but apparently there aren’t that many good eateries in Zagreb, especially when you’re after traditional food. Blake led us to a place he had been before where we had some Croatian beer. Klementina ate some pasta and Blake and I had some Strukli. It was a bit weird, it was pasta with filling inside and something on top with the texture of sugar, but not sweet. It was good, however there wasn’t very much of it. I finished off Klementina’s pasta.

[Strukli]

We learned a lot about Blake, he had been teaching English in the Czech Republic to gain some money before this. He was now trying to get to Greece, as he was supposed to have left the Schengen area. However, with all the economic riots and things going on in Greece this was appearing tricky. Klementina could help with this though, telling him there was a definite bus or train from Belgrade into Greece. She also said there was a bus from Skopje too. He didn’t know where this was. He was aiming to get to a city near the Greek border to which Klementina enquired about all of them. After much discussion, “Ahh Skopje, that was it!”. Fool.

Blake was also a psychology major which gave us something to talk about later. Klementina also learned that psi (Ψ) is shorthand for psychology as Blake had a tattoo of it on his hand. Blake and I were also joined as he had a ring of St. Christopher and I a necklace, meaning we would be safe on our travels, but we couldn’t say the same for Klementina. This was almost true when Klementina nearly got run over by a tram.

[St. Christopher]

Afterwards Maja came to collect us and we picked up some beer on the way. That evening we chatted on the balcony and came to the beautiful conclusion that cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology are exactly the same thing. Which I was very happy about. The evening came to a disappointing end for me as Klementina left for bed and Blake wanted to watch an ice hockey match online, which was not fun for me. Basically alone I also went to bed.

[Blake being boring and watching his Canadian sport..]

Ljubljana – How do you get there without a bus or train?

After waking up at 5.30am we get the 7am train to Trieste. However after this our plans for getting to Ljubljana stop. Hopefully there will be a bus into Slovenia from Trieste as it’s on the border but then again we thought there would be  a train between Venice and the closest capital city, Ljubljana too…

Tina snacks on some carrots and we take a little kip before we get to Trieste. On arrival we first go to the train information, who tells us that we would have to go back to where we came from AND change trains 3 times, taking 5 hours before we would get into Slovenia. It was extra silly as the station that would take us to Slovenia was only 14km away. It would make more sense for us to get a bus to that town, Sezana, and then the train from there. “The bus station is over there”.

[Trieste Station]

We check maps and ask prices for a bus to Sezena and Ljubljana. We decide to chance Sezena as this bus left before Ljubljana, but the Sezana bus was still 2 hours away. We kill time by trying to find the beach as it looked so beautiful on the way in. Unfortunately where we walked was more like a harbour than a beach, but we still enjoyed the sea.

Around the sea were some cars and so I suggested we should look at their plates to see if any were Slovenian or going in that direction. Most were obviously Italian. We first saw a guy exit his car and Tina asked if he was going to Slovenia, he was but he was also waiting in Trieste for his wife so he would also be a few hours. We thank him and walk along the car park some more. We see some more Slovenian plates and a lady inside the car pulling away. Tina knocks on the window and success! She lives in Nova Gorica but can drop us off at Gorizia on a road to Ljubljana. We jump in and forgive ourselves the €2.70 we lost on a bus ticket. Lift 9 –  Slovenian Business Lady. Nichola: 3 Tina:6. She tells us how she also went on exchange to Florida when she was at university. She loved it there, though as she was foreign she missed out on a lot of scholarships offered in her classes. I don’t think anyone ever regrets a year abroad.

We get dropped off at a petrol station – we’ve been here before, our hitchhiking tale was not over in Venice. Tina takes the pumps and I take the sign to wave passers-by in. True to Venice form in no time a truck pulls over and says he can take us. I call Tina over and off we go. Nichola:4 Tina:6. Lift 10 – Bosnian Truck Driver. We are quite excited by this lift as we didn’t manage to get a truck on the way to Venice, plus we had wanted to visit Bosnia afterwards but couldn’t due to time. He couldn’t speak English so Tina chatted to him. He explained the mystery to us about the Vignette. They have these things stuck on the windscreen that open the barrier and take money out of your account automatically when you go through. As a truck driver he has several, one for each country.

