Monday, March 03, 2014

Greetings from Bled, Slovenia!

It's been a busy and fun week. 

Last I wrote, I was in Prague, Czech Republic.  I then made it to Brno, Czech Republic; followed by Bratislava, Slovakia; Budapest, Hungary; Zagreb, Croatia; Ljubljana, Slovenia; and now, Bled, Slovenia.

People keep asking: how can you visit a city in just a day and a half?  Trust me, it works.  The train is so relaxing.  I leave one city about 2pm and usually arrive before 11pm in the new city.  I use my wifi at the train station (most have wifi at the station, or city-wide free wifi, or I find a café or restaurant or McDonalds) to find a hostel nearby, and I always seek one out that has one of the free walking tours of the city.  The free walking tours always start about 11am.  I walk to the hostel and in so doing see the city at night.  I arrive at the hostel and check in.  I inevitably meet a bunch of people.  I then go out for a bite to eat and a walk around the city, either solo or with others from the hostel.  Then off to bed or to a club/bar.  In the morning, I wake up early enough to make the 11am walking tour.  I always meet more people on the tours.  I learn about the history of the city, and see the major sites.  It's free, but the guides work for tips, so I give about 7 - 10 euros depending on how much things cost in that city.  Then I usually eat lunch with someone(s) from the tour and we then walk around the city more together, either going to a museum or seeing more sites.  Then dinner, and do something in the city at night.  Finally, look at the train schedule and decide what time to leave the next day for the next city.  Sometimes I leave that night; sometimes I stay till the next day.  Then I get on the train and go to the next city and start all over again.

And... I honestly feel like I've seen enough of the city and have learned enough of its history to say "I've been there."  And I have inevitably added at least 2 or 3 more people to my facebook friends list. 

The currencies:
Prague and Brno, Czech Republic: Czech Kroner
Bratislava, Slovakia: Euro
Budapest, Hungary: Hungarian Florind
Zagreb, Croatia: Croatian Kuna
Ljublana and Bled, Slovenia: Euro

So just like in the 90s when I was in Europe, I have all these different currencies in my pockets!

As I wrote on Facebook, Ljubljana is probably one of the prettiest nicest cities in all of Europe.  The main square alone brings much to this city.  Just amazing.  And here in Bled, with the snow covered Slovenian Alps surrounding Bled Lake; it is just magical.  It's truly an amazing country. 

Prague was cool, but Brno was cooler because it's just like Prague, but no tourists.  It's the second biggest city in all of Czech Republic.  I didn't plan on stopping in Brno but I met a new friend on the train who convinced me I should visit her city.  So I got off the train with her and she showed me around.  She goes to school there, so I got a true local tour guide, which was really cool.  I met another student in Prague who did the same: showed me around.  It's really cool when you meet someone local who can show you their city.  And I have to cool friends in Czech Republic now--something I certainly didn't have two weeks ago!

Bratislava: another pretty city, but two things I have noticed: a) these eastern European cities are all really pretty and not what I expected to see but b) they all do start to look similar after a while: the main square; the tram system; the cobblestone streets; the castles which are in nearly all of them; etc.  But I loved Bratislava too, and would definitely go back to visit each of these cities.  In Bratislava, I ran along the Danube at night after arriving at the Hostel, and wow, how amazing it was.  So beautiful!  That new bridge is architecturally stunning.

Budapest?  Now that's a country with a history.  Invaded and occupied by the mongols.  Then the Turks.  Then the Nazis.  Then the communists.  Jeesh, what a tough history.  I'm proud that this people made it through all that.  Wow. 

Next stop: Zagreb, Croatia.  Loved that city too.  Croatia truly is as beautiful as they say it is.  I need to return in the summer.  And visit Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, etc.

Then Ljubljana.  Oh: the trains.  Absolutely the BEST way to travel.  For me anyway.  I love being able to read; sleep; eat dinner (they serve such yummy food on these European trains); and meet new friends.  And there are usually outlets to charge my devices.  But rarely wifi.  The only wifi I had was on the train from Oslo, Norway to Stockholm, Sweden.  After that, zilch.  And it would be nice to be able to research hostels; talk to friends; etc onboard.  It's not the end of the world, but if the train system could be improved in just one way, this would be it. 

I really want to do the same in North America and Canada one day.  I think they have a eurorail type pass too for Amtrak and Canadian's rail system, but it's a lot more expensive, and I guess it makes sense: American and Canada combined is like ten times the size of Europe.

