Tag Archives: year abroad

How To Have A Cheap And Amazing Holiday

1 Jun

After nine months of being in the Netherlands, it was now time to explore the country with my friends. In the cheapest way possible, of course.

The plan:

  • A – Tuesday 22nd May – The end of finals week and hence the final party at UCU (The Beach Party)
  • B – Wednesday – A night camping on Texel (one of the Dutch islands)
  • C – Thursday – A night at Myrte’s house in Alphen aan den Rijn
  • D – Friday – A night at Anton’s in Wezep
  • E – Saturday – A night at Gerrianne’s in Aalten so we could join her for her confirmation
  • F – Sunday – A night at Sofie’s in Apledoorn
  • G – The day in Apeldoorn and back to Utrecht
The route

The Route

This was a great plan as we would get to visit lots of people and get to camp on the islands, which we had wanted to do for a long time. Plus staying at people’s houses means free accommodation and potentially free food. As ever it is great to know locals.

Tuesday

I had finished my last exam the day before but everyone (except Gerrianne) still had deadlines and other exams to do. I thought they would have been done by lunch time but they actually continued long into the day. Whilst they were working hard I laid on the Quad and read Dave Gorman’s Unchained America.

The beach party in the evening was a big deal and something that is looked forwarded to all year. However, the name threw me a little bit as I assumed it would be in the beach party area (a room in dinning hall), but my logic was apparently wrong and it is held in a different location every year. Last year it was in a swimming pool and this year it would be in the football stadium near our campus. I was already unexcited by this as I guessed that once you were in the stadium it would be the same as just being in the bar. I was to be correct in my assumptions.

First, however, there is the pre-beach party hosted by one of the fraternities – Primus. It started at 5pm and ran to 11pm when the beach party started, and after this was the after party starting at 3am in the bar. I was pretty sure there was no way I would make the whole thing. I loved the pre-party – it was for charity, the sun was shinning and we were listening to students singing and playing music whilst we had a few (drink as much as you want) beers. It’s pretty much my favourite thing to do. We had a great time even though the pump for the beer was broken meaning the beer had even more foam than usual (about half and half). It started off with only Sofie, Myrte and I, as Myrte was to be playing at 7.30pm with her band. But as the night continued more people joined us and we celebrated our new-found freedom.

However, when the switch to the actual beach party came around, things didn’t go so smoothly, with difficulties getting the group  ready to leave at the same time. Eventually we gathered everyone and walked the short distance to the stadium. When we were in it was just a room with the bad “boom boom” bar music that we don’t enjoy. We sat down in another room. My feet hurt so everyone went to dance while I stayed sitting. Long story short, I laid around on a bean bag and people didn’t come back for a long time so I ended up talking to Life. He is one of our unit mates and this was really nice as he is part of the unit we don’t talk to at all. The other guys came back and we ate some snacks. Everyone then went back to try the dance floor again, but after the stories of what it was like I wasn’t keen on that, and instead had a little nap.

We then left having a little sit in the middle of the road on the way back. When we reached the after-party people were too tired to even go up the stairs to check it out, so we all went to bed. Such party animals!

Wednesday

We woke up early for the last brunch and hence last meal ever in dinning hall, as in the summer term it would be closed. We called all the stragglers who were not there on time and discussed our excitement for the plans ahead. The aim was to get to the campsite in Texel before five, and so after brunch we packed the car. The task looked impossible but in the end we could fit everyone’s luggage in, plus three people. As Dutch students get free public transport they were going to go by train to Texel and the rest would go in the car with Myrte. At the end of the week we would split all petrol and any extra train ticket costs. Simple.

We nearly killed Klementina on the way as she became very travel sick, but we made it. We waited for Veerle, Anton and Gerrianne to arrive and then we boarded the ferry. It was the calmest piece of sea I had ever been on. It hardly even felt like we were moving. At the other side the car continued to the campsite while the public transport people took a route via the shops to get some snacks for the evening.

An Anton imposter

The campsite was not what I was expecting. It was actually on the sand dunes and you got to camp amongst them!  This was a little weird as other times I had been to some Dutch dunes they had been protected – meaning that you couldn’t even walk on the them, let alone camp. But I wasn’t complaining. We found a nice pitch and had just started setting up when the others arrived. We made camp and then walked back to the entrance to get some pizza.

We grabbed the bag of drink and snacks on the way back and walked the two minutes from our campsite to the beach. The weather was glorious and we enjoyed the late sun and ate. We played a bit of ultimate frisbee, flew a kite and some even had a swim in the sea. Our night was cut short though as there was a huge lightning storm on the horizon so being in the sea and on the beach was very dangerous. Unfortunately a very sad thing had also happened and my camera had broken so I am not able to provide you with footage of this storm, but it was incredible. It never rained on us and we couldn’t hear any loud cracks of thunder, but the lightning was beautiful with lots of fork lightning lighting up the dark sky. We watched, chatted and went to bed.

Thursday

We had to wake up early again as had to be off the pitch by 11am, but this wasn’t so bad as we could still park the car on the site until 4pm. This meant we had a whole day to spend on the beach. It was another day of blue skies and heat. We played more frisbee, sang, sun-bathed and went paddling in the sea. It was very relaxing and crazy that two days ago we were all stressing over exams and deadlines. The sun turned out to be a bit too hot for some and as it approached 4pm Veerle and I were under our towels with Myrte sitting in the shadow of the chair. The aftermath of this day would last the whole week – Tina’s feet are still burnt now. Myrte also had problems as she burnt the back of her legs. So, a lot more red than before, we departed for Myrte’s house.

Here everyone met Myrte’s dog James and Myrte’s parents who kindly bought us Chinese for dinner which we really enjoyed. Sofie joined us afterwards. We all put our bedding down and got attacked by James who thought it was all a very fun game.

Friday

Klementina and Gerrianne had another early morning as they had to return to Utrecht for a SIFE competition. Veerle was to join them and Myrte needed to drive them to the station. So sadly Anton, Sofie and I had to sleep-in longer!  We awoke at 11 and had a late breakfast. We then played Jack Straws (Mikado) and Cluedo. I chanced it and decided to guess – even though I wasn’t sure of the item – as Anton was very confident. It back fired, though I had the other two correct, and many turns went by where I could’ve discovered the item easily. The game ended with Anton winning. Sad times.

