Ah, Europe! Whether I'm supposed to be there for study or work, there seems to be no limit to the adventures. Like the time Harry Belefonte lost his luggage, mon dieu, and I was in charge of going suit shopping with him on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Then there was the time (see story below and picture above), where I rented a car in Llubjana, Slovenia, with a Hindu priest and a kid from Hong Kong who lacked a driver's license. We drove for 24 hours, heading down the Croatian coast, stopping for dinner in Venice, then droving up country to Bled, Slovenia to watch the sunrise at the base of a castle on top of a mountain. I could go on.
I'm leaving tomorrow for Amsterdam, indulging in a much needed 2 week break from Africa after five straight months. I'll be visiting my parents, seeing some old friends, and seeing what's up in some of my favorite cities: Prague, Budapest and Edinburgh.
The first week I won't have much Internet access, but the second week I will, so expect some stories.
An Absurd Tale from Slovenia, circa spring 2003:
Last week, we had to be in Vienna by Sunday night to spend the next five days on a field trip, attending briefings and meetings at different politics related groups in both Vienna and Budapest. So I decided, along with two buddies from the Geneva program to head east the weekend and see what Llubjana, Slovenia had to offer. I went with Adeetya, a Hindu priest (seriously) AND frat boy from Wake Forest, and Tak, a hilarious Chinese kid from Hong Kong who must have learned English at a bar room in Brooklyn. Every other word out of his mouth was foul. What’s funnier still is that he has a limp from three weeks ago when he fell down the stairs drunk in Geneva. So the China Man, the Indian and the Jew headed for Slovakia.
We got there on Friday morning, spent the day in Llubjana, which is actually an amazing city, surrounded by giant mountains and castles, which look a lot like the ones in Switzerland, except the Slovenians haven’t gotten around to stripping all of their trees down, so it is even more beautiful. Great kabob town too. There is a large University there, and we met a bunch of kids who took us to this club on the top of a building overlooking the Llubjanica River, as well as the big castle across the water. It was a quality Slovenian evening.
We woke up the next morning, went down to the lobby and decided to rent a car for the day. Slovenia is one of the countries joining the EU, so they are catching up, but for now everything there is cheap like WO. We rented an old Peugeot, a sweet French ride with an inline 4 cylinder that has less pick up that my bicycle. The lady from the car company delivered the car to us, and for some reason Tak was put down on the registration. Interestingly enough, when he got into the drivers seat after the lady left, the first thing he says in "I don’t fucking know how to drive." It’s been a while for Tak, so we had to switch it up and put Tak in the backseat like the kid in Road Trip who "kills a cheetah." We had no map, no plan, and no restraints except that we had to be back in town the next morning at 9:30 to catch a train to Vienna.
We started south, going through Slovenian countryside, which is amazingly beautiful and hardly developed at all. Slovenia didn’t even get the rough end of Communism, and there are very few industrial, communist ruined parts of the country. After a couple hours, we were in view of the Caspian Sea, and we made our way down a fairly large mountain range. We hit the southern most point of Slovenia, and decided to continue on to Croatia. Croatia has some ridiculous beaches on the Caspian Sea, and we drove south on a road that overlooked all of them. We decided to stop at one that said, “Nudist Beach, No Cameras!” Unfortunately, the beach was still closed for the winter. Fortunately, the China Man, the Indian and the Jew kept their clothes on. Croatia has a distinct Italian feel, and the countryside in Slovenia and the countryside in Croatia look drastically different. With rolled through a couple other towns, and thought about how insanely far away the Caspian Sea is from any other body of water we had ever set foot in. Early in the afternoon, we decided to head back as to avoid driving on curvy Slovenian mountain passes at night. Then we saw a sign for Trieste.
