Sunday, December 28


I'm free. And making travel plans again. I'm here in SJ for New Year's, for sure, but I'm thinking that on about the 2nd, I might head for Montenegro, just to finally collect the last country in this bit of Europe that I haven't yet been to.
And from there, well, there's no reason to rush back, so I might spend a week or so wandering up the Croatian coast, no doubt ending up in Zagreb, hopefully sometime around the weekend of the 10th.
From there, I plan to come back to Sarajevo. I have lined up a place here where I can stay whenever I want (and can leave the stuff I don't need while I'm travelling) and there's a chance of a bit of work from mid or late January, and I'm rather liking SJ, so I should spend some time here! I'm beginning to know people who know other people I know (often quite randomly) and I'm beginning to know the places people talk about, but there's still a lot more to explore!

Friday, December 26

Cake Wreckorating.

I just found a new blog to amuse me, and thought I would share. Here's a seasonal sample:

[This cake] looks like a really well-made Santa suicide scene:
(Yes, of course Santa bleeds sprinkles. Duh.)

Go. Now. Check it out.

Thursday, December 25

Christmas in Sarajevo.

First of all, the day started well, because I got to sleep in, and then walked into town and got paid! Only a day late, due to my silly boss's power games, but whatever. It was relatively stress free getting the money today, so I'm happy enough and I'm free! That was the last dealings I have to have with Bipolar Boss and his crazy school.

So to celebrate I had coffee and cake for breakfast (at only 2pm) and then went Christmas shopping (no time like after the last minute). I finally went out and bought a 500gb external hard drive and a 4gb micro SD card, as christmas/birthday presents from my parents, which adds considerably to my digital storage options, and makes me very happy. Now I can spend the next few days nerding out in backing up, sorting out and reformatting my computer.

I followed this by buying a book that I really want to read (called Sarajevo Malrboro) to give to one of my friends here, and some long stripey socks just like mine for the other (it sort of didn't feel like Christmas unless I gave something to somebody!)

Then as my (now EX-)colleague Napoleon and his friend messaged to say they'd be 10 minutes late to meet me, I popped into what is fast becoming my favourite second-hand shop, and bought two long sleeved t-shirts for a total of 5euro. I realised that in my new life as a Lady of Leisure (yes, that means unemployed) I would need more warm clothes to not go to work in. I was most excited to find an orange shirt much like my old favourite one that I finally decided was dead earlier this year. I'm happy to find a replacement!

Then I met Napoleon for a drink at Cafe Eclectic (which is what we have decided the name of this apparently nameless cafe is, as it is fulled with all sorts of bizarre things like fruit baskets and carved coconuts and old passports and felt hats and bakelite televisions and telephones...)and then we walked over to the Sarajevsko brewery for a couple of pints (the dark beer's the best), which on my empty stomach meant I really appreciated the sobering 20 minute walk in sub-zero temperatures to our next stop, which was Cafe Hot Wok, where we ate asian food! ASIAN food! Or at least something that closely resembled it. There was actual real lemongrass involved! It was very exciting.

We finished with coffee and cakes (yes, twice in one day. But it's Christmas. And they do some pretty amazing cakes here) at a nice cafe type place which was right at the bottom of the stairs that lead here to the place I'm currently staying, which meant it was only a 3 minute stair-master session to get home, which was probably a very good thing after such an indulgent day, but then, what else is Christmas for?

Photos on the left, as per usual!

Wednesday, December 17

Of Shoes and Slights and Russian Tanks.

The throwing of shoes at Bush becomes all the more amusing when you discover that the Iraqis find being hit by a shoe the absolute worst form of insult. Which makes the shoe incident not only hilariously ridiculous, but highly point-ful as well.

My favourite related links so far are the following:

This wonderfully dry and witty piece about insults


This amusing new game called Duck Duck Bush!