Anton and Sofie then left to get the train to Anton’s where Gerrianne would join them. Myrte and I were first going to go to town to try to rescue my camera, and if not to get a replacement. The shop said it would be €65  just to look at the camera, and then more on top to get a new lens if that was causing the ‘zoom error’. So, with that being a ridiculous amount, and with the fact I would be missing a lot if I didn’t have one, I got a shiny new one!  Expect many pictures from now on…

Today was the weekend before Pentecost, which is a holiday in the Netherlands so people have the Monday off work. Hence this is a time for everyone to go on holiday and thus we sat in a massive traffic jam for three hours on what was supposed to be an hour’s journey, plus we had to make a detour to campus to collect Klementina and Linda who had decided to join us for this part of the trip.

Anton’s house was beautiful and the garden vast. We were treated to a BBQ even though we had missed eating with the family, like we were supposed to. We spent the evening in the garden, swinging in the hammocks and sitting by the candlelight.  We said “hi” to the miniature ponies next door and, when we went inside, played with Anton’s very cute bunny. Sofie, Myrte, Anton and Klementina played a game about trading animals that was very long and got very serious, which was quite dull in the end for Gerrianne and I. We then retired to out respective sleeping places.

Saturday

When I arrived downstairs Linda and Klementina were doing work and I was offered a nice breakfast. We then got into a game of DVD Cluedo which was interesting. In this version, you also had to work out what time of day it was and you could do things like ask the butler for a clue and look up a secret message in the rule book. In the end I thought it ran too long and preferred the original.

After the game Linda headed home and we continued onto Gerrianne’s. Here we met her dog Jackie, her chickens and her many cows as she lives on a farm. It reminded me a lot of my Grandma’s house with the sounds and the atmosphere, though she doesn’t have a herd of cows to milk everyday. We were introduced to the family and had some drinks whilst we waited for the public transport people to arrive as they had missed their train.

We stopped on the way for ice-cream and I introduced people to the amazing Wich

We made pancakes for dinner and set up the tent as this is where we would be sleeping tonight.

Jackie Gerriane’s dog


The professional pancake makers


I then sat in the living room as Eurovision was to be starting soon.

I like Eurovision and was looking forward to it coming along all year as I thought it would be fun to watch with other nationalities. However, I have gathered that the Netherlands are into it even less than people in Britain are. I also learned they have boring, optimistic, serious commentators and not funny ones like us. As a nation they also do not take the competition seriously, and have not made the final in the eight years that there has been a semi-final.

Klementina was also not that interested which left me being the only one who thought that it was fun. Myrte and Sofie watched a lot with me, but it was not the same atmosphere as normal, even though I appreciate their effort. I was in fact a little torn as those who weren’t watching Eurovision were doing my other favourite thing sitting around a fire.

For those who are interested the UK entry was as terrible as to be expected (but we didn’t lose, coming second to last to Norway!). My favourites were Sweden, Germany, Iceland and Denmark. Sweden was obviously going to do very well and indeed did win, thankfully beating the grannies of Russia, and Serbia – who I do not remember at all. My lasting favourite, though, is Denmark as I still have their song in my head now – even though they did badly, for some unknown reason, in the results. Politics!

Germany

Iceland

Sweden

Denmark

Sunday

Breakfast was freshly baked rolls with strawberries and spread. After this we then left for church where Gerrianne was to have her confirmation. Attending church – which is something I don’t do – and in another language, is a very interesting experience. Even with some translations from Sofie I didn’t entirely follow what was happening, but Gerrianne enjoyed it which was the main thing. We returned to the house where we were joined by some of Gerrianne’s friends and family. We ate some very nice home-made soup and salad.

We were also in for a treat. One of the cows was giving birth! It was her first calf, and after a few hours she needed to be assisted. This involved quite a scary device that cranked the calf out of the mother. Thankfully it was attached to the calf’s hooves and wasn’t used to crank something else, as others first thought. It looked scary at first, but soon the calf was breathing. It was a boy and so was named after Anton, which we all found amusing.

After this we left Anton and Gerrianne behind, whilst the rest continued to Sofie’s where we would be joined by Christina and Linda. Here we felt very relaxed as we didn’t have to feel so awkward about not speaking Dutch as Sofie’s mum is an English translator, so it was easy. We were treated to Maltesers and ice cream and watched Calendar Girls and Alice, now that the boy of the group was no longer with us. The Alice series was on too late for me (hence I fell asleep) but everyone else enjoyed it and talked about it over breakfast in the morning.

Monday

After breakfast we had a tour by car of Sofie’s beautiful town Apledoorn where we dropped Linda at the station. We then continued to Paleis Het Loo where William III, who was one of the few to conquer England (so people like to tell me a lot) had his summer house, but now the Dutch royal family only occasionally has parties there.

It was very beautiful, though to my eyes was just like another big stately home, or similar building, like at home. The gardens were very impressive and as the sun was shinning all day like it had been for the whole of the week, we happily dipped our feet in the fountain – something that Sofie said she had never seen any of the times she had been there before. We were true trend setters! After this we laid around on the grass admiring the trees around us.

The Paleis closed at 5pm so we headed to the outer grounds to try to find the maze. It was a terrible maze, as you enter there are 4 paths, one leads to a dead-end, two lead in 30 seconds to the centre and the last actually gets you to do the maze. Tina took the last and as a consequence took some short cuts through the hedges to reach the centre. A big disappointment.

Back at Sofie’s house we had the first proper meal of our week (as in the meat potatoes and vegetables kind) and a huge slice of Vienetta.   We were then to take a detour on the way back to campus to the Veluwe. Driving through it was very pretty with lots of thick forest on each side and small roads. We eventually got to the place Sofie wanted, even with a turn into a dead-end in a field. It was 7.5km of sand to the coast with heather growing amongst it. We are told to return there in August where everything will be transformed to purple thanks to the heather. It was truly gorgeous and definitely a secret place to visit that I’m sure many foreigners don’t know about.

This was the end for us as we arrived back at UCU to close with a trip after-party, where we chatted and looked at photos of the trip. It was a great week.

Now to some conclusions I have drawn from this. It might be the houses that I visited here, or it might be the houses that I have visited at home, but Dutch houses are much more modern and families keep them much more organised. Lots of things match, Ikea is a favourite, and open plan is preferred. People are very proud of their homes. Of course they are all of a different style to our own, with big sloping roofs making them look like toy houses. A sentiment that is mutual as Sofie says the same about the houses in England.

A typical Dutch House

And if you are wondering how cheap this cheap holiday is, €40! All-inclusive. Definitely worth it!!

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“Glowing Embers Lie Across The Sky”

11 May

With all my classes now over. and only two exams left, I thought I would write a post about this last term and my year abroad so far.