Trieste is a huge port city, which happens to be in Italy. When we drove into town we saw nothing but cranes, bus ports and factories for the first twenty minutes. Passing all this, you come to a real town, with a couple museums, a sweet cobblestone square and some ancient Roman ruins. After seeing the ruins and walking around two for an hour, it was approaching 4PM. We got back into the car and headed towards the highway. We started seeing signs, and one of them said “Venice 150KM.” None of us had been to Venice so we thought it would be a nice place to have dinner. Unfortunately, none of the Treistian girls we asked to dinner with us were into the idea, so we got on the highway towards Venice.
The road to Venice was the most amazing drive I have ever done. There is a road that heads along the Caspian Sea for about 25 miles before heading inland. I have never been on California Rt. 1 along the Pacific, but there is no way that California is any better than this northern Italian coast. To our right were the foothills of the Italian Alps, and to the left was the Caspian Sea. For a couple minutes we forgot we were rockin it out in an inline-4 Peugeot. We could have been in a Ferrari.
The sunset was going down as we arrived in Venice. We had no idea where we were going to park the car, because we didn’t think Venice would be the most car friendly city. It turns out that there are virtually no cars aloud in the city at all. And to do their shopping and everything else, Venecians have to ride a Gondola on the main waterway out to one of a few giant car garages in the suburbs. So we rode in on Venice’s main highway, a river about 75 meters across, lined with 16th and 17th century buildings that go literally up to the waters edge. We grabbed a couple of slices of pizza for dinner, and walked around. Every other street was a thin waterway that only the small taxi gondolas could fit through. We grabbed some coffee in the main square, sang along to Piano Man with a bunch of euro-drunks until around 1AM, when we decided to head back towards Llubjana, where we had started.
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Slovenian rest stop. No seriously, they are actually really nice. In that part of the world there is no such thing as take away coffee, so when you need a recharge in the middle of the night, you have to take a drink in this place that is half 7-11, half classy café, where you take shots of espresso in nice porcelain cups with truck drivers. We found the perfect thing to get us through the night. It is an idea that will make someone millions in the US. It is a box of bite size dark chocolates, each with a shot of straight espresso inside. It was the most amazing thing I have ever found at a road stop.
Approaching 4AM, slightly delirious, slightly crunked up on chocolate and caffeine, we arrived at the outskirts of Llubjana. In a fit of hysteria, where literally none of us stopped laughing for 10 minutes, we decided to head north to the Austrian boarder, where we heard we could catch a good sunrise. We looped around the beltway of Llubjana and headed to Bled, the second biggest city in Slovenia. We got there around 6 and found the Lake Bled, which looked promising for a sunrise. Unfortunately the casino in town had just closed half an hour before so we sat in a parking lot, waiting for the sunrise. We noticed a Bled police car that had passed by us a couple times. We got a little nervous when the Po Po approached, because we hadn’t heard the best things about Slovenian prisons. They passed us a third time, rolled down their window, and said something to us in Slovenian. They noticed we clearly didn’t know a word, so he said in perfect English, “are you alright?” They turned out to be more helpful and friendly that any cop we had found in the U.S. They didn’t have time to get breakfast with us, but when we asked them where was a good place to watch the sunrise, they pointed straight up. We looked up and saw Bled Castle on a cliff about 200 meters above the lake. We started driving up the path to this 14th century castle. We parked the car about 10 meters from the top the castle, and trekked our way up the rest, with Tak limping and cursing all along.
It turned out that we all fell asleep waiting for the sunrise, and when we woke up it was light out, with a thick fog draped across the Slovenian landscape. We thought we had better head back since our train was leaving around 9:30. We rolled back through mountains we hadn’t seen the first time we drove through them in the dark. We got back around 7 and got in the sauna in the basement gym of our hooked up hotel. It was the greatest 90 degree Celsius sweat I have ever had. I sweat out the grime from three countries, an ocean, a lake, and tons of canals that we had seen in the last 24 hours.
This was the most ridiculous of adventures that I had in the last ten days that also involved Turkish baths in Budapest, a girl named Maria that worked at a second hand clothing store in Bratislava, Slovakia (not Slovenia) and many more. Good times. Peace J.