A 500 km 7 hour long hitchhiking journey took me from Budapest, Hungary to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Now before anyone decides to go all ‘ARE YOU CRAZY???’ on me, I just want to say it was incredible. The experience was unbelievable, the views were gorgeous, and I came across some of the best people I could ever hope to meet!
In fact, this is them 🙂 Marjeta, and her son, Vid.
I managed to cover the entire journey in 7 rides. I don’t know if that’s good or bad by hitchhiking standards (which, I found out, was way more common than I had imagined), but I do know that for a first timer, I did quite well. (A detailed post about hitchhiking with my experiences and tips coming up soon!!)
I met Marjeta and Vid on the last leg of my journey. I was in Celje, and I had just asked my previous, umm, driver (what do you call a person who picks up hitchhikers?) to drop me off there (he was the one ride I didn’t enjoy. Details next time). I still had an hour and a half to go, and I was quite exhausted.
The first people I approached looked genuinely sorry to not be able to take me. They were an elderly Dutch (I think) couple, and they asked me to sit and share their picnic lunch with them instead. Adorable 🙂 But it was getting late and I wanted (or rather needed) to reach my destination before it got dark (and unsafe- even for a foolhardy believer of ‘the world is wonderful’ like me).
Marjeta and Vid were in the next car I approached. I got lucky. I wouldn’t have met them if I didn’t feel the need to get out of the previous car. They took me to their home (I really am so overwhelmed), told me I was welcome to use their bathroom to shower or freshen up if I wanted, and gave me some food and lemonade (I must have looked as tired as I felt). An hour or so afterwards, Marjeta drove me to the city, and dropped me off right at the gate of my hostel.
I had booked one night at Hostel Vila Veselova (I had REALLY wanted to stay in Hostel Celica- which was a converted prison, but apparently it’s not really worth it unless you actually get to sleep in one of the converted cells, and at that time they were all fully booked), which turned out to be such an amazing hostel that I extended my stay by another night the next day.
The owner of the hostel (who unfortunately wasn’t there) was another one of the many, MANY Indophiles I came across on my trip (she’s Slovenian, but her name is Vandana, and she visits India atleast once ever 1-2 years). There was even a little idol of Ganesha right outside the reception 🙂
I didn’t want to waste the evening surfing the internet in the hostel, so I forced myself to forget my tired legs (and arms and head and mind…) and went to walk around. Ljubljana, frankly, charmed the hell out of me, and was the third (and last) city, after Wroclaw and Prague, I saw on this trip that made me feel terrible about my family not being there with me. They would have loved it.
It is Slovenia’s only ‘large town’, and has less than 300,000 inhabitants. The city centre is free of traffic, and every once in a while, the city adds one more street to the pedestrian-only part, so it is getting bigger and bigger. There’s a canal running through the middle (the old town is bounded by the canal on one side, and the river on another), and there are lots (and I mean, LOTS) of restaurants and cafes all over the place.
While wandering around, I received an email from Marjeta inviting me to join her for coffee the next morning. We spent (almost) 2 hours talking about Slovenia and India, and sipping cappuccinos in her favourite cafe (which reminds me, I need to ask her to send me the picture we took of us on her phone!). She showed me around the centre, pointed out interesting buildings, gave me tips on where and what to eat, and even some ideas on which cities I could visit next. How completely selfless of her. I feel blessed to have met her, and Vid.
Anyway, before I get (even more) emotional, let me move on 😛
The symbol of Ljubljana is the dragon. The legend goes that the mythical Greek hero, Jason, slaid (slew?) this dragon that was guarding a lake surrounded by marshlands, near modern day Ljubljana, and went on to become the first Ljubljana citizen.
Ljubljana also had rather… interesting installations. No one really knows the actual reason behind these shoes hanging from the sky here. There are many theories, and the most probable one is that these are from Erasmus students who left their shoes behind as a goodbye (there are names, countries and years written inside the shoes).
And I have no idea what this is. There were quite a few of these sculptures all over the city. I saw them as excellent photo opportunities 😉
The typical image I always had of cozy European cafes in narrow streets manifested itself in front of my eyes more in Ljubljana than any other European city I happened to visit, which was quite interesting because I had always imagined I would see these sights in Paris (yes, yes, I know, cliche!) and was quite disappointed not to stumble upon any. But, oh well 🙂 Better late than never!
The guy in green below (no disrespect intended!!!) is the bronze statue of Slovene poet France Preseren. What? A poet in the main city square? Shouldn’t it be a king or a war general or SOMETHING like that?? Well, as it turns out, literature is very important for the Slovenes. Slovenia gained independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991, and at that time, their language was their only true identity that separated them from all the other Slavic and Latin nations. Mr Preseren got this honour because he is considered the greatest Slovene poet of all time, and his poem, Zdravljica (or The Toast), is now their national anthem. Fun Fact? The ‘Toast’ does indeed stand for the drinking toasts, and it is, in fact, a song about drinking- even the verses look like wine glasses (Slovenia just sounds better and better, doesn’t it?)!!!
The muse hovering over him symbolises the unfulfilled love of his life, Julija Primic. She was almost half his age when he saw her for the first time (he was about 32 or 33 at the time, if I remember right), and this statue is looking directly at the fake window on a building, which has a sculpture of Julija’s face in it. (Too much emotion!!! 😦 )
I missed their local market, because the only full day I happened to spend in Ljubljana was a Sunday, the ONE day that the market is closed and functions as a parking lot instead (talk about bad luck!!).
Ljubljana has these milk vending machines. You put in a coin, and you get fresh, cold (unpasteurized) milk. You either get your own container, or buy a bottle from the bottle vending machine placed conveniently right next to it.
No, I didn’t just creepily click a random picture of a stranger. That’s Tine, our free walking tour guide. He was awesome. And hilarious. More on free walking tours in a later post!
The rest of the tour group was quite taken with the idea of this machine. I was surprised too, because I hadn’t expected to see it in Europe, not because it was new to me. I mean, hello, I spent the better part of my childhood getting milk from the neighborhood Mother Dairy ‘vending machine’, in exchange for those ‘tokens’. (Remember? Remember?? 😀 )
My lunch was a very delicious horse burger (recommended by Tine), and as I was walking back to the city centre, I came across this piece of graffiti on the street. I (along with all my Facebook and Instagram friends) was all getting quite emotional about the quote (The night is starry and she is not with me. That’s all.) till one of my genius friends pointed out that it had been lifted straight from the translation of a poem by Pablo Naruda. Awesome. What a waste of emotion
A random thing I REALLY liked here is that you can get two half-scoops of ice cream. So basically, you pay for one scoop, but you get two flavours!! Milan should really take a leaf out of their book.
Here’s a peek at the next town I visited. Bled, an hour away from Ljubljana. Even an awesome ( 😛 ) photographer like me can’t mess that one up.
Until next time… That’s me signing off with a photo of myself returning my bed linen just before leaving the hostel.
Did you know Slovenia is the only country in the world with the word ‘LOVE’ in it?