Restart

After almost two years I’m bringing this back to life, leaving old stuff intact and hoping there’s nothing too embarrassing left in there :) Any suggestions are welcome, especially about design and simple ways to make it better.

Toulouse – Valladolid

Leaving Toulouse

As I had mentioned before, B. kindly dropped me off before he went to work in the morning at the petrol station on the western section of the highway ring, pointing south. There were lots of cars but I figured most of them are just going somewhere within Toulouse, so I asked just drivers with something else than 31 on their number plates. (France is divided into 100 departments and each of them has a number designated to it. 31 belongs to the department of Haute-Garonne, where Toulouse is located.) Before I got picked up by two Frenchmen after half an hour, I had seen a plane passing quite low above me (the airport isn’t far away) but I couldn’t tell if it were an Airbus. We didn’t talk at all for quite some time as the guy next to the driver had a long phone call, but later they showed me Pic du Midi in the distance. There appear to be two mountains of this name – it means simply “Peak of Midi” (Midi = southern France) – but looking at the map it had to be Pic du Midi de Bigorre, especially as I seem to remember the dome of the famous observatory on the top.

They dropped me at a petrol station after 100 km and the first driver I asked – because he had Spanish plates – agreed to give me a lift. L. was driving a van to Bilbao. It turned out he was actually a Gallego from a village not far from Santiago de Compostela: when he got a long phone call from a friend, it seemed to me he had a very weird accent. I didn’t understand much but I had thought that my Spanish being so crap is the only reason for this… Anyway, I learned my first phrase in Galician (Bus dias!*) – I later found out it’s actually Bos días, but from his mouth it certainly sounded like Bus. He told me that Galician sounds like Portuguese, but actually isn’t that similar, besides, the Galician they learn in school differs a lot from what they actually speak.

L. works for for the textile company Zara, he named a few more brands they produce, but I didn’t know them, just 2 of them sounded kind of familiar. He told me a bit about his colleagues at work. One of them has the same name as me, another is Romanian, a good worker, but there are many others who don’t want to work but prefer to beg for money on the streets. He heard of a beggar who was offered work by a passer-by, but ran away from the plantation after half a day. Earlier L. worked in Switzerland, in Crans-Montana, where his colleagues were Safet and his brother from Novi Pazar, a mostly Muslim town in Serbia. Safet wasn’t very religious, unlike his brother, a strict Muslim who was fasting during Ramadan, never drank alcohol (except beer) etc.

At 11:15 am he left me at the service area after Donostia / San Sebastián, where I asked a few people for a lift. A French couple told me they couldn’t take me because they were on holiday, but another elderly French couple saw no problem with that and took me for about 250 km. We stopped in Bilbao for some shooping, got lost a bit in the city but quickly found the way back to motorway, so I saw just the Sacred Heart Monument (Jesusen Bihotzaren Monumentua / Monumento al Sagrado Corazón) pictured in this article and the sign pointing to the Guggenheim museum. When we started discussing money and prices, it turned out the Frenchman collects coins, so I promised to send him Slovene euro coins once they were isued, and we have kept contact since then.

The real motorway (autopista) ends at Burgos, and after they left me at a petrol station between Burgos and Palencia, I discovered it would be probably a better idea if they had left me there, because the service areas were further apart, and therefore more frequented. But here on autovía (dual carrigeway) there is a petrol station at almost every exit, so I waited for quite some time and in the end asked a Portuguese truck driver to just take me to a busiest one. It was large enough but the mostly Portuguese truck drivers either claimed they aren’t going my way, or that they don’t understand me, although I hardly said more than “Valladolid”. So I rather went to the junction and soon got a lift to Valladolid, almost to the door of my host.

Toulouse 2

Local host

I was a bad guest this time, as I basically just slept the night on B.’s comfortable couch and even used the short time I spent in Toulouse to go meet someone else. But we still managed to talk a bit in the evening and morning.

B. works in a construction company as the boss of the administrative department, which means he’s working with computers and women all the time, so he doesn’t have one at home. He’s an avid skier, spending most of winter weekends in nearby Pyrenees, and a traveller who had recently discovered the joys of Hospitality Club in the Baltics. He hates traffic jams and like me, that’s not all he does about them, but also plans to reduce them by selling the car and getting around the town by bicycle or maybe scooter, especially as the way between his flat and job is nice and safe enough. Fortunately for me, getting rid of the car was still in the future, so he was able to give me a ride in the morning to a petrol station on the highway ring.