We must also visit “Postojnska jama” the caves we had seen on the way to Ljubljana the first time. He and Tina told me how in Yugoslavia there were many school trips to go see these beautiful things. Another thing he told us was that the road we were taking is often closed as it is a point where two air currents meet causing very strong winds that can even knock trucks off the road. It sounded very dangerous.


He dropped us off at Rudnik which is a big industrial estate outside Ljubljana. Here we decide to buy lunch and in so doing enter the biggest supermarket I have ever seen! It blew my mind and was not something I was expecting from little Slovenia. Among other things they had about four isles of cake and even more impressively it was full of different types of cake and not just the same type filling a whole section (Tesco!). All this cake meant we had to buy some so we ate it in the car park and texted Xena (our couch surfer) our location. We were only a bus ride away.

Here we learn Ljubljana buses are not our forte as we try to get on the first that comes but they say we need a special card, can’t use money and drives away. We then buy this card and wait for the next bus, however when we scan it a red light says were not allowed on. Luckily we bargain with the bus driver and he lets us get on without us having to wait for a third bus. We make it to the Filoza and meet Xena in the university where she is working at bar K16 there. We also meet her friend Natasha who shows us around the city.

We are blown away by Slovenia and Ljubljana. It is absolutely stunning. The scenery is gorgeous and Ljubljana has this small town feel not that it is the state capital of a country. Natasha studied architecture (alongside many of her other talents, studying Japanese, skateboarding, break dancing, belly dancing, playing violin, drums, recording with her band, though she hurt her foot so they had to wait a while for that. She was generally crazy but truly inspiring with what she has done with her life considering she was our age) so she tells us about all the beautiful Baroque buildings and other history of the city including;

Joze Plocnik is a famous architect who designed many of the buildings in Ljubljana such as Ursulinska Cerkev.

France Preseren was a composer and was in love with a girl Julija who was to become the unfulfilled love of his life as it would never become mutual. There is a statue of him in the city which faces a window where Julija used to live. A small statue of her is also there.

[Peresen]

The dragon is the national symbol of Ljubljana and is on their national coat of arms.

[Dragon Bridge]

[The castle reminds me a bit of Edinburgh castle]

Natasha then left us as she had to get to her Japanese class. Tina and I sat in the park and then returned to Xena’s flat to see if she had ideas for dinner, but she wasn’t there. In the end we asked her house mate for ideas, although we couldn’t find what she described. Our search for Slovenian food ended disastrously as we sat in a restaurant that said it served Goulash outside, however this was only at lunch time.  He gave us the menu and we ordered. Later we realised it was the same menu as the fast food place two doors down. We decided to not speak of this again and got some ice cream for pudding in another place.

We returned to Xena’s apartment and thankfully she was there this time. We chatted to her and she explained how that weekend was very important as there was a referendum being held in the country to allow gay marriages. Xena was at the front of the campaign in support of marriages and Tina and I agreed this was very cool.

We tried to look up trains and buses to Zagreb, but again it was ludicrous that there wasn’t more travel options. We decided to get up and have an early lunch the next day at a proper Slovenian place Xena had recommended to us. We’d then walk to the station and see what was going on. After we chatted some more, but I was falling asleep on the couch and Xena had to get up early the next day for work. We organised our sleeping quarters in Xena’s living room and slept. Tomorrow Zagreb, Croatia!

Venezia

As the next team arrive we have an exchange of confusion as they were not the team who was second on the text. They must still be in Verona. Turned out this couple, the organisers, had been stuck in Innsbruck (we were even more happy we went to Ljubljana then). We also had an awkward moment with the hostel owner as we had been waiting there for hours and using their internet, but hadn’t actually planned to stay with them. We’d used the internet to find a couch surfer, David. He wasn’t very impressed with our plans telling us it was illegal to use the internet without staying there? I’m sure it’s not.

