The “Citadella” to Ljubljana

Dec. 30 – Ljubljana, Slovenia

At noon I left from Budapest’s third-best train station, a drab block with none of city’s charm. The wagons themselves were extravagantly graffitied on the outside, though the compartments were clean and comfortable. The rollout from the city was uninspiring – spray-painted scrawls on neglected buildings, piles of scrap metal, railway ties, broken concrete. We saw the Danube once, grey green water drifting past a steam-belching refinery.

The train’s progress was as ponderous as its nickname, and it made frequent two-minute stops at small regional stations along the way. Progressively, the view improved as it passed through tidy towns with backyard garden plots, broad plowed plains of dark soil, farmers with horses and donkeys. I shared my compartment with two Hungarian women, frequently chatting on cell phones. The language remained a rich phonetic smear too slippery to grasp. The names of some of the stops – Boba, Hodoš – were like the utterances of infants. Other stations – Székesfehérvár, Zalaegerszeg – sounded like the curses of condemned witches.

It was dark when the train crossed into Slovenia and stopped. Passengers took out cigarettes and smoked on the platform. A boisterous family of Slovenes took the compartment next to mine. Passport control was casual, “a formality” explained the officer in German. For three hours, rolling westwards, intercom announcements were made first in Slovene, then in Slavic-tinged German, increasingly slurred. The train rolled into Ljubljana to isolated fireworks, a day early it appears.

I’m with friends here, heartily welcomed in Slovene fashion with blueberry schnapps, and will tell you more about this small alpine country tomorrow.

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