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Three bridges, Ljubljana

1. Ljubljana = the beloved one.

And you could find the name really suits its place in the citizen’s heart. Ljubljana is not that major capital where its bustling with cars, and skyscrapers. But rather it is a quaint, peaceful place, with cafe along the canal that divide the city. It is as if the city have no other obligation, rather than to serve, and to be loved by its inhabitants.

2. Visako drevo = high trees

While it is true that whole Slovenia is still rich with nature’s gift, abundant with hills and national parks, the thing that I would like to emphasize here is the similarity between the language with Russian. I know, I know, they are all part of the same Slavic language family, but what rather amazed me is the fact that while it is located farthest from any other Eastern Europe country to Russia, their language is the most similar.

3. Not arrogantly rich

Slovenia is what Russia would be if they play their card right into free-market system. This small, not very resourceful country somehow cleverly managed its way through various economic crisis, and even is the GDP generator of whole Yugoslavia during Tito’s time. Its amazing how a country that small, actually manage to float the GDP not only for its use, but also to support its rather unfortunate neighbor during the Yugoslavia time. They are one of a few Eastern Europe country that manage to adopt the Euro.

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4.Love thy home!!

When Czechchoslovakia open its border to the west, and various “Colour revolution” is taking place in the East, a big portion of the Eastern community migrate to the west in search of a better future. This phenomena was happening almost in every part of the east, with exception of Slovenia. Most of its population is happy enough to stay where they are, and belief that the best place is the one where they were born n raised. And they seems absolutely right about that.

5. Look! there’s church on that hill..and that! …and that!!

I lost count on how many churches there was on top of the hill. It seems almost as if on every hill, it is topped by a church. Like in most European country, church used to be a great figure in socio-politic development of Slovenia. Today however, they are only parts ofΒ  mere picturesque view- since most Slovenian didnt consider themselves a church-goers. Well, at least thats what I’ve been told πŸ™‚

 

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The Valley of Logarska Dolina

6. Swiss without the CHF!!!

Why do people forget that along those Alps in Switzerland, behind the great mountain range, there’s absolutely another land which is untouched and more serene that tourist-packed Swiss? Too expensive to convert ur local currency for skiing in swiss? then head over to Logarksa Dolina, Slovenia.

7. Vegetarian is in!!

I guess in Latvia people will stare at you dubiously if u declare yourself a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. Not in here though! The vegetarian food is great! and its daily market serves cheap, abundant fruits all summer long! I paid 2 euro for a bag of apricots that fill me up from lunchtime till dinner.

8. Dog..dog…friendly puppy!

Maybe too friendly for me πŸ™‚ I would have to admit I have this irrational fear of this canine, but the one in Slovenske Konjice magically banished it πŸ™‚

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Little Ella

9. Family & Friends

I stayed with a couple with their sweetest little girl, and we walked around the neighborhood in the evening. Everyone seems to know everyone, and that homey feeling u get when u are in ur hometown? Well, u can get it here too πŸ™‚ even the women selling ice-cream would smile at you.

10. Buckwheat taste better in the mountainous range

I never liked buckwheat before, but combined it with a warm pirogi, and a breeze juice on top of a hill, while looking over down to the valley of Logarska Dolina, it cannot be any more perfect!!

11. You will love “A Rooster Breakfast ! ” πŸ™‚

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Wien, Austria, from a Malaysian eye…

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1. People are actually friendly, helpful, and if you’re lucky, you can join them for a game of Frisbee.
2. Museum Quarter is not only for people who love history. At night, its the place where the young n energetic hang out!
3. While Vienna is well-known among the classical-music weirdo (i have nothing agaisnt classics:), u can find jazz and others genre being played widespreadly around.
4. Dont buy a movie ticket! Head to the Town Hall Square,and watch movies for free!

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Free cinema, City Hall

5. Do buy the public transport ticket.if get caught,its a hefty fine (but i was never checked by them πŸ™‚
6. The “city of skiing” can be soaring hot during summer!!
7. I dont think d locals is touchy like Italians. But i gave my hosts a big warm hug, n they are pretty ok about it (or so i guess πŸ™‚
8. Some tram is air-conditioned. Search for it!! Especially during hot summer day
9. Make sure u dont even TRY to do anything that might resemble fascism sign. And its better to order 2 beer, and add one later, rather than 3 beer at once (lol!! Apparently 3 fingers sign is a fascist salutation here)
10. Viennese can eat spicy foods!!! (Well, the study sample is my 2 incredible hosts – Chris & Michael…i hope their stomach is ok)
11. Vienna is not that expensive.if u want london without the pound, Paris without the attitude, and Prague without the crowd, then Vienna is for you πŸ™‚
12. Spend your night in a used-to-be synagogue!!and order a big glass of mango juice there..
13. U can talk about WWII here, but be objective about it.
14. U can talk about politics here, and play guess, who is left, right, centrist, middle-right, or a national socialist :p
15. A female have a better chance to get a job here, since traditionally u shudnt ask for payment raise more than once per year.
16. U can watch “the jihad for love” here
17. Learning about Austrian history in the museum is nice, but its even nicer when u talk to people. And they might have the “treasure album!”
18. Appel strudel in Vienna taste better!

