On my last day in Italy I rode a bus into the mountains and debarked at a stop in the Val Rosandra Nature Reserve, moderately far from any signs of civilization. Unable to find directions in English, I asked a few climbers along the way and they were more than helpful. The canyon was breathtaking with it’s silvery trees and golden riverbed, home to a thin emerald line of water winding below the steep rocky trail. I reached the road in Rosandra just before sunset, starving, and lucky enough to find a delicious, modestly priced café. I accidentally bought something with meat in it. I didn’t care, I ate it anyway. The bus ride back to Trieste was an introspective one. I spent the last few hours before my train to Prague napping by the water.
Slovenia stole my heart. The all-night train from Belgrade traversed Croatia in darkness then eased into Slovenia as the sun rose. I leaned out the window and let the cold March air touch my face as the train wound through along the breathtaking Sava river. When I arrived in Ljubljana I had hardly sleep, but I was too restless to stay in my hostel. I walked around the quaint city for 2 hours, enthralled with the inventive architecture and brightly painted exteriors. In the center of town sits a local market complete with a milk dispensing machine that is refilled every 4 hours with fresh, unpasteurized milk from a nearby farm. That night I went out by myself to a bar on the outskirts of town nicknamed the “Graffiti Bar”. It was worth the walk. I befriended a small group of Slovenians who whole-heartedly adopted me for the night. We drank Lasko and “Bear Blood”, danced inside and played music outside around the bonfire till 4am.
The next day I left for Lake Bled, a haven known as The Jewel of Slovenia. The name is not an exaggeration. The calm beauty of Bled was unparalleled on this trip. Abound with castles, placid water, and stunning views of the Alps, Bled was the kind of place I’d like to return to and stay a while. The 20 Czech hockey players in my hostel added an edge to the experience. I was talked into joining them for a late-night visit to the casino, which turned out being somewhat lucrative for me at the blackjack table. They were a rowdy bunch of characters if I’ve ever seen one. Undoubtedly a loving bunch. My next move was the Alpe Adia. The hike was primarily in nature, but it ended in the Italian port town of Trieste. Trieste is not a tourist town. I hardly met a soul who spoke English, and after days of hiking, I was used to minimal conversing. These two kind men below picked me up hitch-hiking over the Italian border from Slovenia. I’d veered from the trail and was nowhere close to the town I was supposed to be in. They laughed at my story and decided that I would go to lunch at a pizzeria with them and they would take me to San Lorenzo. In a patchwork version of Italian, Spanish and English, they told me about their grandchildren and asked about my parents, my travels, and my work. I was informed that I was their granddaughter for the day, and that if I needed anything while I was in the region I was to call or email them. When they dropped me off in San Lorenzo I was strangely glad I had gotten lost.
In Belgrád, Emilia and I met up with Sonja, another friend made in India last year. The three of us became close during our six week training course and the trip to Agra that we made upon it’s completion. It had been a year and two months, and it was heart-warming to hear Sonja’s exuberant voice. Her friends were lovely people, and the city had an openness to it that made me I fall in love with Belgrád in the two days that I spent there.
On my last day in Hungary Emilia took me to the “tourist market” where we abstained from purchasing anything, and simply observed. We had done our shopping already at a more traditional market where I tried all kinds of Hungarian treats like Lángos: essentially fried dough with fresh garlic and my favorite, Pogácsa: a scrumptious bite sized biscuit with cheese and often potato mixed into the dough. About two hours outside of Budapest we stopped in the smaller city of Szeged, which was comparatively quaint and busting with students from the University. Szeged is famous for it’s Halászlé, otherwise known as Fishermen’s Soup. At the best restaurant in town, we split a large bowl of the delicious scarlet colored soup. The waiter gave us large red bibs, which I donned unabashedly after Amelia explained the tradition. Still in sight of the Serbian border, Emilia and I switched seats, and I entered a Eastern Europe country in the drivers seat for the first time.