Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Logbook: Graz - Ljubljana

Friday was "moving day" so I did my usual routine of getting up an going pretty early. Whenever I have been someplace for more than a few days -- like I was in Vienna for almost three weeks -- it takes a little longer than normal to complete the moving process. For one thing, the longer I am someplace the more I inevitably take stuff out of my gear bag and have it scattered around my room and it takes me just a few extra minutes to sort it out and pack it up. For another, I typically become quite friendly with my hosts during longer stays and I happily take a little extra time to say fond farewells. Nevertheless, by 8:30 in Vienna I had packed, had breakfast, checked out, parted company with the Rothensteiners and was walking down Neustiftgasse to the 13A bus for the 30 minute ride to Sudbanhoff. Although I had certainly gotten my money's worth out of my weekly metro card, it was still valid for three more days so I gave it to a nice old lady on the bus who smiled and thanked me like it was a winning lottery ticket. It's the little things that make life particularly sweet on The Voyage!

Grazljubljana1The train ride from Vienna to Graz passes through lovely countryside and among what I believe are the eastern foothills of the Alps. A light dusting of snow in the trees and a modest blanket of snow on the ground made it a beautiful trip, but it was the bright blue sky that gave me some hope I might finally be leaving the bad weather behind me. Sadly, the skies progressively clouded over throughout the three hour ride and by the time I arrived in Graz it was downright dark, cold, blowing and snowing. I found a perfectly satisfactory place to stay right near the train station, checked in and dumped myself as usual, but stood at the window for a few minutes to survey the bleak scene and consider whether I really wanted to go out and explore in it. After due deliberation and a check of the weather forecast -- which promised improving weather -- I decided to stay in and take the afternoon off. (I will admit that being half way through yet another really great Jack Reacher thriller was part of my decision and I had a most enjoyable afternoon finishing it up!)

Grazljubljana2The weather did clear up a bit on Saturday morning and although it was still gray and overcast the temperature was just high enough to melt the snow, so I seized the opportunity and headed out pretty early. Graz, it turns out, is a charming little city. Although much smaller than Vienna, it is big enough to have a lot going on. It also has all the Austrian style and flair without so much of the big-city commercial feeling. There is an efficient little tram system that runs down the main streets and right through the otherwise pedestrian-only malls and shopping streets. Being the last Saturday before Christmas, the city was thoroughly decorated and last-minute shoppers were out in force. I had a really nice walkabout for a couple of hours then stopped for a bite to eat. While I was inside I could see the weather turning bad again and by the time I finished my lunch it was once again dark, freezing cold, blowing and snowing. Thankful for my few hours of decent exploration, I headed back to my room and called it a day. Sunday was a complete disaster in terms of weather, so I only ventured out briefly on a few occasions for meals and a quick trip to the train station to get my onward ticket. Thus, while I only spent about two and a half hours out of as many days actually checking out Graz, I really liked what I saw. I would put it at the top of anyone's list of places to visit in Austria, including my own list for the future.

Grazljubljana3Monday was "moving day" again, but -- due to my very brief time in Graz -- I had neither any extra packing to do nor any fond farewells to attend to. Plus, my train wasn't scheduled to leave until about 10:30 and I was only about 100 meters from the station, so I had a pretty easy, leisurely time of it. As has become my custom to avoid unnecessary last-minute scrambling around on The Voyage, I got to the station about a half hour ahead of my expected departure. The tote board indicated that my train was about five minutes delayed -- a sign of the inclement weather adversely affecting the famously prompt Austrian trains! -- so I had an even longer wait than expected. No worries, I've become quite comfortable with waiting! As you can see in the photo, I had the platform all to myself until just before the train arrived and a small crowd gathered. My seat was in a compartment that I shared with a young Brazilian couple and we talked for a while about various topics, the highlight of which was my sharing the story of my Brazilain visa which completely cracked them up. After a comfortable three hour ride we arrived in Ljubljana, Slovenia and I walked about ten minutes toward the old town and found a place to stay. Being the day before Christmas, the place was practically deserted and I got a really good deal! After checking in and dumping my gear I took a brief walk around despite the marginal weather. My first impressions of Ljubljana were very positive and I later called it a day with hopes of decent weather to do some quality exploring.

Grazljubljana4Indeed, the weather on Tuesday was really pretty good and I made the most of it. I spent a few hours in the morning walking all around the attractive -- I would go so far as to say adorable -- old town then hiked up the hill to check out the castle. Because Slovenia is situated at the western most edge of the former Soviet empire -- and right next to Austria and Italy -- it seems to have suffered the least of all the former Soviet republics I have visited. It is very "western" and has a feeling of long standing prosperity. Because it was Christmas day, virtually all of the shops were closed, but many of the old town market stalls were open and selling a wide variety of grilled meat sandwiches and hot spiced wine. I sat on a stool at an outdoor vendor -- under a heater! -- and did my best to sample the local fare. After that I headed away from the old town and out into the newer parts of the city. Although they were far less attractive than the old town area, the newer parts of Ljubljana are far more appealing than other former Soviet cities I have been in recently. Late in the afternoon it got dark pretty quickly and started snowing, so I called it a day after a really enjoyable, solid eight hours of exploration in a city that I would strongly recommend. I went out again for a while today, but the town is pretty well shut down for a second holiday and the weather has been only marginal. Tomorrow morning I will take a train to Venezia, Italy then continue directly to La Spezia. I'm hopeful that the weather on the Mediterranean coast will be better than I have had for what seems like forever on The Voyage of Macgellan!

1 comment:

Abel Athalia said...

Slovenia was never a part of Soviet Union, never suffered influence from the Soviet Union. It is a slavic country though and they are good friends with russians, not for some deep affection but because they invest and export in Russia a lot... :) pretty smart guys :)