Lake Bled

Wednesday 17 April

I’ve been told it’s pretty wonderful, so I pack a small overnight bag, sling my guitar across the shoulders and make my way up to Lake Bled.  Bled is a small town about an hours drive from Ljubljana, but I’m not in a hitching mood and the bus is only seven euro.   It makes a change to ride in relative comfort and reliability.

The scene that awaits reminds me of home, with better weather and no midges.  And no knife crime.  It’s an absolute joy to sit by the mill-pond lake and strum a few chords, after a day hiking through one of the spectacular gorges in the nearby lower Alps.  There is so much to do in the area that a few words here will fail to do it justice.  I’m thankful it’s still the off-season though, as apparently it’s rammed come the summer.  Forget about being single too; Bled and it’s surroundings are geared towards romantic getaways and gondolas.  You can bet your bottom dollar many a proposal has been uttered in the shade of the stunning castle.  Sitting by the water I’m not passed by a single…err…single…person.  Everyone is arm in arm or arm round waist.  It drives home my melodramatic, melancholic, lonely, woe-is-me, first world single problem; but somehow the beauty of my locale pacify’s the need to cry into the lake.  Or indeed walk into it.  Or pick a fight with a swan.  Or with guys rowing their emotional property across the water.  There is the unmistakable whiff of hope through the charcoal air.  Or maybe that was just charcoal.  Or my kebab.

I might meet someone tonight!   Indeed I do!  She waits five hours to tell me she has a boyfriend!  Still it’s a nice place.  I’ll be back when I manage to convince someone to love me.

 

 

 

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Ljubljana

Tuesday 16 April

Since I managed to get to Ljubljana before midday, it’s actually taken me about two hours to see it, which means I’m free to attempt some busking in the late afternoon.  It’s yet another glorious day and this has got to be one of the prettiest capital cities I’ve ever been to.  It has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it centre, with a charming square, unique bridges and the castle overlooking the friendly natives.  It’s all very romantic, and there are certainly a few musical types out to get your money.  I avoid the Hare Krishnas like the plague, taking up a decent spot with kite-high smiles, banging a drum and tinkling a cymbal.  There’s a decent chap cranking out some Mozart on an old fiddle,  and two old dudes with an accordion and a kazoo.  I get the impression the accordion player has allowed his talent-less mate along to buzz out a couple of tunes to get in on some of the action.  Finally in the last decent spot is the inevitable hapless looking girl on her knees begging for her crime syndicate.  I opt for a quieter street and test the water.

It’s a poor showing for two hours compared to Maribor and I’m not reaching above the mopeds that are chugging by, or the general bustle of the street.  They have these cute motorbike things that are actually just a bicycle with a small engine on it, but they’re easily drowning me out.  It becomes more a struggle than anything else, and when Radiohead’s Creep doesn’t pull in so much as a bean, it’s time to call it a day.

After wandering the centre again however, I found a nice little spot and decided to play just for myself.  If I make anything it’ll be a bonus, so I start rolling out the repertoire again.  Once again nobody is biting, but two younger girls have settled opposite me to listen, and they keep cheering every tune.  Eventually they’ve come over to present me with a delicious looking chocolate, whereupon they ask to “touch me” in case I become famous.  After complimenting me on my voice, they wish me good luck and giggle off into the next square.  Singing like a screaming cat and I still get the teenage girls.  This must be how ‘One Direction’ feels.

I look down onto my guitar bag and I’ve got enough for a pint.  That’ll do to wind down the day.

 

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Hitching to Ljubljana

Monday 15 April

The road looks inviting coming off the back of my weekend busk success.  It’s not going to make me a millionaire by any stretch of the imagination, but it’ll certainly take the edge off hostel beds, food and nights out.  The sun is shining and it’s a hop, skip and a jump to Slovenia’s capital.  High spirits indeed.

I’m waiting for about 45 minutes with the usual handful of folk giving the hilarious ‘grin n’ wave’ as they speed past, when in swings a shiny Mercedes.  Now I’m not normally picked up in swanky motors such as this, as most businessmen would rather be seen dead than have a what they perceive to be a smelly hitcher cadging a lift on their white leather.  What makes this even more remarkable however, was that the driver was a women.

Over the moon doesn’t cut it.  My first ever pick up by a woman!  Equality!  She’s a teacher, married with kids and driving to work in the capital.  Clearly I don’t look like Rutger Hauer in his 1986 road horror movie.  The tag line for The Hitcher is; “never pick up a stranger.”  It’s lucky for me not many Europeans appear to have seen it.