19. There’s an open-air bath, where people come supposedly to cool off in summer, but ended up trying to prove that they are COOL insteads.
20. One way to get an asylum in Vienna, is by declaring yourself a sex-worker πŸ™‚
21. Make sure you be a nice guest…or they will lock you up in a cellar ….(tongue-in-cheek πŸ™‚

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Christ & Michael, my amazing host in Vienna

I thought I’d leave Budapest earlier than I’m planning to. I felt I could use a little out-of-city air, so I took a train that went towards the Lake Balakon in the centre of Hungary.

It wasnt an easy journey. I overslept in the train, and reached the Croatian border, a country where visa is a requirement for Malaysian citizen. After being interrogated, and checked in all corner, short of cavity search, I was then released and headed back to my original destination.

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Heviz mineral bath spa

Arrived around 3 pm local time in Heviz, a little bit late than I would like to, but the weather is just nice enough for me to soak in the many natural mineral water spa that dotted the area.

The place I’m soaking in used to be a mine. The water is constantly warm throughout the year, making it a perfect retreat for many, especially German tourist. Believe me, it looks like as if the area was invaded by the German again, reminiscing the WWII moment. Except that this time its not the Wehrcmacht, but rather posh old people in their Mercedes-Benz, complete with an assistant to carry around their towel.

Heviz was just a short stop along my journey, and thats not much to see in the town. So, after soaking up for hours, I went to have dinner in a nice little cafe that served BBQ everything. Its easier to chat here since many of the Germans does speak English. But most of them are old couple or posh executives, whom topics spans around the current economic downturn. Not really my area of expertise, so I politely retreat and head on for an early night.

Leaving Krakow behind, I head over to Budapest to see what’s the fuss about this city after all. Being named as one of the obligatory stop to those who would endure a journey in Eastern Europe, I allocated a few days to be spent here.

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Budapest castle overlooking the Danube river

There is no doubt the city is unique by its very own standard. The Hungarians (or Magyar) is people who have an isolated descend compared to their Indo-European neighbours. Their languange give testament to this. It doesnt sound more Polish, but rather more Finnish. A languange from the Ugro-Finnic family, its hard to imagine how this branch of languange travelled all the way from the cold scandinavia to this center of European continent.

The highlight of the trip is perhaps walking by the Danube river at night. The castle at the “Buda” side of the city stand majestically, as if conforming the Royalties authority upon its people. On the opposite of it, the “Pest” side of the city stands proudly to the testament of people powers, as evidence by its Parliamentary building, that will remind you of the same building standing in centre of London.

In Vasa Utca, I almost get ripped by a scam woman pretending to be lonely girl who asked me to accompany her to a bar. And let alone the prostitute who couldnt speak English, but just for a dare, come towards me and blurted the most 2 important English words she might know to survive.

“Hello!….sex??? ”

While in Budapest, I stayed with a middle-age woman and her son at their apartment quite out of the city. I think she really loved having international guest there, as I see a lot of different bank notes from all over the world on her wall. I proudly add to her collections a good ol’ Ringgit Malaysia notes.

Apart from the amazing view, I have to admit I felt a little bit lonely in Budapest. Its hard to strike a conversation with strangers here. I managed to get to know a Romanian guy who worked here for several years, and he explained me, the locals might think that I am one of many gypsies that they distaste lurking around the cities.

Which brought me to say hi to a lone gypsy playing his musical instruments. We couldnt take much due to languange barrier, but we managed to finish a bottle of Cola while listening to his music together.

All in all, I felt a little bit intimidated in this spiraling, modernizing city of Budapest. There’s a sense of urgency in the air everywhere. So what I did was having a retreat in one of their many communal bath. And trust me, its an experience you should never miss.

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Krakow train station

A whole-day train trip down the way to Krakow is not excruciating, since Jariel is tagging along with me, and in-between chatting and drinking, the scenery was amazing.

It’s not picturesque like the one you might expect of Switzerland, but the train journey as if giving me the introduction of the Poles. Starting from wide open space of wheat field, and various grains that I couldnt recognize, then it shifted to small villages, where donkeys are abundant, and children was swimming in what I reckoned as a water channel. Further down, the small town which is dotted with markets, kiosks, and small well-kept garden.

Arriving in Krakow, the scenery change tremendously. As the cultural city of Poland, it lacks the skyscrapers u could find in Warsaw, but an old town dotted with medieval castle and various middle-ages curches, and guilds buildings isnt that bad. On top of that, throw in the fact that Krakow have the most pub per square meter compared to any other places in Earth. That translates to “happening night life”.

