Saturday, August 19, 2006

Visas and Vistas

So much for heading through Eastern Europe. I've practically been back in the west for the last couple of weeks. Not so much geographically, but certainly economically. Budapest had huge shopping malls. Zagreb was like any other Western Europe city. Slovenia was covered by freeways and now I am in expensive Vienna. Nuff said.

I am keen to head back east but before I did this I had to stitch up a bit of bureaucratic red tape crap and rendezvous with someone. Now that this is done I can get back out there. But firstly to the last couple of not so adventurous weeks, although I did try to make it more so at one point.

I stayed in Budapest for a fair while. Luckily I did it on the cheap - as cheap as you can get for accommodation at least - free, staying at another travellers place. And it was a great way to get a good insight into Hungarian way of life and culture and see how the locals live in the burbs. (Thanks again for the bed mate).

Most of the time there was spent getting my Ukrainian visa. Which I can now happily say I have procured, even though in the end they stuffed up the dates on it and I had to get them to do an ad-hoc change. Are all consular officials stupid? Yes I think from later experience. But I also got to wonder around the city and enjoy it. It is a very pretty city and like my host mentioned is probably the only city I can think of besides Paris or London that truly makes use of river frontage to maximum advantage. And certainly the only city along the Danube to do so.

After Budapest, I headed to a little Hungarian city on the border with Croatia called Pécs (pronounced paich). I stayed two nights mainly because I wanted to see another part of Hungary and also because I couldn't move out of there quickly enough. Actually it was a nice place, but it did reconfirm that not many Hungarians outside of Budapest can speak English. You guys are lagging behind the rest of europe! A night in Croatia's capital Zagreb was next, which was probably enough, before heading off to Slovenia and lovely Ljubljana.

Nice roofline

Ahh Ljubljana, what can I say. Probably the one city that I have been to so far that I could say I would like to live in. Such a cute little town and with such a cool sounding name. Like the country it belongs to, you could almost pick it up and give it a cuddle it is that cute. The city is small and compact and easy to get around. Everyone is friendly and genuinely happy to have a chat to you and are not jaded by hoards of tourists .. well as of yet anyway. And thankfully just about everyone speaks English, which is a change from basically everywhere else I have been so far.

And then there is the Slovenian countryside. To talk it up like a Lonely Planet travel guide (but legitimately so), the place is green and lush, with vivid blue rivers, craggy mountain snowcapped peaks, birds singing happily away, chocolate growing on trees and flowing streams of beer ... well almost. You get the picture. But if you don't, take a look at some of mine that I took in the Julian Alps uploaded on Flickr.

It was up in the Julian Alps that I took a prolonged trip with a cool guy called Jessie from Trinidad and Tobago. He was a white dude, but came complete with cool Jamaican soundings accent .. man. We took a little bus trip up there from Ljubljana to breath some mountain air and do some crazy adventure sport that seems to be de rigour for that neck of the woods. Kayaking was tackled first with some success. It is harder than it looks doing this down a river with rapids, but I managed to do alright with only the one feat of capsizing into the freezing Soča river (pronounced So-cha). Thank heavens for the wetsuit.

Soča blue

Afterwards we burned some more money by trying out canyoning. I am hooked. Now this gets the blood pumping and adrenalin flowing. Four of us (us and two dudes from Poland) and a guide suited up in special Batman like suits - with helmets, harnesses and some nappy like thing to protect the suit around our arse as we slide down waterfall chutes - then climbed up a valley side to come back down a canyon.

The canyon entailed numerous high jumps off into pools of water, the previously mentioned slides and some completely crazy abseiling down massive waterfalls - 50 metres high! If you can't imagine 50 metres and I still can't even after doing it, think how high a 10 metre high diving platform is at the Olympics, times it by 5. This was really mad and I was the first to do it. Half way down after being dumped on but mega-litres of water I was starting to wonder if there was enough rope to get to the bottom and why I didn't check that adventure sport tick box on my travel insurance form .. don't tell mum. But it was safe. It was not so much as abseiling by myself, but being lowered down gradually by the guide. Getting to the bottom was a real buzz and I just wish I could have taken my camera in to get a picture. Of course it wouldn't have truly captured it, but still.

Jessie and me then tried to make our way back to Ljubljana that afternoon. Unfortunately it was a weekend and public transport was almost non existent in this part of the world on weekends. So we decided to try as the locals do and hitchhike back. Limited success in this. We managed to get about 20km down the road in 3 hours of trying. In hindsight our big "LJ please" sign could have been our downfall. No one was going that far from the mountain resorts on a Saturday afternoon. They were all spending their weekends out of the city. After another night in the mountains at a local camp site we eventually got down off the mountains with the combination of two buses and a train to get back to LJ.

Hitch or bus

And so I am now in Vienna. I have hung out here for the last few days finally getting the Romanian visa, which I can happily say I now have stuck in my passport, although I had to carefully peel out the botched one they also did, saying 39 days instead of 30 and then stamping a big void stamp on it. Page real estate is now limited in the passport with only a few blank pages left, so I was not going to have two whole pages taken up by stupid Romanian consular officials. I need that page space for future borders.

But the best bit about being in Vienna is seeing my old man. He flew in yesterday and we are spending the next week and a bit together. First up is to head off to Slovakia and to hike in the apparently amazing High Tatras mountains, and after that .. hmm maybe some more east, Poland sounds good. I'm sure it shall be grand.

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