Everyone around me is currently studying their arses off, which makes it even more odd that this is my most freest time of the semester. I’m glad to say that this semester has been easier – but not by much as there was still reading and other work to do everyday so I again haven’t done that much. I have no idea how other exchanges manage to go on trips all the time – for instance, Tina’s roommate Amy is often away at the weekend doing some awesome trip, as well as all the people in my Dutch class (which is only for exchange people). In this respect I feel that my time here has not been used to the fullest as when I look back I will probably not remember the huge work load I had and just think “why didn’t I ever go anywhere?”

However, I do think Tina and I have made up for this during the breaks, and my (non-existent) “places visited in Europe map” has come on leaps and bounds. Before I had only visited Western Europe and now I have far out-reached that, going to Central and also Eastern Europe – even making it as far as GMT+2! I’m sure this isn’t as exciting compared to some globetrotters, but I think it’s quite reasonable when your family has only been outside the UK to visit the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Plus visiting 13 countries (Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Sweden) isn’t bad 🙂

Saying this I also haven’t visited that much of the Netherlands, which I hope to change soon. I did the most travelling to Gronigen, Leeuwarden and the Keukenhof while my dad was visiting :/ You see, the Dutch may be hospitable and invite you to your house but they then don’t get round to actually taking you – unless you invite yourself over (minus Gerrianne :P)!

My list of Dutch places I have been to includes Amsterdam (not the first time, but the first Queens Day), Rotterdam, Breda and Alphen an der Rijn. However, in the academic void (or the break between spring and summer term), I have managed to organise a trip round the Netherlands which includes staying at people’s houses along the way. Yay for knowing locals! So after that I can add Texal, Apledoorn and Aalten to the list. In other words, as I have mentioned before, if you plan to go travelling on your year abroad don’t choose the best University College of the best University in a country that has the 4th best higher education in the world, as you won’t be doing a lot of it!

Many of the little differences between the nations I have now got over or around, and now actually find it quite hard to remember what they were. The problem of not taking my bank cards is okay as I know people with Euro accounts who I can give cash too and I just generally live a cash life, except you forget sometimes and then have to make a long walk from the place you are at to get cash. The reading of these ‘text book’ things I have got used to, and am more on top of it then most people, hence why I can write this even though it’s Finals Week. The bike riding is obviously fine as I used to bike to school except everyone else’s bikes are now falling apart leaving mine the only one working in my unit, even though it now only has one brake thanks to Tina. At least it now looks awesome though:p

For this term Tina and my plan of cooking every Friday went astray after four weeks. It was good while it lasted though she insisted that all the food I made was incredibly unhealthy even when it was mostly vegetables and she also specifically stated that pasta was unhealthy :/ This, I think, helped towards the demise of our plans. I believe we have gone to the bar and parties just as much as before, but the waiting around for everyone to be done and working to ‘Linda and Tina time’ means we don’t get many pre-drinks in. Myrte will have some even more dull Friday evening’s when I am not around. Sofie made a big step the other day, and we are all very proud, as she danced in the bar on a party night! She says that this time was enough for a year, but we hope to see her again there soon.

For my courses, Discovering the Dutch was interesting and I enjoyed taking it as it was easy, but also dull at points when the classes were on medieval Utrecht and Golden Age art. However it’s opened my eyes up to things in the Netherlands I wouldn’t have learned otherwise – such as their schooling system is the same as our old Grammar school one, which I only realised from the class even though we’ve had many discussions about it as friends.

Psycholinguistics was fun and mostly like cognitive psychology with a bit of clinical as we learned about people with language disorders. It was the closest to psychology out of my four courses so I was happy with it.

Evolution, Culture and Human Nature was also good, and despite being a level 3, was also relatively easy as when you’re taking something from an interdisciplinary perspective details are going to be simpler. I am very proud of my essay on Emotion vs Rationality for this class as rationality really interests me and I made some insights I hadn’t thought of before, like emotions are a signal for you to make a decision (see my paper for more details, Birch, 2012). I am also happy with the whole class presentation we had to give on it as I got told I was a good presenter. I am very pleased with this as I had never done a presentation before coming here and now I have done many I feel a lot easier with them, though I am still not relaxed about it.

Sociology is the big disappointment of the semester. I do not advise people to take it. I do not believe what these great minds are telling me about society is true and anything I think is reasonable they have just taken from psychology and then renamed everything and pretended it’s their own – such as the analogy that everyone is on a stage and has many different front stages that they use depending on who is in the audience and therefore not many people know their back stage. This sounds a lot like ingroups, outgroups, group norms and group behaviour to me. Essentially if it is not psychology then it is philosophy as even though they say they’d like their work to be scientific it often isn’t based on anything empirical and this annoys me a lot. Sociology is no ‘queen of the sciences’ and certainly wasn’t the easy subject that I hoped it would be.

I don’t really know how I can go back to Exeter at this stage as it is hard to even recall that I went to somewhere so totally different in size, ethos and attitude. Especially as when I go back I won’t really know anyone as all the third years I was with will have graduated. I have set up some things for my return though – I will be a global buddy (helping international students find their way around and adapting to university in Exeter), a student life mentor (helping first years with all their daily life issues living in halls and with general university), SSAGO rep (Student Scouts And Guides Organisation) and Scout Rep for SAGE ( Scouts And Guides Exeter), as well as helping out with 10th Exeter Scout troop, who I was with the year before this. It sounds a bit hectic when I put it like this, perhaps I will be the new Tina and run off my feet all the time with constant committee meetings. We will see.

The sad part about University College is that I have not really joined any societies/committees. With the college being small it doesn’t offer the more quirky societies that I am a member of in Exeter such as Frisbee, Surfing, Aerobics, Amnesty International, Scouts and Guides etc. and has the more mundane football, hockey, newspaper, dancing, drama that I am not that intrigued about. I would also not be able to fit it around my studies and have no idea how anyone else manages to do any committee work as well as get good grades. I couldn’t. However what these committees do manage to do is amazing – with us winning the trophy an inter-UC – and I enjoyed very much the open mic night, the musical (Rent), the dance show, improv and Super Sticky Surfaces (the college’s soap drama which is really funny – Exeter should think about making one). There certainly are very many talented people at UC.

At Exeter, as it is so big (16,000 students versus UCU’s 600), I feel like I do not get to see everything Exeter has to offer, such as the drama and sports groups. Exeter is a lot more cliquey and closed and does not have the same community that it does here. I hope to change this next year and attend a lot more on-campus events as I really enjoyed seeing them here. This might be easier than previous years as I will be living on campus next year for the first time! It’s still 20 minutes from central campus though, which UCUers would not understand. In fact they really don’t understand, often saying “why don’t you bike?”  Hello! Exeter University is one big hill! A hard thing for a Dutch mind to contemplate!

