Four languages in one week; from academia to Slovenia

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May 17th 2019
Published: May 18th 2019
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Geneva sits on a slip of land at the west of its lake. Flying in to clear blue water beneath us, after a delayed and just tolerable Easy jet flight, we’re so pleased to arrive.

The most French of Swiss cities, it took an effort to get out of the now freely thought habit of speaking español. Channeling the high school French lessons for P2 helped with the basics. Such as, we said hello to a dog, Le chien. I’ve since been encouraged to consult google translate, not him.

Our Airbnb was on the fourth floor of an early 1900s building, serviced by a lift as small as a fridge, in a wired cage, and that you may have to wait some time for. We figured out the floor buttons didn’t properly register after squeezing ourselves in, only to then cart our possessions upstairs and hunt down the access key from a (google translate) ‘milk box’.

The legs. Much more reliable than google translate.

As a base for Congress, the apartment ticked most boxes. Life and lifestyle in Geneva is different to NZ. Stating the bleeding obvious, public transport
is excellent, cycling and walking are popular, and driving behaviour courteous. We did, however, witness many horn honkers and minor road rages during Saturday’s evening traffic, and the usual mix of facial expressions of passerby’s, suggesting not everyone, or everything, were rosy.

Fortunately, lake Geneva’s water quality shines well above the rest and is supposedly the best in the world. The recycling motto was being reinforced at Congress also, on arrival for lectures from day one. Recycling and environment is taken very seriously.

The breadth of speakers and topics has been very engaging. A key moment in a discussion on over-medicalisation of healthcare was when, of a panel, a speaker from Nepal took down a peg some aspects of what you’d call first world issues, especially access to quality care. Diversity. Debate. Meet the evidence. Good stuff.

The round of all nations continued in the subsequent days at Congress. With a wide blend of accents, and at times, challenging communication in English between non English speakers (such as the Japanese researcher to a Cambodian academic), you have to applaud anyone who has courage to speak in public! And that it wasn’t
only about the developed therapies world made it so valuable.

The wind continued to howl, severely whipping up the waters of lake Geneva.

Whilst I’d clocked up some professional development, P2 had clocked up a glacier visit, and miraculously, we both met up with a Mexican physiotherapist friend of mine post Congress, to mull all this healthcare debate over, before we went our separate ways.

Traveling north east of Geneva was a visual treat. The clear morning revealed a freely visible Mont Blanc as we left, and all the peaks in between. Passing Lausanne, we veered north to Bern, then carried on east below a very mountainous Liechtenstein, that towered above Bludenz, at the Austrian border.

Sun surprisingly gave way to snow in minutes, as we gained altitude and headed on to even more mountainous Innsbruck.

This alpine centre seemed to attract many more visitors than I’d seen passing through twenty years earlier. On a cool grey evening, the station had a gentle hum, and conveniently, an open supermarket called MPREIS.

Two bus drivers unfortunately set us wrong in our goal to
get the most economically to our accommodation, on the slopes west of Innsbruck. Dropped on the roadside towards the airport, rain fell heavily, and P2 frustratingly maligned my choice. Gausthaus Tengler nearby offered a few centimetres of shelter for our bags, whilst I hailed a taxi from the staff. They saved our bacon, a 2.5km wet walk potentially ahead.

Maria at Apartment Margit dutifully and kindly welcomed us at our predicted hour. Coming across the first washing machine in nearly a week, and seeing the stellar view, made better a lengthy day. We’d plans to make, and it had to be in nature, weather permitting.

Snow fell overnight with subzero temperatures, and the cloudy and rainy weather at town level carrying on into our only full day. Taking the not so economical bus into town, anticipating a break in the cloud later, we explored the area east of the river, from Marketplatz to the old town. A chilly morning of low single digits, we needed to move.

Hot soup under our belts and weather mildly better, we finally agreed to climb up to the snow line around 2pm. Taking my much
travelled, but never used, snow shoes, it was a case of unpredictable hiking.

The paths north of the apartment are truly labyrinthine. Infinite choices to make your own way in any direction exist, and like much of this area of Europe, it’s easy to find nature without the people. Mid week and being cloudy might have something to do with it too.

Original thoughts of reaching Seegrube were forgotten as we hit more snow, and realised the terrain and scenery itself were incredible enough to not need an expensive gondola ride down, by no later than 5:45pm. The icing sugar had been sprinkled widely. It was magical!

Fighting cold hands again, P2 still sorted out the problematic road testing of the snow shoe buckles, enough to assure ourselves they’re money well spent. Decathlon, we love you.

