August 31, 2005


After a brief nap in Dubrovnik, my friends woke me at 730am to catch the ferry to Hvar. We rushed to the port, bought our ticket and discovered that the boat was two hours late. Brilliant. So, my friends - who hadn't yet seen much of the city - left me in the car to catch up on sleep. Two hours later, the boat arrived, and we piled in. The ride was uneventful, but for an interesting old man that I saw. He was dressed immaculately, in a blue pin-striped suit and polished black shoes, and he struck a pose of confidence as he squinted out over the railing. What ruined the image of international playboy was that he wore a ridiculous red and blue polka-dot floppy hat.

In Hvar, we repeated the apartment routine. We pulled up next to an old lady with a sign and I mimed my way through asking for a room with three beds. She barely spoke any english, italian, german, or french, so I had to make do with sign-language. The price was right, but I wanted to see the place. She indicated that we should wait five minutes as someone who spoke english would soon arrive. Sure enough, five minutes later, a delightful young girl of maybe twenty years ran towards us, smiling. Yes, she had a room and yes it was close to the old town. Of course we could see it. And at that moment, up screached a tiny old Opel hatchback. Belching smoking oil and barely idling, it was piloted by - surprise, surprise - a large croatian man without a shirt. The old woman indicated that I should get in. One of my friends decided to accompany me, but as he went back to tell our car's driver what was going on, another woman rushed down the road with her shopping bag, and jumped into the car with me. Now, with myself, the driver, the old woman and her grand-daughter, and the new arrival, the car was full. And loud, since everyone was jabbering away in Croatian. As we inched away, I gestured to my friends that they should follow us.

Well, we ended up taking the place, and the driveway was ridiculously tight. Our car's driver was rightfully annoyed by the numerous people trying to direct him into the spot. Picture an old lady, her shirtless, wild-haired, corpulent husband, a smiling grand-daughter, as well as a strange lady with a shopping bag all yelling away in Croatian, giving conflicting directions. It was chaos.

Despite the fact that I was exhausted, I joined my friends in exploring Hvar. It is renouned for its prized-spot among the international jetset. The restaurant prices certainly reflected the island's prosperity, as did the expensive yachts docked in the harbor. The nightlife did not disappoint, and we ended the night at the rightfully named Carpe Diem lounge that had an eclectic assortment of beautiful, pouting models, middle-aged men in white suits and straw hats, confident, macho Italian tourists, and gawking north americans (us).

August 30, 2005

Dubrovnik - August 30, 2005

I spent the day site-seeing. While my friends slept, I grabbed a coffee on the main boulevard and watched as the package tourists were herded from Cathedral to Bell Tower. The city was much more crowded during the day and also lost a bit of its charm as tourists jostled for the best photos. I chose to walk up some random alleyways, away from the hustle and bustle. I climbed up and up, between 4 story houses that were over 300 years old, past men grilling lunch on the steps, and beside children playing football. I wandered under fresh lilacs and plump grape vines and below gossiping women hanging their morning's laundry. And thus, I observed Dubrovnik.

Eventually, the tourists cleared out, having to catch their cruiseships onto the next major destination. So then I walked around the main square and down the majestic boulevard to the entrance to the city ramparts. I paid my entrance fee and admired the views over Dubrovnik, a city of red-tiled roofs, church spires, and unforgettable views over the harbor and Adriatic sea.

Three quarters of the way around, I followed my brother's instructions and looked down. As he had described, there was a tiny bar clinging to the sea, outside the citywalls. Locals were sunbathing, jumping off a cliff and somehow avoiding a medley of dangerous rocks, and sipping beers, chatting quietly. I had to find that bar. I hurried off the city fortifications, and threw myself into the maze of alleys once again. Passing two fighting cats, an old woman scolding her grandson, and a grinning man urinating in a corner, I struggled to find my way back to the bar. And then, I found the sign proclaiming 'Cold Drinks: the most beautiful bar in the Adriatic.' And that it was. I watched the sunset, nurturing a wonderfully cold local brew.