After a pleasant sunny drive complete with local history and geography lesson, we pull into the relaxed streets of Ljubljana around midday.  I’m deposited within yards of the city centre, and seconds later a middle aged woman has asked where I’m from and if I need directions.  She’s pointed me off towards the decent hostels, keen to practice her English and seeing the snail house on my back.  I’ve got the rest of a beautiful day to explore one of Europe’s most charming capital cities, and Slovenia is already leaving me with a very good impression indeed.

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Busking in Maribor

Saturday 13 April

Since I’m not in the UK and I’m lugging my guitar about with me, I think it’s about time I tried to make some money with it.  I’ve tried busking once before, after a particularly (and usual) bad fight with my ex, I thought the fear of it would take my mind of things.  I made about eleven quid in an hour.  Probably because I was crap.

Abroad however in non-English speaking countries I can get away with it.  Also I’m not subjected to constant requests for Wonderwall.  Everyone is a musician in Glasgow, and if you’re not a musician then you know and appreciate good music.  Basically it’s a town of critics, and you’ll get lynched if you make ears bleed.  Don’t play anything people don’t know.  Don’t murder Pink Floyd.  Don’t play near a load of Buckfast swilling chavs.  The last one is pretty much impossible.

So there I was wandering around the quaint town of Maribor looking for a suitable spot.  Lets see now.  You’ve got your decent flamenco songster who has a mike and amp set up, so we’ll not be playing near him.  There’s an old creepy looking guy in the best spot with a load of worn out dancing puppets.  He looks like a worn out dancing puppet himself.  I’m guessing his wife left him years ago after she told him to get rid of the damn puppets.  Either the puppets go or she goes.  He chose the puppets.  He plays odd Slovenian ditties on a CD player and dangles about what looks like Eeyore dipped in acid.  Kids love it.  I’m saying it’s a red flag.  Alarm bells are ringing.  The only thing he’s missing is a bottle of chloroform and the ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ badge he paid thousands for on eBay.

Further down the street there’s a woman who sways and sings really badly.  She’s quite famous apparently, and people give her lots of money because of something bad that happened to her.  Regardless, she sounds like Sloth from the Goonies cheese-grating a cat.  I move on.

In the main square there’s a Jimi Hendrix type cranking out lazy afternoon riffs on a big-ass amp. He’s part of some kind of event happening, so this is a no fly zone.  I’ve got one option left, which actually was my top pick due to the acoustic use of the walls.  I don’t have an amplifier, so I’d be lost on a busy street.  You have to either play opposite a good wall, or find an archway or underpass.  I make my way to such an environment.  As I approach…is that… …yes…yes…that’s it, the unmistakable sound of a generic Native American Indian playing those fucking pipes.

He’s not actually doing anything, standing arms folded, bored out of his mind, blasting out lift music and selling dream catchers.  I think twice about an icy glare for fear of the hatchet.  I honestly hate these guys.  They’re everywhere, convincing naive folk that it’s a good idea to swap hard earned money for CD’s with endless cover versions of dire songs.  I can’t think of anything worse than a pan pipe rendition of ‘my heart will go on.’  I’d rather stab my ears with knitting needles while chewing styrofoam and urinating into one hand.

I opt for a spot between flamenco fingers and the puppet master.  At least neither of them are singing, so I might win the variety vote.  Starting is always the hard part.  I play safe with Tom Petty’s ‘free-fallin’, and the euros start to roll in.  I’m actually pulling this off.  The Great British busking scam.  In two hours I’ve rattled through everything I know, including a couple of my own crap songs in a bid to convince people they’re actually covers.  By the time I’m cashing up at the local coffee shop, I’m staggered to discover I’ve made 52 sheets.  52 smackers.  52 big ones.  52 reasons to go and get smashed.  I awake in a field wearing my kilt with dogs licking my face and kids laughing at me.  Job done.

 

 

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Hitch to Slovenia

Saturday 13 April

I’m standing on a grass verge by a roundabout with a sign for Maribor and a frightened look on my face.  There’s been a few moments so far when I’ve stared idiocy and insanity in the eyes and said; “I need you in my life.”  Before I arrived at this spot, I’d checked hitchwiki to discover a number of foolhardy types had been fined by police for trying to get a lift here.  Low and behold I drop my backpack and they creep out of the woodwork, slowing round the bend.  I casually pretend to stretch and look forlorn from the effort of carrying my stuff in the hope that they’ll take pity on me.  Now it would be much more interesting to this story to say that they picked me up, confiscated my passport and fined me; but they don’t.  Regardless, this is still a dangerous spot to stand.  I get my daft grin on and hold up the sign.

Maybe ten cars pass and I’ve got a ride, and as much as I am very grateful to all the pick ups I get, this is very much appreciated.  He’s a decent lad too, good English, and the journey passes enjoyably.  By lunchtime I’m finally in a new country.

 

 

 

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