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Train kept a rollin' all night long

This one is going to be epic, so for those lazy people I will give a summary:

* Getting locked in a toilet leads to violence

* Padova prostitutes cause amusement in the national media

* I travelled to a city you've never heard of and bled in a country you've never heard of.

That should be enough to entice everyone to read on through this all. A short intermission will be included in this feature.

One day last week, some time after my last post, it was decided (as is par for the course) that I would meet up with my supervisor from Melbourne, Ken, outside the physics building compound (there is only 1 after-hours access card and we share it) at 7pm to go to the pub. At 6:55, following the routine, I shut down this very computer I type at right now, gathered my affects including my phrase book, and head out via the restrooms. Finishing my business in the small, standing-room-only cubicle, I turn to find the latch won't unsnib. *Rattle rattle* and still no joy. I jiggle it for a while, kick the lever a bit, jiggle it again until I get sick of this and realise I must get some help. My choices are to scream down into the courtyard 4 floors down or try to summon the cleaners in the corridor. I opt for the latter, and when I hear them come into the bathroom, I yell "Signora, signora! Aiuto! Questa porta non aperte!" (blessed phrase book). Rattling from the other side, followed by "The door won't open!". Yes, I knew that. "I will get help!"

A minute later I then hear screaming from the courtyard and the cleaners are speaking with a short but stocky middle-aged Italian gent, who is making kicking motions. Now, even if I thought kicking the door down was a good idea, the door opens in so I would be unable. They head inside, I resume rattling the door, until I hear "Basta!" (enough/stop) from the other side in a voice that it is not unreasonable to assume could come from a short but stocky middle-aged Italian gent. Realising what the sequence of events of the next few seconds will be, I select the corner where I will be hit by shrapnel but not the whole swinging door, wedge myself in it and assume a modified Birth of Venus pose, one hand over the goods and the other covering the eyes rather than the chest. After 3 kicks the door flies open with a *boom*, the frame split from ceiling to floor, wood chips flying everywhere, a short but stocky middle-aged Italian gent and 3 cleaning ladies peering past the ruins.

What is the etiquette in such a situation? Do you wait around until someone turns up to make some report? I opted to say "Grazie, grazie", wash my hands and go off to the pub. Eventually I find Ken and follow the algorithm that generates a severe hang-over for the next day.

To give you further insight into life in Italia, the following is big in the Italian press at the moment. The newly elected mayor of Padova has decided curb-crawling for hookers needs to stop in his fair city, despite the fact it seems this thousand-year-old practice is woven into the fabric of Italian culture and doesn't have the same level of taboo as in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. To this end, the mayor has created a by-law, apparently beyond his mandate, to fine the driver of any car that is caught pulling up to haggle with a lady of the night. Literally overnight this reduced the flow of business for said ladies and somewhere, somehow, they got together and came up with a solution: those in agreement would wear a pink badge somewhere on their person indicating that upon producing a receipt for a fine, the bearer would get a free service, kind of like "Redeem your fine: Ask me how", but only at participating outlets. More on this as events lay themselves out.


Around Padova, for the last month or so, there have been billboards from the Slovenian tourism industry which have no information about the country on them at all, except to say pictorially "Come to Slovenia, we have hot blonde chicks in water" (see photo gallery). Seeing right through this cheap advertising, I swore to be above falling for such a trick and to go there at my earliest convenience and confirm that this was indeed a misrepresentation. Thus, midnight Saturday, myself and Linus from my office packed our bags for a daytrip to Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital.

Now, it's probably fitting to give some background on Slovenia. If you haven't heard of it, don't feel bad, it's rather small, and if you have give yourself a pat on the back (unless you are a Croat, Rudi. That's like a New South Welshman getting a pat on the back for having heard of Tasmania). Slovenia is a former Yugoslavian country of about 2 million that shares a border with Croatia (unlike New South Wales and Tasmania), Italy, Austria to the north and Hungary. It is pretty much on the western side of eastern Europe. It speaks Slovene, a slavic language which I thus found to have many similarities to Russian but also many with Italian. Italian, German and English are also widely spoken (and with a small measure of guilt I confess it was wonderful to be able to say things, just for a day, without having to first mentally compose them, even if Italian did come out automatically on occasion).