That night, we had a platter of fresh mussels for dinner. Excellent! My friends were tired, so myself and the Irishman bribed a local bar to sell us some beers (it was past 1am) and sat in the square until sunup, catching up on our respective summers. Eventually, the local bar closed down, and the barman promised 'tomorrow, first drink on bar. You come, ok!'

August 29, 2005

Dubrovnik, Croatia

After another half day wandering the marble stoned alleys of Split (and fighting our way through throngs of Cruise-ship day trippers), we left for Dubrovnik. The windows were down, the music was loud, and the weather was perfect. It was a five hour ride down a narrow, winding coastal road, and through some tiny, medieval fishing villages. Think of Cinque Terre in Italy, except fewer tourists. Every few miles, we saw some random cars parked and a path leading down to the sea. Investigation yielded some quiet, sheltered beaches below the limestone cliffs that towered over the water.

We arrived in Dubrovnik without a reservation, so we drove as far as we could go on the main road and found four little old ladies with Room For Rent signs. I walked up to the first, who only spoke Italian. I managed to explain that I wanted three beds in an apartment close to old town. Nodding in understanding, she grabbed my hand and waved at my friends in the car, indicating that they should wait. And so I stumbled up some stairs after this terribly old lady who was far more nimble than her ragged dress and varicose veined legs would indicate. We looked at a total of three rooms, none of which were adequate. The first stank. The second only had one bed (which I think she insisted could fit three people). The third was right off someones living room and meant that we would have to walk through someones bedroom to get to the bathroom. Weird. So, I tried my luck with another old lady. This one claimed to speak english, but I soon learned that her vocabulary was limited to 'Room!' and 'Beautiful!' and 'Look at Sea!' and 'Terrasse!' and 'Big Bed!' and 'Beautiful!' and 'Very very Beautiful!!!!'

So, I followed this second lady up to a room. It seemed acceptable, but had a sofa bed and was in someone's house. I quickly discovered that the 'someone' was a giant croatian man (both height and width) who didnt like wearing shirts. He had, in tow, a tiny, crying toddler who knew one english word : 'TOURIST!!' I passed on the room and asked what else she had. She said 'Beautiful apartment!' Intrigued, I asked the price. It was too high. Would she lower the price for a student, perhaps? Of course. And what about a discount since it is the end of the day? A reluctant yes. Hmm, perhaps, but we have to see it first.

And so we went back downstairs to find my friends in the car. I explained to the woman that I wanted to confer with my colleagues. I climbed into the car and started to explain the options. Apparently not wanting to lose the sale, she squeezed in next to me, slammed the door, and yelled out directions to the place, punctuating every sentence with 'Beautiful!!! So beautiful apartment.' Well, she was right. We took it.
We were hungry, so we headed back down to the old city. Imagine my surprise on arriving at the main gate to hear my name belted out in an Irish accent.

'So you got my email then?' my Irish friend exclaimed, grinning. 'Uhh. No. What email?' 'I told you we would wait from 8 to 820pm at the gate to find you!' the Irishman said, grinning.
I checked my watch : 820pm. Karma.

We went to get some dinner in the old city. I let Irishman lead the way, pointing out some attractions. 'And there,' he said, pointing at a protusion from the wall, 'drunkards try to stand up without hands for as long as possible.' I lasted 2 seconds, about 1.5 seconds more than the drunkards.

Dubrovnik at night is something to be seen. It is eerily magical, timelessly grand, a graceful, aging, yet confidently handsome princess. The wide boulevards are paved in marble, lined with white mansions, and restored as they were in 1668. A clock tower rings the hour, massive fortifications protect against the outside traffic, and sculpted fountains bring wonderfully cold, drinkable water to the panting tourists. Musicians play in the scenic squares and cafes provide perfect vantage points for people-watching. All in all, it was touristy, expensive (50% more than the rest of Croatia), and deservedly so.

We had dinner in a small square. A jazz band crooned behind us. The octopus salad was sublime. My grilled squid was quite delicious. And the cold beers went down happily. Afterwards, my friends attempted to toss me in the fountain after I splashed a few of them.