Local troubles

As many other places around France, Toulouse saw its share of violence in autumn 2005. It started over a week later than in Paris, but after that it was one of the main centres of unrest, with dozens of cars, at least 2 buses and a few buildings set on fire, and for a day the city bus network completely stopped as drivers protested against the aggression. A part of the underground line was also closed down.

A much worse incident occurred in September 2001, when a chemical factory exploded, resulting among other consequences in 30 deaths, many buildings so damaged that they had to be pulled down and supposedly 2/3 of the city’s windows shattered.

Studying in Toulouse

Considering the size of town and the aeronautical industry, it’s no surprise that Toulouse hosts a number of high-quality engineering schools. The costs are of course lower than e.g. in Paris, which all together results in 2nd biggest university campus in France according to Wikipedia. The best thing is probably that there’s a host of opportunities for some practical experience during your studies compared to many other French and European universities (not to speak about Slovenia).

M. was quite surprised when he started his studies in France, as he hadn’t known the school is somehow linked with the military. It doesn’t show much, except during first two weeks, when the older students tend to get into commanding mood. At least in hindsight nothing particularly outrageous, but still too much for some tender souls who apparently reckon it will last till the end of ther studies.
More about local sports

Both the rugby club Stade Toulousain, one of the most successful rugby teams in Europe, and the football club Toulouse FC (with a fair bit of luck) finished third this year in the respective French championships. The latter thus got a place in the qualifying stage of the UEFA Champions League, while the former as always qualified for its rugby version. Football proved more dangerous at least for the mayor, who injured his ankle while celebrating the victory. In autumn Toulouse will be one of the host cities of Rugby World Cup.

More local news since the previous post (links in French)

Cité de l’espace celebrated its 10th anniversary. The second metro line was inaugurated, with apparently very nicely decorated stations (notice the mayor’s crutches). It also brought along a comic book and an exhibition in the Roman museum, showing what the archaeologists found during excavations. In summer the city will host a summer festival.

Modern Albanian names

There’s a boy named Arvidas, a girl called Esmeralda (though not because of this it seems).

Arvidas  Esmeralda

The Confession (L’Aveu)

The confession is a film by Greek director Costa-Gavras, starring Yves Montand in possibly his best role, and his wife Simone Signoret. It is based on a book of the same title by Artur London, describing the Prague trials in 1951-2 Czechoslovakia, in which he was one of the defendants.

L'Aveu - poster

I had a really hard time watching this film. After first 5 or 10 minutes it was just too revolting, what was going on in the film was so out of sync with today’s world I live in, contrary to all principles of democracy, freedom, human rights etc. The fact that the story was real, not just from the scriptwriter’s imagination, of course didn’t offer much consolation. But somehow I forced myself to see it till the end – I still found it easier than reading similarly revolting comics (there are a few that I found excellent, but still have to get further than page 5), probably (1) because you can just sit down and watch the film, while you have to turn the pages of comics, and (2) because the film just goes on, while you can stare into a single page of comics and think about it for as long as you want.

When I saw it the first time I got the impression it’s not particularly creative, just the story of the book put into film. But while I was watching the rerun a few months later, I knew the story already and noticed so much more: the camera angles, zooming, and other technical elements that together masterfully created the perfectly claustrophobic atmosphere. Maybe it’s simply a too powerful film to grasp everything in a single viewing. Or maybe it’s too difficult just for me :-) Certainly the first time all my thoughts were occupied with the (hi)story.

The curious thing about this film is that it’s made in French, which I found a bit funny, as here’s no doubt where the events take place, unlike in Z for example.

(random) LINKS:
an article (in French) discussing the events in connection with the film
criticism (in French) of Amen., 2003 film by Costa-Gavras, including also criticism of L’Aveu, concerning its manipulation with historical accuracy

La corrida for the more sensitive

For a break I’ll finally venture into regions better described by the title of this blog. When hearing about la corrida, one usually thinks of bullfighting as practised (most famously) in Spain, but a while ago I watched a travel documentary and discovered that the Balkans offer another version of it, called korida. It does involve bulls, but in most ways it’s very different from the southwestern version. Maybe most importantly, if you would really like to see corrida but cruelty deters you from visiting a “real” one – be it for ethical reasons or because you simply can’t watch it – you’re welcome to Bosnia and Herzegovina! (though it’s still a not very enjoyable activity for the animals, of course)

Where?

