Travel Diaries, Part 2

Blaise Moten
10 min readJan 24, 2023

Ljubljana

Another day, another day trip, this time to the Slovenia capital. It’s about three hours away by Flixbus and this again was organised by a friend. It was an early start, I had to get up and out by half five in time to catch my bus to the bus station, but I met with two of my friends on the way and waited ten minutes until the bus to Ljubljana arrived. The journey started off a little rough, as our other friend was delayed and missed the bus entirely. Still, she hopped on a train and met us an hour or so after we arrived so all was well.

It was pretty cold, but while we waited for her to arrive, we wandered around and as soon as she met back up with us, we headed to the castle and enjoyed the views over the city. After that, it was pretty cold, so after wandering around and enjoying the city for a bit longer, we stopped off for lunch and then made our way to the Christmas markets. For the best part of the day, we actually huddled around patio heaters drinking mulled wine and gossiping. But that’s the magic of hanging out with other people who are learning German, you can gossip in German and call it learning! We walked around the city for a bit longer after that, trying to find a place to eat as well as checking out one of the local parks. In the end, we ditched the restaurant idea and got coffee and cake before heading back to the market to get something grilled and warm. By the time we’d finished, it was time to head back and catch the bus, so after stopping off at McDonald’s for a coffee, we were heading back home through the mountains again.

Zagreb

My last trip this year was to Zagreb. While Croatia doesn’t border Austria in the strictest sense, the capital is just as close as Vienna is so naturally, we had to make a visit. Again, this trip was kindly organised by a friend, so we caught the Flixbus again, this time at the far more reasonable hour of 9am and we were on our way. Our journey started with a quick stop in Maribor to pick up and drop off passengers and then we were causing towards the border yet again.

Something I need to stress here is that, thank god Croatia is joining Schengen next year! I’ve never crossed such a wild passport control in my life. Of course, we were all expecting a passport check, it happens sometimes between Slovenia and Austria despite the free movement agreement. No big deal. We grabbed our passports ready for them to be inspected, fully expecting someone to board the bus, as is usual, when the driver announced that we actually have to disembark! Okay… strange but whatever. It’s very cold, but we grab our coats and trundle out to the control booth, flash our passports and head back onto the bus. All very easy. But not a minute later, we heard the announcement “passport control,” and we give each other puzzled looks. What in the Groundhog Day kind of nonsense is this? Once again, we do the same thing and then get back on the bus. Finally, we’re free, yet very confused, to finish our journey to the Croatian capital.

First impressions were not so… impressive. Croatia is a post-Yugoslavian country and parts of the city live up to the stereotypes. Gray, rubbish-strewn, dishevelled. Nevertheless, we head to our hostel to drop our bags off and are pleasantly surprised with what we find. After that, we headed out to find lunch and meet up with our Croatian friend (who was sadly moving back home after her placement finished) and her boyfriend. Lunch was the first time I really got to see Croatian prices and I was thrilled to see that this was going to be a very cheap trip in comparison to Graz. Can’t beat two euro beers after all! The quality was very good too I had to admit and the service was excellent despite the abysmal weather the waiters had to walk through to deliver our orders to the heated patio in the street.

Our friend’s boyfriend had kindly offered to give us a little walking tour of Zagreb, so we stopped off at St. Mark’s with its beautiful roof, up to the castle and the little Christmas market there, and even went into the old war bunker/tunnel that runs under the city. After that we made our way through the city to the train station, enjoying the sights along the way before we headed back to our hostel to check-in. We knew we were all planning to watch the two quarter-finals that night, so we wouldn’t be back until fairly late.

From there we headed back to the castle and its Christmas market to enjoy what was probably the highlight of our trip. Everyone at the market was huddled around one of the bars, watching the thrilling semi-final match against Brazil. We were hopeful, but not convinced that the Croatians would see any joy, but boy… were we wrong! The noise was incredible every time they scored and when the penalties came, we watched their backs eagerly awaiting a cheer or a groan. And the cheers came and came and came. Before we knew it, they were up on their feet screaming. Croatia had done it, they’d seen off Brazil! There were fireworks and flares in the street and it was amazing to see the underdogs go wild.

The later match didn’t go so well for us, accompanied by a Dutch girl. After saying goodbye to our friend and her boyfriend, we sought out another bar to watch the Netherlands and Argentina fight it out. We still had a great time, even if we discovered suddenly that smoking indoors is totally legal in Croatia!

Finally, we wandered back to our hostel and settled in for a good night’s sleep. Possibly my only complaint is that the trams in Zagreb are rickety as hell and you can literally feel the vibrations all throughout the night. But it can’t be helped I guess, and I’m a pretty heavy sleeper at least.

The next day started with a visit to another of my favourite museums, the Museum of Broken Relationships. This was equal parts hilarious and equal parts haunting, showcasing artefacts from people’s lost relationships. Some of the exhibits are hilarious, like a Godzilla figure adored in old girlfriend’s necklaces and other more… intimate items, and some are downright painful to see. A front door adorned with messages from friends to a young man who died before his time, to a wedding dress left behind by a grieving “almost” widow who’s fiancé had died a mere few weeks before their wedding. Really worth a visit if you ever go to Zagreb!

After that, it was coffee and cake time again, with a sort of side trip to buy postcards from a souvenir shop. Before long it was time to catch the bus back home, stopping off for a sandwich just before had and nosing around a department store to keep dry.