The nightlife was lacking, though. The Irish pub closed down at 1am on the nose. And the Latin Dance Club was deserted. It seems that a day of siteseeing was too much for the tourists.

August 28, 2005

Split, via Krka National Park

After a debaucherous 3-night stay in Pag that included multiple 'manly' drinks at a nightclub that featured a fantastically lit wading pool and top-notch dj, we packed up early and got back on the road. The brand-new highway down to Split was empty, so we were able to make good time.

We stopped off at Krka National Park, since one guy in our group loves Waterfalls. He wasnt disappointed. If you like Waterfalls, this is the place to come in Croatia. Apparently, many, many tourists love frolicking in crystal-clear emerald pools at the bottom of some postcard-perfect waterfalls, as the place was packed. Shoulder-to-shoulder packed, with large, pale german tourists vicously elbowing the smaller, darker Italians out of the way in order to get that perfect picture to show Helga and the other neighbors back home. Luckily, Im pretty tall and I wont hesitate to express my irritation at being elbowed, so I was able to also get a good picture.

We rolled into Split in the late afternoon and enjoyed the views of the sea. Split is a sprawling, industrial city that has a small, beautifully preserved Roman town center. It used to be the vacation palace for several Roman Emperors, and the majestic ruins have been well-maintained over the years. In fact, it is a living, breathing roman monument, as 3000 people live inside the palace. Overall, it is one of the best Roman Ruins outside Rome that I have ever seen and the cute shops and laundry lines strung between apartments only enhanced the atmostphere.

I was once again put in charge of finding an apartment, so my friends parked and I ran around the town, trying to find the tourist agency (since we couldnt find any little old ladies with signs advertising vacancy). The woman at the tourist agency was very helpful (and stunningly beautiful) and found us an apartment within three calls. I then spent the next 20 minutes wandering the random, winding alleys, trying to find our car. Eventually, I did, and it took 4 wrong turns down some very narrow streets before we found our apartment. The owner only spoke broken German, but I managed to learn that we should go to the local restaurant.

And so, we feasted. The food was delicious. I had the biggest, best tasting Grilled Calamari of my trip. Disturbingly, they had left the inksack inside, but I soon discovered that it is a delicacy and quite tasty. All this washed down by the best Croatian wine I had yet tasted. How I love finding good food while travelling!

August 24, 2005

Lake Plitvice to Pag

My friends rolled up in our tiny european rental car and, after a final coffee in Zagreb, we set off on our road trip. With the windows rolled down and the music blaring, we zipped down the brand new highway at 150km/hr. Since it was a toll road, it was empty, save for the occasional german family that screamed past us in a mercedes or bmw.

Our first stop was Lake Plitvice, a series of crystal clear lakes that cascade into each other. Walking on these shimmering mirrors was magical, as we hiked past lush waterfalls, gurgling streams, and calm oases teeming with schools of trusting fish.

We finally arrived in Zadar (on the coast) later than expected. We drove around a bit, but didn't have a strong feeling for the town, so we left for Pag Island. As I spoke the most languages of the group, I was designated to find us a room. We drove around the town, looking for "Zimmer" (room) signs, at which point I would approach an old lady and ask, usually in German, if she had a room for three people. I saw quite a few shabby rooms, and was about to pick one, when we tried one more spot. A middle-aged man was sitting on a porch of a hotel. I asked him if he had a room and he replied, in Italian, that his hotel was full. He then spoke some croatian, gesturing for me to follow him. So, I left the car behind, and followed him to a bakery. He said something to the woman behind the counter , who then pulled out an old rotary phone. She painstakingly dialed a number, yelled a few words into the receiver, and then motioned for me to follow the man back to the hotel... Ten minutes later, a very fat, shirtless man with a giant mustache rolled up in a beaten up lada. He yelled something at the first man (who was wearing a shirt) who then told me, in Italian, that we should follow the Fat Man's car. So, off we went, rolling through some back roads to his place. Admittedly, it was quite nice, so we took it.