It is practised in many places in Bosnia. Reportedly the name korida is a modern invention for marketing purposes, while the most common traditional local name is bodljavina bikova (“bullpricking”).

The most famous event is organized in Grmeč area (Grmečka korida) in northwestern Bosnia, close to Ključ and not far from Mrkonjić-Grad, usually in August. Here is a short article (in Bosnian) about the 234th korida, held in 2006. Place names probably mean nothing to you, but let me write anyway that this source says that it was previously held on Međeđe brdo, while since 1996 it’s located on Popovića brdo near Oštra Luka. In 2005 it was honoured by a post stamp issued by Republika Srpska.

but korida is also held in many places around Sarajevo. It’s also been exported a few times to Serbia, e.g. Srem region and Novi Sad.

How?

Unlike the more famous version, it’s a fight between two bulls, not a man and a bull. Two bulls clash their heads and then push, push, push… until one of them gets bored. The winner is the bull who chases his opponent away, usually towards the spectators. There are no Plazas de toros, but an ordinary lawn would do. This means the people are totally unprotected but usually there’s plenty of space to run to if the losing bull fancies the crowd a bit too much. The way a bull loses a match means the animals are very rarely seriously hurt.

Evidence:

A photo by Franci:

Korida in Bosnia and Herzegovina

photos from a small korida (around 4000 visitors)

Video clip in Slovene and Serbo-Croatian from the RTV Slovenija travel show Čez planke: Pasje leto (07.01.2007) –> start watching at 1:12:50

– 9-minute video from a smaller event near Sarajevo and “best of 2005

If you understand Bosnian:

a witty report from a big event (88 000 people) at Čevljanovići 30 km north of Sarajevo

Elsewhere

There are apparently other events like this one around the world, as I saw a very similar picture in a Turkish travel magazine, in an article about northeastern Turkey.

Toulouse 1

Toulouse (mostly) through Slovene eyes

One of the HC members in Toulouse that I had contacted wasn’t able to host me but he said he knows a Slovene student who would be very pleased to meet me, so when I arrived to Toulouse I called M. and after I took a shower we met at the central square called Place du Capitole and had a drink right there. He told me that Salamanca’s main square looks just the same; I didn’t get such impression later in Salamanca but it’s true that the Place du Capitole looks like a typical Spanish Plaza Mayor – a big rectangular open space, the focal point for all the main roads, surrounded by arcades and of course including the town hall and usually several other important buildings.

It’s M.’s 4th year as a post-graduate student in Toulouse but I’m the first Slovene he met here apart from family and friends. We talked a bit about our studies and comparison between studying in France (or many other countries) and Slovenia but quickly switched to gossip about the locals.

Local passions

As I could tell from the profiles of the HC members in Toulouse and what I read about the city (4th biggest in France), almost everyone is doing something in connection with aeroplanes or rockets. Airbuses are built here and it’s their greatest passion besides rugby (not football): when the new Airbus A380 went on the first flight on 27th April 2005, the airport was as full of people as a rugby stadium and for those who couldn’t come it was shown live on a big screen at the Place du Capitole – while on the ground there was a shape of the aeroplane in natural size. This is probably what he had in mind; I think the screen is in the top right corner. At the moment the people are not so excited due to delivery delays of A380.

Main sights

Later M. took me on a short night-tour of the main sights in the city centre: we saw St Stephen’s cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne), the Romanesque Saint-Sernin basilica, a result of Toulouse’s important position on the way to Santiago de Compostela, enjoyed a nice view on the bridges (photo stolen from la mairie de Toulouse):

Pont Neuf, Toulouse

and some other places that may or may not be described later.

Local transport

Yet another city I visited with only one metro line (after Sofia, Bulgaria and Genova, Italy), but there are plans of expansion, with line B under construction (obstructing the stroll around certain parts of the city at the moment) and scheduled to open on 30th June 2007. It’s quite unimportant for tourists, as you can get anywhere around the centre on foot; I guess it’s a different story if you’re into rockets and might enjoy Cité de l’espace.

Local food

Supposedly, when you come to Toulouse you have to try the fantastic very special and expensive local specialty called cassoulet, but I didn’t have time and probably I wouldn’t try it anyway, as M. said (and a Serb living in Toulouse agrees) that it’s pretty much like pasulj, a ubiquitous Serbian dish that is sooo “complicated” to make that it’s used in the saying “simple as pasulj“.

