It was that time of the year and an ‘out of america’ trip was long overdue. So, I decided to pack up and take off to europe; destination: Slovenia.
Searching for flights to Slovenia from Tampa is not an easy task. You have to make compromises based on cost, comfort, number of hops and time spent in the air. I was really happy to discover that Condor Flugdienst flies non-stop from Tampa to Frankfurt with reasonable airfares. I got a connecting flight to Vienna from Frankfurt and made arrangements to be picked up from the airport and driven to Slovenia from there.
Friday, June 28, 2002:
2:00 pm: I reached Tampa International airport 2 hours before departure. I thought I would get my choice of seat being one of the first passengers to check-in. But little did I know what was in store for me. There was a line of people, about 100 meters long, already waiting to check in their bags. It took over 2 hours to get to the counter. Exhausted from standing in line, I asked the Condor rep. if the plane was going to leave on time and she said “yes.” It was already past the departure time and people were still checking in!! I boarded the plane a few minutes later after going through security.
Fast forward 60 minutes: we were still on the ground waiting for a thunderstorm to pass. They was no way I was going to catch my connecting flight in Frankfurt.
Another 30 minutes pass: The plane finally takes off and then starts dropping immediately after! At this point I was too exhausted to react. People were screaming. I was trying to make myself comfortable in my seat. After about 4 secnds of free fall, the pilot finally regained control of the aircraft and announced that we were 1 mile closer to our destination.
Saturday, June 29, 2002:
After a long sleepless flight and more delays due to heavy air traffic, we landed in Frankfurt. By this time, I had stopped looking at my watch. I did not care anymore. Surprise – turns out that I had missed my connecting flight. Fortunately, there was another flight to Vienna in 2 hours. I called up Tanja and informed her of my status. Atleast my cell phone was working, something positive about this trip so far!
The flight to Vienna was short, ontime and comfortable. I quicky got off the plane and exited the the airport. Tanja and Vanda were waiting for me outside. We got into the car and started driving to Slovenia. On the way, we stopped over to get some coffee (and cigarettes in Vanda’s case). Before I knew it, we were at the border. The border police took one look at my password and said “go ahead,” but I asked him to stamp my passport and he did so (I like stamps for some strange reason)! The request was repeated on the Slovenian side and I got my stamp #2
We were in Slovenia. It was a big contrast from Austria. The roads were winding through beautiful villages. The atmosphere was more laid back (maybe because it was the weekend). I loved it already. We made one more stop at a restaurant for dinner. I got much needed calories. Next stop was Tanja’s home in Puconci where I fell asleep upon arrival. I had been on the move for almost 24 hours!! Zzzzz…..
Sunday, June 30, 2002
I woke up late, very late! Everyone was watching the world cup football final match. Brasil won just as I had predicted. After lunch, Tanja’s friend Sonja came over to pick us and take us around Puconci. First stop was the river Mura where we saw a water mill. Then we headed for the vineyards in Jeruzalem. The scenery was magnificent – lush rolling hills, mountains in the distance and houses and farms in the valley. The kind of landscape that begs to be photographed. So, I took pictures. We stopped at a restaurant for some wine and dessert and later headed to Murska Sobota to meet Tanja’s numerous friends. At each stop, we were pressured into having some form of alcoholic drink. As a result, we were feeling quite good by the end of the day.
Monday, July 1, 2002
I woke up late again! Tanja and I decided that we would ride our bikes to Murska Sobota, check out a castle and stop by a friend’s to get the Canon photo transfer software CD. We did just that. It was pleasant riding bicycles through the country side with just nature and ocassional cars passing by. We rode through a small village and reached Murska Sobota in about 30 minutes. On our way back, we stopped at Sonja’s place to say “hi” and then headed home. It had got dark and the lights on neither of our bicyles were working. I was a bit concerned, but we made it in one piece.
The following day, we were to catch a train to Hungary.