We left as we were about to meet up with Paolo, at St. Marco Square, who had stayed over in Tina’s room for a MUN thing. The magic of the internet. We found him in the crowded square and explained we had to also go meet our couch surfer near the Academia bridge. We didn’t know where that was and with only a google map from Paolo we had fun trying to find it. David was also hosting some other couch surfers so it was a little more challenging as they were moving around too. We found David sitting on a well outside the Gallerie dell’ Accademia where the other couch surfers had gone to look at the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. Tina said we must go there tomorrow, I said I don’t like fine art.

[On the boat to St. Marco]

Tina spotted “Grom Gelato” which she was very excited about, and as I said we needed to buy ice cream when we got there, we did exactly that. The other couch surfers, who were French, eventually emerged and we all had our greetings, including the kisses which you know exist, but forget about and are a little shocked as you think they are going in for a hug.

[The combination of our two hitchhikes – The San Sebastian Hotel in Venice]

We walk around the confusing streets enjoying the sun and chatting. We stop at a little cafe and get Spritzers, which are a traditional Venetian drink. It consists of white wine and a mixer such as Campari or Aperol. I wasn’t that taken as it tasted of wine, but Tina enjoyed it more. We chilled out by the canal and had a chat with everyone. 48 hours ago we were in Utrecht worrying about exams.

[Spritzer]

[David’s friend, David, Paolo, Me]

Paolo had to get the train home so after a stop at another bar to wait for the French to catch up we negotiated the winding street following the signs “Ferrovia” (train station). Paolo also enlightened us of an interesting linguistic fact. Venetian, is actually more similar to Spanish than Italian. Which is odd when Venice is on the other side of Italy to Spain. Who knows?

We hugged (and kissed) goodbye. Paolo was a really nice guy and I generally liked him a lot. He said we could stay with him next time we are in Venice instead of with some random people. This was really nice and, as Tina says, there are often cheap flights to Venice it wasn’t so implausible that she could be back. I’m glad that we met up.

After a hunt round the station for David we eventually found each other and got the train and bus back to his place. As we got off the bus we had an awkward conversation where the French wanted to buy food from a supermarket (and one was particularly adamant about it), even though David said he had food at his house we could help ourselves too. We said we were fine with what David had to offer and in the end so were the French.

When we got back David had to rush back to Venice as he had to go back to the bar, which left us to cook. Annoying when he said he would cook for us! Oh well I guess it would be up to me. He had pasta and some veg and so my student eyes could easily see a meal out of that. I raided the cupboards too that people had missed and also found some tinned sweetcorn and garlic. I did the usual frying everything in one pan and then put it on the pasta. It went well and everyone complemented me, including David who would have his helping the next day. This is a little odd to me as this kind of ‘recipe’ is just a way to get rid of all the veg you have in your fridge. Or I have some kind of awesome cooking skill I’m not fully aware of 😉

Tina and I then had a much-needed shower and promptly collapsed on the floor as when hitchhiking you do not get that much sleep. Especially with Tina only having had the one hour.

19/03/2012

We awake in the morning and have breakfast of cereal and chocolate spread. We try to impress the French with our Specaloos spread but turns out they have it in France and it’s a French company. My ideas of the Netherlands are shattered! The French are leaving today and so we head back into the city. Our plan was to get a late train that day from Venice to Ljubljana so we left our bags at the station for the day.  We got some pastries from Bar Pasticeria Rio Marin. I get a mini Pizza thing it was very tasty.

[David and Tina – waiting for the French guys who are taking forever to buy a sandwich]

We walk around but it starts to rain so we dive into a chocolate shop for shelter. The French’s train is coming soon so they have to leave and we say our goodbyes. Whilst there we see a way not to stack fruitand I get myself another pizza thing. We wander around a bit more and see Rialto bridge and also get a gondola ride for €0.50. Local knowledge.

[Chocolate shop]

[You wouldn’t know, but Tina is discovering her fear of Gondolas]

[David and I on the Gondola]

David appears to know everyone in the city. We see a smoothie place where he knows the people working there and decide we will have a smoothie as their tasters are so nice. We actually get a way bigger serving then we were supposed too 🙂 We also grab a few more gelatos along the way, I get Smurf flavour and Tina gets Pino Pinguino. They are amazing. David says he feels very touristy.