The evening was spent eating (I had grilled calamari) and then chatting at the bar... the night ended on the beach, with 100m footraces and a local yelling at me, in German, that if we didn't go home and shut up, that he would call the police. All in all, a great night.

August 23, 2005

The Cafe Life

I ended up spending three blissful days in Zagreb. The clouds eventually cleared and suddenly the streets were swarming with some of the most beautiful women Europe has to offer. I spent my time sipping coffee and other libations in a number of cafes, migrating with the sun and with the crowds, pretending to read an awful translation of the Three Musketeers. Fantastic. This city has been given a miss by most tourists, probably due to its lack of tourist monuments, so it is an exceptional means to see Croatians do what they do. An added bonus is that prices are still attractive, the weather - when it behaves - is temperate, and the food is tasty. In fact, I had one of the best mushroom pizzas of my life at small, packed restaurant in old-town.

Top three things Zagrebians love to do:
  1. Sit in Cafes and watch each other.
  2. Eat bbq'ed or boiled Corn on the Cob (it's on sale everywhere!)
  3. Be Beautiful

August 21, 2005

Zagreb, Croatia

My arch enemies (the clouds) are back. And they brought reinforcements. The rain last night was so heavy that my $8 NYC chinatown umbrella broke under the pressure. Now I need to figure out where they sell umbrellas in Croatia. It being a sunday today, the chances of finding someone, anyone, selling an umbrella was 0%.

I left Ljubljana this morning at 835am, expecting to be in Zagreb by 1030am. Alas, this year's freak storm had left most of southern Slovenia flooded, which meant a 7.5hr train trek, during which we criss-crossed the croatian border three times. My five hour inconvenience was nothing compared to the pain thousands of Slovenians must have felt today, as along the way I saw bulging rivers overflowing into tiny townships, consuming houses and cars.

I arrived in Zagreb cranky and starving, but the first order of business was to find somewhere to stay. Most of the hostels were way out of the center, so I bought a tram ticket and was figuring out my game plan when some Irish guy approached me and asked 'do you speak english?' Yes, I replied, and asked if he was looking for a place to stay. No, he wasnt, but he owned a hostel and had two more beds free. Now this is where things go sketchy. We settled on a price and he sent me off with his Irish friend, who I dubiously followed, while carefully looking for a gun in his pocket. I fully expect some sort of scam, especially when he invited me for a coffee. Instead, it turns out I was just a cynic. The Irish Friend, an expat for the past 10 years, simply wanted to chat, to find out about the world outside of Croatia. So, we sat in a lovely little cafe, discussed Croatian politics as well as world economics, and watched the city wander by as it enjoyed a two hour respite from the rain.

It's pouring again, by the way.

August 20, 2005

Lake Bled

I just got back from two days up in Lake Bled, a picture-perfect little lake up in the Julian Alps. Imagine a small, shimmering lake surrounded by rolling hills and jagged peaks off in the distance. Up on a cliff, overlooking a cute town, looms a fairy-tale castle, and in the middle of the lake is a teardrop island populated with a small church. It is an amazing combination of natural and man-made perfection. It's touristy and overpriced, but rightfully so.

My first day was spent hiking around the lake, hitching a gondola out to the island, and finally watching the sun set with a beer and an interesting random solo traveller to keep me company. At night, I decided to try my luck at the local casino. The casino, a tired, pitiful excuse of a "grand ballroom," was guarded by two grumpy old gnomes, one of whom took an immediate dislike to me. "You can't come in here," he intoned, wrinkling his nose. "Why?" I asked. "You are wearing shorts. We don't allow shorts in here." Insulted, I pulled my leg up on the counter to show him that I was wearing pants. "Oh, well you are wearing sandals. We don't allow sandals in here." "But the last fellow you let in was wearing sandals." "Ah, but it doesn't matter. You don't have the money to play here." "Aha. Well, here's $200. That's four times what that other guy cashed in for." "Are you sure? You will probably lose it all." "That's a risk I'm willing to take."
At first, it seemed his curse had followed me, as the blackjack dealer pulled improbable hand after improbable hand. Eventually, they cycled dealers, my luck changed and it was time for me to cash out.

