A Travellerspoint blog

A Break In The Clouds...

Lake Bled

semi-overcast 21 °C

The guys at the hostel in Ljubljana said it would rain and they weren't kidding. But off I headed to Lake Bled, on the edge of the Julian Alps, near the border with Austria. Its only an hour and a quarter on the bus, Slovenia is so small. The road climbs through more spectacular scenery and over a few high bridges across steep valleys.

I had managed to ring book a hostel in Bled, just as well since there's only about two. But the question was how to get there. Like a fool, I had followed all the other travellers and got off the bus one stop early. So to cut a long story short I had to ring the hostel and ask for directions. I was only a ten minutes walk from the hostel, and wearing a waterproof jacket, but the trudge uphill in cats'n'dogs rain with my backpack was still seriously miserable.

On arrival in the room, in the curiously titled "George Best Backpackers" I proceeded to decorate its with various bits of damp and wet clothing, plus a bit of handwashing. It looked lovely. When it finally calmed down a bit it was dinner time, and I went to the nicer Hostel Bledec next door which does decent cheap food. There I met a really brainy guy from London, and happily whiled away the evening talking about delightful subjects ranging from local governments, and community involvement in urban regenration, to cancer and death.

When I went back to my room I noticed the pub under my hostel was really lively. Then at about 2am, I was woken by shouting and crashing. It appeared there was a full scale pub brawl going on downstairs. What is this place? I don't think anyone got thrown through the windows. Maybe Peggy called Grant to break it up, but it calmed down pretty quick, then there was no more disturbance other than my Korean roommate talking in his sleep.

The next day I got up bright and early, as I could see blue sky peeping through the window. By midday I had walked around the lake once, taken photos, and bought loads of postcards. I had lunch watching the ducks, then thought about what to do next. I went into the church, and found out how to get to the castle. So I walked around again, the opposite direction, because I'd missed the viewpoint that you can climb to which gives incredible views across the lake. I was glad I did it too, even though it was tough. Yes I know its nerdy, but since all that walking in Budapest, I'd started wearing the pedometer out of curiosity, and it turns out by the end of the day I'd walked about 25,000 steps, which was about 16km, or 10 miles. That's going to be a few calories burnt. I'll have a big dinner.

Later I met up with the London guy and the lads out of his dorm, one of whom had just turned 18, how young. After a huge dinner we went to the George Best Pub, which was filled with very friendly drunk people from Northern Ireland, as it turns out that one half of the management is from Belfast, which may explain the name. And there were no fights.

After catching up on my postcards, the next morning I got on the bus back to Ljubljana, where I bought a train ticket to Prague. Its a 12 hours journey, so I was really surprised when it cost me just 29 Euros. Thats a bargain. The girl in my dorm had forked out for a Eurorail pass and she went green when I told her how cheap it was. So I used the quiet evening to try and catch up on postcards and blogs. Although I'm still behind, I'm writing this from Prague.

Posted by Clarabell 07:47 Archived in Slovenia Comments (1)

What to do in Ljubljana in the Rain

rain 19 °C

A few people had recommended I stay at Hostel Celicia, or Celica, Or Cecilia (I never figured it out). Its actually a former prison which has been cleverly and very stylishly converted into a modern, hip hostel by some top architects, who you can meet for a guided tour if you're around on the right days. It looks brilliant, but as I hadn't been able to ring and reserve, (the number in the 2005 Lonely Planet is wrong) it was full. So I ended up in this Student place a couple of minutes away. It took me beack to when I was 14 and I went on a French Exchange to Brive and stayed with a girl who boarded. Only without the teenage angst. The whole building was the same, shabby, grey and institutional. This made sense when the lovely guys on reception explained that the building houses 13-18 year old school kids during term time.

So I figured there wasn't going to be much of a party in Ljubljana, and was a little disappointed with how quiet things were. But later I met my room-mates, an Australian Nurse who has been working and travelling for ages, and an American student. Later we went out for a meal and had a look round Metelkova. Metelkova is a strange alternative community of dreadlocked arty types and a few slightly dodgy looking types. Its full of tiny bars that look like they're built from scrap metal, from which drift some funny smelling smoke. Random sculptures dot the place. It was really interesting but also felt a bit uncomfortable.

