Diary of a disorganised traveller part 2: more Venice, Ljubljana and Hvar island

I last left you in Venice, where we spent our day strolling along the idyllic streets and enjoying a free gondola ride (although true to form, it took much panic and frantic phone calls to England to actually locate where this was taking place). It was a lovely end to our stay in Italy, which truly is the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited. Suffice to say, then, Slovenia had a lot to live up to.

We arrived in Ljubljana in the early hours of the next morning and navigated our way through the dark streets. When we arrived at our hostel, which was a former school, we eagerly asked what time our free buffet breakfast began. Needless to say, we were hugely excited  at the prospect of being given food that was 1) free and 2) not bread or cheese, our staple diet throughout the trip. Unfortunately, however, our enthusiasm was short lived as we discovered that the meal was not free at all. Well it was, in exchange for money. We did briefly contemplate this indulgence  but after having a peek at the sliced gherkin and sausage casserole on the breakfast menu we decided against it. So more bread and cheese it was.

In fairness to Slovenia, we were both shattered from a week of Olympic level sightseeing and thus spent our first day there napping in our comparatively luxurious private dorm room. On our second day, we resolved to see more of the city, which was marred a little by the rainfall and our continued exhaustion. The place was very pretty in an Eastern European kind of way – but coming from the kitsch quirks of Berlin and the sublime beauty of Italy, some of its charm was definitely lost on us. Apart from a few pastel coloured buildings, the place just seemed a bit grey, and all of the people were either miserable, in possession of a bad haircut, or both. Honestly, I never knew so many variations on a mullet could exist. Forget business at the front and party at the back, there were crimped bits having a rave on one side and dyed blobs making an appearance on the other. It was truly a sight to behold.

We then began the next part of our journey, travelling to an island in Croatia that my equally disorganised sister described as ‘paradise’ on her return from the place four years ago. In fact it was so magical, she couldn’t actually remember its name. We had been promised (by her) that we would step off the ferry and be inundated with adorable Croatia landladies offering us their stunning beach apartments at bargain prices, and were thrilled at the thought of some quality sun and sea time. Surprisingly, or rather unsurprisingly, this did not quite work out.

We had travelled overnight and taken two trains and a ferry from Slovenia in order to reach our destination, and when we stepped off the boat, there were only two remaining landladies waiting at the docks. The first one we approached spoke no English but seemed to be offering a private room and bathroom in her house with use of the communal kitchen for a reasonable(ish) price. After consulting the only other seller there, we opted for the first place. And what a grave mistake that turned out to be.

We were bundled into the car by Hada, (or Hades as is much more fitting) who had decided not to wear underwear for the occasion, and her husband who did not have a single tooth in his mouth. Not one. We arrived at the house to find it was a pretty grotty room with a double bed, which in this case translates as a slab of wood with a paper thin mattress over it. I have never before feared spinal injuries after waking up in the morning, but hey, this trip is all about new experiences.

I do not wish to overexaggerate the cruelty of her nature. But she was the epitome of all evil. She barked at us in Croatian whenever we crossed her path, tried to add extra charges to our fee at every opportunity and generally made life there rather miserable. Between our bra-free fuhrer and the tropical storm we got caught in on the island in which tree branches and roof slates were smashing all around us, things got pretty scary.

Particular highlights of her abuse include her agreeing to drive us to the ferry port only to refuse the next day unless we paid her gummy hubby a hefty sum for the five minute trip, shushing us in the ‘communal’ kitchen as we searched for the utensils she failed to show us and scooping a cockroach off the wall, stamping on it and tossing it down the toilet with reckless abandon. The ominous black smudge left afterwards was ours free of charge.

It also transpired that her and her husband not only wore the same clothes every single day (in his case a rather fetching luminous orange t-shirt, and in hers, no bra. Ever) but also slept in the kitchen, where she spent all day every day staring at the wall. Oh, except for her morningly excursion to the local bakery to shout at anyone who would listen before returning to the house for another scintillating day of wall-watching. I kid you not.

Our departure was the kind of emotional goodbye you would expect in a relationship as close as ours. She shouted ‘OKAY’ in our faces as we made our getaway -truly a precious moment. In fairness, it was the only English word she knew (although she seemed to only have about five words in her Croatian repertoire that she shrieked at us on an incessant torturous loop), so I suppose in some sense, she was making an effort.