However we can hold those tears back for a while as even though my studies are over it is not the end of year abroad as I will be staying around for the summer courses (which I am not taking) and so won’t be leaving till the end of June (with a short intermission to Lancaster for the Queen’s Jubilee weekend)! Yet I know this is not going to be the same as there will be no dining hall, so we’ll have to cook for ourselves (we’ll see how much they complain about dinning hall after this) and I guess the Dutchies, in their confusing way, will be at home a lot. Hence I think this term will be a lot of highs of doing fun stuff as I don’t have work and others are free, and lows of severe boredom while those that do have courses are studying hard (but I can try to sneak home with those that leave, so all is not lost). I can’t contemplate what the weeks after this term will be like, but I will use them to the fullest as my time in Utrecht is nearly up. T -50 days and counting 😦

The inspiration for the title and the anthem for the rest of my time at UCU – Lostprophets – Last Summer

Stockholm Archipelago – Boating and Sunsets in Sweden

24 Mar

24/03/12

We we’re in for a treat. Jonas’ local bakery had the title of the fourth best bakery in the world! Before we had gone to the supermarket to get some supplies for boating on the Archipelago latter. Here we saw for  real the Swedes ideas about buying alcohol. Supermarkets are only allowed to stock beer up to a maximum of 3.5%! If you want anything stronger then there is only one shop in Sweden, which is state owned,  where you can get it. Luckily cans of Rekorderlig (strawberry and lime flavoured cider) were below 3.5% so I could introduce Klementina later on.

We bought other picnic nibbles and now it was time to go to the bakery. Jonas bought some amazing olive bread, apple bread and croissants. In the shop Jonas told us that Swedes love queuing where I was a little offended about as that’s a British thing! Klementina and I also bought some nice Swedish pastries. We ate the bread with cheese and an amazing jam. It was all delicious.

[Klementina modelling the tasty olive bread]

[Klementina’s pastry]

[My custard pastry]

As normal we were rushing to get the T-bahn to central Stockholm. After this we needed to catch a bus out of the city again to where Tobias lived, the couch surfer who had organised the boating event on the archipelago. We arrived at the destination 30 minutes late after all the other guests had already been picked up and taken to the house. We had to wait for Tobias to come back to the bus stop, but now he had no transport, hence we continued the theme of the trip and hitchhiked from the road. We got a lift fairly soon form Lift 10 – Non-Swedish guy who went to Thailand. Nichola:3 Klementina: 6 Tobias:1. We were surprised to get this lift as Jonas had told us a story where he was hosting some girls who wanted to hitchhike to Norway and back, but no one picked them up for hours and in the end a police car did and took them home.

When we arrived we were amazed by the site that greeted us. Tobias’ house (well not really his as he was an au pair) was amid a forest and sat right on the edge of the archipelago, where you could look across and see all the other islands around you. It was beautiful. Tobias had managed to get quite a group together with couch surfers from Iran (Nona), China (Li Di), Hawaii and three Germans. Tobias himself is English and from Okehampton in Devon (the same county my university is, and my grandpa lives).

Up to this time I was curious what kind of boat we would be using and it turned out to be a rowing boat. We couldn’t all fit inside it and so there was discussions of whether people should just potter around in the boat as they wished or go with the original plan of rowing to an island, even though it would take two trips because of the group size. I tried to steer the decision and whether it worked or not what I wanted happened. Next stop that island over there! However we stayed in the group to go second, hence I ran over to the rocks and started to climb and explore. Klementina came too. Our group decided to walk around the bank to a closer pier to make Tobias’ rowing easier. We took the adventurous climbing route and the Germans took the more conservative one. Klementina said how this was a trait of theirs and they reminded us of Alex from campus.

[Our supermarket beer]

[My favourite picture]

We enjoyed a cheap supermarket beer and awaited Tobias’ return. Soon we were in the boat being rowed across the sea. It was great. Then we were on the island. What to do now? We grabbed another beer and explored of course. We thought no one else was on the island but there turned out to be others in the house there. We chatted and also chatted amongst ourselves too. Also learning more facts;

  • Tobias gets paid €350 a month as an au pair plus he gets somewhere to live and food as well. It sounded like a dream job as he was basically hired because he could speak English i.e. he could teach the children.
  • Chi Tea isn’t Russian, it’s Chinese.
  • The woods nearby contained foxes, hare, deer and – in the north – moose.
  • Not every 18-21 year old goes to uni – this is obvious, but we didn’t consider it as an option when talking to Tobias as he was our age and we were trying to work out how he had managed to live and do so many things that we listed on his couch surfing profile. We are very jealous of his life. We were also jealous of everyone else’s as they were able to travel whilst at uni, unlike at UCU.
  • “Hi” means shark in Swedish so there is a joke that some Swedes are in the sea, but there is a shark in the water and they are shouting “Hi, hi!” to shore, but the people on the shore just wave back!
  • Tobias had a good experience hitchhiking in France, which is in complete contrast to our experience.
  • The guy from Hawaii even more surprisingly was told it was illegal to hitchhike in the Netherlands and didn’t manage to get a lift between Delft and Bonn. Even crazier he was also told he had to sign in with a Dutch police station when he arrived. This might be true in Macedonia, but in the Netherlands? No.
  •  There are no public toilets in Sweden and you have to find a MacDonalds if you want to use one. Well there are, but you don’t want to use them, Tobias used one and found a plucked and skinned goose remains inside!
  •  It’s illegal to drink in public in Sweden, but no one cares. “In Croatia it’s very illegal.”
  • The UK and Sweden share all the same nautical terms because of the Vikings.
  • Klemenetina’s favourite question of the trip “Have you ever been to Bulgaria?”. When she lives in Macedonia and they border each other!
It started to get chilly so we rowed ourselves back to shore. We then all venture into Tobias’ accommodation. It was really cool and like a tree house as you had to climb a ladder to get there. Here he had a special surprise for us as he was hatching chicken in the microwave! They were nearly ready to be born so when you shone a light through the egg you could see the chick inside. Tobias also said how beautiful the sunset was over the archipelago and we could believe that so Klementina, Nona and I decided to stay to watch it. It was so peaceful and nice to sit amongst all the nature and just take it all in. Especially as the next day we knew we’d be returning to UCU to a very hectic work schedule. Here Klementina made my favourite comment “How high up are we?” when we were sitting on a peer 30cm above the sea. I could see why she said this as we were around mountains and so you couldn’t tell it was the sea, it could’ve been a lake.