"Hello sir. Remember me? I'd like to cash out for this gain. Thank you for paying for my stay in Bled and for your concern for my welfare."

Today I hopped on a bus to the neighboring valley, Bohinj. This was raw natural beauty at its best (and it certainly helped that most of the rowdy Italian tourists decided to give it a miss). 1500m limestone cliffs clung to the edge of the water, plunging into an emerald green, crystal clear lake in which you could see schools of fish toying with local fishermen. Behind the cliffs loomed craggy 2500m giants. Amazing. I hiked halfway around the 12km lake and then headed up for a waterfall in the mountains. It was a 5km walk and I had the path to myself. It was peaceful, picturesque, and calming. Imagine my shock when I rounded the last corner and came upon a carpark with a bus belching obese tourists. Furthermore, the "spectacular waterfalls" was nothing more than a 30ft dribble of dirty water. After their painful waddle up the 561 steps, the tourists were more than happy to take a picture of anything.

Overall, my trip to Lake Bled was extremely satisfying. I highly recommend it to anyone who happens to end up in Slovenia.

August 18, 2005

Skocjan Caves and Where's the Beef?

Slovenia is very much like Switzerland in many aspects but one... it is full of towering alpine vistas, beautiful green valleys, meticulously clean towns, and a very polite population. Their trains, however, are not as passionately punctual as those in Switzerland. This was my downfall when I tried to get to the Skocjan Caves, which are one of two huge cave systems carved into the Karst ridges south of Ljubljana. I could have gone to the Postojna Caves, but they were very easy to get to, and ridiculously touristy, what with their electric train, carnival music, and hoards of screaming children. So, I decided to go to the Skocjan Caves which were supposed to be a much more authentic experience. To get there, I had to take a local train to some off-beat stop called Divacha, and then hike 5km into the woods. Good times. Of course, I fell asleep on the train, but awoke just as my train was supposed to be pulling into my stop. Jolted awake, I squinted out the window to see where we were. That's when I discovered another Slovene shortcoming - they don't like to label their train stations very well. So, I yelled out 'Divacha?' to the three people gathered in the station. They replied with something that looked like 'get off the train' so I jumped off (there wasnt a platform at this station). That's when the train's two conductors started yelling at me (along with the three people in the station) to get back on the train. Oops. The train was late.

The caves were incredible and well worth the 10km (roundtrip) hike. Having been in several caves before, I wasn't expecting much, but these put the Grotto in Gibraltar and the Caves in Luang Prabang to shame. They were a maze of fantastic stalactites and stalagmites that made one feel like the Mad Hatter. With a guide, you wandered through the 'silent cave,' admiring trippy rock formations in rooms that were as much as 30m high and 120m long. It was an eery feeling, being 90m underground and having water drip on you and bats fly by. Then, you entered the 'water murmuring cave,' a 3km long canyon that was 100m high and had a roaring river at the bottom. Wow.

A random observation on the Slovene Diet: These people rarely eat beef. It's probably because the country lacks cows. This is pure speculation on my part, but I have yet to see a cow in any of their lovely green pastures and beef is ridiculously overpriced in restaurants.

What these people do have is a lot of Turkey. You can get Turkey steaks, Turkey stew, Grilled Turkey, and even Turkey Soup. I have yet to see a Turkey anywhere, but I'm picturing a massive Turkey farm somewhere in the middle of the country, churning out Turkey Steaks for the masses.

August 17, 2005

Ljubljana and random european fashion musings

Ljubljana. Try saying that three times and not making a local giggle.

I started my day stumped. In Koper, the bus ticket office is in the same building as the train ticket office. In fact, they sit side by side. However, they claim to have NO idea about each others' schedules. What I did discover after visiting both booths was :

  1. Buses are less frequent than trains.
  2. Buses are much slower than trains.
  3. Buses are more expensive trains.

Figure that one out.

