Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia (Part II)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Belgrade Serbia, Croatia and Ljubljana Slovenia (Part II)

Greetings. Kevin here.

Mike has already described some of the more colorful and challenging aspects to our epic train journey this day. No one could, however, fully describe the intense heat of our morning train ride out of Belgrade.

While it is true that I eventually made a movie of my eye today, Michael has yet omitted one rather important episode. As Michael described, throughout the early part of our train ride one of the main puzzles we had to solve was which compartment was REALLY first class. After dozens of seats, oceans of sweat, and miles of track at the speed of a butterfly, we finally got it right and found ourselves in a relatively relaxing, breezy compartment, all to ourselves. Having suffered so much in the achieving of this exalted position we espoused pity, but inside regaled, at the worn-out sad faces that would come by and ask if our extra seats were free. With sombre expressions we would explain that the seats were free, but they were “First Class.” We were actually saving these people some hassle as the conductors were regularly expelling people with second-class tickets from first class compartments. We sent away about a dozen large-ish gentlemen this way over several hours. Then suddenly, two maidens appeared, youthful and exuberant--yet pathetic in their searching eyes. They asked us if our extra seats were free and we naturally waved them right in. No sooner had these two attractive young ladies seated themselves across from us, but Michael fell sound asleep. His head tilted back, and after a few minutes, he started snoring, confidently. The maidens were very entertained by this. The scene grew yet more entertaining, however. After snoring for a while Michael’s jaw dropped open a little and he started babbling in his sleep. It sounded a bit like a Hindu prayer: “abah-bah-dida-a-bahbah-diddah-babbah-bah.”

This went on for some great stretch of landscape. Anyway, you still might find it funnier that I eventually made a movie of my eye, but I prefer to think of the eye-film as more like an artistic statement, a cutting edge, avant-garde self examination, not wholly unlike the art films of Andy Warhol (or something).

As we traveled today the landscape and economic-scape, changed, subtly at first as we moved across Croatia (which has become a very hip vacation spot for Hollywood types), and then more dramatically, as we crossed the border from Croatia into Slovenia. In very real ways Michael and I basically crossed a line today that, since Roman times, has divided east and west. Cyrillic gave way to Latin letters, and Greek Orthodox churches gave way to Catholic. As would be no surprise we crossed at this same moment the Serbian/Croatian border, where the struggle between east and west has for so long now been articulated in tensions.

At the end of a very long day--and a total of twenty-four hours traveling--we arrived in Slovenia. It came upon us in the windows of the train in the dying light of day, like a spectacular postcard. The grass turned emerald green, flowerpots overflowed in the cottage windows; the hills drew up around us. And as the train found the Ljubljana River, we snaked along an increasingly enchanted landscape. Mist floated out of high, wooded, steep valleys in such a way that it seemed as if a dragon must lay in wait beneath the trees.

That’s when I filmed my eye.

10:30 on a Saturday night found us gawking at the town square (a circle really) in downtown Ljubljana. Nothing had prepared us for this scene. Sorry to bring up Disney again but the situation was so picture-perfect it felt totally unreal. Two to four-hundred year old, perfectly preserved, colorful buildings from the Austro-Hungarian Empire circled us. And leading into the square were the “Three Bridges,” with their white marble sidewalks and elaborate baroque carved railings. These graceful bridges spanned the lovely, little, Ljubljana River. The river itself was lit from below with green lights. The effect was spectacular, unreal, spellbinding.

This beautiful scene took on a spectral quality when Michael and I realized we were nearly alone. It was 10:30 on a Saturday night and there was no one around and most of the pubs were closed tight. It was a bit like that village in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang where children are against the law. Empty. Silent. A stage set.

This mysterious emptiness would be explained the following day. We were told on Sunday night that most Ljubljanians leave town for the weekend and drive up to the nearby Julian Alps. They were all back cavorting by the river on Sunday night.

One of the local beers in Ljubljana is Union. Exhausted from our journey, and gleeful to be in such an interesting and beautiful place, we stubbornly tracked down an open pub, clinked a few mugs of Union, and then headed off for about a ten-hour sleep.


PS. Below is a Picture of the bridges over the Ljubljana River in the city square. It doesn’t come close to doing it justice.

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