The next morning despite the drizzle we went to have a look around the city centre. the distances are tiny and it doesn't take long to walk around Ljubljana. It seems to have a lot of handicraft and original shops and galleries. We then climbed up to the castle, which is a mixture of additions from various centuries, from 16th Century walls to a modern glass and concrete shop and cafe. The tower gives a panoramic view of the city out to the mountians, which gives an idea of its siye. Its population is just over half that of my home city, Sheffield, so for a capital it is small.

Walking back the rain started again, we sheltered in a cafe but since it was getting worse we went back to the hostel and just relaxed, since the thunder had started up and it was properly throwing it down like Thailand in the monsoon. Apparantly its due to get worse tomorrow. If that's possible. And I'm due to go up to the mountains, what am I like? They said it would brighten up on Saturday, so I figured I may as well go tomorrow and even if the afternoon is spent indoors, that way I get a whole day in Lake Bled on Saturday.

Eventually the rain calmed and we found a nice little family restaurnat to eat, where they were very welcoming and gave us local cheese and free shots of some local spirit, I think it was Plum Brandy, which I've had before in Croatia.

The people here in Slovenia all seem so lovely and helpful, especially compared to Budapest where you never saw anyone so much as smile. They drive carefully, and even stop to let pedestrians cross the road, which is very rare in most countries. Despite its charms, however, I don't think I'll stick with my original plan to come back to Ljubljana for my birthday. I think after Bled I'll just come back long enough to get the train to Prague. This town may be small and quiet, but it has tons of character. Its impossible not to like Ljubljana, even in the rain.

Posted by Clarabell 13:40 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Three Countries in One Day

Budapest to Ljubljana

rain 23 °C

The last time I went on a train was in India. And this train was a bit different from the overnight from Goa to Mumbai. So as you can imagine I was pretty impressed with the vast amount of space,and super comfy reclining seats and clean toilet on the train to Ljubljana. I shared a compartment with an English couple,which meant the threee of us had plenty of space. I don't think I ve ever been on a train with proper compartments. It was like a 1980s version of the Hogwarts Express.

We left Budapest and headed into rather flat unremarkable countryside. I drifted to sleep until we got to Lake Balaton. Passing through some of the villages along the waters edge, I decided I was glad I hadn't bothered going.

After about four hours we arrived at the Croatian border. The border guards seemed more smiley and friendly than anyone I had met in Budapest, where the people had seemed a bit grumpy. We had a brief stop in Zagreb, and from there it was only a short hop to the Slovenian border. On leaving Croatia the guard even passed us the stamp to stamp our passports ourselves, which I found amusing. Is that allowed?

Soon the countryside became distinctly more alpine, with cute steep roofed chalets, their balconies overflowing with flowers. The train wove through the mountains alongside a rive until suddenly, we were in Ljubljana. Whereas in most cities you would pass through miles of suburban light industrial sprawl, here we just dropped from the mountains into the city. That shows how small the city is.

So there I was in Slovenia, and already I liked it, apart from the weather, which was looking decidedly British. I went to change my money, then off to find accomodation.

Posted by Clarabell 11:10 Comments (0)

Budapest

Stuck in Budapest

rain

I arrived in Budapest, late Thursday lunchtime and headed to the hostel in the city centre, on the busy Pest side of the river. Budapest was originally two cities on either side of the Danube, Buda and Pest, and now most the flatter Pest side is where the businesses ahops etc are located, while the hilly green Buda side is more residential. I checked in and found my room, which was full of sleeping people despite the time. So I tiptoed around, then headed out to have a look around. The journey from the airport had taken me through suburban houses, and huge communist style blocks of flats, into the city centre with its grand buildings. I was staying just off the main shopping street, Vaci Utca, which is full of expensive shops, tourist restaurants, and teenagers busking with cellos and flutes, which seemed a bit more sophisticated than the usual guitars and tin whistles at home.

After finding the Danube and walking in circles, I headed back to the dorm and met the people in my room, went out for some food and later had a few drinks at the hostel with some others.