Ljubljana a great little town. I took the train here. It's a pint sized capital that packs a whole lot of medieval punch. It features tiny cobblestoned alleys, a winding canal (that they call a river), beautiful 15th Century houses (including two brothels), and a fully restored castle on a hill overlooking the town. What's more, is its got an incredible cafe scene in which the entire town of 300,000 Slovenes partakes. As my dad would say, 'there are more cafes than you can shake a stick at.' I never understood why you would want to shake a stick at anything, but he loves to say that.

The alps are only 20km away, so its freezing here, and my arch-enemies, the clouds, came back to haunt me. Despite the miserable weather, the day was a good one. I wandered the town, taking in the atmosphere and pausing to get a coffee or other beverage everytime my feet ached. There are very few tourists here (and those that are here are either rowdy Italians or subdued Germans) and locals pay very little attention to the foreigners who are around. Communicating is not a problem as the average Slovene speaks 4 languages fluently and can correct my brother's grammar in a heartbeat. And even though it was under 20 degrees celcius, the locals heartily displayed their love of ice cream. In fact, I think there were as many gelaterias as there were cafes, and I was probably the only person not happily licking an ice cream cone.

Today's meals:

  1. Capuccino, a banana, and a jelly doughnut (cherry marmalade)
  2. A gyro. And it was delicious.
  3. Roast Veal and Roast Potatoes, washed down with some curiously chilled local red wine (and I should also mention that they serve their white wine at room temperature).

I'll conclude this post with a couple of random observations on Male European Fashion:
  1. Capris are in. Very in. In fact, more men wear capris than women here. I, personally, have trouble trusting a man who looks like he's ready for the next monsoon. If you're going to wear those ridiculously short pants, at least complement them with some rubber galoshes.
  2. Men love to wear polo shirts with the collars turned up. Some guys layer their polos in different shades, with each layer's collar turned up. I don't get it.
  3. The man-purse is still as fashionable as ever. I know, it's not a purse, it's EUROPEAN!

August 16, 2005

Istrian Coast, Slovenia

All is well in the world.

After listening to it pour all night (and waking up at 4am thanks to my jetlag), I finally got out of bed at 10am. As I stepped outside, the sun decided to break through the clouds and start warming up the Istrian Coast. The clouds cleared as I walked down to the seaside, where I enjoyed the best Cappucinno I have had since I was last in Europe. The setting was perfect ... a beautiful, deep blue sea, dotted with small sailboats and framed by lush, rolling hills. I explored Koper, and discovered an untouristed, medieval town, with tiny cobble stoned alleys and a small center square with a craggy belltower and 16th Century Palace. Things were looking up!

I got myself some breakfast from the local grocery store, and caught a bus down the coast to the next town over, Izola. There, I wandered the city's tiny alleys and enjoyed the old, European atmosphere. The city center reminded me of Lausane, Switzerland. The town was spotless and people hurried by, uninterested in the lone tourist, as they went about their daily business.

Not wanting to wait for the bus, I caught a taxi to Piran after haggling over price. Piran is wonderful, although it's very touristy. It used to be Venice's strongest ally, and as such, it has a truly venetian feel to it, right down to the bell tower modelled after the campanile in Plaza San Marco in Venice. It is located on a rocky outpost on the sea, and it's 'beaches' (which are nothing more than pavement leading to the water) are filled with older, sun ripened italian tourists. I loved this town, which had its fair share of cathedrals, proud plazas, cafes, and perfectly preserved city walls that you could scramble over, as you imagined the invadings Turks. I finished off the day with a tall Pivo (beer) on the waterfront as I watched the tourists walk by.

All is well in the world. How things can change day to day.

August 15, 2005

Preblog: Croatia/Slovenia

Here is an old travelblog, that I wanted to repost over here. This trip happened in late August, 2005.

