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

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Not in Balkansas any more

Zagreb was reached around 10 minutes late, within a fleeting window of opportunity wherein we may have had the chance to grab an earlier train to Ljubljana and get 3 hours there. We failed at this, and so resorted to plan A: 5 more trains to reach Venice by sundown.

First, a little under an hour in the Croatian capital. Most of us got straight on the train, a gloriously modern affair with electricity 'n that, heading to Buenna., 2 plugs to the seat in some places in fact. Steve sourced breakfast, solid and liquid. A little under 0730 and away we went.

There was a passport control,  8 or so guards. Between two EU countries. On the land border. What?

Sevnica is a bit more picturesque than Crewe. It's a small town next to a river, which we had largely hugged en route but could now not see. Surrounded by mountains though. We had 2 hours to kill here, adopting our now well honed strategy of taking over most of the seats and mains sockets in the nearest cafe. Losing track of time a bit, I was admonished for even mentioning beer. It was 0845. Oops. So lots of caffeine was had, and some half hearted exploration. Paul and I set off to try and find the river but stopped at the end of the island platform for a lesson in photo composition, plus a recap on ISO/f/shutter speed combinatorics. I will get it. I will. I even plugged my camera in for a bit, aiming to take at least one decent shot with it in manual mode before the trip ends.

Train 3 of the day (I'm including the sleeper we woke up on) took us to the capital, lovely jubbly Ljubljana. A curious station, the building is about half a kilometre from any of the platforms at which trains were stopping. Still yet to see any legitimate clouds, we most of us perched outside a bar and toasted the new country with a local beer. After we left we realised just how local - the brewery was about 30 yards away. Some folk had a Golden Arches run, some went further afield and reported that Ljubljana was pretty pretty. I spent most of the time wondering why the fuck I couldn't browse Facebook and the Secret AFC Wimbledon Guestbook when connected by 3G, but could on Edge, on the same network. And the bloody iPhone doesn't give the granular control to let me pick what to use. First time I've missed android in many many months.

I've been getting a kick out of walking across train tracks. No third rail, no terrifying videos shown to primary school kids about getting your shoelaces caught in the rails and being killed by a high speed train, around these parts you can just wander up and down the tracks. Even most capital cities since, I dunno, Prague or so, have had fewer trains an hour arriving and departing than, say, Surbiton. It kinda brings home just how different London is to the significant chunks of the world and throws my concepts of what's normal and abnormal into reverse.

Train 4, a fairly modern local stopper to Jesenice. Yawn. Another comfortable ride through glorious mountains, gorges, valleys, ridges, etc. Another 2 hours on a bloody train. Today is actually kinda tough. It's harder to enjoy when you change so often. The scenery was lovely though, until our destination revealed itself as a fairly bleak industrial town with a rank station whose toilets were hidden behind a jail cell door and down two flights of pitch black unlit stairs. You have to ask for a key to use them, which is a bit odd. Mark and I made use, then came back up, but we couldn't lock the door because we'd heard someone else go down there into the ladies. The ticket lady wouldn't take the key back and we were hardly going to lock this girls in the bogs. But really, what were we to do if someone else wanted to go there? Pass them the key/buck, I suppose.

Train 5. Bloody hell. It looked horrid, though inside was fairly OK. Another stopper, through the other side of the valley to the border with Italy at Nova Gorica. A crawling train with good views but forest fatigue was hitting hard. I kept myself to myself, dicking around on my phone and earwigging the lads heading off to that extreme(-ish) metal festival that was happening somewhere along the way. Wait. There's a metal festival around here? Colour me tempted next year, if the bill is worth it.

At one point the Serbian lad was bitching about his journey to get there, 30 hours on trains from Belgrade. I appreciate his experience with Croat passport control may not have been overly pleasant ("they are massive arseholes") but 30 hours on a train? Aww, diddums.

After the least picturesque part of Serbia we'd seen - a mile-long concrete plant - Nova Gorica was upon us. Unlike most of the other stations, which had resembled temporary military checkpoints, this was a grand building with a fantastic booking hall, left luggage area, etc. All wood and brass, like something from a 1940s film. We crossed the border on foot, what with it being 5 feet or so outside the forecourt. So long, Slovenia. Thanks for a beautiful but moderately arduous 8 hours.

At the bus stop an English couple asked me where we were going. "Erm, Italy" was my less than helpful response. They thought the bus went to Gorizia, the station from which we were to get our train to Venice. But I was now a lot of yards from the breakaway pack and couldn't make up the gap before the next stop, next to which Mark had been into a shop, confirmed the couple were correct, and bought us all tickets.

At the station there were signs in English. Not mere individual words like EXIT, PLATFORMS, etc, but full sentences. Do not cross the tracks. Very western Europe. No fun. :-(

35 minutes to the train, we got supplies and headed to the platform. Train was 90 minutes delayed, our first significant departure delay of the whole trip. Thanks, Italy. We think it's Lloyd's fault, after he regaled us with his "the last time I got a train in Italy" story involving throwing his wallet and passport out of a train window, a train which he himself was subsequently not allowed to leave for 2 hours.

Using the 90 minute delay to revert to type, we took up most of the seats in the cafe and had beer. Steve replayed his previous night's attempt at playing the unbelievable truth, by telling us again about the link between space shuttle components and the width of a horse's arse, and the killer whale transported on the world's biggest plane (the An-225). The latter story involves an Icelandic civil servant whose job it is to consult with The Hidden People to make sure what the government wants to do is environmentally sound and meets their approval. He insists he shits us not. I didn't buzz for anything I believed.

Jason wanted to buy another round. We were planning on getting the 1840, rather than wait for our 90 minute delay at 1910. Duh. It was about 1817 now, so I upped and went to check on whether this new train was delayed. For all we knew there was a line problem and before long we'd need a plan B.

Here's a plan B: that 90 minute delay has been cut to 40 minutes which meant the train was now leaving in just 3. Pegged it back to the cafe, c'mon lads, get a fucking wiggle on.

Is it bad of me to say some of the station names made me feel hungry? I couldn't help it. Casegliano just sounds like a nice dish.

Exhausted and on train 6, we all vegged out. I charged my phone AGAIN and kept on plotting the route. It's looking pretty good and I hope I can export it to something which will do all the latitude data justice.

35 minutes late, we approached Venezia Santa Lucia over the looooong bridge. Everyone stuck their heads out of the windows. This is a very special way to approach a very special place. Shame it stank as bad as Vienna on a bad day.

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