7th February 2017
Myself, Vlad, Anais, and Perry were all leaving Bled today. Perry was getting a train to Venice in the afternoon, while the rest of us were going to attempt to hitchhike to Ljubljana. Cathy had tried the same yesterday, without success. If things didn't work out, we could always take the bus like she had. Anais was going to spend the next week Couchsurfing in Ljubljana, so she hitched alone. Myself and Vlad would be travelling together for a while, so went as a pair. I had planned to head south through the Balkans along the coast of the Adriatic after Bled, while he had planned to head north through Austria to Germany. But over the past week each of us had heard so many good things from other travellers about Budapest, that we decided to postpone our trips for a few days.
We drew our ‘Ljubljana’ sign, walked a few paces along the main road in the city’s direction, and began the usual routine. Anais, who had left the hostel a few minutes before us, was standing another hundred meters along the road. We wondered if we were improving or hampering her chances of being offered a lift. Anyone willing to take hitchers would pass us first, giving us the advantage. Or maybe the drivers may pass us, thinking they’d rather not take two men, spot the lone female up ahead, and be inclined to be more generous.
For almost an hour we stood out, just down from the bus stop, hoping to be taken. My hitching strategy is to make myself look as peaceful and genuine as possible. I stood straight, with my hood lowered, my thumb out firm, and my sign at chest height, looking each potential driver in the eye, with a gentle smile on my face. Vlad didn’t quite share these tactics. He continually joked, turning around to talk to me, waved his arms about, and wouldn’t take off his beanie hat or sunglasses. I figured he was lowering our chanced quite a lot.
As the hourly bus approached, we decided to throw in the towel; the bus was only €6 after all. Anais had disappeared long ago, presumably having been picked up, or maybe having moved to hitch from a better spot. Vlad needed to run to the toilet first. He told me to keep trying to hitch, and if I had disappeared by the time he was done, we’d meet in the train station in an hour. He picked up his bag, and trudged off to the public toilets near the bus stop. I kept standing with my thumb, sign, and half-smile. Almost immediately, a small blue car pulled over, and the front window came down.
“Ljubljana?” I asked the young couple in the front two seat.
“Yes” replied the woman driving, in a Spanish accent.
As I got in, I looked back for Vlad, who I spotted near the toilets, watching this, waving me goodbye.
“Any chance you could take my friend too?” I asked.
The woman said they could, and I beckoned to Vlad, who came running.
The couple who gave us a lift to Ljubljana were Portugese, actually, and were just finishing an Erasmus in the city. They had rented a car for their final weekend, to say goodbye to Lake Bohinj, their favourite spot in all of Slovenia. They dropped us to the train station. As we approached, I spotted Anais walking with her backpack.
“Beep the horn!” I shouted, which they did.
We waved. Anais saw us, and waved back.
That evening, after checking into the Sax Hostel, myself and Vlad found Cathy in our dorm. The three of us walked through the centre of the city to Metelkova, the arts centre reclaimed from the abandoned military barracks. The bars and clubs which form Metelkova sit around a courtyard, presumably once used for military drills and exercises. Today the yard houses a three-story climbing frame, which young people like to bring drinks to, and sit inside playing music. We bought some cans of beer from one of the bars, and sat on the second level for a while, listening to a group of Slovenians sing English pop songs, with a guitar and cajón drum.
Later, we moved back towards the centre of town, and joined Anais and her couchsurfing host in a bar. After a few drinks Vlad and Anais began debating feminism. I sat back as they argued passionately. They were discussing the prospects of women in poorer countries. Anais was insisting that if a woman is valued solely for her looks, and her only chance to succeed is to find a rich husband, the culture was at fault. Vlad, who grew up in Ukraine in the early 90s and has some experience with impoverished societies, was saying the problem is more economic than cultural. He contended that if a population find themselves without access to education, or any form of self improvement, of course the women will be out looking to marry into wealth. It seemed to me the two of them agreed on almost every detail being discussed, and were getting riled up over split hairs. I said nothing, reclined, and enjoyed my beer.