Local customs

I stayed in Toulouse for a very short time, so I didn’t have the opportunity to see it for myself, but comparing what M. told me and what I later saw in Spain, Toulousains and probably southern France in general have more of a South European character than (northern) Spaniards. If you’re walking around, you should wait until the red light is on, and then jump across the road. It actually makes sense, as while the green light is on for pedestrians, it’s also green light for drivers turning right across the road crossing – and there’s no way they will stop for anyone!

Local lingo

There are plenty of Spaniards and Portuguese working and living in Toulouse, so even during my short stay there I heard Spanish a few times on the streets. More interesting though is Occitan, a language spoken in southern France, though French is nowadays prevalent of course. It’s nowhere near official and it’s unlikely to be heard on the streets, but at least in downtown Toulouse, or Tolosa in Occitan, there are plenty of streets with signs in both languages, like this one (again, not mine):

street sign in French & Occitan, Toulouse

more to come:

Studying in Toulouse

Local host

Local violence

Local shop (it’s not Royston Vasey after all…)

New sports TV in a small country

It’s not easy to start a sports channel in a country where the public TV already shows most of the popular sports, while other sports like F1 or European Champions League in football are broadcast by one or another existing private TV. What’s left then? Apart from a few gems, only some second most important matches of the competitions shown on other TVs, some local sports, foreign football leagues, and American sports. Of course everyone would love to show some NBA events or the games of LA Kings (the reason) but apparently they are too expensive, so Slovene viewers have to watch also rodeo, specifically bull riding. To us it looks utterly ridiculous, especially the (Slovene!) commentary:

(very excitedly) Look how the bull goes right, and left, and again right, then left!

And of course he repeats something similar for about every competitor. But then I thought, what about e.g. ski jumping/flying that we’re so excited about? An average event means about 80 quite identical jumps in a day (plus the qualifiers if it’s an important match…), and each of them gets a commentary from the reports and often a comment from the expert, though admittedly it’s sometimes about stupid judges and similar stuff. It’s just that we’re used to different kind of sporty entertainment. English are crazy about cricket, Americans about baseball or (American) football and don’t get so excited about soccer (unless the ladies win the World Cup :-), while the public TV over here shows up to 4 or 5 events in winter sports on many weekends during winter…

Genoa – Toulouse

Sunday, 29th October 2006

As I came home late the extra hour at night was very helpful. In the morning (7:30 am) my host S. drove me to the motorway junction Genova-Ovest (there’s a little room for hitching at the slip road from the petrol station). I first tried with a sign saying Savona but after 20 min switched to F for France and got a ride in a few minutes with a young Italian couple. They drove me for about 100km and I’m pretty sure they told me their names but unfortunately I totally forgot them. While he was driving, she (also a philosophy student, like A.) talked to me in Italian and tried to illustrate with gestures what she felt I might not understand :-) Very cute :-) We stopped in Imperia to buy petrol, it cost 1.433€ per litre (more than in Genoa), and they weren’t very happy when they saw the price 1.254€ at the next service area, where they dropped me :-|

I changed a couple of Italian cars and a French woman going on a trip to Les Baux-de-Provence and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (her son really wants to become a teacher, the main reason being a lot of holidays…), getting about halfway of my planned route for today. I asked one or two drivers for a ride and then attacked a young van driver with my lousy German (he had German license plates), but he rather replied in English :-) It appeared I was very lucky as J. actually goes all the way to Toulouse! And as we started in English we continued in the same language, although he’s lived in France since childhood, so I could have practiced my French. We talked mostly about our studies (he’s a post-graduate law student), but we were also quiet for long periods and as I woke up early, I also dozed off for a while. He was going to a friend in Toulouse but didn’t know the town very well. Fortunately I had printed out maps of Toulouse from Viamichelin in 6 different scales, focused on the city centre (my HC host lives right in the centre), so I navigated to the Matabiau train station where J. was meeting his friend and a Czech girl. Maybe we could go for a drink but I wanted to have enough time for everything, so I just said goodbye and looked for my place for the night. B. was surprised I didn’t call him that I’m lost but just came directly to his house :-)

Genoa

Saturday, 28th October 2006

Genoa (Genova in Italian) is a maritime town, once upon a time one of the most important powers of Mediterranean (not just in trade) and therefore extremely wealthy; also birthplace of Christopher Columbus. It’s squeezed between the sea and the hills of Ligurian Apennines; there was enough place for the old city, but nowadays with over 600,000 inhabitants it climbed very far up the hills. As said the oldest part is more or less flat, although it’s one of the biggest historical centres in Europe; quite a large part of it was inscribed on Unesco’s list of World Heritage sites this year due to its wonderful palaces. Genoa CFC is the oldest existing football club in Italy.

