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Bill's European Adventure, 2001. Part 6: Ljubljana

Cheap drinks, a great night out and some dated remarks about smoking

Aug 31

Up out of our wet beds at 6.45 to pack up the miserable, cramped contraption allegedly called a 'tent', and get a bus to Mestre station and the 08.25 train to Ljubljana. To our delight, it's empty, and our biggest problems are 1) it's freezing, and my only jumper got soaked the night before and 2) we're starving, and we have no food and no Italian money.

So we froze and starved and didn't sleep, and after two ticket checks and three passport checks by armed men in variously-coloured uniforms, we arrived in the capital of Slovenia at 13.40. It was pissing rain! Stomping aroudn the city in t-shirt and sandals with full packs, we discover that all the hostels closed in the last few days as the tourist season is over - aargh!

After nearly paying £22 each for a three-star hotel, we end up in one-star Hotel Park for £13 each. Some confusion over which corridor-showers were which followed, and then our faithful trio all fell asleep at 6pm! I wake up at 7.20, have a smoke on the balcony, a shower, and a cup of coffee (nice, 86p) and here I am at 8.30 in the room and the other two are still asleep and it's still raining!

So then we had coffee in the hotel bar (which shut at 11pm ?) and went to the local 'Trubar', where 500ml Union beer was £1.16! That was shutting too, so we went to Bar Sodcek, a rocker bar! Headbangers were pouring entire short glasses into their beers (yes, the glass with the shot inside). We drank Zlatorog (£1.40), the label of which had a goat on it!

Sep 1

Awoken by the cleaning lady just in time to make free breakfast buffet (cornflakes, iffy coffee, marmalade and bread), then went out with Julie for a walkabout while Ollie wrote his journal. Saw what looked like a Russian national football team - I wonder is it the real one? Bought Slovenian Dunnes Stores cola (Mercator) 500ml, 20p! Browsed market later in the afternoon, then had a late lunch which was tasty and very cheap. Struck by how Irish Ljubljana seems - it's like Cork or something! Everybody's very laid back, and today was so like a Saturday afternoon in Ireland. Stopped for a vanilla ice cream cone beside the river (48p), and strolled back to the hotel to plan our cheap night out.

A bizarre night was to follow. We originally decided to try and find The Brewery Pub, which the book told us had a good atmosphere, but when we couldn't find it a local told us it was miles away so we stopped at a super-trendy ultra-modern bar/restaurant called Cafe Romeo that only served tortillas, burrittos and savoury pancakes (and drink of course). Only when the lack of ashtrays became apparent and Julie asked the barman did it become clear that I was in my own personal hell, a no-smoking bar!

Rushed my pint and sat on a three-foot wall outside while Ollie and Julie had savoury pancakes and burritos. Then we promptly left for bar Kurlinca on the riverbank, where Ollie ordered two shots because they were only £1 each and the barman came back with two 50ml glasses (a double is 66) and two tumblers of water! We got out of our canopied seats to watch the fireworks that marked the end of some summer festival, and eventually left after one when it was too cold. On our way home we stopped at another bar, and left just before three with locals drinking quite contentedly, inside and outside, with no obvious inclination to leave!

But I left a bit out - in between looking for that other pub and going to Kurlinca we stumbled upon a free rock concert featuring the funniest, most 1985 band seen since, well, 1985. The more the locals sang along to this sub-Status Quo gibberish, the more we laughed!

Sep 2

A typical lazy Sunday in some ways, except that I got up at 9.45 to get breakfast, had a shower, and then seeing that the other two were still asleep, lay back down on my bed and slept until 13.45! Groggy and lazy, the most significant things we did were to have lunch in the hotel, and find the only supermarket open in this Sunday ghost town and buy snacks n' beer to consume before it, as Ollie put it, "was a respectable time to start drinking"!

Uninspired by the few restaurants that were open, we went back to Cafe Romeo, and sat outside this time. I experimented with a chicken burrito, which was tasty - a bit like eating a curry out of a piece of pitta bread! We even stole an ashtray - the irony!

We ended up at another riverside pub, where we had a few leisurely pints as our tolars were beginning to run dry. Back early enought, around midnight, and had a great night's sleep under two furry blankets - the cold weather has taken readjusting to!

Posted by BillLehane 10:00 Archived in Slovenia Tagged trains travel youth europe slovenia ljubljana european blog interrail writing Comments (0)

An expat journalist in Prague

sunny 23 °C

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Photo Credit Walter Novak

Clean-shaven, ruminative and intelligent-looking, polite and neatly dressed. Such was the demeanor of the twenty-something homeless man I met at a Prague shelter under a motorway bridge for my first big story.

Something about him was so striking that I was glad his face made the cover of the paper that week, as it really highlighted the fact that not all homeless people are drug addicts, or even particularly uneducated.

This man, strangely, was also the only person at the table to speak even partly in favor of the idea of creating a new dedicated facility for the homeless on the outskirts of the city that had been widely condemned as a “homeless concentration camp.”

In the end, the plans were too much even for the then right wing-controlled Prague City Hall, and the project was dropped. It was also a classic example of a proposal falling foul of the court of public opinion, as aided and abetted by the media.

For an expat journalist, of course, the task of taking on a story like this is a tricky one. I did all the research, wrote the questions and eventually wrote the story, but my tireless Czech colleague did all the talking both inside and outside the shelter.

I have never worked as a journalist in another foreign country to which I could compare the Czech Republic, but it certainly seems like few people are bothered about speaking English here, even in senior circles. Nothing illegal about that of course, but it certainly makes the work of international journalism quite a bit tougher.

The romantic notion of heading out into the street, press card in hat, to interview a visiting top name at a city hotel for hours at a time is far from contemporary reality, moreover. I had one or two invites for such an encounter, but the fact is no reporter has the time for this kind of thing anymore, least of all when half of your job is editing the website (which of course remains live even on sleepy midweek afternoons :-) )

Perks of one sort or another do float around from time to time, but the chance simply to live and work overseas in your chosen field probably remains the top draw for me as I approach one year in the Czech capital.

While I picked up a number of informal regular beats as a reporter, including the doctor’s strike and the health service, the census, transport, foreign affairs, technology, tourism, labor affairs and others, the topic in question on a particular day can be almost anything.

It’s hard to generalize about 120 stories and 80-odd blog posts that I’ve written to date, but I’ve noticed a lot of times that some of the stories that stick out the most in many cases took the littlest work, and some of the most tortuously arduous ones were the most instantly forgotten.

Aside from writing the daily and weekly news briefs, a task which I will never tire of, my favorite gig is probably writing the lighter stories, which rightly play an important role in the agenda of any good news outlet. Some that stick out include the Czech man who got the name of a website tattooed permanently on his forehead in return for a seemingly paltry sum, the monkeys that went on the run and persistently evaded recapture, the Denver skiers whose record attempt ran aground on the slopes of Moravia and the auction of the country’s oldest wine bottle.

If any budding writers out there are looking for advice on becoming an expat journalist, my only advice would be to write copiously, keep an open mind and don’t limit yourself to any single genre or publication. And of course, have fun!

Bill Lehane is Web Editor/News Reporter at The Prague Post. The views presented here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer.

Posted by BillLehane 05:58 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged prague travel the czech journalist republic post foreign writing journalism reporter reporting Comments (2)

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