After I hitchhiked to Athens in the winter of 2017, I flew back to the Netherlands in April. To take a break from travelling, to celebrate my mother’s 75th birthday and to give film workshops.
My idea was to have a four-week break and leave the Netherlands around 15th of May. Fly to Athens, ‘hopping’ some beautiful Greek islands, to Turkey and Cyprus, visit Istanbul and return to Greece. To finally end up in the Free and Real Community on Evia and make a documentary in the last week of August.
Whatever I did though, I did not manage to get the money for the flight. Booking a ticket moved further and further in time. It was only until June, when I celebrated my own birthday that I came to the realization that if I really wanted to get to Athens, I had to hitchhike the Balkans again.
On the 13th of June, with some reluctance and impatience I took the slow trail a second time.
Saturday, 29th of July. After a two-week break in the Netherlands and hitchhiking from Amsterdam to Salzburg, where I enjoyed summer and the cultural atmosphere of the Festspiele, it was time to go to Ljubljana.
Just like I had done in the cold circumstances of February , I prepared my journey by visiting the Billa supermarket on Friday evening. From the waste container I collected as much nice and healthy food as I could possibly take.
Saturday early afternoon I left the Volkspark, after a 45-minute walk I arrived at the hitchhiking location and put up my cardboard sign ‘Villach’. This was a warm and comfortable spot, in the beautiful nature surrounding Salzburg and in full sunshine.
After half an hour, a young woman stopped. She was on her way to a mountainous area some 40 kilometres south to Salzburg. There she would meet friends and do a hiking trip together.
After ten minutes, we entered the highway and immediately got into a traffic jam. This was the last weekend of July, with the highest peak of holiday traffic in Europa. Today was the day which was referred to as ‘Black Saturday’ in France, infamous for traffic jams and accidents. We joined the line, mostly families with fully packed cars and lots of cars with caravans and trailers.
The woman immediately phoned to one of her friends. No chance she would be in time and she cancelled her appointment. My ride ended prematurely, after half an hour she took the first possible exit at Hallein and I ended up at a highway entry in this small village, just 10 kilometres to the south of Salzburg..
This location was less comfortable, with barely any space for cars to stop properly. But against my expectation, after 15 minutes, I got a ride from a man on the way to his summer house in Croatia. This could become a long-distance ride, maybe to Ljubljana at once.
We joined the traffic jam, which dissolved after ten minutes. At first, we drove slowly but ultimately we could continue with normal speed. And after one hour, near the Slovenian border, I got out at a raststätte. Slovenia was south, the man went west, direction Italy.
This was a large raststätte, lots of people, lots of cars. It was towards the end of the afternoon, the sun was less intense. I went to the exit of the raststätte, the best position to ‘catch’ cars going south. I enjoyed this sunny spot for about an hour. A young couple stopped and invited me to come with them to Ljubljana.
They lived in Ljubljana and returned from a family reunion in Germany. Their house was in one of the outskirts of Ljubljana and when we approached Ljubljana, for them the best option was to drop me off at the petrol station on the highway. From there I could get to the city center, just like I had done in February.
But just before we reached Ljubljana, they took a wrong turn and we got near the exit ‘Ljubljana center’. From here, It was no difference for them to change their route and go through the city center. Before I knew we got to Tivoli Park, my destination.
I got out at one of the main entrances of Tivoli park, entered the park and passed the permanent photo exposition in the park. I turned left and had a beautiful view on the Colnarna restaurant, the place where I had slept in cold and icy circumstances in February.
It must have been around six o ‘clock. The terrace was packed and groups of people were sitting on the grass everywhere. Parents with children and groups of young people enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine.
I checked for Alexander, the manager of Colnarna. I wanted to leave my weekend bag at the restaurant, so I could move more freely. Alexander was not working, but one of his colleagues was willing to keep an eye on my belongings. I was very curious how the Ljubljana city center looked in summer.
I strolled around the central canal with terraces. This time, the canal was packed with small tour boats. I walked towards one of the bridges. With a week of hot weather conditions ahead, I was wandering if I could find a place to swim in the morning.
I asked a guy standing on the bridge, who looked as a city guide. No swimming opportunities here, unfortunately. He offered me a cigarette and descended the stairs towards one of the tour boats.
He came back two minutes later and asked me if I would like a free tour with his boat. It turned out he was the manager of the boat company. Two of the passengers had not shown up, I could come along in their place.
This was the prelude for a cheerful and joyful week in Ljubljana. Contrary to my stay in February, I had some money to enjoy the city. Each morning, after a 15-minute walk from Tivoli park, I started with a cappuccino at the LP cafe. After the first working shift in the library, I went to the supermarket and had lunch in the sun.
