My last day in Zagreb was fairly uneventful. I didn’t do much of anything, really. At least nothing touristy. I wandered around a bit, then found a nice place to sit and wrote my last entry and a bit on my novel and then headed to the train station for my 9 o’clock to Salzburg. I actually went a little early and ran into Annika and Cecelia, who were returning from a day trip so I was able to say a proper good-bye. Once they left, I headed for the platform and struck up a conversation with a girl from Bosnia. It was interesting since she spoke very little English and I spoke no German (even though she held a Bosnian passport, she hadn’t lived there since she was four, some twenty years earlier – She now lives in Hamburg. This will become important later). Just a side note, it’s fascinating when you’re in a different country with people who don’t speak your language. I was on the tram, heading to the train station to drop off my backpack earlier in the day and met a guy who spoke only German, except for his numbers, which he could do up to twenty or so in English. And which he proceeded to share with me. It was sweet and fun, but ultimately, I spent the tram ride listening to a 60 year old guy counting and being very proud of himself for doing it. Of course, what started this conversation was a broken wondow and our common sharing of the phrase “Kaput.”
Anyway, back to the platform… so when our train pulls in, I have a reserved seat and this girl does not. She decides to sit with me. Cool. We’d already discussed she had spent some time down in Bosnia to see her Uncle and Father and Brother and was now on her way to Munich to pick up her son (she kept saying ‘children’ in the plural and it took me a little while to realize she was only talking about one) before heading home. On the train, the two of us get comfortable in the compartment and she tells me she’s very nervous and wants me to help her. It seems her visa to enter the EU expired on the 30th of June, and we were traveling on the 1st of July. And she needs a visa since Bosnia is not yet a member. Neither is Croatia – yet. But Slovenia is. So sure enough, we get started (a half hour late, mind you) and the police come in to do a passport check and hers is a little beat up and they question her expired visa and I’m trying to interpret since she and I had been talking and I’m a friendly voice in all this. The police go and come back a few times, taking her passport with them. Finally they return and stamp her passport, saying they really don’t care, but the Slovenians might. They are EU after all and they take their job very seriously (as you’ll recall, they scared me coming down).
When we stopped in Slovenia, they asked her all the same questions. They wanted to know why she didn’t speak Bosnian or Croatian (similar languages). She kept turning to me for help. Finally, the Slovenian police asked if we were traveling together. I, of course, said ‘no’ at which point I was politely told to shut up and they would be dealing directly with her. I shut up. No fool I. A few seconds later, she was removed from the train, crying and pleading with them about her ‘kinder.’ It was an odd experience, that’s for sure. On the plus side, though, I did get the compartment all to myself and so was able to get some decent sleep.
Sleep was good since I pulled into Salzburg at 4:30 in the morning. Nothing was open and I didn’t have enough euros in change to pay for a locker. So I waited around in the train terminal and eventually was able to gather the 3.50 needed to store my bags for the day. It was barely 6:30 by this point so I just wandered around an empty town, taking in the sights. I found a place for breakfast and when that was finished I headed over to the tour place to see what kind of tours were available. There were two I wanted to take, the Ice Caves and the Salt Mines. Unfortunately, They overlapped time wise so I decided to go with the Ice Caves. But that meant I still had a lot of time to kill. I decided on taking a city tour as well. This was fun, but sitting in a 7 passenger van with a an old guy droning on about the city in both English and Spanish was too much for my tired brain to deal with… I promptly fell asleep and stayed that way for half the tour! I woke up in time to explore a summer palace of a 17th century ruler. Fun stuff!
The tour ended near the funicular up to the fortress which overlooked the town (the fee for which was included in the price of the tour) so up I went, exploring the museums and exploiting the view for pictures. I didn’t have a lot of time, however, since the ice tour started at one. So I saw what I could then headed back down to catch the next bus.
