Salzburg – Ljubljana

After a long day of sightseeing and taking in the local culture, I have a morning to kill in Salzburg. However, I also have a dilemma. The backpack which I’d defiantly chosen for three weeks of travelling has got heavier by the day – even though there’s nothing more in it. I had thought it was just a case of getting used to the feel after years of behaving like a slob.

And then it occurred to me that this trip didn’t need to be done on a budget. The InterRail pass had been so cheap I just got it into my head that this was all about saving money. A mate suggested I could just buy a suitcase and pack the rucksack inside it. Impossible, I thought, since it has an aluminium frame. But everything about luggage is deceptive, so after a brief foray around the small shopping mall next to Salzburg station I emerged looking more like a tourist than a traveller.

The small day pack had been another idea of a friend – and now it was becoming an essential companion, able to hold tickets. Important documents and the like. And remarkably the suitcase was big enough to hold my rucksack – although I still had thoughts of dumping it to make room for a few souvenirs.

So while travelling light had gone out the window, travelling in some style had not. And in another superb mark of European efficiency, the OBB Lounge at Salzburg station enabled a little relaxation before the onward journey.

A train through the Tyrol

The Euro Cities train to Ljubljana started its journey earlier this morning in Frankfurt, and it’s another first for this trip – a train that splits at Klagenfurt in Southern Austria. In their usual efficiency, the platform has an electronic display with the precise layout of the train, describing clearly which carriages go on to the Slovenian capital and beyond. Mine is car 275, which immediately puts an old Radio 1 jingle into my head. If you’re over 50 and from the UK, you’ll know the one I mean.

Coincidentally, it’s not just the jingle in my head that went back to the 1970s. The train itself can only be described as dated. Both First and Second Class have old fashioned compartments. To some, this conjures up a romantic notion of Agatha Christie stories, or perhaps a James Bond film. To the casual traveller, it conjures up the prospect of having to spend several hours cooped up with three other strangers.

Fortunately the conversation is convivial. At least it sounds that way, as the other three people are speaking in German. Outside the southern Tyrolian countryside sweeps by with rivers, mountains and pretty buildings that are most probably made of gingerbread. =A foldable table in the side of my seat has its hinges missing, and the old compartments inexplicably have no storage for large bags, unless you have extendable arms to reach the top of carriage.

But hey, nostalgia, right? Or perhaps it’s a sign of things to come as I head south and east. But the views more than make up for it.

At Villach, the train divides into two. Just three carriages travel on towards Slovenia. Since it’s part of the European Union, there are border controls or passport checks. Two of my three compartment companions have departed – and it turns out that teh one woman left – who has been fluently speaking German for the whole of the journey so far – is actually Slovenian.

Suddenly she switches to near fluent English and is curious to know about my own trip. She also adds in a few political views on immigrants – mainly those from Afghanistan and Iraq. There are “too many” she tells me, who have “no jobs and no respect for women”. Her experience is based on life in Germany (she has travelled from Stuttgart), a country which says is a soft touch for those seeking asylum.

Political chat over, we cross the Slovenian border. At Jesenice the Austrian Tain crew are replaced with local, proud Slovenian Railway employees. And they take pride in meticulously checking our tickets once again.

There are still mountains in the background, but here the surrounding countryside looks different. Gone are the Hansel and Gretel houses, replaced now by simpler buildings. Occasionally the landscape becomes more industrial, with quarrying a frequent feature. The railway follows the Sava River, before heading into the centre of Ljubljana.

Lovely Ljubljana

At first glance, the city at dusk looks less inviting than the other places I’ve arrived at. The railway station is a functional Eastern European affair with no posh waiting rooms. Buses from across the continent park at the front, with grubby cafes and takeaways dotted around. But as I walk towards the centre the atmosphere changes. The buildings become more grand, the streets cleaner.

The City Hotel is a three star establishment. But three stars here means far more luxury than I saw in Lyon or Salzburg. The room is large, sparking clean, and of course NewsMutt is first to try out the enormous bed.

The artwork on the wall reflects the many bridges crossing the Lubjanica River which separates the Old and New towns. This part of the city is extremely compact – and within ten minutes I find myself admiring not one, but three bridges which lie just off the main square, with its stunning centrepiece – a Franciscan church.

The river itself makes a perfect backdrop for around a dozen or so bars. It’s a little early in the year so some aren’t open, and it’s also got a bit chilly, so many people opt to stay inside. A number, however, choose venues with outdoor heaters – all of which makes for a rather nice relaxing atmosphere.


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