Genoa is a beautiful city – the older parts of course, the modern apartment blocks can be quite depressing – and among the most underrated cities of Italy. No photos in this article, sorry, but you can see plenty if you follow the links.

Steep city

After I checked e-mails and arranged the accommodation in Spain I went around the city. As mentioned in the previous post, I hadn’t expected so many hills around here, but when I saw them, I had to walk somewhere higher to get a nice view of the town, although there’s also a funicular (or more of them, I’m not sure). It was really exciting (if you don’t mind getting a bit tired), I got some good views of the city, got lost a few times (which is fun of course) and discovered that many apartment blocks in Genoa have one entrance on the ground floor and another – depending on their height – somewhere in the middle, on the top floor or you even have to climb a few steps from the roof to get to the street above the building. Unsurprisingly there aren’t many cyclers around and I doubt there would have been much more if Genoa had been in the Netherlands or Denmark. There are however plenty of scooters, as everywhere in Italy, though here they come even handier.

At the train station

The train station Genova Principe is quite attractive on the outside (like many old railway stations) but I had a look around mostly to get some impression on the prices:

  • exchange office holds a quite varied choice of currencies but the exchange rates are a rip off: 1€ = 263.78 / 215.82 SIT (in Slovenia at the same time 240.3144 / 238.8768 SIT; source: BS). Current exchange rates at the biggest bank in Slovenia: NLB
  • panoramic postcard (twice the normal size) of Genoa: 1.50€ (in Turkey I got 12 postcards for the same money)
  • international trains are still much more expensive than domestic, EU hasn’t yet changed much in this regard
  • a little bookshop sells a map called Costa Iugoslava meridionale (Southern Yugoslav Coast) for 1.55€; it’s from 1990, with all the nice names like Titograd :-)

Two girls on the street stopped me and asked where the train station is (nice that I don’t appear local just in the Balkans); fortunately I had just left it so I could actually help them and didn’t need to tell them I don’t speak Italian.

In the old city

I saw many* tourists, mostly individuals (i.e. not groups) – many Italians but also German speaking, I also heard Portuguese.

The Old Harbour (Porto Antico) is a fairly pleasant, spacious place, though generally not very attractive as there’s a motorway on 10-m high pillars running all the way along the coast, and the most interesting buildings are some structures by the famous native architect Renzo Piano.

Apart from two or three most important churches, they are almost always closed. Many look very inviting and I’m sure it’s worth peeking inside, but usually there’s not even a timetable saying it’s open (for example) 2 hours a day. University building at Via Balbi 5 is gorgeous, especially the courtyard is interesting with arcades and staircases around it, reaching 2 or 3 floors. I discovered Castello d’Albertis, a castle built at the end of the 19th century by a sea captain who travelled the whole world and brought plenty of archaeological and ethnographic objects back home, so the castle now hosts the Museum of World Cultures. It’s surrounded by a very pleasant park with a nice view on Genoa. A sign says the dogs mustn’t enter it but nobody seems to care about it. Then I passed Albergo dei Poveri, an enormous building, maybe the biggest in Genoa, once providing housing for the poor. I wandered around the heart of old centre, passed a whore street close to the municipality building, saw the former St Augustine’s monastery, what’s left of the city walls, and the house of Christopher Columbus, which is now situated on the edge of a busy square but at the same time in a cute little park that also includes romantically lit remnants of St Andrew’s cloister.

