I Love You Backpacking Long Time – Part Three Austria to Croatia

After Liechtenstein I returned again to Austria. I stopped first for a few hours in Innsbruck to break up the train journey and then continued on to Salzburg. I remember the scenery from the train was beautiful and I sat next to an American woman who worked as an opera singer in Europe. I loved Salzburg. I took a day tour out to the Hallein Salt Mine and another day to the whimsical Hellbrunn Palace. I remember both trips quite well although my diary is mum on them both. I also spent a day exploring the hilly city itself. It seems hard to believe it was just a day given I walked up to the castle and to Mozart’s birthplace and many places in-between. Generally I could only write when on long trips between cities/countries because I filled each day at a destination: My God, the time flies. I put my pen down to rest and days pass. There is just so much to do and see – I am constantly moving. I think my only times to rest are when I am asleep or when I am eating. Occasionally, I have a long train or bus ride, but I don’t always take advantage of the time to write in my diary.

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Happy to be in Salzburg

I also felt that I had to keep moving. I am waiting for a train to take me to Slovenia. I had wanted to stay another day in Salzburg, but the weather was not very good yesterday so I thought I should move on today. Besides, I am six days behind schedule due to so many other places I wanted to stay just an extra day in… On the way to Slovenia, I recall the train ride was rather eventful. First at the border the Slovenian immigration officer spent a very long time examining my passport, almost causing me to miss the train. For one year, between April 1993 and March 1994 the US issued passports with a green cover to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. Consular Service. Though I had had that passport for several years and had not previously had an issue, the Slovenian border patrol doubted its authenticity! The other bit of drama happened when part of the train uncoupled from the rest and did not continue into Slovenia. Two travelers I had been talking with in one train car realized they had left their backpacks in another car and went back to discover that car was no longer part of the train! Unusual in my travels, I did not much care for Slovenia. I am now in Ljubljana, Slovenia and I have four hours to kill before the overnight bus to Split, Croatia. This is my second day in Ljubljana and I feel it is too long. While in Bled, I met a girl who had just come from here and she told me she had loved it and wanted to love here, but I am not so impressed. There is something here I do not quite like, but I cannot quite put my finger on it. Bled however was beautiful and I can imagine going back there. Then in Split, Croatia I had one of my most disorienting experiences while backpacking. I had arrived on the overnight bus from Ljubljana , still groggy as I disembarked into a crowd of pension owners. At the time the economy was not in very good shape and many families were making ends meet by renting rooms in their homes, often without a license. A man with such a pension met my bus and I agreed to check it out. I followed him from the bus stop, up the hill, some twenty minutes on foot. In uncharacteristic fashion, I paid no attention to where we were going. I am lost. Or rather I know where I am, but I cannot find the pension where I am staying. When my bus arrived this morning at 6 am, I went with the first guy that offered a room. I was very tired and we walked the whole way to his house, but it was very confusing. A few hours later I went back into town, but with another person staying in the same home, and we went another way. About 10:30 I began to head back. I passed a few landmarks and figured I would find it any moment, but I didn’t. I looked for a whole hour. Then I was so dehydrated and hungry I turned around and went back to town and then it took me nearly an hour to find a place to eat. I tried again to retrace my steps this morning and find the apartment. Nope. I do not know the street it is on or the name of the man I am “renting” from. I have only the key with no name on it. I am tired and want to lie down. Now it is 1:40 and I still do not know where it is. Despite that hiccup (I stayed another day in town as a result) and the poor weather, I enjoyed Split very much. Diocletian’s palace and the Roman ruins at Solin were fascinating. Actually, Diocletian’s palace is more than great, it is flat out amazing. Though I only remained in Split two days, my strongest memory, besides feeling like a fool for losing my guesthouse, was the sense of awe at walking in a lightly falling rain in the historic center of Split, past shops and apartments, the marble of the street slick and slippery, and to think it had once been the floor of a Roman residential complex. I next headed to the stunningly beautiful coastal town of Dubrovnik. I loved being in Dubrovnik. I know this because I stayed there for three whole days! I noted this in my diary: I stayed three days (!) in a lovely pension for less than $10 a night. I say I stayed three days especially because I have stayed for three days in only two other places-Cesky Krumlov and Krakow; they have all been trip highlights. The weather was absolutely perfect – warm, sunny, bright and clear. The blue sky glinting off the turquoise waters of Adriatic Sea. The walled city of the 16th century Old Town jutting magnificently into the sea. And I spent most of my days in deep conversation contemplating the meaning of life and love and travel with a male UK backpacker staying at the same pension; I am somewhat sorry we never stayed in touch. Despite the idyllic setting, there was still a pall over the city. The tours of the Old Town somberly detailed the 1991 Siege of Dubrovnik, in which the UNESCO World Heritage Site was heavily bombarded, damaging more than 60% of the buildings and killing approximately 88 civilians. Nine years later and restoration had really only just begun. Mortar damage was still visible. It was in Dubrovnik that the reality of the recent war and its aftermath crept into my travel reverie. My original plan had been to travel from Dubrovnik to Zagreb, but looking at a map it did not make a lot of sense. Rather than backtrack up the Croatian coast and cut northeast to the Croatian capital, I decided to cut through Bosnia, visiting a place or two along the way. I was thinking geographically rather than geo-politically. The kind pension owner in Dubrovnik had supplied me with the name and contact information of a woman in Sarajevo who also rented out rooms. With that in my hand I boarded a bus headed into Bosnia. At the border a South American backpacker, I think Venezuelan, was ejected from the bus and left at the small border patrol post because he did not have a visa. I watched him standing forlornly by the side of the road, looking very alone.

