Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Its a wonderful life

25.12.2016, Ljubljana

There is an announcement. I hear Ljubljana. I ask the young couple in front of me. They confirm. Many people get up. I pack my stuff. Off the train.

Its freezing and the train station is wrapped in darkness and silence. The station is very concretey and non fancy. Reminds me of Delhi. There is a massive car park outside. Very quiet. A few people are receiving their loved ones. I follow the people. I check the GPS on my phone. The blue dot is going away from my hostel. I turn back.

I see a sign for my hostel. Its a quiet alley. Its foggy all around. Surrounded by concrete, fog and silence, I am slightly scared. I look at my little dot on the map. Left, right and then right. A group of young boys approaches. I quickly put my phone in my pocket. Right. There's the hostel from the website. Thank god!

I am buzzed in. The hostel is quiet too. Holiday time. I ask for an upgrade to a cell. It works out. I ask the receptionist about food. She says there is a Christmas festival in the town.  Everyone is there. Its 15 min from here. The area is quiet and cold. Do I want to go? I put together some courage and my day pack and head to town. After 5 min I see some people. And some more. As I reach the river, I see some more. And then, everyone. EVERYONE!

Christmas decorations in Ljubljana city centre
Giant Christmas tree in the city centre
Its the biggest party, ever! A massive tree, lots of food and drinks. Families, young, old, prams, musicians, lovers, couples, they are all walking by the river. Talking, laughing, hugging, kissing, eating, drinking, singing. The Christmas spirit I saw in Munich has followed me here.

I grab a burger and some mulled wine. I walk around. Its -3C. My fingers freeze. My burger becomes a piece of cold meat, a leathery substance that you can chew on. The wine is warm. There is a concert. Old men are playing in a band. The song is "Its a wonderful life". It is, isn't it? It feels like that in this atmosphere. No one has worries, no problems exist.

Its a big family here at the city centre. A big home, for everyone.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Why do we travel by train?

Munich, 25.12.16

Ok, I couldn't reach the station 45m before my train (as previously planned). I am here 30m before. I have to buy food for the 6.5hr journey. I check the arrival/departure board. No train to Ljubljana or Zagreb (the final destination in Croatia). There is some other train for 12.17pm. It will probably come up in a moment. Meanwhile I'll just go buy some food. 

Munich train station
After a trip to various shops around the station I have chips, cookies, bananas, sandwich, pretzel. Its a long journey. I look at the board. My train is not there. I visit the enquiry counter. She says its platform 30. Or is it 13?! I go to 13. My train is not there. 30 is far away. I walk fast. 30. No train. What do I do? A ticket counter! I ask again. She says 14. Oh shit! Its 12.05pm already. I walk faster. 

Here I am, at 14. My train is not here. There is a train. I see a ticket checker. I ask him. This is the train. I am standing in front of my coach. I get in. Its very different from my earlier train. This one is full of people. Putting things on overhead racks. Finding seats. Settling down. The little chaos of the coach that reminds me of an Indian train. Now this is the real deal. 

I find my seat. There is an old woman on it. Here even older mother sits in front of her. I sit next to them. They don't speak much English. 1 or 2 words. They ask where my seat was. I say they are sitting on it. They ask where I was going. I say Ljubljana. 

"Former Yugoslav"! 
"We former Yugoslav"! 

I nod and smile. Reminds me of Madagascar. "Just smile and wave boys, smile and wave."

They are traveling to the next station. I tell them I was also going to Budapest, Bratislava and Prague. They are slightly impressed. That was my intention. More questions come my way.
"Are you coming from England?"
No, Holland
No travel

Next 10 min are quite. For us, not for the coach. There is a lot of chit chat, laughing. 

Their station is here. They ask for help with their bags. i help. They are very short. I wonder how they got their bags up there in the first place. They thank me. The old lady says bye. I say bye. The older lady says something in Slovak (?). I smile and say bye (like the Penguins). 

This is what train journeys are about. Random encounters!

Now I have my window seat. The whole space is free. I have my book, food and water on the table. I sit comfy. I can read, write. Look at the landscape, the green landscape in the shade of winter grey. 

A train full of people and luggage. Cloths hanging around. 

A 6 hour journey. No internet on the train. Plenty of time to relax, read, write, listen to music, contemplate. 

Friday, 13 January 2017

The waiting hostel

Munich, 25.12.16

Its Christmas day. In the hostel it doesn't feel very Christmasy. Business as usual. People coming and going, doors opening and closing, metal hitting metal, whispers, alarms, snoozing, alarms, snoozing, alarms, snoozing.

When I arrived 2 nights ago there seemed to be members of the same family on the beds around me. A mother, a daughter and a son. Are they long term residents of the hostel? Are they here to try and get jobs, asylum, help!? Like the people who stayed with me during the summer. Or the Pakistani guy I met in Uppsala. People are known to live in hostels for extended periods. Looking for jobs, housing, help.

The family is gone. I don't know where. Back home? Another country? No help here?

Hostels are places of transition. People coming and going. But are they also places of waiting? I am waiting for my train. There are others too. Luggages in the common area. People looking in their phones and laptops. The cleaner moving around with the vacuum cleaner. Buzzz. The family that I think waited for something. The family in my room. The family that left. There are others too. The Pakistani guy in Uppsala. You see on hostel forums people complaining about long term residents. Those who are waiting. For jobs, for homes, for help?

A hostel in Ljubljana 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Curious Case of the Christmas Mug

Christmas tree at one market
Munich, 23.12.2016

It is not very difficult to find the hostel. It is very close to the main train station - cross the road, turn into the alley, walk a bit and there it is. I check in. The receptionist advises to visit a big Christmas market near by. It is only until 23.12, 11pm. It is already 9pm.

I quickly put my luggage in the room, take out my day bag, lock my backpack in the cage under my bed and head to the Christmas market. After walking through the dark (not literally) on many secluded streets I see lights. And people. Its the market.

The market is nice but I don't know if it is very traditional. But then, what is traditional?! There are big tents in which food from around the world is being served. I do not enter these tents. I am in Germany for Germany, not for the whole world or rather the rest of the world. I want German food. the rest can wait for when I get to them.

I walk around in the open. I look at what is being bought and sold. Every other shop has food or drinks. Lots of Gluhwein. Its 9.30pm. I grab something to eat, a bratwurst. Got to love them. I notice that most places are serving gluhwein in  special little christmasy mugs. Red, yellow, grey, green, black, blue. I must have one of those. What better souvenir from Munich?