Shortly after Clare and I parted ways on the platform of Finchley Road station in London, I boarded a train to Luton Airport. Having a plane to catch helped distract me from thinking too much about the sadness I was feeling over our separation. The weather didn’t help to brighten the mood. It was the end of May and windy and raining by the time I got to Luton. Thick cloud cover and mist had reduced visibility enough to keep our fully boarded plane grounded for nearly an hour before finally getting clearance to leave.
My pre-planning for this trip had been minimal. Besides the one-way flight to Berlin, all I had booked was two nights accommodation in a cabin in the woods, thirty kilometres south-east of the city, and one night in a travel hotel near Berlin’s main train station. Beyond that I had no idea where I’d be spending the next night and had no confirmed plans for any further travel.
The flight to Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport took just under two hours. It felt like summer in Germany compared to the weather in Luton. Everyone was wearing summer clothes, the sun was shining and the skies were clear – it was unusually warm for that time of year. When I booked the cabin, I hadn’t given too much thought to its accessibility. Due to its relative remoteness, most guests would have reached the cabin in their own vehicle, but the host had assured me I could get there quite easily by public transport.
I had to make my way to the nearest big town, Königs Wusterhausen, twenty minutes away by train. It was a ten minute walk from the airport terminal to the station but, when I got there, I realised I had just missed the train and the next one wouldn’t be for another hour. It was late afternoon by that stage and the delay gave me the opportunity to get a bite to eat. There was a German restaurant nearby where I ate a hearty, but not particularly healthy, serving of sausage and fries. I wasn’t sure when I might get a chance to eat again. I didn’t know how close the cabin was to shops and whether they would even be open by the time I arrived.
From Königs Wusterhausen I had to catch a bus but it took a while before I finally found the correct bus stop. There were departure points on both sides of the station and none of the destination names or bus numbers matched what I was expecting. I asked two different drivers and were given contradictory directions that were on opposite sides of the station. Finally I found a group of teenagers who spoke English. They quickly consulted a timetable on their phones and directed me to the correct departure point.
After a forty minute bus ride through heavily forested German countryside, I got off at what felt like an end-of-the-line stop near a bridge on the edge of the small village of Prieros. The final stage of the journey was on foot down a long dirt road. On my left was pine forest, gradually darkening as the light began to fade. On my right a single row of houses faced the tranquil River Dahme on the other side. After a while the houses were replaced by cabins that became more sparsely spaced the further down the road I walked.
Eventually I reached the cabin where I was staying. It was at the end of a property and more or less surrounded by woods. The light was nearly gone but I could tell the setting was perfect. All I could hear was the air moving gently through the trees and the occasional sound of birds.
The host of the property, a grey-haired German woman called Gabi appeared not long after I arrived. She was very welcoming and spoke a little English. Starting to feel hungry again, I asked her about somewhere to eat and she said the local shops would be closed, but offered to bring me some food. I gratefully accepted and not long after she returned with a tray containing cheese that could be fried, bread, onion, a green pepper, several eggs, a bottle of water and two large bottles of German beer. That evening I cooked dinner outside on the bbq. There were a few mosquitos about, but it was such a warm and pleasant evening that it felt just right to sit outside on the porch, eat my meal, listen to the birds and enjoy the onset of the night.
The cabin was a great space to relax for a few days. It was remote enough to feel like I’d left the world behind and resembled exactly what I might have imagined if I’d been asked to visualise a lovely cabin in the woods. It was small and picturesque, surrounded by trees, with a porch at the front and an outdoor bbq cooking space. The interior was clad in pine and the furniture and amenities were tasteful and functional. There was no wifi and barely any phone access which would normally have been a good thing, although it didn’t allow me to do any planning for the rest of my trip.
Gabi was kind enough also to lend me a bike which she delivered to the cabin the next morning. I rode to the local village of Prieros to buy supplies. There was a small supermarket and a quality butcher. It was a nice village, traditional and untouched by tourism, surrounded by farms and large expanses of pine forest. To the north of the village were three large lakes, called ‘Sees’ in German, and several to the south. They were connected by the River Dahme which joined the Spree further north in Berlin.
On my second day I rode through the village to a small park on the edge of the Langer See and went for a swim. There were other people swimming as well. It was the thing to do in the village on warm days that had all the feel of summer. The water was cool and refreshing and provided a welcome relief from the heat. Houseboats glided by, piloted by holiday makers relaxing in chairs on the decking. Everything seemed at peace as if we were all actors in a scene from a nostalgic film.
The next day it was time to leave and make my way back to Berlin. If I could have extended my stay in the cabin, I would have, but it was booked out until at least the end of August. Although my visit was short it had been the ideal place to get away for a few days, to think and reflect and enjoy the solace of nature.
Back in Berlin, I had booked a night in a travel hotel right next to the Hauptbahnhof. It was a popular place for young backpackers – simple and cheap and close to a major transport hub. That afternoon, sitting in my hotel room, I had a brief moment of panic. I realised I had no accommodation booked for the following night and would have to decide quickly what to do and where to go next. To me, accommodation in Berlin seemed more expensive now than the previous time I’d visited. I didn’t know if it was because the summer high season was approaching or because I’d left bookings to the last minute.
I started searching for accommodation in Slovenia’s capital, Ljublijana, and found a nice Airbnb apartment near the centre, which I booked for three nights. I then had to figure out how to get there. I walked across to the ticket office at the Hauptbahnhof and enquired about the train departing for Ljublijana at 6am the next morning. The agent said I could still get on the train but every seat was booked. It would mean standing or sitting in the aisle or between carriages for what would be at least an twelve hour journey. I decided to book a flight instead. The cheapest was with Turkish Airlines but the flight was via Istanbul. I booked it anyway, even though it would take the best part of the daylight hours, deviating as it did on a long dog-leg east to Turkey.
Making the bookings meant the panic over where I would be spending the next night had subsided, at least for the time being, and I could focus again on the journey at hand. I was excited to finally be on my way to Slovenia – a small but green and mountainous country sharing a border with Croatia at the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea. I imagined myself staying there for a while, enjoying the nature, going for walks and taking my time to discover a place I hadn’t ever been to before.