I stayed in Ljublana for 2 1/2 days because a) it's a beautiful city, and b) my eurorail pass ran out, and c) I met some cool people like this guy Anthony from Canada who has some amazing stories, one of which is how two months ago, in Bulgaria, he lost EVERYTHING: passport, wallet, money, bag, clothing.  His story of how he put his life back together with nothing is pretty awesome.  He didn't leave Europe at all, and I'm impressed with his fortitude and determination.  Though he did tell me how totally demoralized it made him, and I can totally imagine. 

Anyway, I wasn't sure where to go next: Venice, Rome, Salzburg, Vienna, Lugano, Stockholm, where?  My 15-day eurorail pass ran out so I didn't have to rush off anywhere to get my money's worth.  So I looked at a map.  I asked around.  So many people told me about Bled, and the mountains and the lake.  I also got word from Helen that my China work visa paperwork arrived in Rome, so I need to go back there to visit the Chinese embassy at some point soon.  But I also want to meet a friend in Vienna, and maybe go back to Berlin to see more of the sites there.  I didn't know what to do.  I made a tentative plan to head to Venice by way of Austria (cause no trains go direct, which is weird) and went to bed.  I woke up and Anthony said he was heading to Bled.  I checked the map and it's on the way to Venice, so why not!  I checked out with him, and together we jumped on a bus for Bled.  That's where I am now. 

We're in the Castle Hostel.  It's near... the castle. :)  Right by the lake.  It's like a frat house here because we've got about 9 guys from all around the world: Finland, Lebanon, Spain, Canada, and me, the rep for the United States.  No girls.  It's kinda cool.  We're all in the hangout room.  On our computers.  Some are playing Fifa on the new PS4.  All laughing and talking.  Makes me smile.  A nice bromance as one of the guys joked.

Anthony and I walked around the lake today (6km) and then hiked up the mountain to the castle.  It was a steep hike up.  An even steeper and longer hike down in pitch darkness on a path we could barely see covered in snow, mud, and puddles, and hundreds of fallen trees--the result of a huge snowstorm two weeks ago that destroyed over 40% of the trees in Slovenia.  Even on the bus you could see the devastation.  Trees down everywhere, uprooted from the heavy weight of the icy snow. 

Tomorrow?  Off to Venice in the mid morning.  For one day.  Then Rome, back to Helen and Roberto's place.  Helen and I are going to see "12 Years a Slave" together at 8pm, so I need to plan my train plans accordingly to be sure to arrive in time.  How cool: I'm in Slovenia now and in two days I'm gonna be in Rome to catch a movie with a great friend.  haha.  Awesome.

And then, off to the embassy to get my visa squared away for China.  Then I think up to Vienna, maybe Berlin, I don't know.  I think I may skip Lugano after all.  I'm surprised.  Maybe next time.  It just doesn't seem crucial for me to visit.  But we'll see.  Three weeks ago I never would have guessed I would be in Bled, Slovenia tonight!

Emotionally?  Doing fantastically.  I feel wonderful.  I haven't felt this great in the longest time.  Someone asked me today what makes me happy.  I still don't completely know, but I do know that working a tedious 9 - 5 job certainly makes me miserable.  And I know that these last three weeks traveling have been amazing and wonderful.  The freedom is just fantastic.  Meeting all these amazing people just incredible.  And never having the same day twice, and rarely being in the same city more than two days, just magical.  It's a weird weird feeling.  And I'm even happier here traveling around by myself than I was for four weeks in Castres.  I honestly have more friends just spending two days in each city at the hostels than I did in four weeks' time in Castres.  Maybe because the people I meet in these hostels are just like me: adventurers; free-spirits; rebels; travelers.  Not tourists: TRAVELERS.  There is a huge difference.  I am not a tourist; I am a traveler.  And I love it.  And as 'nervous' as I am about heading to China, I am also getting more and more excited.  In less than two weeks, I will be in Shanghai.  CRAZY!

My big fear is that again I will be working a '9-5' job, but with two qualifications: it will be from 1-9pm, and it will be in China doing something totally different than what I was doing back in NY.  So my fingers are crossed that I am going to like it and enjoy myself there.

Okay, gotta go find something to eat.  OH!  Looks like we may be getting United States distribution for our film, "You Can't Kill Stephen King" after all.  Things are a bit murky at the moment, but looking quite promising.  I really hope to have great news to share with you soon.

Goodnight from Slovenia. 

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