After luch, I often went to Colnarna and sat in the cafe with my laptop and had a refreshing beer. In the evening, I strolled around the city center, enjoying the lively summer atmosphere. Being able to buy ice cream and have a glass of wine on a the terrace, contributed to the ideal mix of working, travelling and enjoying the summer season.
On Saturday morning I had a last coffee at Colnarna. I said goodbye to Alexander and his crew, thanked them for the pleasant week and their hospitality and walked to the highway.
After one hour, a young guy stopped. Grido, 23 year old, worked as a forestry engineer and told me all about the beauty of Slovenia. He took me on a tour, we passed the Postojna caves, unfortunately they were closed. He showed me his old school, meanwhile telling me about Slovenia, his work and beautiful nature.
As his hometown was a small village near Croatia and close to the sea, he dropped me at the Croatian border . From the border I got a ride to a petrol station near Rijeka, with a view on the sea. I spent the night in the open air, behind the petrol station.
In Ljubljana, the temperature had been 36 ℃ each day. Croatia was no different, so I liked this route close to the coastline. Sunday morning I got a first ride to Senj, a small village and seaside resort. Immediately after getting out of the car, I took a break to take a swim in the sea.
From Senj, I got a ride with Larissa and Jess, a lovely German couple with a brute Mercedes camper. They took me to a petrol station near Zadar, from where I had the last ride to Split with a great Dutch couple, Benny and Renée. Sunday around 6 o'clock they dropped me in the center of Split, at a 10-minute walk from ‘my’ seaside park. I dropped my weekend bag in the park and at 7 o ‘clock I was at Bačvice beach to take a swim and celebrate my arrival to Split.
It was Sunday 6th of August, I felt blessed to be in Split again. Some of the best memories of my first journey through Croatia were from Split. And moreover, I was happy to be on schedule. Peering over the sea, I counted the weeks to go. I would arrive to Montenegro on the 13th , the 20th to Albania and 27th to Greece. I could still make it to Athens by the last week of August.
In the Bačvice park, the ‘kino’ period had started, a large audience watching a movie every night. The show would last until eleven and the eateries near the park closed around midnight. It would mostly be around one, the moment for me to climb the fence unseen and having my warm and comfortable ‘park hotel’ at my disposal.
With temperatures between 36 and 38 ℃ in the daytime, the air-conditioned library was the best and safest place to be. At the end of each afternoon, during my first break for smoking, I felt how the heat was literally a blow in the face.
The evenings were warm and sultry. After the library closed I went for dinner, strolled around town and returned to my park around eleven. By that time, still lots of people were at the beach. So, following their example, I took up the habit to have a refreshing swim before going to sleep.
Bačvice beach was a mix of traditional bath and beach culture and entertainment area for young people, with pruning hard beats coming from clubs lining up along the seaside. A mix of families and elderly people and groups of boys chasing groups of girls, gradually getting more and more drunk.
On Wednesday evening, while I was watching the scene and smoking a cigarette, a man came up to me and asked me to guard his belongings, so he could go for a swim safely. After he got out of the water, we ended up in a conversation.
Pavo Majic was a graphical artist, born and raised in Split. He lived near the Bačvice area and had an art studio in the city center of Split, studio ‘Naranja’.
When I told him some of my hitchhiking stories, he immediately came up with his own stories. In the seventies, he had lots of adventures, hitchhiking through Europa and northen Africa. He knew Amsterdam from these ‘good old seventies’. He invited me to visit his studio and gave me his card.
Studio Naranja was in the beautiful old town of Split. Pavo showed me around the historical building, from the studio and the shop to the storage of lots of art works in the attic. The history of the building dated back more than 500 years.
Pavo acquired it around 40 years band transformed it into a cheerful space, by adding his art, colorful and cheerful. And not in the least, the warm and jazzy music playing in the studio contributed to this ‘chill zone’, making visitors feel pleasant and at ease.
Pavo told me that during the 40 years that he worked in studio Naranja, he had seen a lot of changes in the neighborhood. This part of the old city was multicultural by origin and a lot had changed in the last years. Hearing this, I proposed to Pavo to make a small documentary together, ‘Me and My Neighborhood’.
On Saturday, my last day in Split, Pavo and I recorded the documentary. He told me his story in Croatian, a challenge for editing the documentary. And he showed me around the neighborhood, speaking about the places that characterized the multicultural history.
The music in the documentary will be of the the same atmosphere as the music playing in studio Naranja that day, the jazzy tones of Norah Jones.