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Peacekeepers walk through the market in Sarajevo.

From the border it took about two hours to reach Mostar, the cultural capital of the Herzegovina region. I had wanted to stop there, perhaps for a night, and see the site where Stari Most, the 16th century Ottoman bridge which had been destroyed in 1993 during the war, had stood. When the bus stopped in the center of town, I changed my mind. From the bus windows I could see buildings riddled with bullets holes and several tanks manned by international peacekeeping forces. I thought I heard gun fire. I reasoned the highlight of the historic town, the bridge, lay in ruins, so there was no need to get off. I stayed put. The pension owner’s friend met me at the bus station in Sarajevo, which was a nice welcome after two and a half more hours on the bus through countryside that still showed signs of the war. Sarajevo too has buildings more full of bullet holes than people, and the scars of war are also plain on the sidewalks as you walk by “Sarajevo Roses,” imprints of where mortar shells hit that were later filled with red resin. The apartment I am staying in is in what had been the Serbian controlled area, and I walked along the road once dubbed “Sniper’s Alley” to the damaged iconic yellow Holiday Inn and into the Old Town. The woman I am staying with lost her husband in the war, though not in any battle. She pantomimed someone knocking on the door and bursting in, demanding something. A gun was held to her face and I guessed it was at this time her husband was killed. She receives 100 convertible marks a month in pension. With all the international forces with expense accounts in town, Sarajevo is not a very cheap place to live, so she tries to take people like myself in. My strongest memories of Sarajevo are these: the guesthouse owner pantomiming her sad tale, standing on the corner where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, walking past armed peacekeepers in the market, and passing burnt out buildings where families appeared to be residing while walking to the bus station for my departure. The overnight bus from Sarajevo to Zagreb was to take eight hours. Around midnight we entered the Republika Srpska, where though not an official international border, they had their own border check. It was almost pitch black outside with only the dim fluorescent light from the border control building. Two tall male immigration officials entered the bus and began checking passports. I was sitting in the back of the bus with three male backpackers from Canada. To our knowledge we were the only non-Bosnians on the bus; we were at least the only English speakers. The officials reached us and motioned for our passports. We all complied. Then we were all asked to get off the bus. I will not lie and say I did not feel a touch of panic. As my Canadian counterparts and I waited near the bus, we all talked in soft tones about what this might mean. It seemed to be taking the officials a long time. This had not been expected, and though I did not anticipate any problem, I did think back to the poor Venezuelan left behind not a week before. They had taken our passports and gone into the building. I do not remember if they told us much or anything at all, but we knew we had to wait. We did not know if the bus driver and the other passengers would wait for us. After what seemed like an eternity but may have been only ten minutes our passports were returned to us and we silently, gratefully, returned to the bus. I arrived in Zagreb around 7 am, but the hostel would not let me in until 2 pm and they would not hold my bags either. So I took my pack over to the left luggage at the railway station and then set out to see the city. I picked up a guide and did a walking tour, and then went to a cemetery, supposedly one of the most beautiful in Europe. The cemetery was lovely, though I do not spend a lot of time in them to really compare. But given my recent trip to Bosnia and my preoccupation with thoughts of war and death, I think I should not have gone. As I was preparing to leave, a funeral procession entered. I decided to leave for Hungary that day if I could. I liked Zagreb, I liked it much more than Ljubljana, but I wanted to move on.

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