Tuesday, December 16

A Night at the Ballet

This evening my friend Anne and I went to the National Theatre to see Cinderella, the Ballet. We were accompanied by what appeared to be Sarajevo's entire population of 13 year olds, apparently on a school trip. This did not improve the experience.
Overall, it was quite an entertaining evening: the music (what I could hear of it over the kids) was good; the costuming was edgy and modern (I could tell because there were random bits of non-matching fabric sewn on some of the costumes in odd asymetrical places), and the choreography appeared to borrow somewhat heavily from such modern classics as the chicken dance, and often seemed to employ non-synchronised group movement and the occasional wobble motif.
And there were children dancers dressed as flowers.

So I'm being a bit mean. And I am by no means an expert in dance (I think that was only the second full length ballet I can remember seeing in my life.) But all in all, it reminded me of going to the opera in Istanbul, where I saw an oddly re-configured West Side Story, and The Magic Flute with a Queen of the Night who couldn't, quite. Dirt cheap, but a bit of a gamble. However, I also saw some good productions in Istanbul, so I will persevere and happily spend the few euro on the cheap seats to whatever is on next!

Sunday, December 14

Status Update

Kat has just realised that she has recently been using facebook status updates as a blog substitute, compulsively changing it several times a day, and often thinks in the third person about what the next update will say about whatever is happening right now.

This is disturbing.

So I'll make an effort.

I've been in Sarajevo now for one month (is that really all?) and have pretty much been going non-stop. Which seems to be normal in my life, I'm realising. Here's some of what I've been doing.

First, the work thing. This hasn't exactly worked out. I realised in week 2 that I was not going to have any control or authority for anything in the school, despite my role as DoS. No one will ever run that school except the control freak who owns it. And his tendency to dismiss things I said (Women!) and to never let me finish a sentence really got to me. But I couldn't quit, due to a little clause in my contract about being responsible for a whole bunch of expenses. I did, however, get the feeling that the boss was regretting hiring two expensive native speakers at the same time (he was only really looking for one) and was thinking about firing someone. I quietly dropped hints that I wouldn't be distressed if it were me. It only took me 4 days from making the decision that I needed to get fired to actually being fired, and I did nothing in that time but attempt to actually do my job, so I can also lodge an official complaint for being fired without good reason. So it's all worked out for the best!
Unfortunately, I have to work out my notice, but, as of Christmas Day, I will once again be officially homeless and unemployed (I also have to leave the school-provided flat). I am looking into jobs both here and in Zagreb, or I might just be a Lady of Leisure for a while again.

I had a long weekend last week - 4 days that I spent in Zagreb again. I'm rather liking that city, and the people I've met there, which is why I'm seriously considering relocating in January. Bosnia is cheaper, but Zagreb is just more fun, I think. And a little easier. You can buy exciting things like curry paste, and garam masala (as long as you know where to look).

I've also been doing a lot of couchsurfing hosting. After a year of being a CS member and surfing many many couches, I am finally in a position to give a little back, as I have a great sofa bed here. I've hosted 3 sets of people in the last few weeks, and will have more this week. It's great, because it keeps me entertained in a place where I know few people, and is also a bit like continuing to travel, vicariously.

My German friend Anne, whom I met in my first week here and who arrived here a few days after me, and is thus just as new to the city, is wonderful at seeking out things for us to explore. We've been to cafes and restaurants, the National Art Gallery (the works are organised by colour!) and tomorrow, we're going to the Ballet to see Cinderella (for the grand sum of 4euro!).

Tomorrow is also pay day. This will be appreciated (assuming he actually bloody pays me).

Christmas and New Year's plans are beginning to take shape. I am planning to stay here, as I am not stuck working again in January, and it seems like quite a few people I know are thinking of heading this way anyway.

So that's the majority of what I've been doing in the last month. Mostly working. But now that I have internet at home (finally!), and have actually caught up on the 3 months of blogs and columns I had missed(I was really behind), I might actually be able to write a little more often. At least in theory. And if not, well, you'll just have to be content with facebook status updates and the pictures I'm still uploading regularly!

A Complete Cop Out Tumblr Post

If I don't write something soon, by Christmas I will have been silent for a whole month!