So our relaxing beach break didn’t quite go to plan, and as we travel to Bosnia on a bus, ferry, coach, train and car, I look forward to what the next few days has in store. Until next time…

Diary of a disorganised traveller: Berlin, Rome and a little bit of Venice

So as some of you may know, this summer I decided to take the plunge and spend a month travelling around Europe. I think it’s fair to say that my friend Tash and I had planned just about as little as humanly possible for the trip, and the night before we left was spent making long journeys back to Islington to retrieve forgotten tickets and frantically phoning Eurostar to book trains home after failing to actually read the terms and conditions of our InterRail Pass. Needless to say, it had not been the most promising of starts.

Things still felt rather muddled as we got into our taxi at 3:45am on the first day of our trip. Our weary heads and bleary eyes were certainly not helped by the driver, who deemed it essential to regale us with tales of his run-ins with drug dealers. All the way down the M1. After our delayed flight to Berlin, (InterRail Passes are not valid in your home country) we spent an hour misreading the map to our hostel, which was particularly soul destroying and sweat inducing due to the heat and our 19kg rucksacks.

We finally made it to our hostel Pangea People in Alexanderplatz and took a well deserved rest observing the beds of our new roommates. This was a fun game until we spotted the blood stained pillow on the bunk above mine, and that there was only one free bed in the room.

The staff were very kind in moving us to a smaller, six bed dorm, which we were to share with three lovely Australian girls. Things were going swimmingly and we couldn’t really believe our luck until our final roommate arrived. Oh, how quickly things soured. In exchanging pleasantries with the newbie, he decided to casually drop in the fact that he had just been deported from Israel for ‘unknown reasons’. And that he was an ex mental hospital patient. Amidst his insistence that marijuana was better than any of the institutionalised medication he had received, I began inconspicuously hiding my most valued possessions out of fear that he would steal them for drug money.

It’s definitely no exaggeration to say that we were worried he would go apeshit on a comedown and murder us in our sleep, but thankfully, we were spared this fate, and moved onto Rome with hopes of less terrifying hostellers.

After our 20 hour train ride spent in a packed cabin we eventually made it to the Italian capital. The sun was blazing as we made our way to the hostel, but float our boat it did not. The guys ‘running’ the place (and I use that term incredibly loosely) were leery and unsettlingly short, and told us that our room was not yet available in spite of the fact we had arrived after their check in time. We decided to take a shower in their filthy, ancient bathrooms before hitting the mean streets of the Vatican City, and hoped that things would look less revolting upon our return.

We had just joined the queue for the Vatican when we were mercilessly cajoled into taking a guided tour of the place at the ‘student rate’ of €40. In a state of mental depletion due to our long travels, we unwittingly obliged. What followed was potentially the worst tour of all time.

Our guide, who we have subsequently named Leandro, was the height of a small child and thus got relentlessly lost amongst the throng of Vatican dwellers on a packed Friday afternoon. His diminutive stature combined with his quiet voice, bad English and general lack of a clue about what he was saying made for quite the charming afternoon as I’m sure you can imagine.

We returned to the hostel at 5pm, a full six hours after check in, to be told that our rooms were still not ready. We sat in the dirty communal area loudly voicing our dissatisfaction until the pleb at the reception desk announced that ‘Sara’ (me) and ‘Mr Rickett’ (Tash) could finally enter the hovels they sold us as bedrooms for£55 a night. Everything in the room was grimy, broken or both, and apart from one wonderfully camp Mexican roommate who revelled in extolling the virtues of United Colors of Benetton, the rest of the people we were sharing with pranced about naked in the early hours/cried in the middle of the night/slept in their clothes. It was an interesting few days.

So we are now in the picture perfect city of Venice, gearing up for a gondola ride and a chance to experience a little more of Italy. Our roommates here have been less diabolical, although one snored all night and another is a  doppelganger of Kevin G from Mean Girls. But hey, it beats naked crying Brazilian women/fear of Japanese drug lords.

Tonight we will be travelling to Slovenia to sample more of the continent’s delights, so I will say ciao until next time!