Tuesday, July 2, 2002
Today, I woke up at a decent time for a change. We had to reach the train station in Murska Sobota by 11:00. We reached there on time but found out that the train was delayed by 15 minutes. So, we decided to get a drink before we left. Tanja’s father seemed to know everyone at the train station and there were very vocal conversations about anything and everything at the table. The train arrived and the hurried to board the train since it stopped only for couple of minutes. There was another man from a village close to Puconci who was on his way to Budapest. He was in the same compartment as us. This was the beginning of a very entertaining journey.
The train started to take off and so did Hari’s (the man in our compartment) vocal chords! He talked and talked with Tanja while I enjoyed the view of the countryside. I could see that Tanja was trying to avoid conversing with him, but there was no escape! This man knew a little bit about everything. He gave us a few tips on staying in Budapest.
After about an hour on the train, we reached the border town of Hodos. This is where the Slovenian and Hungarian custom officials board the train to check passports. The Slovenian official was quick to stamp my passport. Then came the Hungarian official. She obviously hadn’t seen my kind before. She had a silly grin on her face like a little girl at the circus. When she saw my American passport, she was bewildered! She compared the face on the passport with mine about 5 times. Then she took out her UV light to verify the passport. All this time, Hari, our travelling companion, was translating from Hungarian to Slovenian and Tanja was translating from Slovenian to English for me. Hari was a little concerned that I was carrying a camera with me. Apparently it used to be a problem during the cold-war days. Western devils like myself were not permitted to carry recording equipment into or out of the country. Anywho, after she was convinced that the passport was not fake, she stamped it and returned it with a smile. The train moved on and we were in Hungary.
Another three hours passed as the train rolled through the beautiful countryside. The train stopped at a few stations along the way. We ate along the way, drank when we had to and ignored each other when we got tired of talking! And then we arrived at the Deli station in Budapest. We were glad – it had been a long and hot train ride. Hari guided us to the information center and then went his merry way.
At this point, Tanja and I paused and looked at each other. We had no idea where we would be staying that night. We didn’t know what the currency of Hungray was and we didn’t know what kind of transportation was available. We had come totally unprepared!!! All we had was a map of the city that Tanja’s mom had given us. We went to the currency exchange at the station and loaded ourselves with some money. Then we took a cab to the tourist information office in Pest.
Budapest is actually two cities – Buda and Pest, which are separated by the Danube. And the river is not blue, to which I said “no way!” At the tourist information center, we made reservations for a room at the Swing Hotel at Ferenc k�r�t 19-21. We needed to take the subway to reach our hotel. After some searching, we found the subway station. One of the workers at the subway station was kind enough to show us which train to take and how to use their self-ticketing system. Budapest has a very convenient and inexpensive public transportation system. Tickets can be purchased at numerous places in the city which may be used in the subway, on the tram or on any bus. All you do is run through the ticket through a red box when you board the transport.
After taking the blue line the wrong direction once, we reached our desination a few minutes later. And then it was walking time. We walked a few blocks to our hotel and checked in. It felt good to be in a large comfortable room with air conditioning. It had been a very hot day.
At night, we went down to the hotel restaurant to grab some food. The tables were on the sidewalk, so we got to do some people watching. We didn’t know if we were supposed to tip the waiter. It is not customary to tip in Slovenia. So, I gave him a large denomination of Forints (hungarian currency) and analysed his reaction as he started to give me the change. He started to hand bills fast and then slowed down and then dropped some stuff on purpose like he did not want to continue giving me change! We now knew that we should leave a tip! Who needs a Lonely Planet guide to find out these things!
Wednesday, July 3, 2002
We woke up to a bright, sunny and hot day. After having breakfast in the basement, we asked the attendant at the hotel desk which tram would take us to the city center. He told us to take tram number 2, so we did. The route was scenic. It ran along the danube with a clear view of the city on both sides. A few minutes later, we got off in front of the parliament which is a magnificient gothic stucture. We walked around the building and did the touristic photo-taking. And then we set our sights on the other side of the river – Buda. We needed to get across the river quickly since it was scorching hot. So, it was decided that we walk on the Chain Bridge with no protection from the sun!!! Funny, isn’t it? By the time we reached Buda, we were about ready to pass out. Fortunately, there was a stand selling small bottles of water for 2 US dollars. What a ripoff!