Despite the heat, the next day I ventured out walked what seemed like miles. I stumbled by chance upon the vast, beautiful St Stephens Basilica, but since I hadn't counted on going I wasn't really dressed for churches. I have since read that the mummified right hand of St Stephen himself is inside, damn I missed it. Then I crossed the river to the Buda side to have a nosey at the Palace. Budapest is bigger than I realised, and the heat and sun were making for slow progress, and so I decided climbing Gellert Hill was out of the question and walked all the way back. Back at the Hostel that afternoon, the Canadian lads in my dorm had just woken and were going to the thermal baths, so I went along too. I'd been looking forward to Szechenji furdo. Budapest is famous for its thermal baths which are housed in grand historic buildings. What could be better for soothing aching legs after all that walking? We took the Metro, and after a slight altercation with some corrupt ticket inspectors, we finally got there. Word of warning, when you buy a ticket you have to validate it by punching it in the machines as you enter the station. It isn't obvious though, and we saw loads of foreigners get stung.

The outside baths at Szechenyi Furdo and its yellow painted walls are pictured in almost all the guidebooks. Although it was busy, I was not dissapointed. Outside there is a large open air pool that you need an old lady style swimmming cap to enter, and there is another warm pool with massaging jets of water. But the highlight is indide the main building where there is a labyrinth of rooms with a variety of baths ranging from boiling to freezing, and Sauna and Steam rooms. If you're tough enough to go from the Sauna straight into the coldest pool it takes your breath away. I noticed that there are absolutely no health and safety warnings on any of the baths, despite the feeling that your heart might stop when you plunge into the coldest pool.

When we finally were wrinkled enough to leave we went out for food and then started the evening with beers in the room. Mellow Moods Hostel is definatly not for shrinking violets or anyone wanting peace and quiet,and before long there was a huge group of us from various countries. One of the islands on the Danube has a park
which during the summer holds huge free parties. We set off after midnight, and after walking for at least 45 minutes we arrived. The place was much better than I expected, and although the group had dwindled a little by this time, before we knew it the sun had come up and a few of us watched the sun come up over the Pest side of the city.

Saturday was therefore a bit uneventful, but on Sunday I climbed Gellert Hill with an Australian guy, Steven. More leg work. This trip is going to be more exercise than I've done in ages. On top of the hill there are some huge statues and excellent views ovewr the city all around. By this point I'd already stayed longer than Ićd intended in Budapest, but was undecided where to go next. I'd thought og going to Lake Balaton, a 77km long lake which serves as a beach resort throughout the summer. finally, however, I decided I wanted to go straight to Slovenia.

On my last day we went to Varosliget, a large city park at the same place as the Szechenyi Baths, which has several museums, a little castle thing, a boating lake, ducks, drunks, everything you'd expect in a big city park. After fooling about in rowing boats the first drops of rain landed, and so we headed out into Hosok Ter (Heroes Square) for more touristy photo opportunities. In one corner we saw several police cars and some tape surrounding person shaped body bag, which was a bit grim. Then we realised we were in a wide open space in a thunderstorm, great idea. When the heavens opened we ran to the nearest metro station, only to find we'd entered the wrong side. The rain ran in rivers down the stairs and into the station. Since it was too rainy to cross to the other side, we rode to the last stop, which for some reason is called Mexico, where after climbing along rainings to avoid floods, we sat in Burger King to wait for the rain to subside, watching shop owners mop water from their shops.

Finally, after several practical complications over the availability of rooms in Ljubljana and the train times, I finally left Budapest early Wednesday morning, three days later than I'd planned.

Posted by Clarabell 10:06 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

Leaving Tomorrow

And I keep forgetting things...

semi-overcast 30 °C

Leaving tomorrow morning. I finished work on Friday. Monday morning I packed my car and drove over to my Mum’s. Since it was far too hot to retrieve my backpack from the loft, that afternoon was spent lying in the sun in the back garden. Tuesday was spent panicking about how to fund my nursing course since it appears there’s some new legislation which means I’m not entitled to a student loan, because I already have a degree. So I’m going to try and transfer to the Diploma course, but I’ll work it out somehow. For a while it looked like this whole trip might end up being cancelled! Eek!

Then today, when I finally had the chance to start properly pack my bag, I discovered that I didn’t have my super black cropped trousers that I bought in Bangkok. I thought I’d brought them back from Sheffield. Typical Clara. So off I went to look round the shops for something similar. It doesn’t actually feel like I’m going anywhere, despite the fact I’ll be in Budapest this time tomorrow.

I’ll try not to forget my passport. Oh well, wish me luck!

Posted by Clarabell 07:48 Archived in England Comments (0)

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