[Tobias’ home]

Nona was kind enough to offer to show us around Stockholm. On the way to catch the bus Tobias took us past the only Buddist temple in Sweden which was close by. We had excellent timing and caught our connecting buses by stepping off one and the next one arriving straight after. When in the city Nona showed us Gamla Stan (the main street), city hall and we walked along the port. It seemed such a contrast to the countries we’d been in and it felt a little boring. Perhaps this is because everywhere I had been this year was the Balkans and Central Europe so Stockholm just looked like London to me.  Hence not that exciting. Jonas had told us that the Swedish thing to do is to get Fika – which is what you do when “you go for coffee” i.e. have a warm drink and a little pastry. Klementina and I did this but it was insanely expensive. I spent €8 on a hot chocolate and a little cake.

[Klementina, Tobias and I]

[Klementina’s “fika”]

[My fika]

It was late so we thanked Nona, said goodbye and went back to Jonas’ place. Here we decided our plans for tomorrow to wake up early and walk into the city centre to see more of Stockholm and get our bus to the airport at about 11am. Our trip was almost over.

We also decided to watch a movie as Jonas had a home cinema system. He showed us a few Swedish films and we decided on “Let the Right One In”, as I knew my dad had raved about it and Hollywood had also done a remake “Let Them In”, so it must be good. I watched the very beginning but knew I would be falling asleep during and there I stayed till morning.

Belgrade – What’s Serbian For “Don’t Cut My Fringe”?

23 Mar

23/03/2012

Being woken at 4am by a police officer is not a good start to the day, but it is expected when you are taking a sleeper train. After a second wake up call from the Serbian as well as the Croatian police we arrived in Belgrade at 6.10am. If I’m honest the view from Belgrade station was nowhere near as nice as Zagreb – a block of buildings covered in adverts with a busy road separating us from them. However when we turned around to look at the station it was actually a really beautiful building.

We didn’t know what to do in Belgrade so we tried to find the tourist information. It was closed, but would be opening soon so we grabbed a cheap pastry from the bakery and ate it whilst watching the pigeons. We went back as it was supposed to be open, but it wasn’t so we waited some more. Typical Serbians (apparently). When it had opened we received a map with a suggested walking route. We dropped off our bags for the cost of €2 and headed in the designated direction.

It was quiet in the city as it was early in the morning and the shops hadn’t even opened yet. This wasn’t doing much for my opinion of the city as it just appeared grey and lifeless (this changed later in the day when more people and atmosphere arrived). We walked past a clock counting down to the Olympics and a poster that intrigued us as it was of a politician but he was anti-EU. Klementina had said how all the Balkan countries were trying to get into the EU which made me think that the UK, with UKIP, was the only country with real anti-EU sentiments. Klementina just explained it was for an opposing party and we moved on.

Our route was taking us towards Belgrade Fortress and as it came into view it was really charming. The stall holders that lined the path were just setting up and we had a look at one lady’s who had a lot of postcards. All of her merchandise was old such as postcards of Yugoslavia. Some even had messages on where someone had posted it before. She also had a lot of old bank notes from the former Bank of Yugoslavia and told us how they had the record for the largest printed bank-note at 500,000,000,000 dinar. Klementina bought one of these and I a collection of notes with Nikola Tesla on the back. Klementina explained how there is a lot of dispute amongst the Balkans about which country he belongs too. He is a big name in science in this area and this was reinforced recently when  I had asked for the name of a famous scientist. Klementina immediately said Tesla where as to my mind Einstein and Newton are at the forefront. Tesla to me is just someone who has something to do with magnets, as a Tesla is the unit for measuring magnetic flux density. Otherwise I don’t really know what he did. Naive? Probably.

We reached the fortress and walked to the edge where we occupied a bench for a long time. In front of us was where the  Danube and the Sava met and here we considered it to be the right time and place to eat the rest of our Speculoous spread  (it wouldn’t be allowed on the plane later anyway). We enjoyed the sun and moved on a little to sit on a wall, where Klementina had a little kip. I was enjoying the scenery and after a little persuasion Klementina joined me to see what the rest of the city had to offer.

In our ramblings we ended up at The Residence of Princess Ljubica which is a museum that is furnished how it was when the Princess lived there. It was a nice house and it was good to do something cultural. However other things were more pressing at the time – we needed a haircut. Serbia was the cheapest country we were visiting on our travels and as we weren’t prepared to pay the expensive prices of Dutch hairdressers we thought we should get it done here. After a semi-wild goose chase trying to find a hairdressers we eventually found two. They were much more expensive than Klementina was expecting, but it was still cheaper than in the Netherlands, so we went for it.

Klementina went first and looked as if she was enjoying her head message whilst she was being shampooed. I, on the other hand, had a very different experience from the man doing my hair. He was very forceful and I was quite glad when he was done. Klementina later said that he was pleading to the other hairdressers to let him wash my hair and they in the end reluctantly gave in. Now was the tricky part, trying to explain how you want your haircut when you know they might not fully understand what you are saying, as English is not their first language. This problem was strengthened by the shop giving me the hairdresser who knew the least English and had to be translated what I wanted. In the end it went quite well, but not perfectly as they didn’t quite understand what I wanted when I said I wanted a side fringe and tried to give me a full fringe instead. Luckily I stopped her before it went too far and now I will just have to wait for this little short piece of fringe on my left to grow out..

As we walked back to the station we were to caught up in chat and had walked to far. However here Klementina had seen signs for the Temple of Saint Sava (Serbia’s largest Orthodox temple). Before when we were going to the Fortress it was too far away, but as we had now walked in the opposite direction and past the train station, it no longer seemed that far on the map. It turned out to be much further and I was getting annoyed as my idealised time schedule for catching the flight to Stockholm was starting to not be adhered to. This was made worse, as once we had got there we did not know the direction to get back to the station as what we were seeing, the map and what people were telling us wasn’t matching up. In the end we power walked back to the station to collect our luggage and catch the bus to the airport.