Now it was time to take a cable car up the hill to the citadela. We got a beautiful panoramic view of the city while climbing. When we reached the top, we took a few obligatory pictures of Budapest and then sat down at a fountain to cool off. There were tourists from all corners of the world at this place and we tried to recognise the language they were speaking. We probably ended up being in a lot of peoples pictures!
Next stop was the Matthias Church – another elaborate gothic structure. But we were here mainly to get lunch and walk through the narrow streets. After lunch and some more customary touristy pictures (including one of the trabant), we started walking down the hill. Ad hoc navigation was used to get back to the chain bridge. It wasn’t difficult, we simply followed gravity! Chain Bridge was traversed once again to get to Pest side of the city. At this point, we thought it would be a shame if we did not take a boat ride on the Danube. So, we purchased tickets for a 1 hour ride. We still had some time before the boat arried, so we walked over to the center of pest where there are an outdoor concert happening. After a few minutes in the part, we walked back to the dock where the boat was waiting. All this walking in the 40 C weather had made us miserable. We were glad to be able to sit down and do nothing on the boat other that see the sights.
After the boat ride, we took the tram back to our hotel and crashed. We got some much needed rest. In the evening, we grabbed dinner at a nearby greek restaurant and took the tram again to downtown. This time, the tram was almost empty – plenty of seats to sit on (not that I occupy more than one). The temperature had also dropped and the city lights had given Budapest and entirely new appearance. This was much more serene than our day trip. The Blue Danube was actually fit the mood!
We walked over to the park where there had been a concert earlier. This time, we were greeted with an outdoor fashion show. We walked around the area and caught up on our email in one of the Internet Cafes. After purchasing some postcards and spending some time in the park, we went back to the hotel and called it a night. Zzz…
Thursday, July 4, 2002
This was out last day in Budapest. We were to catch a train back to Murska Sobota. It was raining and cool today – much better than the previous one (some say I am crazy to like this weather). After breakfast, we called for a cab that took us to the Deli station. We had lunch there and then walked around the station a bit. As we were walking by some shops, Tanja told me not to look left and keep walking. I wondered why! I turned to look and it was Hari!!!! He was doing window-shopping. When it got close to departure time, we went to our platform. Guess who came running to greet us. Yes, Hari was travelling back with us to Murska Sobota! And yes, there would be more conversations about anything and everything again on the way back, whether Tanja liked it or not.
The ride back was rather uneventful. We went through the usual check at the Hungarian-Slovenian border. We had a loud man asking all the non-english speaking passengers if the train was going to “Mirabor” – in English! The fact of the matter was that the train was not going to Maribor. But since he didn’t ask me, I didn’t tell, hehe
Tanja’s dad was at the train station to pick us up. We rode back to Puconci and transferred all our lovely pictures from Budapest onto the computer.
Friday, July 5, 2002
Yawn! Woke up to a bright Slovenian summer day. We had a train to catch in Maribor – a city couple of hours southwest of our location. We were going to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. Tanja’s friend Olenka drove us to Maribor. Due to some road construction, we had to take a detour through Austria! We reached the train station and had couple of minutes to spare before the train departed. We boarded this beautiful Siemens train which was sooo cool. It was downright luxurious compared to anything else I had ridden on this trip. The ride was extremely smooth. It can only be beaten by a maglev train!! Anywho, couple hours into the journey, we reached Ljubljana. From there we took a cab to a university where we had made arrangements to “borrow” a room for the night. We reached there, ate and went Zzzz.
Friday, July 5, 2002
We had arranged to be picked up by our cabbie at 0500 to be taken to the bus station. We went outside at 5:00 and waited. There was no sign of him. Then a couple minutes later, we saw a car coming towards us at screaming velocity. It was him. We made it to the bus stop on time. We were going to Italy today.
We made our way through the beautiful country, across the border and into Italy.