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The Journey So Far: Vienna -> Croatia

7/30/09, 1:30 pm

I’m writing this in the car again – we are headed into Southern Croatia, eventually to Dubrovnik on the coast, the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’ according to Lord Byron. The countryside could be classified as Mediterranean – lots of scrub, the occasional evergreen, low-lyiing hills, and squat box-like buildings built into them. Now is a good time to write about the places I’ve been so far.

I flew into Vienna on 7/21, from DC by way of NYC and London. My friends picked me up a few hours late, a consequence of road construction and traffic on the long drive over from Prague (things taking longer than expected has become a common feature of life on the road – despite the way our car eats km up, poor signage is common and we don’t always have clear directions on our atlas). I was pretty tired when they picked me up, so we spent the next day in Vienna while I recovered from the jet lag. Vienna is a beautiful and interesting city – lots of parks, lots of cool architecture and gardens. Of particular note was the butterfly house, a greenhouse with many different species of these colorful insects. There were many occasions where I saw a butterfly extending its long and delicate proboscis into the head of a flower or a piece of fruit, feeding before lifting off and fluttering away. I also enjoyed working my way through several hedge mazes located in the Palace grounds.

On 7/23, aD, T$ and I headed west towards Switzerland. Though away from our eastern callings, we had a few days to kill before picking up PP again in Vienna. The detour was well worth it – Switzerland is as beautiful as they say. We experienced alpine lakes, soaring snow-covered peaks (the Jungfrau), woods, brooks, and tourists! It’s easy to easy why this area is a playground of old Europe. In Lucerne, one of the towns we stayed at, we saw plenty of ads for paragliding, jumping (from planes and bungee-), river rafting, and zorbing (imagine being strapped inside a clear plastic ball, that is cushioned and itself secured inside a larger ball, and hurtling down a hillside inside it). Along with adventure sports, almost every Swiss town we passed through had its fair share of fondue (which we sampled one night, yum!), watch, swiss army knife, and fancy clothing stores. The latter seeem to be present in every European city and medium-sized town we’ve passed through so far – Europeans like to dress well I guess. We’ve saved a lot money thus far by staying in large public camping grounds, and the ones in Switzerland were particularly nice: clean, with hot showers, and laundry facilities. They’re also well-inhabited by lots of Europeans, with large tents (they seem fully-equipped, even with electrical hookups, folding chairs, tables, etc.). Our tents were much smaller than the average size here – but perhaps this reflects our own innate backpacking tendencies rather than any particular difference between American and European camping persuasions (it’s been years since I’ve been in an American camping ground).

(Intermission: took a break from writing as we stopped by Split, large coastal town on Adriatic. Lunched on fresh fish, olives, rice and wandered about the ruins of old Roman palace).

On our way to Switzerland, we also had our first brush with the law – we were pulled over twice by the German police. The first time, we had stopped outside a gas station jus as we passed Salzburg, Austria (birthplace of Mozart). Two men out of uniform but with guns and police IDs asked us to step out of the car, took our passports, and proceeded to search the car. They were polite, but serious, and they definitely seemed to suspect us of drug-running. They profiled T$, searching his bags but not ours – T$ admittedly looked a bit suspicious with sparse whiskers on his chin and Robin hood style hat. Of course, they found nothing and let us go. The second time, we were pulled over by Germans in a police car – they also started to search, but broke it off once we told them we had previously been searched the day before.

Other highlights of Switzerland: kayaking on Lake Lucerne, navigating the often frustratingly poorly-signed highways on our way to small Swiss towns, enjoying the groceries bought at gas stations (one of which also had a sex shop opposite the convenience portion of the stores – the prevalence of explicit imagery like this is far more accepted and prevalent in Europe than in the US).

On 7/27 we started the 860 km journey back from Switzerland to Vienna, where we were to pick up PP. This journey took us ~10 hours, longer as usual than planned, so we were ~3 hours late at the airport. PP, by this time, had enough – and had left to find his own accomodations in Vienna. We reconnected with him the next day, having communicated over email, and proceeded with him to Slovenia.

Slovenia is gorgeous – full of mountains, lakes, woods, and fields. It was also cool – a welcome change after the heat of Germany and Austria. The first night we stayed in the small town of Bled, in the ‘Julienne Alps’, a beautiful moutaintanous region in the Northern country. Bled is an interesting example of a small European town just starting to experience the evils of tourism. Although relatively unpopulated and pretty small, it has a beautiful lake in the middle of town, an island in the middle of the lake, and a castle overlooking the lake. However, the town also had a Casino, complete with tuxedoed waiters and cigar-smoking clientele, and the campground we first tried to visit was hardly a pleasant space in the woods. When we arrived, a staff member was blaring MC Hammer tunes and entertaining a large group children with a microphone.

Further south, we finished up our stay in Slovenia by visiting the awesome Skocjanske caves. These were much more impressive caves than the lava tubes in the Mt. St. Helens area (Washington state) that I had explored in my youth. The caverns were enormous – stretching 10s of meters high and hundreds of meters in width, sporting an underground river that snaked its way through the interconnected limestone, and complete with massive stalactites, stalagmites, bats, and guano. If you should ever find yourself in Slovenia, go!

- Hari

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  • Ravi

    Hey guys, whats up. Nice writing, Hari. I´m reading the posts even if I don´t comment on them. How are the girls in Slovenia? They´re supposed to be gorgeous! Remember to pay attention to *all* the scenery, not just mountains and forests!

    P.S. what are costs like in Eastern Europe? I heard they had gotten higher since Slovakia/Slovenia converted to the Euro this year, but I don´t really understand how that makes sense…