I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hey EU

As I type, it's 11pm on the night train from Split to Zagreb. This is the best sleeper service since Oslo to Trondheim, without doubt (based on accommodation - i.e., smoky staff party pub carriages notwithstanding). We have sinks in the cabins and business class style amenity kits and more. But that will all have to wait, as there's 24 hours to catch up on first.

I learnt something today. I learnt that the bribe to the conductor at Beograd yesterday was just to get us on the bloody train at all, not a failed attempt to get seats. Hadn't realised if was quite that hairy. My nonchalant ignorance comes in handy sometimes.

We all needed to catch ourselves a little after the extraordinary journey to Sarajevo. A veritable Bosnian/Serb conflict had been created and defused before our eyes, though such jokey descriptions seem a little inappropriate once you've been around the Bosnian capital and seen all the bullet holes, sniper nests destroyed by RPGs, not to mention the graveyards which had decorated the landscape for hours. I confess to a large degree of ivory tower ignorance about the Balkan conflict, but now travelling through what had instantly become my favourite country so far, and knowing just the flakiest of details, I felt very sad about the very recent past. I hope peace lasts a long time, and Sarajevo is somewhere I already want to revisit soon.

Anyway, all seriousness aside, the exertions of the day were dealt with by the provision of essentials: a shower, some electricity, and booze. Power has been a constant craving of mine on this trip, readily available for the first few days but ever scarcer the further east we went. I'm charging my phone 3 or 4 times a day as the GPS and mobile data, where available, cane the fuck out if it. My camera has been dead for days because it's always the lowest priority (go look up Paul Clarke's photos. man's a genius with a lens), my ipad has rarely been above 50%, and the brick takes forever. Plugged all but the camera in; this morning both iPad and iPhone at 100%. Beautiful. (Currently 14% each, mind)

The booze was raki, partaken in the communal lounge room. We needed it. Probably would've been useful for sterilising cutlery too. Some girls from the next dorm via Australia spoke to us, Mark gave the spiel about the shirt, route, trip. They looked at us as if we were mad, and fucked off. 8 of us went exploring, putting Lloyd in temporary charge of finding us somewhere to eat and drink.

We ate and drank very well. There were chips and there was meza and there were kebabs and there were more chips and there was beer and wine and more of both. Cracking meal, lots of fun had. We barely touched the surface of the city but found it bustling without being crowded, the atmosphere overwhelmingly welcoming and convivial. I must return.

Going back to the hostel was a good idea. We had to be up very early, with cabs booked for 0620 for a train at 0651. Also there was a midnight curfew. So as we turned the last corner, and spotted the Aussie girls outside the pub, it probably would have been a bad idea to drink two more beers with them. That's precisely what John and I did anyway. Christ knows what they thought of us, ranting nutjob pissheads getting mightily enthusiastic about surreal train rides and the vagaries of Australian television. Got back a smidgen after lights out, stumbling over Paul on our way in. Sorry, Paul.

Bleurgh. 0530 and time to rise. John thought those two beers had indeed been a mistake and was about to pack it in and go home, and Steve accused me of being a bad man (so I must have done something right). A bleary nine filled 3 cabs and here was the 0651 to Ploče. Time to get back to the EU.

Have I mentioned that Bosnia is amazing yet? Once again, we were treated to world class scenery for hours. Ravines and views and mountains and rivers and aqueducts and just so much. I've been lucky enough to see some amazing things over the last few years, eg Big Sur, or some of the scenic routes of New Zeakand, This whole country seems to be up there with them.

Mark constructed an impromptu kitchen from the luggage bay, and I reclined unflatteringly in my seat for a kip while plotting the journey. You've probably seen the photo on Facebook. The carriage was an old wooden one supplied by Swedish railways. Good work, Sweden. The end-of-carriage recliners where very good and we made it to Ploče, well, I hesitate to say on time because this was another service my rail timetable app knew nothing about.

Ploče is seemingly not a place with any attractions save for transport connections to other, more beautiful places. We'd come in by one and, after an hour of wifi and fruit and a border crossing toast, left by another, the bus up to Split.

It almost didn't happen. The woman tried her hardest to not sell us tickets. Nine of you? No. No space on this or the next (they are hourly). But somehow with seconds to go, we had them and we were away. It was a hot bus and a few people had to stand, though thankfully there were enough stops that the passengers were fluid and soon we all had seats. I was in an aisle seat landside and saw only glimpses of the glorious Adriatic coastline to our left, or mountains to the right. Did hear a lot of tinny shit music from my seat mate though.

Split was upon us after 2.5 hours and we went to the second left luggage place we saw, negotiated a discount, retrieved trunks, and made our way to and beyond Bačovice beach (have I remembered that right?). We piled indoors to an empty pizzeria and made base camp. Wifi, beer, and food were in plentiful supply and the toilets were used as a changing room so most folk could take a dip in the sea. Our waitress was lovely but slow, mostly it seems as a consequence of her being the only one doing any real work. The diabolo pizza was alright, nothing special. I heard bad things about the burgers. One of them was called the David Cameron, "our most conservative burger". I imagine it's oily, made of ham, and causes people to feel sick.

After a while and still with a couple of hours until the train, those of us that hadn't already done so went for a wander around the old town. The first stop seemed to be the. insides of an ancient palace having been turned into a crap souvenir market. The town was lovely, slippery streets and 1800 year old bricks and a bell tower, some outdoor music being set up, and a bunch of restaurants down tiny alleyways. Found myself a bit disappointed somewhere historic and wonderful was in a place so full of beach bums and hawkers. Like putting the Tower of London in Blackpool. Just a bit too crowded for my liking, but lovely nonetheless.

Ice creams sustained us on the walk back to get luggage, our final schlep through the corridor of people trying to sell us rooms for the night, as if we were the sort of people who'd spend two nights on the spin in stationary beds. Pfft. Doesn't everyone know who we are yet?

As I type, it's 5:10am on the night train from Split to Zagreb. The sun is just about up and the countryside looks grand. It hasn't taken me all night to write this, rather I interrupted myself with 5 hours of very comfortable deep sleep. Remarkably, considering most previous sleeper trains, we seem to be pretty much bang on schedule. The beds, which were made up before boarding, are very comfy and come with proper pillows. They are 3 to a cabin and there's a decent ladder, none of this Ukrainian 3 step shit. We have sinks and a bathroom cabinet, which in my cabin has been filled with the empties of the various Croatian schnapps bottles we drank last night. It's roomy and the door locks. We have kits containing toothbrush and paste, some wipes, a few other odds and sods. Very impressive work, Croatian railways. Shame the electricity doesn't work though.

We land in an hour or so. 60 minutes on the ground then a series of 5 trains to reach Venice in time for the sun to set, via Ljubljana and a couple of hours in where our captain describes as "Slovenia's version of Crewe". I think we may cross a border on foot later, when we finally leave the -ia countries.

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