We were soon back on our way to Graz. And, yes, we did pass through border control TWICE again!

Amsterdam, Munich and Manchester

Munich wouldn’t have made this list if my journey home for Christmas had worked out as it should have. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible the weekend I was due to fly home. The plan was to catch a plane from Graz to Munich and then catch my connecting flight to Birmingham from there. However, my plane from Graz was delayed by two hours which caused me to miss my flight to Birmingham in turn. This was at 11pm and I was beyond stressed. But the Lufthansa service desks had closed for the night and so I had no choice but to wait until 5:30 in the morning to rebook my flight. I didn’t sleep a wink, all I managed to do was lie down and watch a few episodes of Private Practice and scroll through TikTok.

The night went pretty fast admittedly and before I knew it it was time to head to the counter. Rebooking was thankfully easy, but the first flight to Birmingham had been cancelled the day before so my options were to either fly to Frankfurt and catch a connecting flight to Birmingham, or wait until 1pm to fly directly there. But I had another idea and so I chanced my arm. “Would it be possible to fly to Manchester instead?” I asked, and the guy behind the counter shrugged, “Of course.” By flying to Manchester, I could catch the two-hour-long National Express bus to Birmingham city centre and meet up with my dad just in time for us to meet up with his friends, something he does once a month as they all live pretty spread out across the Midlands.

For all the chaos of the previous night, getting my flights rebooked was a piece of cake, so to reward myself I headed to grab some breakfast. Okay, maybe bratwurst, chips and a litre of beer doesn’t scream breakfast, but I was in Bavaria after all and, as the saying goes, when in Rome. And anyway, I think after the stress of missing a connecting flight and attempting to sleep on a rock-hard bench, a beer (large, naturally, as this is Munich) was well deserved.

And then came Amsterdam on the return leg. Thankfully, this was devoid of any stress. Schiphol is a gigantic airport so it was pretty easy to keep myself entertained while I waited three and a half hours for my flight to Graz.

The first thing I did was do some shopping. I always bring chocolates home for my MitbewohnerInnen wherever I go so I obviously had to score some nice Dutch chocolates for them. I also grabbed a bag of sweets for a friend, thankfully thanks to speaking both German and English I could read the ingredients list well enough to make sure they were vegan. Obviously, after that, I was quite thirsty, so I grabbed a beer at the Heineken bar, which was… very expensive, but all airports are to be fair. Then I figured I’d better grab something to eat seeing as I hadn’t eaten all day. Finally, it was time to board, but not before I got entirely sidetracked by a Delft Blue Miffy stuffed toy that I had to buy. Then I was on my way to Graz, thankful for having finally (if only technically) ticked The Netherlands off of my to-visit list.

Vienna once more

I was barely home from England when a friend suggested we head to Vienna for the weekend. It was another friend’s last weekend in Graz, so I obviously dropped all my plans and booked my ticket immediately. After worrying that one of them would miss the bus, we all eventually made it to the Hauptstadt again. After admiring St. Stephan’s and stopping for a few selfies, we made our way to a café to grab a coffee and some breakfast because some of us (meaning me) had not eaten breakfast yet. After that, we were eagerly dragged to the Sisi Museum, which we all really enjoyed. This trip was very spontaneous, so well planned absolutely nothing, but once it started to get dark we decided to head to the Prater, a big theme park not far from the city centre. The thing is, most of the Prater is not in operation at this point in the year, and rightly so because the weather was horrific. However, the lights are still on and we decided it would be fun for an impromptu photoshoot anyway so off we went. We did find one ride that was open though and opted to spend the five euros it cost for a single ride, because why not? We headed to our Airbnb after that so that we could get ready to go out clubbing. And clubbing we did go. Until 5am. And then we had to be up and checked out for 10am. To say I was tired is a horrific understatement, especially as I’d gotten about five hours of sleep the night before too. Oh well… If your university years aren’t the time for making questionable decisions, then when is?

First on the bill for the morning was finding food. Again, we were excitedly dragged to Café Central by our beloved ringleader for coffee before we decided that pizza sounded good. So off we went for pizza. After that, we decided to split into two groups because three of us were stupid enough to queue for three hours to get into Parlament to tour the new refurbishment and two others were smart enough to stay warm and dry at the cinema. We didn’t know we were going to be queueing for three hours mind you, and it also wasn’t raining that bad when we started. on the bright side, the organisers came around with cups of hot juice for us, which is more than you’d get in the UK, I’m sure. Parlament was well worth it though, it was so interesting to see where all the decisions regarding Austria get made. The freebies they gave out also justified the queue, but maybe that’s just because growing up in the UK made me very excited to see fancy teabags in my little gift bag. After that, we found our friends again at a nearby craft bar and diner, so we ate and drink before it was time to gradually make our way back to the bus stop. With a short detour to the plant-based Burger King and then McDonald’s for the ride home of course….

So, that’s it! There’s the quick and dirty of my first lot of excursions while living in Graz. I’m hoping that when the weather improves in the summer semester, there will be many, many more to come! I’m currently brainstorming more trips for the semester break in February/March, which means that hopefully, I will be able to travel to even more cities and countries for the first time!

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Blaise Moten
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German Language student at the University of Reading, former student in Graz and Aarhus.