The best part about Krakow is the Old Town -literally. Unlike most of Old Town in Europe where its local inhabitant seems to disappear, and being replaced by over-rich couples touring with their big, air-conditioned bus, here in Krakow, the locals ACTUALLY hang around the old town. So yes, its all Polish Kelbaso & Pirogi here πŸ™‚

Perhaps as the most catholic country, I reckoned Poles to be somewhat conservatives.Β  But my host here, Michael and his gf, Alexa explained to me that while conservatives played a large part in Polish today’s politics, the trend at big cities is shifting. Rephrasing from our long conversations, he said that by times, the elder generation with more conservatives principles would give away to the younger, more liberal generations. I’ve heard this phenomena somewhere, and if not mistaken this is called the “time pressure”.Maybe.

But what’s amazing here in Krakow, while a significant part of its population doesnt have any confession, but a deep seated respect to the church and clerics still exist.

We hiked up to a lone monastery (which is unknown to most of the tourist crowd), and I had a lovely chat with the monks living there. In Russian, that is. It surprised him that a non-white like me actually can converse in Russian, and we had a fond talk, while he explained to me that I would be able to oversleep there. Politely I had to declined, and before we parted he gave me a postcard of his monastery, to which I repay with a postcard of a mosque from Malaysia. Inter-religious dialogue, non?

Then there is the horrible, holocaust camp of Auschwitz – Birkenau. In one word, its – morbid. There’s too complex feeling surged inside me when I set my foot into one of the endless camps there. I would save this for another post.

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Birkenau extermination camp

So, apart from all the tourist attractions I could find in Krakow, the salt mine, the castle , and all, –mostly I was amazed with the uplifted spirit of its people. The mixing bowl of many cultures from different backgrounds (my hosts have Argentinian and Kazakhstan background), Krakow really showed me what could we achieve if we could agree to embrace our differences.

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Alexa & Michael, my hosts in Krakow

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The lush forest in Vilnius

Perhaps the overjoyous among all of the Baltics, Lithuanian have the spirit of Madrid, the serene of Prague, the night life of Krakow, without the crowd of Paris.

Having the largest preserved Old Town in Northern Europe,Β  I easily get lost among the numerous churches towers. Soaring above towards the sky, it reminded me little that this land was once repressed from practicing religion.

Time shifted, and so those the people. The Soviet Realisticism doesnt live long here. Upon the crumble ofΒ  Soviet Union, and the famous protest where millions of people formed a human chain from Vilnius up to Tallin, Estonia as a sign of discontent towards soviet authority– Lithuania is today the pride owner of its own heritage and culture.

I hooked up with a local, Tomas K. and his younger brother, together with a traveller from US, Jariel whom I met along the way. The family house is located quite afar from theΒ  city centre, but nothing that a cheap taxi cannot cover.Β  You then realized how people here really appreciate nature, that they disagree to the idea of living in a city — where they know it fulls of pressure and chaos– and thus retreat to the sub urban area, where forest is still lush, wild berries still grow at the backyard ,and greenery is endless.

I got the chance to their “dacha” , yes that legacy ofΒ  east europe, where all families have their own country house. We made BBQ, and with rounds of drinks, chat till the middle of the night.

You got to admit that Lithuanian are the hippest party animal πŸ™‚ , and bar hopping perhaps come naturally when they reach the legal age (or maybe even earlier?), but you could see that in every soul, there’s a determination for success. There’s this lurking idea of their place in society, where everyone would want to grab their slot — ideally without the expense of others.

And perhaps the most amazing thing can be witnessed here is the bond of brotherhood, despite different background or origin. You just have to spend a night talking with one of them, and you would find out that there’s almost nothing that these guys havent done together πŸ™‚ Another lesson to be emphasized :

PEOPLE CAN GET ALONG TOGETHER JUST FINE..

Its must have been embedded in humanity. You dont see government poster campaign for unity littering the streets. It just came naturally, thus it confirmed my beliefs once again, that despite everything, mankind are just a classless society, and the formation of this class that divide us is a mere consequences of the mess we made up in developing our socio-politics atmosphere.

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Arrived in Riga by bus from Tallinn.

It was late evening, and there is no soul to be seen anywhere around the bus station. I almost ended up taking an overpriced taxi, before being rescued by a local guy, who lead me to the main street where I can get a regular taxi.

And owh, at first look on him, it might trigger your flight-and-fight response. But seriously, he was nice enough,that he even gave me his business card so I can “report” to him back when I arrived safely by SMS.

Cool, eh? stranger act of kindness is just everywhere πŸ™‚

I stayed with a Latvian guy (whose name I decided not to publish in case it will severe his privacy πŸ™‚ , who was pretty keep-to-himself at first, but we managed to break the ice within 30 minutes.Β  He gave me the insight of Riga, what its like to be in this capital of Latvia.

He is a student, and the fact that he have to live near the capital for his education disagree with his financial situation. From that scope of view,the socialist system that was mounted here (albeit, forcefully) did provide students like him with a better conditions. Nowadays, he implied, everything is just about money.

So I asked him, whether the idea of reviving those government system -perhaps widely lurking in different mindsets of different people.

He just laughed it off–saying no way.

“It might be more difficult to live now, but people have never feel ever more freely — and perhaps, thats the price to pay — rather than a comfortable daily ration of food.”

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