London - August 15th, 2005

London greeted me as it always has ... windy, cold, and rainy. Luckily, I was dead tired after the redeye flight, so I followed my mate Irish Pat's directions to his place. He had left for ireland the night before, so I had to jump through a series of hoops to get his house key. I had been somewhat worried that I wouldnt get into his place since the first step involved walking into a pub at 11am to get the front door key. Would it even be open? No problem, since the place was packed with shaved head football hooligans. I fought my way to the bar and since I stuck out like a sore thumb, I'm fairly sure the surly barman knew exactly who I was (he was reaching into his pocket for the key as I opened my mouth). He handed me the key as he said sarcastically 'are you sure you dont want a pint, laddy?'

After a quick 1.5hr nap, I left on a whirlwind tour of Londons finest sites. After about 2 hours of siteseeing, I was bored, so I headed for the closest pub to get pint. The last time I had been in an English Pub was 1994, and back then the price of a pint had been 1.35 pounds sterling. It was now 2.5 pounds! That's almost 6% inflation per year!

I then headed off to the hoity toity neighborhood of Notting Hill to meet two friends from school. They picked me up from the tube station and en route, I randomly bumped into a friend of a friend. The evening was spent in a series of pubs, catching up over some exceptional beer.


Now this is where the nightmare began. I barely made my Ryan Air flight as the bus hit a lot of traffic on the way to Stansted (which is in the middle of nowhere). Luckily, I settled into a nice snooze on the way to Italy. In Trieste, I was given the Royal Welcome. It was pouring. The immigration fellow took his time scrutinizing my passport, muttering something about my name. Regardless, he let me through after a good ten minutes of scratching his head. Then, things got messy when I decided to use the toilet. Before I could get into the bathroom, I was grabbed roughly and pinned against the wall. A man who stank of stale coffee and fresh cigarettes whispered in my ear 'you cannot go in there, you keep your arms out' and frog marched me into a back room, locking the door behind him.

'You declare something for Italy Customs?' he asked in broken English. 'No,' I replied. 'You smoke something??' 'No,' I replied. He didn't believe me, but went on to his next question... 'You have cocaine?' 'No,' I replied. Ha! He laughed and yelled something to his friend outside. Obviously, he didn't believe me, and proceeded to empty my travel backpack out on the desk. I shrugged and let him go through my belongings. 'Where you go?' he demanded. 'Slovenia,' I said, pointing my Lonely Planet Slovenia book.

He wasn't amused when I said 'that's bad luck' as he opened my black umbrella.
But, finding nothing, he let me repack my bag, as he stormed off with my passport. 20 minutes (and four frantic calls) later, he reluctantly let me go.

Alas, it didn't get any better. It was a holiday in Italy. Now, I don't know if you have ever experienced an Italian holiday, but the bottom line is that hardly anyone works on a holiday in Italy. The money exchange booth was closed. The buses were on reduced schedule. And I couldnt even get a coffee. It was 2pm and the one woman at the tourist information booth told me, with a smirk, that the next bus into town (35km awaz) was at 6pm. Or I could take a 'taxi' with her friend for fifty euros.

Luckily, she was lying. The bus arrived at 3pm. And dropped me off at a completely deserted bus station. No one at the ticket counter. No one at the information counter. And no other buses in sight. I teamed up with another guy trying to get to Slovenia. We deciphered the bus schedule and figured that there might be a bus at 5pm. As a backup, we went to the train station to see if there were any trains. 'Mama Mia!' the fellow at the information stand exclaimed. 'You can take three days to get to Koper in Slovenia if you leave now! Their train is like, how you say, barbarian! You can take taxi.' The fat, sleeping fellow at the taxi stand wanted 100 Euros to go the 30km into Slovenia.

Well, 5pm rolled around and there was no bus. So I ventured outside and walked past the grinning taxi man to find another taxi cab. I flagged one down. He wanted 80 Euros. After a good 10 minutes of bargaining, I got him down to 50 Euros. Split two ways, it wasnt so bad. Ok, I'll take it. Finally, I was off to Slovenia.

I arrived in Koper, a small medieval town on the sea, just in time to watch the skies clear and see the sun set. Ah, things were about to improve.