After some confusion on which station exit to use and which bus to take we were on the more expensive but faster mini-bus to the airport. This didn’t matter though as we were going to catch the plane. Klemetina and I had a dispute, that we still don’t know the real answer to today. I said we didn’t have to go to the desk as we were hand-luggage only, but Klementina insisted she had to, perhaps because she is not an EU member – we are not sure. Whilst I held our place in the queue she went to the front and asked if this was the case. She then came back for the passports and returned saying I needed to go show mine. However when I went to the desks I was not sure who she had talked to and so stood awkwardly next to the queue. A lady then asked me what I was doing to which I replied my friend said I needed to show my passport as I was hand luggage. The lady then confirmed that I didn’t need to and could go straight through to security, in the process she did not enquire about my nationality. Who knows?

Belgrade became one of our favourite airports as we moved through security and passport control easily, the waiting room was comfy and the plane left on time with no hassle. It was amazing.

Late in the evening we arrived at Stockholm Skavsta and surprisingly we didn’t have to go through passport control. This didn’t make sense as we had just come from Serbia which was a non-Schengen country so they should have been checking. I asked Klemetina if we should go back as she would need an in stamp in her passport, otherwise we might have trouble when we tried to leave on Sunday. In the end we decided not too and instead decided to have problems with the ATM in the airport deciding to not work. This meant we had to pay for the bus to Stockholm with the more expensive option of Euros and not Krona.

The bus to Stockholm was a ridiculous two hours and on here we learnt what had happened with passport control. Apparently someone had forgotten to close a door which meant we were able to walk straight out. Others who were waiting for their luggage had been called back, but as we only had hand luggage we were long gone by the time they noticed. I thought this was quite amusing as this story would definitely have been in the newspapers if this had happened in the UK. On the bus we killed time by discussing our mid-university crisis and what we were going to do with the rest of our lives.

Arriving in the city we had a problem as we hadn’t decided which of our two hosts to go to as we hadn’t received information on how to get to either of their homes. I wanted to stay at Tobias’ the first night as we would be going boating on the archipelago with him the next day and then Jonas on the second night. However Jonas came through with how to get there first so we decided to go with him. We navigated the Stockholm T-bahn and met Jonas by the flower shop at Telefonplan station near where he lives. Jonas was full of information and told us how the area was called Telefoneplan because it was where the Ericson headquarters was and also there was a tall building there which the company used to stretch wires. His house was also an old workers house.

At his house he gave us the very important Swedish house tour which every Swede apparently will give you when you visit. This is because Swedes are very house proud – especially because there is a cultural difference that Swedes tend to socialize more in each other homes than in bars. Some other facts we learned that night include; Sweden and Finland used to be the same country and hence they share a similar taste for food, but oddly a completely separate language – not even with the same root. There are more Swedes in the USA than Sweden as lots of people moved there to make more money during a depression and these people have obviously had a lot of children since then. Anyone in Sweden can afford a house with a basic salary, such as a bus driver. The degree that you get will be related to the job you get afterwards, where as in England it is much more flexible and you can get most postgraduate jobs with any degree. Of course we also learned that Scandinavia is not a term that encompass Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland but actually the correct term for this is Nordic countries.

Whilst we were learning all this we were enjoying a true Scandinavian meal. It was pasta with some butter melted over it. “So what do you two think of your first Swedish meal?”. It obviously wasn’t that Swedish.

When a natural pause came in conversation we realised it was really late and we had to get up early to make it to the boating tomorrow.  With Jonas’ help we set up an air mattress on the floor and did a final check of all the information for the trip. We were very excited for the next day, especially as in Croatia we had seen that the Stockholm archipelago was one of the top 500 things to see in the world.

We Took The Midnight Train Going To Belgrade

22 Mar

22/03/2012

We awoke at student time (about lunchtime) then Blake showed us to the supermarket where we would acquire breakfast. Here I was very excited as I realised I could have bacon for breakfast (an idea that is inconceivable for those on the continent) and as Blake was Canadian he was very happy for this too. Klementina being both continental and vegetarian/wannabe vegan didn’t share my excitement.  The egg and bacon sandwich of my dreams was not to be had though, as people have a strange idea of bacon. You’d think a Canadian would be knowledgeable on the subject. I tried to explain how you have to cook bacon, but Blake and Klementina insisted some ready cooked stuff was also bacon. This might have been true as it did look like bacon, but not the kind I wanted. Blake also insisted bacon was ham, when I said this imposter was more like ham. Bacon is a subsection of ham. Anyway I eventually gave in as this wasn’t getting anywhere. Perhaps it would be ok.

[Imposter bacon]

[Real bacon]

I was given the task of cooking this bacon and Blake would do the eggs. It seemed odd and I had no clue when it was done as it didn’t change form, just temperature. I plated up and then let Blake have a go with the eggs telling him to keep the yolk runny. We then joined Klementina at the table who had brought some bread, yoghurt, fruit and Ajvar. Ajvar was a sweet pepper paste that we had when visiting Klementina’s home town in Macedonia. However she guessed it would not be the same as her mum’s home-made version, but at least Blake could semi-experience it.

[Ajvar being enjoyed]

Breakfast was alright. It was nice to have something different from bread and cereal as an option. However the bacon, I think it was dried, didn’t fall apart like it was supposed to, but the yolk did go all over my hands, as it should do, I’d give it a 6/10.

The plan for the day was to visit Zagreb’s museum of contemporary art. After some confusion in direction of the correct bus stop we made it there. We spent a good 3 hours inside, which was more than I expected. I liked it a lot as I like modern art far better than fine art. However it doesn’t quite work as well when you are unable to read the description about the piece. This is something we all agreed on. The museum, as one of the installations, had two metal slides you could go on. I have been on slides like this in the Tate Modern in London and I was very curious if these were the same. Looking it up now it is by the same artist and is similar to the “Test Site” installation he did in the Tate Modern, but the one in Zagreb is purpose-built for that museum and isn’t the same. Mystery Solved.

[Zagreb]

[Tate Modern, London]

My favourites were a well that had a projector in it that projected a film onto the ceiling above in a circle the same size as the well. I also liked a work “On Holiday”, which when it was exhibited the artists had actually gone on holiday and inside the museum was empty with just adverts on the outside.  I liked the idea.

When we left the museum we realised it was getting late and so headed into the centre so we could look at it in the light of day. We wandered around some more and played the “try to find a semi-traditional and exciting place to eat” game. We saw somewhere that served Goulash and went in. After ordering we realised everyone else was only drinking beer in this place. We were a little worried, but when the food came out it was good. I had Goulash and pasta, Blake had the same and Klementina a vegetable sauce and pasta.

For pudding we went to an ice cream shop where I had banana ice cream with a Rockie Road brownie. I asked Klementina to tell the staff to put the brownie and ice cream in separate bowls, a request they both thought was odd. The fact is I like my ice cream to be cold and my brownie warm and when you put them together, the part where they touch is neither one of these. Who wants that?