Meanwhile, planes kept flying in and out of Innsbruck airport, seen from our dining room, and misty peaks revealed themselves, becoming fully visible the next day. Bad timing for views, but we’d now resolved to return. Beautiful.

Reliably, the train would take us on, for a price that means
the non resident rail passes aren’t always cheaper. €30 each saw us booked to travel 6 hours to Ljubljana in Slovenia. Turning up in our taxi, and discovering a cancelled train that we’d booked on however, sent us on a rapid luggage haul to another platform to get another connection via Salzburg. Fast work ensued to get them rebooked at the train office, yet reserving seats made no difference and service staff seemed unable to help, unless I spoke to the train guard. By now, pointless.

With a little looking, we eventually sat in what was probably needed, the Ruhezone. A quiet carriage.

The turnaround at Salzburg was as tight as lederhosen. A tardy train arrival by ten minutes set us behind our connection. Stress was followed by relief, once learning that the quirks of Austrian rail is they often wait for connecting trains. Again, saved!

Multi connection journeys always reinforce what we dislike about travel.

Fortunately, the upside was traveling back to the early 1900s when train compartments were blended, six generously made seats leading to, gasp, social interaction. Granny got her knife out to peel an apple, younger fellows drank their drinks bought off the train (on board service ended after Villach), and all the way to Ljubljana, we got to know some locals. Triglav had to be seen, and as cold as the spring had been, snow was around!

We found the bus stop at Ljubljana train station, carting our bags filled with rocks up those darned station steps once more. Met by an expressionless faced driver with our tickets, we’d arrived in Eastern Europe.

Several hours later saw us as the last passengers alighting in Bohinj (silent J!). The town of Stara Fuzina is nestled against steep cliffs, with other nearby settlements doing the same. Towering hills and mountains, the most noteworthy being Triglav, surrounded us, a crystal clear river passing through the village.

In the throes of roadworks, we navigated our way around stony streets, as the village addresses its infrastructure for summer. With thereafter all the lowdown from our host Úrsula however, everything was easy and accessible.

Of the three night stay, we set down the bulging packs with pleasure, and walked. First up was P2s suggestion, augmented by Ursulas suggestion, Slap
Mostnica, a gently rising trail from Stara Fuzina to a magnificent waterfall. A friendly older man attended the ticket gate at the start, so that for €3 each, we’d enter this beautiful national park. ‘Dobra dan’, the greeting in these parts. I was corrected from ‘Dobra dosli’, that of Croatia, and many childhood arrivals to Kaitaia.

For a Friday, there were luckily only a handful of tourists on the same path. Those a little crazier and keen took the steep paths beyond, a good uphill trudge of 400m ascent, that then reached our grassy meadow picnic spot. In view of Tosc and Ablanca, we carried on in an anticlockwise circuit, climbing up for a few kilometres then dropping dramatically. The cushion of deep leaf matter saved a few slips, only to discover at the junction with the gorge that this particular track was ‘at your own risk’ closed.

The whole valley area had succumbed to much storm damage recently, and the management seems to be to, piece by piece, repair the key paths, whereas other paths lie almost ‘in state’, debris strewn across several routes. Huge tree roots lying in many parts, and widespread
tree fall, paint a picture of some wicked past weather. Luckily, much appears to be regenerating, as the final snow melts and everything from mushrooms to colourful flowers bloom. Slovenia is lime and dark green!

With weather not looking favourable, we scaled back the next day, pending the revised weather forecast. Heading toward Vogel, where a major ski field is, takes a good slog uphill, ascending around 1km in over 5km distance. An early 5.15am sunrise of pink on the mountains was looking promising, but cloud descended by the time we headed off around 9. Still, no rain.

Forecasting is an interesting activity, that although many depend on it, it varies! The predicted steady rain still hadn’t fallen by 12, when we reached a sheltered area of snow near the summit. P2s cooling hands, and the increasing mist, turned us back, deeply satisfied that I’d stood again on snow. It wasn’t Innsbruck, but it always fuels the excitement of future snow shoe adventures.

We missed seeing bambi again, or fluffy squirrels, and it was made up by seeing so many freshly sprouting flowers, mushrooms, and some very active honeybees near the
lake. Probably best I not wear a blue headscarf and jacket, as I’d hijacked a bee once we’d passed.

The day trippers have now left the most photographed church in Slovenia, Saint John the Baptist, by Lake Bohinj. It attracted almost as many as the beehive did bees, calling in and seeing the frescos from the 13th century. Low key, and a beautiful, undeveloped location for such a pretty church. It’s just like the community we’ve luckily got to visit.

The waters, we’ve briefly braved. The cows, dogs, birds, cats and chooks of the rural landscape, we’ve friended. It’s time to head west again, via Ljubljana.

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