…with a full supporting cast of troubadours, mackerel, waiters, wide-boys, mud, Australians and lube. I choose to begin with a minute-by-minute account of events that happened six weeks ago partly because it dispenses with the whole first-post awkwardness – nervous laughter hello world gosh how jolly exciting it is to be actually typing the actual words that are going to appear on the actual internet heavens must be time for some multiple exclamation marks!!!!! – and partly because of course nobody will look at this blog apart from Mummy and Daddy Mortimer, and even they will only look at it after a six-month consultation period involving Dell, NASA and the makers of Norton Anti-Virus Software, and they asked me to write it down, so write it down I shall.
We left England in good weather, but that was as far as our luck held…
The first thing we see on strapping up at Stansted is a harp with a harp cover over it. This nonplusses us slightly – should we have brought one? we have brought most other carbon-based things – but we recover ourselves and take it as a good omen for our Balkan Odyssey, which I feel guilty about because I cannot afford it and which Judith feels guilty about taking for hazier and more congenital reasons. Physically well-equipped therefore, but at a severe psychological disadvantage, we lumber to check-in for Ljubljana, and you see? Already we are having a fantastic time! No wonder people go in for this backpacking lark, it’s bloody hilarious. I pretend to myself that I am a tort-oyse and drop my sun hat. I bet seasoned travellers don’t have half so much fun just arriving at the airport.
We nervously watch our backpacks slide down a chute and then are patted up and down by a sweet-mannered transsexual with a five o’clock shadow wearing a badge that says “Security”. Afterwards this will spark an interesting debate about one’s right to be searched by a woman and at what point a transsexual “becomes” a woman but at the time we are distracted from these worthy issues because the only customs officer in the western hemisphere with a sense of humour is looking on and muttering Yeah, these two are def’nitely on drugs. As we stumble in a mood of mounting hysteria into Departures and head for Boots (and just why is it that every journey of whatsoever length and howsoever well-prepared for requires the last minute expenditure of £7 in Boots?) it starts to dawn on me that I am actually about to get on an actual actual plane for real and there are things involving hot coals I would rather do than that. No red hot coals are available at Stansted but there is a Wetherspoons which seems suitably infernal. I knock back a glass of cheap white wine and quiver with dread. Judith is not afraid of flying but she selflessly and supportively has a glass of wine anyway and will in fact nobly continue to match me glass for glass throughout the flight like the great friend she is.
Why in the name of arse do airports have windows? And not just windows, but great big floor-to-ceiling sheets of glass marching so pitilessly away along every wall in sight it’s a wonder the building is structurally secure. Is it so that we can look on as little biscuit tins wobble out of the sky and judder from seven hundred and fifty thousand kilometres an hour to a dead stop onto a motorcycle parking space designed by a parsimonious inner London council? So that we can watch the air traffic control tower playing shadow puppets with the slope indicator lights so that the ground crews have something to laugh at while they’re checking the plane isn’t going to FALL APART? So that we can watch the bendy tube we’re all about to walk through to get on the plane – ninety-odd sane adults, mark you – being fastened to the side of the Easymoneyjet with paper clips and string? But help is at hand once we board the plane in the form of three identikit stag parties who are wearing, in ascending order of folly, all yellow with their stag in a red fright wig, all black with their stag dressed as a giant bird and all pink with their stag dressed as a big fat sparkly fairy, which gives us cause for concern as we ponder the effects of air pressure on his false bosoms.
The flight proceeds in raucous vein and so successfully does this distract me from my internal death-flames-plummet monologue that I upset a full glass of wine into my lap, and so it is damp of trouser but unbowed of spirit that we stroll out of Ljubljana airport, scornfully eschewing the taxi rank where a fairy and a giant bird are glumly comparing notes on the exchange rate and make for the coach into town.
Slovenia doesn’t really feel Balkan at all. Quite what do you mean by that, Mortimer? Well, maybe it isn’t such a surprise when you look on the map, but it feels immediately sub-Alpine, like a less terrifying Germany in that everything is, yes, clean, but not so clean that it could have been scrubbed with bleach by an army of terrified toothbrush-wielding child slaves less than quarter of an hour ago. Hamlets of orange and pink chalet houses are nestled like baskets of eggs in alive-with-the-sound-of-music style hills, the forests are dense and piny and blue mountains creep slowly across the middle distance. The fields are often punctuated by peculiar structures something like a stretched-out wooden clothes horse, about ten foot long and a foot wide with a thin strip of tiled roof. Sometimes a pair of them march side-by-side to make a barn structure, and this I comprehend, but just as often they appear singly and look like they might possibly be portals to a multi-volume fantasy saga. To my disappointment, the cast of Dungeons and Dragons (yes, yes, they were cartoons, I know) at no point emerge bickering from one in a lazily drawn oblong of blue light, and by and by we discover from the guidebook that these are the kozolec, the typical Slovenian hay rack using for drying grains that is not found in quite the same form anywhere else. Hm. Real life is so prosaic, isn’t it. Beyond this Heidi-ish landscape lie cool wide lakes and vineyards, fretworked caves and hissing peaks of Alpine ice, the whole lot attended by a truly terrifying host of water- and mountain-sports. I know all this because the Loneliest Planet of Them All has told me so, you collect, and for no other reason. I ran into a surprising number of people who had been to Slovenia in the weeks before my departure and didn’t manage to clock a single “Oh but you simply must go to…” that didn’t involve having a car. I know it’s been said before, but is it really the same, just taking your car on holiday? Is it really? My parents do this every year, transport a familiar little metal torpedo casing to a foreign land (or mostly the Loire, in their case, which as any fule know is the French equivalent of Surrey anyway) and spend the majority of their actual, glorious, sunshiny, holidaying hours driving around inside it from place to place, never far from a comfortingly familiar nylon upholstery pattern and an Extra Strong Mint. Many of the same people who had recommended the pebble beach at Piran or the stalactites of the Postojna cave were faintly surprised-tinged-with-offended when I returned to find that I hadn’t managed to arrange public transport for myself over the fifty miles between Ljubljana and any of these places, as if it showed a want of spirit on my part. Mind you, these are probably the people who leave for work ten minutes before they are due in, rather than three quarters of an hour with more for rainy days like normal folk.
But I digress. On reaching the sovietish outskirts of Ljubljana itself we are immediately nonplussed by three things, to wit, that the street with our hotel on it is cleverly not marked on the map, that it is raining, and that when traffic lights illuminate a walking green man, they are lying. Yes. It is a LIE. And I don’t just mean the traffic surges forward eagerly to crush the bones of the innocent against the instructions of the lights, oho no, the green man goes green, two lanes of the traffic stop all right, but the third lane is permitted to carry on. It’s not so much a pedestrianised traffic system as a sympathetic state-sponsored lengthening of your odds. Can’t take a joke, shouldn’t have come. Ho well. We trudge on…
Join OUR HEROES for next week’s THRILLING INSTALMENT as they LOCATE THEIR HOTEL and HAVE A WASH!