We wandered round the town some more and mentioned the shortest funicular in the world, which we knew was in one of the cities on our travels. Blake then replied it was in Zagreb so we went to check out this must-be-seen sight. It was amazing as a very short funicular could be. The pictures are bad, it was dark again.

You may have noticed that we aren’t in Belgrade yet. That is because our plan was to get the overnight train there, leaving at 23.55 and arriving at 06.15. Hence after our meal we went back to the apartment to pack and try to arrange couch surfers for Stockholm as we would be arriving there the next day. No one had accepted us yet. Luckily after a few emergency requests we had received two offers, one of which by a guy who was also hosting a boat trip in the Stockholm archipelago the next day. Find out how that went in a later post.

Maja kindly gave us a lift to the station and we said our goodbyes to Andrea and Blake at the apartment, who didn’t realise we were still planning to travel that day. Blake was also leaving for Serbia in the next few days, but we wouldn’t be able to meet up. Getting the tickets was a bit scary as many things had to be written and stamped by the lady behind the desk making us think the train might leave without us. We also used up all our Croatian Kune paying for the ticket, so it was lucky we had enough.

[Zagreb Station]

We ran to the platform and managed to get on the train. It was one of those old-fashioned ones with a corridor on one side of the carriage and cabins on the other. We had a hard time trying to find somewhere to go. Firstly the conductor said we were trying to get into the first class cabins, which wasn’t allowed. Secondly the corridors were full of people trying to do the same and thridly all the people inside the cabins were obviously trying to keep the whole thing for themselves, even if there were six seats and only two people. In the end we joined a cabin with an old couple. We later found out this was a good move as these people were obviously frequent users of this train and opened our eyes to the fact this train was the coolest train ever. When you wanted to sleep you could pull the bottom of the seat on both sides of the cabin and it made a bed! With one side slightly raised so you could have a pillow. I was very impressed, especially as these were just the basic seats. It was much more fancy than a sleeper I had caught in England and far more comfy than the floor of David’s in Venice. We were on our way to Belgrade in style.

[The picture doesn’t do it justice – I didn’t take any and the internet was limited too]

Zagreb – To Hitch Or Not To Hitch? That Is The Question.

21 Mar

21/03/12

Grostilna 6estica was our destination, the traditional Slovenian restaurant Xena had told us about. It was really cute inside like an indoor garden within a conservatory. Tina got mushroom soup within a bread roll and I got some dumpling soup. It was much nicer than that restaurant we care to forget yesterday. Stomachs full we moved onto the station.

We first checked the bus station, the next bus was on Friday. Not helpful when it was Wednesday. It wasn’t looking good. We tried the train station next door and thankfully there was a train, but it would be leaving in 3 hours time. With a long wait happening whatever we did, we decided to  see if we could hitch a ride from the main road. We walked past a sign saying Zagreb on the way to the station so it couldn’t be impossible.

[The train station]

We walked along the road we believed to be the right direction, but we couldn’t find a petrol station to  start at. We took a turn off the road to see if we could work a car park. No luck, so we walked a few metres further past a bush and there was a petrol station. Yay! We started to get into the routine, me making the sign and Klementina trying to grab them whilst they were filling up. However when I turned round Tina was hugging someone. Tina knows a lot of people, but I though it was unlikely for her to know someone in Ljubljana. I went over to investigate. It was “Lift 7”– the girl who gave us a lift to Ljubljana the first time!! What an insane coincidence. She however confirmed our suspicion that this road was not going towards Zagreb but Austria. We were wasting our time.

Disappointed we sat on the grass outside the petrol station and decided what to do. It was pretty obvious we would walk all the way back to the station and get the train. Our hitchhiking luck had run out. Oh well it was still an adventure.

When we arrived at the station we still had a bit of a wait for the train. We chilled and looked at all the graffiti around us, with Tina commenting that these were real trains because of the art splurged across them.

Arriving at Zagreb we realised we didn’t have any Croatian Kune. We’d have to change some of our euros, however I have a bank card that allows me to withdraw money anywhere in the world with no conversion fee! Plus the exchange rate I get is basically business. It seemed obvious to use this instead as we’d get a better deal. We knew the exchange rate so when confronted with the ATM we selected 2000 Kune at an exchange rate of about 1 EUR to about 7 HRK. If you are good at maths you will see what I just did. The aim was to draw out about 20 euros worth and actually I had drawn out more like 200! What a stupid mistake, especially when I had confirmed with Klementina if the 2000 was correct. What a fool.

[The view from the station]

[Foolish me]

With nothing I could do about it I sat outside the station feeling stupid whilst Klementina found out how to get to our hosts Maja and Andrea’s place. She came back out from the station saying the people inside were the most helpful ever. They had looked at which buses to get and printed out a google map of how to get there. However it was not necessary to get the bus as Maja had text us saying she could collect our stuff and take it back to the apartment if we liked. We waited for a confused face to arrive, and it did, along with another male one. This was Blake a fellow couch-surfer, from Canada, who was also staying at their place. He was to show us around the city a bit, while Maja ran some errands.

[Blake]

Zagreb was much grander and larger than Ljubljana. Unfortunately it was dark when we arrived so the photos aren’t amazing. Blake had been here for a while so new the area but not so much the history. This was fine though and we enjoyed seeing everything.

[We’d previously read this ball was famous, we don’t know why]

[Street market]

[Kaptol – Zagreb’s cathedral]

[Here’s a better picture – not by me (shh!)]

We were hungry, but apparently there aren’t that many good eateries in Zagreb, especially when you’re after traditional food. Blake led us to a place he had been before where we had some Croatian beer. Klementina ate some pasta and Blake and I had some Strukli. It was a bit weird, it was pasta with filling inside and something on top with the texture of sugar, but not sweet. It was good, however there wasn’t very much of it. I finished off Klementina’s pasta.

[Strukli]

We learned a lot about Blake, he had been teaching English in the Czech Republic to gain some money before this. He was now trying to get to Greece, as he was supposed to have left the Schengen area. However with all the economic riots and things going on in Greece this was appearing tricky. Klementina could help with this though, telling him there was a definite bus or train from Belgrade into Greece. She also said there was a bus from Skopje too. He didn’t know where this was. He was aiming to get to a city near the Greek border to which Klementina enquired about all of them. After much discussion, “Ahh Skopje, that was it!”. Fool.