* many as there are many tourists in Ljubljana, i.e. not that many compared to Paris, London, Prague etc, which means they don’t spoil your experience by their presence

Mmmm, ice-cream

I hurried back “home” to change my clothes and refresh a bit and immediately back to the centre to meet some other HC members – A., a Polish girl on Erasmus exchange; three locals; and S., a Belgian girl who also stopped in Genoa on the way to Spain. First we went to a cheap pizzeria (OK but nothing extraordinary) and then to the best ice-cream in town at La Cremeria delle Erbe (really good!). We walked around a bit, first to Porto Antico, where we climbed over the fence onto the ship attached to the Aquarium (one of the biggest in the world) and had a look at the lighthouse (Lanterna) across the bay, the symbol of Genoa. We crossed the heart of the old town and used one of many public elevators (I guess it’s obvious by now why they are needed in this city) to get to Belvedere Montaldo and see Genoa by night. Then the 2 guys and S. left and A. & E. escorted me to the old port, where I caught a bus home (metro wasn’t running anymore).

Thanks especially to A., E., C. and M., nobody believes me anymore I don’t speak Italian. But I really don’t. I just make up something from other Romance languages and somehow it often comes out understandable. I don’t usually say much in Italian though. And as me and A. concluded, it’s really easy with Italians – they don’t expect perfect Italian from you, or any specific level of Italian for that matter, so you just say whatever you know and they accept it and communicate somehow with you. (The French were given as a different example.)

Slovenia – Genoa

Milk truck

On the other side of the border post to Italy I tried to get a ride with VE for Venice but eventually I asked a Slovene driver who stopped to check the tyres and I joined him on his milk truck, all the way to Brescia or over 300km. There was nothing special (new) to see on the way, it’s just all very flat, so we just talked mostly about truck-related themes, which doesn’t mean it was boring.

The driver was just a few years older than me, he is actually 4 (most difficult) exams – short of his university degree, but he took a kind of break. He drives Slovene milk to a town in the surroundings of Milan every other day, without any exceptions on Sundays or holidays – simply because cows give milk every day and we want fresh milk on the shelves every day. He actually prefers this to being on the way for 10 days and then having a longer break, as he can sleep at home every other day and have a decent shower etc. He’s also not really a lonely truck driver as there are 7 milk trucks going at roughly the same time and usually there’s someone driving close enough that they can chat with each other.

Some other stuff:

  • his colleague was recently fined over 3600€ in Poland because the tachographs weren’t in order
  • since a few days later transiting trucks in Slovenia aren’t allowed to use state roads parallel to motorways; in general it’s good but the problem is that the (Slovene) truck owners are paying over 1000€ a year for “road use” but many of them are using just motorways, which is paid separately anyway
  • there was a traffic jam on the motorway when we were passing Venice, so we were driving only 60 kph but I was told we actually saved one hour compared to normal circumstances (even though it was Friday afternoon), as normally they aren’t even driving all the time but just moving and stopping, as if they were in the middle of a busy city

He was very nice and took a bit different route to bring me to a more convenient service area for me, and it was very comfortable to just ask once and get a long ride but the trucks are so slow and they also have to stop every few hours, so that later I tried to avoid trucks and rather asked car drivers.

Brescia – Genoa

It went very smoothly, I never waited longer than 15 minutes – and even then it was because the first car I sat in just couldn’t start and I had to find another one :-) I was a bit surprised by all the tunnels before Genoa as in the picture in my head the Apennine Mountains were only in the middle of the peninsula but actually they reach all the way along Ligurian coast and to the Alps. The first signs I arrived to southern Europe appeared when we arrived to Genoa at 10pm: the roads were blocked and we were crawling through the city for the next hour and a half. In Ljubljana there’s hardly anyone on the streets at this hour, maybe some crowds on special occasions, but we certainly don’t make traffic jams at midnight!

I slept for two nights at a priest in the suburbs of Genoa. He has a big dorm so it was very comfortable, and I got the impression that he’s a bit lonely, so maybe that’s why he joined the Hospitality Club. Not that I could get a good impression after just a few short conversations. His parish is quite far from the centre BUT the metro terminus is a mere 5 min away from his house, so it was actually a very convenient location.

Just a few Italian drivers so far were enough that I learnt some very useful words for Italian roads: traffico intenso, incidente, and then words like cazzo, putana troia, porca putana etc, which are best avoided if you’re not sure when to use them :-)

Out of Ljubljana

The hitching from Ljubljana to Genova was quite easy, but the beginning wasn’t very promising, as I waited quite long to get a ride to the Italian border:

(mostly technicalities)

Fortunately there’s no dilemma about the best starting spot to hitch from Ljubljana to southwest – it’s the entrance ramp to motorway in the southwest of Ljubljana, in the area known as Dolgi most, at the end of bus line #6. Another positive aspect was that it was Friday, when many students and other people go from Ljubljana to their homes in other parts of the country (though it also means there’s a lot of hitchhiking competition). However, I started too late (10:30 a.m.), at least considering my goal for the day, and then it took a while to figure what is the best sign to show if you want to get to Italy – ITA didn’t work, so I tried with Slovene towns in that direction.