Via Language Log

And if you think that's funny, you should have heard what the ghost of future perfect passive continuous said!

Tuesday, November 25

Just Another Bosnian Adventure

Today is a holiday, which I am spending hanging out at my landlord's house next door to mine. I arrived home at midnight last night to find my key no longer worked in my lock, for no apparent reason, so I came and knocked on the door here. After he tried and had the same problem I did, he said I should spend the night here with his family, and we'd sort it out today. I am verz grateful that my landlord and his family spent 20 years or something living in Germany, as we are actually able to communicate, mostly. My German may be pretty dismal, but it's a whole lot better than my Bosnian!
The locksmith finally arrived an hour ago, and I'm still waiting. It's too cold to hang around outside watching them work, but last I saw they were taking a dirty great drill down that way. I'm half expecting them to exhaust all other options and end up breaking a window somewhere. I hope they have the sense to make it the smallest window and not the entire wire-reinforced glass door!
At least they have internet here though - this is the longest uninterrupted and non-surreptitious personal net time I've had since I got here! I am, however, very much looking forward to being back in my little flat, taking a shower, and getting some clean clothes. Hopefully in time to go meet my friend in town in 2 hours!

Monday, November 24


I wrote a great big long blogpost on this net cafe computer the other day, and blogger was saving drafts, I thought, and when my time ran out I figured I'd just upload it this time, but it's not there!

I wonder if it has anything to do with the myriad viruses this completely unprotected net-connected public computer has... I'm just hoping it doesn't have one that steals passwords...

So as I don't have time to rewrite, you'll just have to guess what I'm doing from the photos and the lack of communication.

Prizes for the most interesting interpretations...

Monday, November 17

I know I'm quiet lately

It's the working thing. And I don't have internet access at home, which is always a pain.
But while I'm failing to write things, you can be entertained by the photos I'm uploading. The most recent ones are of my neighbourhood. And yes, most of my neighbours are dead. The cemetery is just one of the enormous cemeteries they have all over the place here, but it will provide me with interesting weekend rambles over the hills, I think.
Now back to work...

Saturday, November 8

crossing the continent + train adventures (Monster Post warning!)

One hour down, only 21 to go. Assuming we're on time, of course. And i'm not bored yet. The romance of long distance train travel is still preventing boredom, much helped by my private sleeper compartment. At least, so far private- there are two beds and a lot of stops to go yet.
And we just went through a tunnel that took several minutes and was so pitch black i couldn't see anything. Even the light from this phone didn't seem to make any difference.

