Sometimes things get a little too easy when you stay in one place for too long, I find. You’re safe, you know where you’re spending the night (which more often than not is somewhere warm and dry with hot running water!), and you’re confident that there’s food in the cupboard. Even if it is just stock cubes and a can of lentils. I’m lucky, thankful, and a wee bit smug that I’ve managed to get myself a stable situation where, even if it really does all go wrong, I know I have friends who’ve got my back. This is fabulous, really, but there is something about being out of your comfort zone and in an almost desperate situation that is pretty character building. For me, at least. Unfamiliar territory is healthy. I mean, this is Central Europe, I’m hardly putting my life on the line living on the edge, but sometimes Salzburg feels like an absurd zero-crime upper-class city. And this comfort does not always suffice.
On this basis, and with the potential to kill two of my recent travel goals with one pretty spontaneous stone, a plan was formed. Hitchhike to Slovenia with Paige on the first part of her Balkan adventure. Leave after work on the Friday and be back in the office for Monday (I’d already booked the return train from Villach just to be sure – €14 in advance, thanks ÖBB!) – what could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turned out, our lack of preparation and experience was just asking for trouble.
We set up camp at a petrol station in NW Salzburg, the last before the Autobahn, on recommendation (thanks to the lovely well-travelled CS community here) with a sign for Villach, which, after half an hour, and a change of petrol station due to low-traffic and interest, we switched to Süd. Eventually, a girl picked up and dropped us off a few miles South of the city in Hallein. The motorway entrance roundabout we stood at proved to be a great spot as, with our sign for Villach, we were picked up after about 15 minutes by a couple of Austrian ladies driving directly there. Success!
Here is where we made our fatal error. When asked whether we wanted to be left by the roadside or at Villach’s main station, the temptation of a cold beer proved too much to resist and found ourselves in the city centre as the sun was setting, a few miles off the motorway. And the last train to Slovenia left half an hour ago. Oooops. Beer?
After McDonalds for dinner and beers in Lücke, a tame underground bar with church-y furniture and rock music, we resigned ourselves to a night of no sleep and dragged out the drinking until the early-ish hours. Paige had been in and out of sleep for the last hour or two. An all-nighter in Chicago or London, our respective cities, or even in Vienna, may not be such a mean task, but in little old Villach, options are somewhat limited. After closing time we had no choice but to head to the station and wait for the first train out of there which, luckily for us, was at 4.15am; a sleeper train from Munich to Zagreb which took us straight to Lecse-Bled station. The return ticket from Villach was only €15 and the journey took just over an hour. I spent much of this time curled up in a ball in the only free space on the train, near an out-of-order toilet, half-asleep with my head on my knees.
At Lecse-Bled station the sun still hadn’t risen, but the first bus into the village of Bled itself (5km or so) was only 12 minutes away. We arrived in time to see the sun rise over the lake, but it was 2 degrees, and exhaustion detracted from romance of the moment. Having already booked our hostel, dirt cheap but a couple of kilometers from the lake, we headed off in search of our final destination. Getting pretty damn lost, and colder and colder, we ended up phoning the hostel for directions and the owner came out to pick us up; more about this fabulous hostel in my next blog. By 6.45am we were checked in and tucked up in bed.
15 hrs door to door for a journey that would have taken 2.5 in the car. Success! We sure do make things difficult for ourselves sometimes, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. What an adventure, just what I needed!