My overall impression was that people usually pick up just hitchhikers with the same final destination. GO (Nova Gorica) is apparently too far, so not many people go there. Most people where passing PO (Postojna) but apparently they weren’t excited about making a detour to toll station, or more likely, they thought I want them to drive right into town. Sežana seemed too small to me, so I rather tried with KP (Koper/Capodistria), which worked in the end – my idea was to get to the border crossing just 1 km away from the motorway. It’s no problem to get from there into Trieste, but as I actually wanted to pass Trieste, it might have been complicated.

Dangerous styrofoam

I was lucky though, as the light truck did go to Koper, but after that also to Sežana, so T. dropped me at the last petrol station before the border, from where I got a short ride to the border crossing.

But we could have been also very unfortunate: he was transporting 12 pieces of styrofoam (expanded polystyrene), wrapped in some kind of plastic that was less strong than an average rubbish bag. It was just put on the truck and the driver was told it doesn’t need to be tied at all. But they were very wrong. After about 10 km on the motorway at 130 kph the plastic was completely torn and 6 pieces fell off the truck and everyone was VERY lucky that no-one was right behind us at that moment and also that the driver noticed it almost immediately. We quickly parke, threw the styrofoam to the side of the road and then on the truck, and this time of course we made sure it’s tied REALLY tightly.

After that the ride was quite uneventful, we exchanged a few hitchhiking stories (he was of the type “I prefer to take boys because girls get a ride immediately anyway” and also hitched occasionally), and commented on the wonders of budget airlines (he paid a 30-€ ticket for his daughter who lives in Portugal but as it was so cheap she didn’t care much about it and missed the plane, so he had to buy another ticket for 200€). In Koper we found the construction site immediately but not the entrance for the trucks, so we just stopped on the pavement. T. asked the boss “Come on, call two Bosnians to unload this stuff” but as they didn’t appear quickly enough we just dropped the styrofoam there – not that it was very heavy… And then off to Sežana.

Going to Spain

Why and where?

I had such a terrible case of a travel itch that I couldn’t stay at home anymore, so I decided to go to Spain, mainly because it’s a great country where I hadn’t been before and to test my Spanish. It was also warm enough in those places to make the trip enjoyable.

How

As I didn’t plan it some time in advance, the trip was bound to be very poorly funded, so I thought it’s a good opportunity to try long-distance hitching for the first time. A nice side effect was that I also went to France for the first time – it always seemed a bit weird to me that I’m sort of fluent in French but never been to a francophone country…

Where exactly

I had about 2 weeks for the whole trip, and Spain is of course too big and interesting to see everything, so I took a simple criterion to choose places – I was going to where my sister hadn’t been, i.e. I left Barcelona, Valencia, Andalusia and Madrid for the next time and the original plan was then to make a circle around Madrid: Salamanca, Ávila, Segovia, Toledo, Cuenca, Teruel, Zaragoza. But for various reasons, of all these towns I made it only to Salamanca :-)

Preparations

I checked a few websites about hitchhiking. The most useful info was that it’s easy to hitch in Italy from one service station (area di servizio) on the motorway (autostrada) to another, how to ask for a lift in Italian (Puoi darmi un passaggio?) and I saw somewhere that you can get from Bari to Switzerland in 10-14 hours, so I planned to stop overnight in Genova (I) and Toulouse (F) on the way. My first planned stop in Spain was supposed to be Salamanca, but then I found accommodation also in Valladolid, so I stopped there first. But more details will follow in future posts. It was risky a bit, as I had absolutely no previous experience to tell whether the plan was realistic or not.

Another thing that proved REALLY useful was a good road atlas of Europe (Euro Atlas from Marco Polo is better at least than what Michelin was offering), meaning that at least the petrol stations on the motorways are marked, as of course many people don’t know if there is one on their route or not, and which is the furthest they can take me to before leaving the motorway.

I found accommodation through Hospitality club, which also appeared to be a very good idea, but it also affected my travel plans, as I couldn’t find a place to stay in smaller places, at least not on a fairly short notice.


February 2021
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