So i wrote the above at the beginning of the trip from belgrade to istanbul, and now i'm sitting here waiting for the train to leave to go back. I tried to find a more sensible solution, like a bus from Nis, but no luck, so i'm going all the way back to belgrade and then catching the daily bus from belgrade to sarajevo on sunday, after yet another night in belgrade. And then i get to stop for a while. Having just been reunited with all my stuff that i left at roger's place here, i'm very much looking forward to putting it somewhere and not carrying it any further. I own too much right now. But i will appreciate having it all in the next 6 months, i'm sure.
The trip overall from paris has been slightly exhausting, but a lot of fun, mostly. The mix of hitching and trains has been good, and i've had great people to stay with in each place. In Augsburg Stefan and i cooked feta and pumpkin fritters with the insides of a jackolantern and went to a party until 6 in the morning, which made me take the train the to Zagreb the netw day, as i didn't want to risk hitching on so little sleep (you need your wits about you to stay safe, really!). I also went to the cathedral there and failed to notice the world's oldest surviving stained glass.
In zagreb, i was met at the station by Vlasta, the couchsurfer who had recognised me from my profile the last time i was there, and while i didn't leave the house much, i appreciated her lovely flat and hospitality so much that i stayed i second night, sacrificing a completely unnecessary day in istanbul to adjust my plans. And then the one time i did leave her house in Zagreb I was very nearly witness to an extremely messy accident. My tram was one of the first in line at a major intersection when a truck ran over a motorbike at high speed. I didn't see the accident, thankfully, but the results very soon after. The bike was just about in half, and the rider, well, let's just say it was very messy. And all over the place. Since then i've been extraordinarily careful crossing roads and wearing seatbelts, even though drivers in the balkans often take it as a mild insult to their skills.
Leaving zagreb sucked, as usual. I'm not the first hitchhiker to notice that Zagreb is a pain to get out of. It was 3.5 hours after i left the house before i got my first ride. I got slightly lost on the trams and then waited half an hour for the right bus, and then discovered the freeway entrance to belgrade i wanted was closed due to roadworks, and then got stopped twice because i match the description of a missing slovakian, or something. The first guy who stopped me was in a car, and stopped just as i had resolved to walk the couple of km part the roadworks. I hadn't even had a thumb out, so i was surprised. But if just wanted to know where i was from, and, once he realized i wasn't slovakian, he told me about the missing girl who was described as having a green jacket and brown bag and backpack, just like me.
When the police stopped a kilometre or so up the road, i was initially i little concerned, as i had passed a big 'no autostop' sign a few hundred metres back. But they just checked my passport and asked if i had run away from a man and a woman in a car, which had apparently been reported by one of their colleagues. I assured them i hadn't, and that i wasn't missing, nor Slovakian, and asked how long the roadworks went for (not far), and where the next gas station was (12km). They gave me the standard 'bus or train is better' talk, and then told me to be careful hitching and drove off, apparently unconcerned that i was illegally standing on a highway.
A couple of km later i saw to the toll booths, and as i was approaching them, was picked up by a turkish truck. Musa was a very nice and respectful guy who didn't follow the standard 'where is your husband' script at all, which was refreshing. He also insisted on using 3 or 4 different languages in most sentences, which was fun, but as they were turkish, german and italian, i could cope! He told me 'bir saat fahren, stop, mangiare' which sounded fine to me. And he fed me well, along with his other turkish truck friends, who collectively spent some time trying to convince me to ride all the way to istanbul with them, or at least to invite my 'madam friend' to have dinner with them in a truck park 10km from belgrade. I refused, knowing the train would be faster, and why on earth would my friend want to spend an evening in a truck park!?
Any way, i abandoned them waiting at the border, too impatient to wait in the long line of trucks. I walked through the border, getting the usual 'where's your car? are you walking to belgrade?' comments, and stood on the other side waving my sign at cars. Within 10mins or so i was in a comfortable mercedes van with a nice guy who spoke a bit of english, on my way to Belgrade at double the average truck speed. The van turned out to be a funeral services van usually used for the transporting of bodies, but i had seen when i put my pack in the back that it was empty!
45 mins later we were all having coffee at Diane's place, having been driven right to the door, which is always nice.
The next morning, Diane accompanied me to the station on her way to an early shift at work, and, despite missed buses and major traffic, i managed to buy my ticket and get on board with whole minutes to spare!
The train ride i have chronicled previously, so i.ll skip forward a bit to istanbul, where i stayed with Roger again, which is always relaxing, and this time actually managed to catch up with Suzanne, another Interlang colleague from many years ago.
I spent friday doing not a lot and repacking my stuff, and then just had time for an eggplant kebab in a restaurant before heading to my 10pm train, and starting this second-last leg of my trip, which has so far been wonderfully uneventful.

