Where I talk a bit about train travelling, I go visit splendid Ljubljana, and the Connecting Europe Express passes through some amazing mountain scenery.
The two nights on the train were not bad at all. I confirm what I have already said, on trains we sleep like babies. Besides, it’s not like we were on the train all the time. Yesterday we were visiting cities all day long, and this morning we arrived in Ljubljana quite early. Furthermore, this train is full of food, different coaches, and fun people, let alone all the events happening on a daily basis. Life is not boring on the Connecting Europe Express.
I can’t really say I had the same feeling when I took the Trans-Siberian, for example. There, 48 hours on the train meant pretty much 48 hours in your small cabin, with 3 other people, if you are lucky to get a second class ticket. Otherwise, the coach is just an open floor with lots of bunk beds all over. And there is no possibility to move from one coach to the other, or sit in our amazing panoramic car, or get a coffee in the dining (The Office) car.
Then reading a book and staring out of the window becomes the only thing to do. That’s when we enter a strange dimension where time slows down and merges with one’s thoughts. A good experience, which I recommend. Plus Russia is incredibly beautiful.
Back to the present and we are in Ljubljana. A big event is planned at the station at our arrival, with Commissioner for Transport Valean, the Director-General for Transport Hololei and the Slovenian authorities, as the country holds the current presidency of the EU.
Indeed, the whole journey of the Connecting Europe Express was planned also because of this: it started in Portugal (previous Presidency) passing by Slovenia (current Presidency), and ending in France, Paris on October 7. Guess what? France will hold the EU Presidency for the next semester.
In Ljubljana the Commissioner for transport exchanges pennants, and, fun fact, there’s a representative for Ireland too to give the Irish pennants too. Right, Ireland is also part of the EU, although for obvious reasons couldn’t be part of this journey. But the pennant can, and it has been placed together with all the others. At the moment they are all hanging in the conference car.
Slovenia is a very important node for rail freight transport on the TEN-T Baltic-Adriatic corridor. In particular, the segment between the port of Koper to Divaca is increasing its capacity by adding a second rail track. A co-funded EU project worth €1 bn. A necessary one, if we think that nearby Gratz, over the border in Austria is one of the biggest terminals for freight rail, and most of the goods come from Koper.
But I am not there for long. While the experts do their work, I go and take a walk around town. And, WOW! Another European jewel, as if we didn’t see enough of them. The Ljubljanica river cuts the town centre into two parts, with speciality coffee places, bars and restaurants all along both sides.
The city is cosy, clean and tidy. It doesn’t offer grand architectural views as other capitals of Europe do, however it is all well balanced, relaxing, timidly picturesque. It is almost a fairy tale town. Everywhere I look I find there is nothing wrong.
There’s a lot of book shops, just the right amount of tourists and schoolchildren around. I can see hostels for travellers, and dormitories for students. The city is culturally lively. A living proof is the Friday school strikers who are claiming their spot in the reality of climate actions today too. The movement is alive. That also reminds me it is Friday. Who could have said?
I also pass by a street food market that is just about to get started. It is about 10 AM. Finally, I don’t fail to pay a visit to a local natural wine shop, Slovenia is a strongly underestimated wine and gastronomic country. Today I have no time to look for food, so I’ll take with me a bottle or two.
A slightly crisp air together with a blue sky and a shining sun makes my walk a real pleasure. The perfect temperature to feel the sun rays on the skin. I don’t know this city or Slovenians very well, but the vibe is really easy, chill. It is like a good mix of northern precision and efficiency with southern cheerfulness. I feel light.
I think it represents very well the rest of the country, with its many small villages and hilltop churches scattered around lush, voluptuous green mountains and valleys. The scenery from the Connecting Europe Express is fantastic.
Luckily so, as today we have a lot of stops before getting to Brno. Unlike yesterday, the welcoming of mayors and people in Slovenia is very warm. We stop in Celje and Maribor before re-entering Austria.
In Maribor, super Herald – European Commission Director for Transport Investments – managed to squeeze a run in the 40 minutes pause we had at the station. He does that. So he managed to check out the town, and fraternize with the mayor who decided to follow him by bike. This is also Connecting Europe.
In Gratz, the exchange of pennants is the most efficient ever. It’s a pity there’s not time to visit, I am told the place is very nice by a party of EU enthusiasts, and Connecting Europe Express fans, working for Europe Direct here. They also tell me we are soon crossing the Semmering and ride on one of the most scenic rail bridges in the world. Let’s see if I manage to take a good shot of the view. But of course that would be a perfect shot for trainspotters.
We continue to see them around, and you should follow the #RAILPhotoCompetition or #ConnectingEurope to see all the beautiful photos of our train on Instagram or Twitter 🙂
But the sun is slowly going into hiding behind the mountains, and the route to Brno will be in the dark. Tomorrow we’ll go to one of my favourite cities: Prague!
Our mascot Chickee is also travelling on the Connecting Europe Express and having his own special journey. She also has her own Instagram account. Here are some of her adventures.