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New Europe

Day Three: Slovenia to Croatia

Train from Jesenice 
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High jinks on the school special, on the line from Jesenice.
Michael Palin - New EuropeOur journey out of Slovenia begins at the run-down station of Jesenice. It's late afternoon and the three-coach local is full of adolescent schoolgirls, with the outnumbered boys looking wary. This line, built in 1906 when Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, linked Vienna with the port of Trieste and it was opened with great ceremony by Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose portrait was hung in every station and whose assassination in Sarajevo eight years later precipitated the First World War. I don't think he'd be impressed by what has become of his great dream. As the shabby little train rattles through thickly forested slopes there's loud argument, mock fights and smoking in the toilet.

The infant River Sava tumbles alongside. Flowing out of the Julian Alps, it will grow to become one of the significant rivers of Central Europe, forming the northern border of Croatia and Bosnia and swelling to join the Danube in Belgrade. But all that lies ahead.

I get talking to one of the few non-schoolgirl passengers, a man called Boris. He points out a long block amongst the trees. It was a barracks, occupied by the Yugoslav army who tried unsuccessfully to keep Slovenia from leaving the Federation in 1990.

'They were helped to leave,' he says, modestly. 'But our army is not very big now. Most of them go home at weekends.'

I tell him I'm heading for Istria, a peninsula on the Croatian coast. It was part of Italy between the wars but handed over to Yugoslavia by the Allies in return for keeping nearby Trieste a free port. After the break-up of Yugoslavia the Croatians took most of it, allowing Slovenia a minuscule share of coastline. Boris admits there are tensions over access and fishing rights but he feels the politicians make too much of it and basically they are brothers and sisters.

He taps Istria on the map.

'They are smart people. They didn't get involved in the war. Fabulous blue waters. It's a rare combination, normally you get beautiful waters and barracks.'

A few hours later, I'm on the Slovenian border and it's quite a shock to realise that as we cross it we'll be leaving the European Union behind. For all her diminutive size little Slovenia is the only one of the countries of former Yugoslavia to be admitted to EU membership. I reach for my passport and Nigel reaches for the carnet - a list of all the equipment that must be declared at the frontier of any country outside the European Union, and that, for the foreseeable future, includes Croatia.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Three: Slovenia to Croatia
  • Country/sea: Slovenia
  • Place: Jesenice
  • Book page no: 15

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