During the winter of 2017, between the end of January and the beginning of April, I hitchhiked from Salzburg, Austria to Athens, Greece. Starting in a beautiful snow covered Salzburg on the 30th of January, and longing for Greece, spring and higher temperature, I had planned to visit one city in each country, for one week.
My plan was to arrive in Athens by the beginning of April, my final destination being the ‘Free and Real Community’ in the village of Aghios on Evia, an island close to Athens.
In Ljubljana, in the first week of February winter was about to end. Most of the snow was gone, the ice layers on the ponds were getting thinner. The city had been covered by snow for several weeks. Small heaps of dirty, icy snow in the streets were the witness to this. The temperature was a few degrees above zero, as the office building in the middle of the city reminded me Monday morning, the first time I walked from Tivoli Park to the university library.
The frost at night in Tivoli Park was still a challenge. I had found a shelter on the terrace of Colnarna restaurant. This terrace had a small area with a bar, used to serve ice cream in the summertime. For me the perfect space to sleep relatively warm and save, hidden from the sight of nightly visitors of the park.
My food supply from Salzburg ran out on Tuesday. I had the last slices of organic bread for lunch. Tuesday evening I started strolling around the city looking for the magic food container. I checked the back of several supermarkets if they threw away food any food. This became my routine each night after the library closed until I left Ljubljana on Saturday morning. I would not find one trace of edible food in this city.
From yearly fasting in spring, I had the experience and knew the feeling not to eat for days. Getting through the first day was the most difficult, from day two your body gets used to not eating. So, somewhat early and not with the usual fruit juices, I set to a fasting period.
To get through fasting, drinking lots of water was key and no intense physical efforts and exercise. My 20-minute walk from the park to the library in the morning was perfect to go with fasting, as were my strolls through the city centre in the evenings.
After spending two days in the study room of the National and University Library, the building was closed on Wednesday. On the nearby square, I found a new location to do my daily work, the LP bar. The LP bar was a small café situated in a classical building, which hosted several science and study centres as well. The waitress explained it was Prešeren Day, a national Slovenian holiday. It commemorates the death of France Prešeren, a Slovene poet who is regarded as the greatest Slovene classical author.
I explained to the waitress that I was travelling and needed a work location. And that I would probably receive money on my account soon. For her, this was fine she and offered me a free coffee.
On Thursday morning, the manager of Colnarna discovered me sleeping on ‘his’ terrace. I was halfway my meditation routine when the door of the restaurant opened from the inside. Alexander had worked overtime Wednesday evening and missed the last bus to the village where he lived. Sleeping in the restaurant was the best option, I suspected this was not his first time.
In some disbelief, he heard my story and saw the humour of the situation. I guess we had some male bonding going on because we were accomplices in both spending the night at his place semi-illegally. He made two cups of espresso, for me a great start of the morning, as coffee is a great variety to the fasting routine. It kicks in magnificently.
Friday morning, Alexander and I had the same morning routine. He had informed his colleague, a beautiful waitress about me being the nightly guest this week. She brought me another great espresso. This morning coffees, having some cigarettes in the evening and the wonderful free atmosphere of the city, were my only luxury during my stay in Ljubljana..
Driven by lack of food and longing for spring, I left Ljubljana early Saturday morning. I walked the 5 kilometres to the highway entry, following the traffic signs to Croatia. After one hour, I got a ride from a couple that brought me to the petrol station on the highway where I had arrived one week before.
As the temperature in Ljubljana was still just above zero, I welcomed this location wholeheartedly. This location provided shelter and being able to approach people felt better than passively waiting at the roadside. On my cardboard sign: Zadar, the most northern Croatian city on the Dalmatian coast.
After one hour, a young couple with a baby on board offered me a ride. Getting a ride from people with young kids on board was a unique experience to me. After the man reorganized the back of the car to make space for my stuff, I was on my way to Croatia.
This was the moment of my journey I definitely entered unknown territory. Forty years before, at the age of 13, I had visited Ljubljana during a summer holiday with my parents. Before me now were the Balkans, totally different from 40 years before, completely new countries for me to explore. I had never expected to do this as unprepared as I did now, completely without money. A total leap of faith ...
The couple was on their way to Zagreb, returning home from a winter holiday in Switzerland. We passed the Slovenian-Croatian border and one hour later we approached Zagreb. They were so generous to take a small detour and bring me dropped off at a petrol station on the west side of Zagreb, on the highway to the coast.
It turned dark and cold. In the lights of the petrol station, I asked people for the direction Zadar. I soon found out the number plate system of Croatian cars. ‘ZD’ were cars from Zadar, ‘ST’ cars from Split, ‘DU’ from Dubrovnik, and so on.
It must have been around eight in the evening when a man came out of the shop after paying for petrol and came up behind me. Somewhat surprised I asked him if he could help me to Zadar. His answer was: “Of course, come with us”, with a strange tone of self-evidence in his voice, almost as he had expected this to happen.
Simon and his wife Katiya were on their way from Zagreb to Split. They were returning from some days they spend with a group of friends. Zagreb to Split was about 350 kilometres, Zadar was on the way to Split, some two hundred from Zagreb.
The climate around Zagreb was totally different from the Croatian coastal area. Simon and Katiya explained how the Dalmatian coastal area had a Mediterranean climate, while the Croatian inland had a continental climate. The reason was a mountain plateau which spread from north to south, leaving a coastal strip of around 50 kilometres with a pleasant climate.
Above the highway were signs that indicated time and temperature. Approaching Zadar, the number of tunnels increased, characteristic for this irregular mountainous area. Simon announced the last tunnel before we entered Dalmatia and after going under it, the temperature, smell and atmosphere completely changed. Where the signs had indicated a temperature of 1-2 degrees, the first sign after the tunnel indicated a pleasant 10 degrees.
At 50 kilometres before Zadar, Simon and Katiya decided to stop at a highway restaurant for a break. Upon entering the restaurant, they invited me to take food as well. At this restaurant, after three days, my fasting period ended.
Simon was an alternative health practitioner and a trader in food supplements and alternative medicines.
At the restaurant, he gave me two bottles of supplements, one containing 100 essential minerals and one very healthy salt solution.
Around eleven, Simon and Katiya dropped me off at the Zadar highway exit, at the toll gates. I would see them in Split again. It was still 15 kilometres to the city of Zadar, but somehow I would get there.
After 5 minutes, a car loomed out of the dark. Two young guys took me to Zadar and asked me where I wanted to go. As I was longing for the sea and needed the shelter of a park, I asked them if they knew a somewhat remote park near the beach.
They knew and dropped me off at the perfect place, 100 meters from where the waves beat the rocks. After the guys drove off, I walked towards the sound of the waves. I had reached my next destination and had made two wonderful new friends.
It would take another day before the money arrived at my account. On Monday I could buy food again. The meal with Simon and Katiya and Simon’s supplements were invaluable. How well this leap of faith had turned out.
Sunday morning, after sleeping long, having a swim in the Dalmatian sea, I walked to the café at the entrance of the park, ‘Tequila Sunrise’. It was OK for me to sit here for a few hours.
Tequila Sunrise was a Mexican bar, locals. Two TV screens, one with football and one with video clips. The first video clip on the screen after I sat down, was very applicable. And I would see and hear this clip many times during my time in Croatia.
Because, no matter how self-sufficient and independent you can be during travelling, sometimes it is necessary and very pleasant to meet someone you can lean on.