12 hours later...
Next time i hitchhike!
Bloody trains! And train people! It all started when the serbian traveller in the room next to me translated for the woman on the other side to tell me that they are not sure what is happening but that unless i want to wait in my carriage until 8pm in Sofia, i should join them in changing trains. But very quickly as the other train would leave very soon after we arrived. I was a little confused, as the trip is supposed to be direct, and usually they just tack our carriage onto the other train. But i got ready, just in case. Before i could get a comprehensible answer out of someone other than a fellow traveller, we pulled up in Sofia, and i watched the lady throw her stuff out the wrong side of the train and scramble across the tracks to the other train. Some guys told of to get my stuff and follow, quickly, which i did, with one of them carrying my lightest bag, and they rushed me through the subway (better than over the tracks!) and onto another train, muttering about reservations and no time to get them and money and i don't know what. Still being in turkish mode, i was having trouble communicating, but insisted i had already paid for my reservation on the turkish train, (and never got either a receipt or the 4 euro change i was owed, which i wasn't happy about). On the new train, one said he would sit with my stuff while i got a reservation, but was all stress and go go go, while sitting on my brown bag with all the important stuff in it, which i wouldn't leave without. After i yelled at him in expletive english, he stood up, i found my bag and followed the other guy back to the turkish train, where the turkish conductor and bulgarian guy had a 3 word conversation in a mix of languages that seemed to let the bulgarian guy know that i had paid for my reservation, so it was all ok. So we hustled back to the new train, where the first guy started demanding money from me, in any currency. I think he was an official porter, as he waved a name badge at me, but i wasn't going to give him money when i had no idea what was going on at any point in the whole proceedings. And when i hadn't asked for help in the first place. In the end i poured out my purse of leftover dinar and lira into his hand, which he wasn't very impressed with. By this point i didn't really care, tho. Eventually he went away, and i started working on calming down, smiling at the older lady who was in the compartment with me to reassure her that i wasn't actually crazy, just a little stressed. I then sat down to check i hadn't lost anything in the excitement. Phone was there, and wallet, but a strange lack of passport soon became evident. After searching everywhere, i realised that the last time i had it out was for bulgarian passport control in the early hours while i was mostly asleep, and that it might have fallen down the side of the bed when i put it on top of my bag instead of in (yes, stupid, i know, but i didn't expect to have to leave my compartment until belgrade, and would have found it). As the train hadn't moved yet, i went out to the door and asked the first official looking person when we were leaving. He used his watch to indicate in a couple of minutes, so i asked where the turkish train was, and he said something with a hand gesture i thought meant 'gone', which i thought odd, as i had been told it would be there til 8 in the evening or something. Thoroughly sick of attempting to communicate in slav (and yes, i know i'm about to start learning it, but i'm allowed to be sick of it anyway) i spotted a young looking guy in a suit and asked if if spoke english. He said, yes, a little, which turned out to be a lie- he spoke very well, which is just as well, because in my stressed-out state i no doubt spoke very fast. I explained i had just been taken off a turkish train and had on idea what was going on, and that my passport was missing. And then the train started to move. He came out into the corridor with me to see what we could do, and we walked to the next carriage, which if said if thought was the turkish train, but it wasn't my carriage! We continued to the next one, and when i opened the door i saw the familiar face of my less-than-helpful turkish conductor, and the also-familiar revolting pattern of the carpet. All that stress had been for nothing, and if i had just ignored everyone and stayed locked in my compartment, then all would have been well! I let out a somewhat primal scream of frustration (i'm not usually a screamer, but this was well warranted) and then pushed past the conductor, explaining 'passport'. In the corridor were the concerned faces of the two people who had started this whole thing. THEY were back in their rooms and apparently unruffled, lucky them. I glared at them and said my passport was missing as i headed to my old room. It was exactly where i thought it might be, thankfully, so i breathed i huge sigh of relief and headed back to collect my bags again and move back to my private sleeper that i had paid for already. With 8 or 10 hours still to go, i'd rather that than a regular compartment! And during the move, just to add one more straw, i noticed the zip on my day pack was broken. But i think i've fixed now, so it's not so serious.
Once reinstalled in my cabin, i demanded hot water for coffee from the conductor, along with my 4 euro change that he owed me, and the paper for my reservation that he was supposed to have given me in the first place. He brought it to me, minus 2 euro, which if explained was for the tea i had accepted last night and the hot water now. 1 euro for a small cup of hot water makes it the most expensive hot water i've ever bought. But i was sick of arguing. So i didn't. And as he gave it to me, if said, vaguley apologetically 'çok crazy', which i agreed with. I thought if meant the mess was very crazy, but now i'm not so sure he wasn't calling me very crazy!
Having drunk my coffee and calmed down somewhat, i headed back to the guy who helped me, to explain that everything was fine and to thank him for his help, and to apologise for screaming. He was very nice about it all.
And now i'm back in my own compartment and can put the bed down and watch things on my laptop (i have my laptop back! Hang on, so why am i still writing on my phone? Hmm, odd...), munch on my supplies and recover from the eventful 15minutes in Sofia!