The train, rather than taking the direct route from Italia into Slovenia, inexplicably travels into Austria first, where you must change for Slovenia. Thus, Linus and I spent 2 hours, from about 4am, in the delightful town of Villach, which like all border towns is as boring as bats. We then shared the trip to Ljubljana with a 34 year-old Portugese who has been travelling almost without cease since he was 14. For his current trip, he had the general destination of south-east Asia in mind. He has been married and divorced twice, and engaged a further 2 times. He has a daughter somewhere, but at least he knows where. He passed on some backpacker wisdom that it is cheaper to buy a ticket inside a country (we paid E25 each Villach to Ljubljana, he thieved the trip across the border and then paid E6.70 to Ljubljana, which he haggled down from 9, though he claims it was supposed to be 5 to begin with). After eating local deep-fried, very rich savoury pastries (I will update with name at some point), checking out the Sunday market and getting my fill of Yugoslav propaganda, including a 50 billion (short scale) dinar note, we separated from the Portugese With No Name while he went to find a hostel in my guide book (how can you travel with no guide or other information??). We never did see him again, because we had the option of take the last tour we could find or meet him at the appointed hour. Thus, I'm sorry Portugese Drifter-guy, but I'm sure you know better than most that friendships on the road, while mutually beneficial, are often short.

The tour took us to see the major attractions including the lauded 3 Bridges, which are just 2 rather unimpressive bridges either side of an equally unimpressive traffic bridge; a fountain, which while nice was just a fountain; the town hall, again not bad but not awesome; and the Dragon Bridge, which has a bronze dragon at each corner. This was very cool, but not really worth an overnight train trip. The last thing we saw was Ljubljana Castle. How can a town with a castle be kind of dull? I assure you, it's possible, and it doesn't hurt if the castle is a bit dull too. This said, our guide was fabulous, really passionate and informative, and it was great to see the two elderly Republican-type Americans that rounded out our small group squirm when she talked about how we are all going to die from global warming and how Yugoslavia had a really great relationship with Libya and Iraq. We also learnt from her that it is believed Tito died in Ljubljana, but what with a government like that details are a bit sketchy.

I got echoes of Ulaan Bator from Ljubljana: a small capital of a small nation, rich with distant history but of little modern impact. They, like the Mongols, put up as heroes poets and architects and the like which would be considered minor elsewhere.

Thus, at midday Linus and I had finished with Ljubljana and both concluded that it was a nice place but had not been worth the long trip. After I finally managed to find a woven patch of the national flag, we decided to go to a place on the route back, which I had been concerned I would not see, called Bled (ah, see how I mislead you in the summary? Well, it's too late now, you've read this far).

Bled was astounding.

It really is too picturesque to seem real. My guide book rightly claims it appears as if the God of Tourism crafted it himself. Lake Bled is massive, with tree-covered mountains all around which possess a single massive rock ledge, upon which is built a castle. In the duck-filled lake is an island which has a majestic church on it. You can walk all around it (we didn't have time), hire a boat, captained or row-yourself, to the island (again, no time), dip your feet in the clear water (we had time for that) and go up to the castle, see it's museum and cellar and have a beer or meal looking over the lake (we found time for that too). There were also surprisingly few other tourists around. Bled certainly made the trip worthwhile. It also proved incorrect my theory that there are only 2 constants of travel: pigeons and McDonald's. It had neither (Ljubljana of course had both).

We walked the 4 km back to the train station and caught our night train back. Unlike Siberia, European night trains give you some form of breakfast.

So, did I find the promised hot-blonde-chicks-in-the-water? Yes, but it was never said that they themselves would not also be on billboards.

Now that you have reached the end of this epic, go and check out the photos. The Padova gallery is also updated.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 16th, 2007 11:33 am (UTC)
Stuck in Oz
Hey, sounds like things are going so much better than a few months ago. The photos of Bled are great ... if only there were some way to photograph the *absence* of McDonalds!

May. 17th, 2007 03:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Stuck in Oz
As with all photos, it doesn't quite do justice. This is also due to the haze that was over the lake that day.
May. 17th, 2007 10:53 am (UTC)
You had me at violence in a toilet.

By the by, mark has an interesting anecdote of something that happened to him in a public convenience. You should ask him about it sometime.
May. 17th, 2007 03:28 pm (UTC)
Any story about Mark in a public toilet that is considered amusing is sure to be a corker. I cannot wait.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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