It’s been a weird week. With everything that’s been going on in the world, it’s felt strange to be spending my time in such a picturesque, magical, peaceful city, knowing that some serious shit is going down elsewhere. Of course, I’ve not been entirely separated from the news: I’ve got American friends here and their reactions to the result of the election have ranged from outraged to devastated to resigned. Everyone I know has been surprised by how much it’s affected them, myself included, but more than anything, I think we’re just scared of what this means for the global society. It would be easy to feel distant from it all – I’m living in northern Austria, not the States, after all – but it’s something that has somehow affected us all. I guess the world is an increasingly small place, no matter how far and wide you travel. Coupled with the death of Leonard Cohen, a musical and literary idol of mine, this week hasn’t been the easiest.
But even though it feels like the apocalypse is nigh, life goes on. After my Interkulturelles seminar on Monday morning, I had my first (albeit impromptu) serious work session in the library and, shock horror, actually got some serious work done. Sometimes I forget that I’m actually here to study (well, kinda….). Clearly not used to the concept of hard work, I cut it short after a few hours and headed off to the gym. Tuesday was much the same as it is every week: early morning, almost incomprehensible lecture, study group meeting, literature seminar and then basketball training. I’m learning that basketball is not as similar to netball as I would have hoped, and that I’m therefore not quite top of the class!
Wednesday saw another gym session, a history lecture, then back home for a quick change before going out for dinner with the girls. After watching a terrible romcom at Iris’ (this was the day of the election result so we needed some levity), Toni, Adele and I decided to drown our sorrows at O’Malley’s before passing out and hoping it had all been a dream (that applies to the romcom too, to be honest). In my language class on Thursday evening, we had to give group presentations, so the majority of my day (when I wasn’t at the gym) was spent inside writing and learning said presentation, which I couldn’t complain about too much because, as of late, we’ve been lucky if temperatures have been above zero here. If I was in England, I’d be complaining constantly, but somehow here, it doesn’t feel so bad. If anything, with the snowy mountains in the background, it feels right that it’s so damn cold!
After the news about Cohen in the morning, Friday turned from bad to worse when I realised that my bike was, in fact, kaputt beyond my ability to fix it (which usually involved sellotape!). After a bit of research, I made the terrifying decision to take it to a local repair shop where I managed to conduct an entire conversation with an old Austrian man, in German, to arrange for it to be serviced and repaired. Feeling proud of myself, I wandered along the river into the Altstadt and ambled around the city centre on my own for a while; it was surprisingly peaceful, especially as this is the short off-season for tourists in Salzburg. After a while, I headed off to the gym again, then came back into town to meet with Adele, Bo and Toni in one of the surprisingly numerous Belgian pubs in the Linzer Gasse area of the city.
Now on to this weekend’s big adventure. This was planned fairly last minute, and wasn’t a destination on any of our lists at the start of this year, but it was beautiful and incredible nonetheless. After getting up very early and driving for three hours through the snow-covered Alps, Toni, Adele, Bo and I (Iris had a choir performance elsewhere) crossed the border into Slovenia and arrived in Ljubljana, the capital. Toni had found a beautiful (and cheap!) Airbnb for the four of us, so we dropped our bags there, then wandered into the old town to see the sites. Away from the old town, it has to be said that Ljubljana isn’t that much to look at; with all the trademarks of a former-Communist city (grey high-rise tower blocks, abandoned buildings), you’d be mistaken for not even bothering to go into the city centre, and, at first, we questioned our own judgement. Fairly soon however, we’d reached the river and found a wonderful restaurant off the tourist trail to have lunch. The duck, caramelised pear and walnut salad I had for 5 euros was incredible. Afterwards, we wandered further towards the city centre, passing through cobbled streets that were actually beautiful and quaint in their slight run-downness. Small cafes tempted us at every corner, along with cute artisan shops and street stalls. Taking a bit of a diversion, we walked to the Metelkova district of the city. This self-proclaimed “autonomous” area is a former Yugoslav army barracks and, after a period as a squat, has been tactfully revitalised as a cultural hub. Only pictures can best describe the idiosyncrasy of the place, but it has become a ramshackle of seemingly dilapidated buildings, covered completely in political and cultural graffiti, disturbing sculptures and strange contraptions that have to be seen to be believed. In the day, it was eerily quiet, but at night it turns into a hive of activity, with impromptu nightclubs and bars appearing from the shadows.
Demonstrating the schizophrenia of the city, we then crossed the Dragon Bridge, so called because it is adorned with statues of dragons – the city’s emblem. We then walked through a huge food market and through the old town, passing beautiful churches, small art galleries and stumbling across a wine festival. After a while, Bo bumped into some of her Belgian friends, so we left her with them for a while and continued to walk through the city, to the Triple Bridges, the town hall, the Franciscan Church, Tivoli park and then up to Ljubljana castle to watch the sun set over the city. In many ways, it’s quite similar to Salzburg, but whilst Salzburg feels pristine and chocolate box perfect, Ljubljana makes no effort to hide its shortcomings, instead embracing them as part of its character. After a few drinks at various bars, the temperature began to drop considerably, so we headed to a local restaurant for dinner where the food was amazing! Then, we had a grand plan to join Bo’s friends for a pub crawl, but having been up since 6.30am, it’s fair to say that our hearts weren’t really in it, so the rest of us returned to the Airbnb at 1am, with Bo not joining until 6am!
The next day, we left Ljubljana and headed back towards Austria. Just before the border is the beautiful spa resort of Lake Bled, a picturesque lake with an island at the foot of the Julian Alps and with it’s own castle and national park. It was -3 degrees today, so we took a brisk walk part way round the lake and climbed up to the castle – the view was incredible. After another walk (and plenty of photographs!), we stopped at a cafe to sample a Slovenian specialty which was created in Bled – a kind of vanilla cream cake with puff pastry – every bit as delicious as it sounds! From the window of the cafe, we watched the sun set over the lake and then began our trip back to Salzburg.
Six months ago, I don’t think I even knew where Ljubljana was, let alone had plans to visit it, but I’m so glad that I did. The city is beautiful in it’s understatement and is very underrated. As for Lake Bled, it was undoubtedly one of the most magnificent places I’ve been to. I’m trying to travel somewhere new each week whilst I’m here, it’s what I love after all. As the Christmas season picks up speed, you can guarantee that there will be plenty of Christmas markets featured here over the next few weeks. It feels strange saying that – I’ve been here for over two months and it simultaneously feels like it’s gone so quickly and that I’ve always been here. To be honest though, I’m just trying to make the most of this opportunity and to do anything and everything I can whilst I have it.