Friday, November 7

Istanbul, One Night Only.

And in a post a la Sean, I do believe Nathaniel was the 3000th visitor to my blog. Unless there's someone else in Melbourne who reads this...
I know I haven't written much lately. My plan was to write things on the 25 hour train journey I just did, but I ended up rescuing a damsel in distress instead, and protecting her (and myself) from being molested by every passing man in uniform (conductors, ticket inspectors, police...). I've never been so harassed while hitchhiking! And I don't believe I've ever had to yell 'fuck off' and physically push some idiot away before. And yet I did it twice in one train trip.
But, never fear, I have Yet Another 25 hour train journey to start tonight (it is supposed to be 22, but 3 or 4 hours of lateness seems to be normal), so, as I plan to lock my door and keep it that way, I'll have plenty of time for catch-up posts.

Wednesday, November 5

so far rather good

I've made it as far as Belgrade, and only one day late after being somewhat easily convinced to stay in Zagreb another day. I decided I had the time, as I don't need more than one night in Istanbul, and as I'm catching the train to and from Istanbul, I will actually have 36 hours there. Which is enough.
So I got to Belgrade at about 8 this evening, and was dropped at my host's door, which was nice, and am leaving tomorrow morning on an 8am train. Which means I had better go to bed and get some sleep so it's not too painful getting up for it. At least I'll have heaps of time to sleep on the train!

Saturday, November 1

the first leg

Another successful day of hitching. That is, apart from the 2 hours standing in the rain to start, and then the 40min walk through a wet (but thankfully mowed) field and the being wet and cold for the rest of the day...
We started early, on the RER to bussy-saint-georges by 8, and at the freeway onramp by 9ish. But then, despite waving signs (east, nancy, germany, next petrol station and even the istanbul one, which got reactions, but no results) we were still there at 11. So we walked beside the freeway the 3km or so to the gas station.
And then got a 300km ride within 5mins.
We were only at the next gas station about 15mins too, before getting a ride with a couple of somewhat lost french-albanian musicians going to a gig in dusseldorf or somewhere. They entertained up with their recordings, and what seemed to be a bollywood compilation while we guided them as to which turns to take. The freeways in germany are so complicated. I'm looking forward to getting back to countries where there is only one highway to choose from...
At the next gas station, solène found a ride in a truck all the way to Nuremburg, which was good, as it was already 4.30, and once it gets dark finding rides becomes harder and more risky, even in gas stations. I. However, didn't want to go to Nuremburg, as my path was further south, so i waved goodbye to solène, turned around to pick up my bag, walked towards the truck end of the station (having asked everyone at the car end) and noticed a nice convertible with an A on the number plate, which,for some reason i thought meant austria. Undaunted by the prospect of austrian german, i waved my sign at the woman in the car, and was greeted by a long thoughtful look. I looked back in my best totally-harmless-good-company-and-very-hopeful look, and when she opened the door, still looking thoughtful, i said something about speaking not much but enough german, and being good company. She said in a very firm manner 'that's good because don't speak a word of english ', and agreed to take me. To augsburg. Which is what the A my tired brain had misread meant. So i spent the next 4.5 hours with the luxury of a woman driver (always a level less stressful, somehow) who spoke slowly and clearly enough for of to understand most of the time and was very polite about my complete lack of german grammar, in a very comfortable peugeot 206cc. It was great! And i was the first hitchhiker she had ever taken, and said at the end that i wouldn't be the last. So yay! Another hitchhiker friendly driver created! She even wished she didn't have to work monday, so that she could come with me to istanbul. In her car. That would have been nice!
Another major bonus was that she let me use her phone to arrange a meeting time with my host in Augsburg, and, being a local, knew the place immediately. And then drove me right there, via a quick tour of the sights of augsburg.
So now i'm looking forward to some serious sleep before getting up early tomorrow to hitch the 600km to Zagreb. Or maybe i.ll look at the bus and train times, but i think another day of hitching will be more fun.