Turned out, the tour was myself and a group of friends from India. It seems the three patriarchs of the families met in college at architecture school and every two years they all meet somewhere in the world so the families can all stay close. So it was me and them. Oh yeah, and our guides, Alex And Admir. Alex was just training so really, it was Admir’s show and he was quite funny. He was having a good time, making jokes and still being very informative. The bus ride to the cave site took about 45 minutes and it was beautiful countryside. We were at the foot of the Alps and they even stopped once so we could all get a good shot of a fortress on a the top of a hill. Then we got to the parking spot for the caves. It was going to require a little bit of walking at this point, about twenty minutes to get to the cable car which was going to take us a good chunk the rest of the way, but there was still another twenty minute walk AFTER the cable car, too. And it was hot. It’s been hot the entire trip, true. I’ve been losing in water weight any potential fat I’ve been putting on (my back, under my backpack, is almost always soaking – I know, gross, but there you have it). So we walked and walked and walked. As we got the tram station, we ran across a group of soldiers, all in uniform and getting ready to march down the way we had just come. I asked permission before snapping a few pictures and we all made some jokes. (One soldier, when questioned as to what kind of a unit they were responded simply, yet shrilly, “We’re in the army NOW!” We all laughed.) One of the soldiers then pointed at me, indicating my shoulder. I had no idea what he was talking about until I looked down and saw I had picked up a hitchhiker – a little butterfly had landed on me and decided it was tired of flying. It stayed with me for a good hundred meters or so before taking flight again. This goes along with my bee in Munich and the HUGE creepy crawly thing in Zagreb (did I mention the huge creepy crawly thing in Zagreb? If I didn’t, I’ll tell you that story and how Annika and Cecilia stole my bed in a future installment).
Anyway, we all climbed in to the cable car (as Admir nicely pointed out, “Oh good, it’s
the new car – the old one fell last week.”) and zipped upwards. Quickly. It was one of the fastest cable cars I’ve ever been in. So we get to the top and Neil (he’s the son of one of the three friends – going into 7th
But… getting back to the start of the tour, there’s a small door you must pass through to get inside. The air-pressure differential leads to (literally) ice cold winds of up to 120 kph. Remember all that heat I was talking about a few paragraphs back? Guess what? All gone now! We were freezing! I was just wearing my Grumpy jean jacket and a t-shirt underneath (I didn’t even bring my hat) AND I was elected to carry a lantern (In fact, I ended up with two lanterns because the young family in front of me ended up giving me theirs so mom and dad could each carry one their little girls up and down the 1400 steps). So my hands went numb fairly early on (but I was still a trooper and took pictures when I could). All told, we were in the cave a little more than an hour, maybe 75 minutes, and it was certainly worth it… but cold!
Of course, as soon as we got out of the cave, the rain started. Huge electrical storm blew through, delaying the cable car down so we were stuck for about a half hour. I took the opportunity to eat. I don’t remember what I had (Alex, the trainee tour guide) recommended it. It was a traditional Austrian dish, like macaroni and cheese but not quite. It had ham bits in it (although you could get it without) and the cheese was thick and gooey (and some of it burned to the iron skillet it was served in). As a meal to eat while a storm raged outside, it was perfect! Eventually, the rain subsided and the cable car started running again.
On the bus ride back, Alex and I got into a discussion about history, politics and language. Again, this is me we’re talking about. I was having a great time! We finally made it back to town, I said goodbye and thought about doing some souvenir shopping. Unfortunately (for you, lucky for my bank account) the shops were all closed so I just headed to the train station and jumped an earlier ride than I was thinking and made it into Vienna, and to my hostel, just before midnight.
A quick word about my hostel in Vienna… I get off the elevator and there’s a sign saying “Remember to bring your rat to reception.” For some reason, they’ve tied all of the keys to the tails of these stuffed rats and if you’re the last person to leave the room, you take the rat to reception and leave it there for whoever gets back to your room first to pick up. This way, if someone is in the room, it’s unlocked. Odd concept for a room being shared by strangers, but it seems to be working okay.