Blake was also a psychology major which gave us something to talk about later. Klementina also learned that psi (Ψ) is shorthand for psychology as Blake had a tattoo of it on his hand. Blake and I were also joined as he had a ring of St. Christopher and I a necklace, meaning we would be safe on our travels, but we couldn’t say the same for Klementina. This was almost true when Klementina nearly got run over by a tram.

[St. Christopher]

Afterwards Maja came to collect us and we picked up some beer on the way. That evening we chatted on the balcony and came to the beautiful conclusion that cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology are exactly the same thing. Which I was very happy about. The evening came to a disappointing end for me as Klementina left for bed and Blake wanted to watch an ice hockey match online, which was not fun for me. Basically alone I also went to bed.

[Blake being boring and watching his Canadian sport..]

Ljubljana – How do you get there with no bus or train?

20 Mar

20/03/12

After waking up at 5.30am we get the 7am train to Trieste. However after this our plans for getting to Ljubljana stop. Hopefully there will be a bus into Slovenia from Trieste as it’s on the border but then again we thought there would be  a train between Venice and the closest capital city, Ljubljana too…

Tina snacks on some carrots and we take a little kip before we get to Trieste. On arrival we first go to the train information, who tells us that we would have to go back to where we came from AND change trains 3 times, taking 5 hours before we would get into Slovenia. It was extra silly as the station that would take us to Slovenia was only 14km away. It would make more sense for us to get a bus to that town, Sezana, and then the train from there. “The bus station is over there”.

[Trieste Station]

We check maps and ask prices for a bus to Sezena and Ljubljana. We decide to chance Sezena as this bus left before Ljubljana, but the Sezana bus was still 2 hours away. We kill time by trying to find the beach as it looked so beautiful on the way in. Unfortunately where we walked was more like a harbour than a beach, but we still enjoyed the sea.

Around the sea were some cars and so I suggested we should look at their plates to see if any were Slovenian or going in that direction. Most were obviously Italian. We first saw a guy exit his car and Tina asked if he was going to Slovenia, he was but he was also waiting in Trieste for his wife so he would also be a few hours. We thank him and walk along the car park some more. We see some more Slovenian plates and a lady inside the car pulling away. Tina knocks on the window and success! She lives in Nova Gorica but can drop us off at Gorizia on a road to Ljubljana. We jump in and forgive ourselves the €2.70 we lost on a bus ticket. Lift 9 –  Slovenian Business Lady. Nichola: 3 Tina:6. She tells us how she also went on exchange to Florida when she was at university. She loved it there, though as she was foreign she missed out on a lot of scholarships offered in her classes. I don’t think anyone ever regrets a year abroad.

We get dropped off at a petrol station – we’ve been here before, our hitchhiking tale was not over in Venice. Tina takes the pumps and I take the sign to wave passers-by in. True to Venice form in no time a truck pulls over and says he can take us. I call Tina over and off we go. Nichola:4 Tina:6. Lift 10 – Bosnian Truck Driver. We are quite excited by this lift as we didn’t manage to get a truck on the way to Venice, plus we had wanted to visit Bosnia afterwards but couldn’t due to time. He couldn’t speak English so Tina chatted to him. He explained the mystery to us about the Vignette. They have these things stuck on the windscreen that open the barrier and take money out of your account automatically when you go through. As a truck driver he has several, one for each country.

We must also visit “Postojnska jama” the caves we had seen on the way to Ljubljana the first time. He and Tina told me how in Yugoslavia there were many school trips to go see these beautiful things. Another thing he told us was that the road we were taking is often closed as it is a point where two air currents meet causing very strong winds that can even knock trucks off the road. It sounded very dangerous.

He dropped us off at Rudnik which is a big industrial estate outside Ljubljana. Here we decide to buy lunch and in so doing enter the biggest supermarket I have ever seen! It blew my mind and was not something I was expecting from little Slovenia. Among other things they had about 4 isles of cake and even more impressively it was full of different types of cake and not just the same type filling a whole section (Tesco!). All this cake meant we had to buy some so we ate it in the car park and texted Xena (our couch surfer) our location. We were only a bus ride away.

Here we learn Ljubljana buses are not our forte as we try to get on the first that comes but they say we need a special card, can’t use money and drives away. We then buy this card and wait for the next bus, however when we scan it a red light says were not allowed on. Luckily we bargain with the bus driver and he lets us get on without us having to wait for a third bus. We make it to the Filoza and meet Xena in the university where she is working at bar K16 there. We also meet her friend Natasha who shows us around the city.

We are blown away by Slovenia and Ljubljana. It is absolutely stunning. The scenery is gorgeous and Ljubljana has this small town feel not that it is the state capital of a country. Natasha studied architecture (along side many of her other talents, studying Japanese, skateboarding, break dancing, belly dancing, playing violin, drums, recording with her band, though she hurt her foot so they had to wait a while for that. She was generally crazy but truly inspiring with what she has done with her life considering she was our age) so she tells us about all the beautiful Baroque buildings and other history of the city including;

Joze Plocnik is a famous architect who designed many of the buildings in Ljubljana such as Ursulinska cerkev.

France Preseren was a composer and was in love with a girl Julija who was to become the unfulfilled love of his life as it would never become mutual. There is a statue of him in the city which faces a window where Julija used to live. A small statue of her is also there.

[Peresen]

The dragon is the national symbol of Ljubljana and is on their national coat of arms.

[Dragon Bridge]

[The castle reminds me a bit of Edinburgh castle]

Natasha then left us as she had to get to her Japanese class. Tina and I sat in the park and then returned to Xena’s flat to see if she had ideas for dinner, but she wasn’t there. In the end we asked her house mate for ideas, although we couldn’t find what she described. Our search for Slovenian food ended disastrously as we sat in a restaurant that said it served Goulash outside, however this was only at lunch time.  He gave us the menu and we ordered. Later we realised it was the same menu as the fast food place two doors down. We decided to not speak of this again and got some ice cream for pudding in another place.

We returned to Xena’s apartment and thankfully she was there this time. We chatted to her and she explained how that weekend was very important as there was a referendum being held in the country to allow gay marriages. Xena was at the front of the campaign in support of marriages and Tina and I agreed this was very cool.

We tried to look up trains and buses to Zagreb, but again it was ludicrous that there wasn’t more travel options. We decided to get up and have an early lunch the next day at a proper Slovenian place Xena had recommended to us. We’d then walk to the station and see what was going on. After we chatted some more, but I was falling asleep on the couch and Xena had to get up early the next day for work. We organised our sleeping quarters in Xena’s living room and slept. Tomorrow Zagreb, Croatia!

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