Venice to Zagreb, Croatia

11/6 – we left our lovely room in Venice in the early morning dark to catch the water bus back to the Santa Lucia train station. Luckily, it was low tide, so we did not have to wade! Online it said the boats ran every 20 minutes. What it did NOT say is that the first boat doesn’t start until 6:45. We waited for 40 minutes with lots of others who had trains to catch.

We got to the train station with 15 minutes to spare. There is a piano in the lobby, and a young Asian man sat down and played beautifully until our train arrived. So long, Venice, we will miss you!

Our first train of the day took us north, through little Italian towns we’ve never heard of, right up to the border. For the first time, we saw changing leaves, bare branches and fall colors. Look at the mist rolling off the mountain. How pretty!

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I didn’t realize until we were on the train that we would have to get out at the Italian border and make our way somehow to the train station on the Slovenian side, three miles away. I started to panic, as I had not researched how to do this. Jim was very calm, reminding me that we were not the first travelers who had ever taken this train. Sure enough, he was right as usual. When we stepped out of the station there were three taxis waiting under a big sign that read TAXI TO NOVA GORICA STATION 10 EURO.

In 10 minutes, we were officially in Slovenia, with a half hour to wait for our next train. We ordered espresso – now called kava – at the little outdoor cafe at the station. The day was rainy and grey, which really helped us feel like we were in Eastern Europe. There was a strange building on the other side of the tracks that looked like it had been disheveled by a stiff wind:

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Our next train would take us further north to Jesenice, Slovenia. As soon as we got on board, the conductor asked to look at our ticket. “No”, he said. “Problem fix”. We asked what the problem was, but he didn’t have enough English to explain. At the next stop, a young woman got on, and he told her the same thing. He asked if she spoke English, and asked her to explain the situation to us, which she did in excellent English.

It seems that there was a big storm earlier in the week that caused the river to flood, and it took out one of the rail overpasses. We were going to ride for several stops, then all get off the train onto a bus to go around the washout. As there was only 40 minutes to our next connection, we were being told we would not make our third train. The conductor said he would call and let the next train know that there were three people trying to make that connection, but he did not know if it would help.

Now, when we looked out the window, we could see that the river beside us, roiling and brown, had overrun its banks in several places. I realized that we had also seen flooding in the Italian mountain towns this morning. Look at the brown water in the foreground:

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We started to work on Plan B, if we missed our third train, and saw that there was one more train that would get us to Croatia four hours late. An inconvenience, but not a disaster. We wondered how we would contact our host, who was waiting at our apartment with our key.

At the next station, a dozen of us and the conductor got off the train into a waiting bus. The bus inched along a narrow road right next to the river. Whenever we came to a highway crew, we would have to wait while they moved equipment to let us pass. Several times, we inched over flooded roads with water cascading down the mountainside. Excuse the rain on the windowpane. Don’t you think thIs would make an excellent scene in an exciting movie?

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Two towns later, we were back on a new train. Although the bus was slow, we didn’t think we’d lost too much time. Then the train went into a tunnel, and we heard the now familiar sound of water rushing past – the tunnel was flooded! In pitch darkness, the train inched through the water as slowly as a train can go. We were in that tunnel for what seemed like an hour, but was probably only 15 minutes. That’s a long time…

The conductor came by one more time, to tell us (via our new friend Anja) that it was now assured that we would miss our connection. Oh well.

As the train pulled into Jesenice, the conductor came back. Hurry! Hurry!
Sure enough, they were holding the train for us! We scrambled out one door and right into the next, and the train pulled out before we even sat down. Cue the theme music – a victory! We sat in a first class compartment with Anja for the next hour, while she peppered us with questions about American politics and economics. She has learned much by watching American TV (with Slovenian subtitles), and gets her news from John Oliver. She was very current, and wanted to discuss the Republicans winning the Senate. She was also curious as to why Americans had so much land that didn’t grow anything but grass. Couldn’t they put in a few fruit trees? They don’t take much work! The hour flew by, and we thanked her for her help and her companionship. Nice person of Slovenia!

We got off the train in Zagreb, and followed our handwritten instructions from the station to our apartment, as our TMobile phone doesn’t work here without exorbitant roaming charges. Oh, how I miss my Google Maps! We got to the right street, but then couldn’t find the right building number. A young man stopped and asked in perfect English if we needed help, then Googled our address to show us the right building. Nice person of Croatia!

And now we are in Zagreb, in a two bedroom apartment, full kitchen and washing machine, that we are renting for less than what we paid for a single room anywhere in Italy or France. We went to the grocery on the corner, and bought tonight’s supper and tomorrow’s breakfast for less than five dollars total. After Nice and Venice, now we can get our budget back on track. And today’s death-defying adventure was free!

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