We also see a young art exhibition in a window, which had an egg made out of kinder surprise toys. We go in and look at all the art it was really cool. I get a bit disappointed by the descriptions as it is about the negatives of consumerism where as I would prefer it to be about being childish or something.

We need to go to the station to collect our bags and look at trains. It turns out no trains or buses go to Ljubljana at all so we have to get one tomorrow, €5 wasted on bag storage. This seems ridiculous when Ljubljana is a capital city and they are so close on the map. We discuss our options of trains, buses and hitchhiking. We talk to the train directors and we decide we will get the first train to Trieste in the morning, which is on the Italian Slovenian border and then get a bus from there. Our host for Ljubljana has also contacted us so everything is set for tomorrow.

This evening we are supposed to meet the other hitchhikers for dinner but haven’t heard from them yet. We are nearly on the train back to David’s when we get a message from them. They say to meet them in St. Margherita Square. David knows how to get there and has to pick some forms up from his old job on the way. He also tells us a story of how he hopes we aren’t going to a particular bar as the person there wanted to kill him. He was very vague. We didn’t ask questions.

We met the UCUers and went for dinner which was subsidised by €10 from the UCSA. Even for David!  We got told a tragic story of Mischa who had decided to hitch alone and without a map. It sounded very foolish and in the end he had to get a train to Venice. We exchanged lots more stories and we felt a little guilty that ours had gone so well. In hitchhiking competitions you either win or get stories and we had won so we had very little to say about this hitchhike. Our common response was “yeah last semester…”. They had all had problems with Innsbruck and now they all disliked it. I wasn’t pleased for this as I really enjoyed it when I went with the Explorer Scouts. Oh well hitchhiking makes your opinions, we now love Germany and hate France, it’s just how it goes.

David gets a call during dinner and coincidently it is the bartender he has history with. He wants to chat and David thinks he can sort things out with him so he goes off. He returns saying everything is fine and when we are done we can go over. It turns out to be a really cool bar with UV lights and signs from universities that have visited before. Tina and Eva get to making a UCU sign. I finish off the rest of the Bellini which was our prize for winning. We are glad to have David around as he gets us cheaper prices for all the drink, yay!

Now the unforgettable event of the trip comes along. The bar has a sign that says they play beer pong and we want to have a go. Gael and the bartender win over Sam and Keir (obviously), but then some Americans enter who want a match. Maggie is on the American side with her boyfriend and has the most annoying American stereotypical voice ever and all the mannerisms to go with it. They yell funny things at each other like “I’m thirsty, give me a drink”, which is funny at first but the Americans don’t seem to get that a joke does get old after you say it about 50 times. As beer pong was invented by the US and as the bartender owns the bar you’d think it would be a short match but it dragged on forever especially when they were down to one cup each. They argued insistently about the rules, with the bartender also being stereotypically Italian, punching the wall and swearing on his mother’s life that was how it was. This was a very visual thing, so is hard to describe, but essential it was a day you were happy to be European.

After this we said our goodbyes to the UCUers as we were leaving the next day and went back to David’s. On the bus David asked if we would remain friends with them when we got back to Utrecht, to which we replied “No”. Perhaps we would now smile at them when we see them but that is probably it. With hindsight we were too optimistic with this. There is no smiling – it is actually more awkward than before as you know these people, but you don’t say anything to them. It’s really silly. I think if TripCo has socials like they do at Exeter where everyone just meets up for a night then maybe our friendship could’ve continued.

David had a good night though and said it was the most fun he’d had in Venice in a while. He was moving to Malta soon to work at a youth hostel. We were jealous of his life, just moving where he wanted to and where the jobs were. Although he didn’t seem happy and he later blurted out why while Tina was in the bathroom.  He missed his ex so much. It was a little awkward as at the time I was just talking about getting the train tomorrow..

This night we got to sleep on the bed and not the floor, which was a plus. We had decided to get the second train of the day though and so at 7am we were off to Trieste. We had left David some Dutch biscuits as a present.