Thursday, August 25, 2011

Exodus to Slovenia

Since I last left you, I have spent somewhere around 1200 hours on trains. No wait, that can't be right. However many hours it is, it feels like somewhere around 1200. We bought tickets in Rome to Venice several days ago after being told that all of the trains were full until 2075 but that we were welcome to buy "standing" tickets, which train-station-man seemed to think would be a perfectly fine option for us. We didn't like the sound of "the train is full but here are some standing tickets" but we also didn't think we had much of a choice, so off we went to find out what "standing" really meant.

Krishelle later pointed out that she was impressed that the train station was able to sell 4,000 tickets for only 400 seats. This was probably very little of an exaggeration as we boarded the train and were immediately forced to stand with our bulky backpacks and luggage in the incredibly narrow corridor outside of many six-seat compartments that lined the train. And we were not alone. The entire corridor from end to end was totally packed with panicked looking people who each had a minimum of 17 bags and had apparently also encountered the same greasy salesman in the train station who made the standing option sound like a pleasant stay in a 5 star hotel. The packed corridor somehow did not stop cart-man who miraculously pushed his way through, back and forth, for the entire day selling warm drinks and stale cookies, making us suck in our stomachs, stand on our luggage, and guard our appendages from being run over. This was like a very tricky game of twister most of the time. But I had bigger troubles to worry about than cart-man because Heather and Jonathan asked several times how long the train ride would be and I repeatedly lied to them and then had to engage in some very tricky mind-games and manipulation to keep them from finding out the truth. I told them it would just be a few short hours. Truth: we were scheduled to arrive in Venice no sooner than 6 and a half hours after take-off. I'm sure they were strong enough to handle the truth but I figured that after the Naples experience, I shouldn't risk it.

And so we rode. And we rode. Through the hot Italian deserts while hairy, sweaty, stinky, Europeans walked the length of the cabin back and forth, for no apparent reason, occasionally stopping to rest on top of us and in our laps. This misery continued until we finally arrived in Ferrara. Never heard of it? That's because the place is a dump. And we know that it is because that is where our train practically exploded. Well, we think it probably practically exploded because we can't understand what else could have caused a scheduled 2 minute stop to take 2 and a half hours. This is no exaggeration. Every 20 minutes or so the conductor would announce that we would be leaving in another 30 minutes, which we optimistically believed, over and over, like the abused in an abusive relationship (and believe me, we were the abused in a very abusive relationship with the entire train system of Italy by this point). Unfortunately for all of us, the tiny bit of air conditioning that had been coming from a couple of unclogged vents completely ceased for the duration of the break, leaving us to continue to bake in the 100 or so degree conditions.

The train finally moved on and arrived in Venice several hours later, pulling in about 9 or 10 hours after we had initially sat on the corridor floor in Rome. We think that we can relate to the pioneers now. Or some other group that has suffered. We will likely share this experience in a church lesson later mid tears (while also making up a few facts so that it actually relates to the lesson).

When we got to Venice we never wanted to climb aboard any transportation again. So we found a great apartment in the center of the city for a good deal and camped out for a couple of days. Venice was wonderful and we all felt it was well worth the trauma above mentioned to get there. We wandered from end to end of the city, visited St. Marks, ate our weight in gellato, and explored many incredible churches.

Yesterday we put our brave faces on (for the kids) and decided to make our way to Slovenia. While Venice and Ljubljana, our desired destination in Slovenia, look to be within walking distance on a world map, one finds that the train from one to the other takes literally 9 hours. This is because the train goes through Arizona to get to Ljubljana (ok, so Arizona is an exaggeration, but it actually does go all the way through Vienna, which is nowhere near either city at all. For comparison, imagine taking a train from San Diego to L.A. and having it go through Phoenix. This is actually a pretty accurate comparison). So we instead took a train to Trieste Italy for a little over one hour and then found 2 hour bus tickets to take us the rest of the way. When our bus tickets were sold to us, the four of us stood in shock, staring at one another, waiting for the catch, because we were positive that something had to go wrong since we hadn't had a seamless travel experience up to that point yet. But alas, the trip to Ljubljana went very well and we arrived safely.

We found a hostel near center that seemed like a good choice. The four of us were immediately placed in a room with 6 other strangers. We welcomed the adventure. Until night came. Four Indian men came into the room around 3:00 AM and marched around, taking things out of their bags loudly for about one hour as they prepared to go to bed. None of us can figure out why on Earth it took them so long to get ready for bed, or why they needed to be so loud about it, but they did. We sighed a major sigh of relief when they finally climbed into bed at 4:00. But the peace did not last as all of their alarm clocks began to go off in 4 minute increments starting at 6:00, which they each responded to by pressing snooze over and over again until Heather finally sat up and screamed "SHUT UP!" at 7:00. This is a true story. Any of you who know Heather are probably very shocked right now because she is so mild-mannered and typically very patient. But we found her limit this morning at exactly 7:00 AM. In her defense, it took an awful lot to get to that point. And to her credit, it worked like a charm because the whole room immediately fell silent at her request and stayed that way until she was ready to get up.

Ljubljana is gorgeous and clean and sans tourists. We love it here. Today we took a bus to Bled and swam in a gorgeous lake that sits in the mountains. Unfortunately we didn't think to bring anything to swim in, but the water was so clear and beautiful that we couldn't help ourselves so we made make-shift bathing suits with whatever clothes we brought (which may or may not have involved extensive amounts of forest nudity to get to something workable) and just hoped that we would dry off in time to climb aboard our bus back to Ljubljana at the end of the day. It all worked out very well. We swam and hiked and never wanted to leave. It truly was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Tomorrow we'll head back into Italy. Not totally sure where to just yet. Probably Verona or Florence or wherever we can go that doesn't require "standing" only tickets.

~It Just Gets Stranger 


  1. I understand your issue with trains in Italy. I bought tickets(for a sleeper) train from Paris to Italy. I had to get to Venice to catch my ship that left for Greece, Croatia, and Montengro. So needless to say the typical mode of transportation( cheap RyanAir tickets) would not do with the luggage I would need for the dinners, days..oh screw it..because I am a girl and need two suitcases for over two weeks. =)

    The train was late, was hot, over crowed, got a six person sleeper no room for luggage so slept curled around my suitcases, people talked for all hours and stopped in random crappy places for too long and got into Venice late. Luckily I made my ticket get in the day BEFORE I had to leave or i would have missed my cruise ship boarding time.

    Sounds like a fun trip even if you had the bad train trip in Italy. I love Europe.

    Also I laughed out loud very hard at your body cracked up comment and am not sure why.