Friday, October 31

Bizarre thought

I know where I'm going to sleep every night for the next 10 days, with the except of the two saturday nights.

Tonight (now) Sean's in Paris.

Friday - a couchsurfing friend in Augsburg (who I've already met before!)

Saturday - Hopefully Zagreb somewhere.

Sunday - Definitely Zagreb, and I know where.

Monday - Belgrade - another CSer I've met before.

Tuesday - on a train

Wednesday - Roger's in Istanbul.

Thursday - most likely Roger's again (Yes! TWO nightsin the SAME PLACE!)

Friday - Back on that train.

Saturday - Belgrade OR, if I'm lucky, my *own* apartment in Sarajevo.

Sunday - Definitely Sarajevo.

How bizarre is that!

Wednesday, October 29

Crazy Plan #341

Cross the entire continent of Europe overland in 5 days.
I could make it 4, but I have allowed a day in the middle for reasons of Sanity.

What's happened is:
The school I have just agreed to work for in Sarajevo wants me to start 10 days earlier than originally advertised. I negotiated it back to the 15th of November, instead of the 5th, and yet they still kept going on about the 5th. So I've agreed to get there by the 10th as a compromise.

Getting to Sarajevo by the 5th wouldn't be a problem, except... I left a bunch of stuff in Istanbul when I left there in August, figuring I would be back there a month or so later. And now for some bizarre reason I'm in Paris. And planning to work in Sarajevo. Sometimes my life seems a little crazy, even to me.

So. Here's the current plan.

Friday (the day after tomorrow) hitchhike with Solene from Paris to Nuremburg. It's a long way, but we went even further in a day two weeks ago, so it should be fine. I've lined up a couch for the night there.

Saturday - Solene continues towards Prague on her own, I catch a train to Sagreb, arriving at about 8pm.

Sunday: this is the 'sanity day' I've factored in. If I want, I could continue, but I think I will appreciate the rest day.

Monday - train/bus/hitch (still working that out) to Belgrade. Stay that night there.

Tuesday Morning, take the direct train to Istanbul (a mere 23 hours or so). I'd have a sleeper, so it would probably be quite restful.

Wednesday morning - Arrive Istanbul. Collect Stuff.

I could leave on the same train straight back again that evening, to arrive in Belgrade on Thursday evening, stay the night and get to Sarajevo Friday evening, but there doesn't seem a lot of point in arriving in Sarajevo on Friday evening, so I think I could stay one night in Istanbul and then head back to Sarajevo. Probably via the train back to belgrade or Nis and then a bus, which is infinitely faster than a train. Trains are just a whole lot more comfortable when you have to spend a night on them and are willing to spend the money on a sleeper.

I am not sure what most of this will cost, of course, as it is hard to get that sort of information for the Balkans. I would like to hitch when possible, but doing the overnight trains does save time. Of course, given the average speed of the trains, hitching is actually slightly faster during the day, I believe!

So I've just spent 4 hours solid on all the different options and websites and distances and train times and trying to find prices and ARGH. My brain hurts.

Meanwhile. It's freezing in Paris today.

Thursday, October 23

Random Amusements

You know I have unlimited internet when I post things like this. Or possibly it's being at Sean's place in Paris and the combination of unlimited internet *and* being directed to many amusing links without having to go to the toruble of finding them myself. So. I bring you:

1. An amusing comic that describes my life when I have internet access at home. When I have a home. And when I have a laptop. Although these days I can do this on my telephone, of course.

2. And then this:

Tuesday, October 21

From a Chateau (with update)

I'm sitting here in an actual chateau surrounded by an actual moat. Complete with ducks.
Leaving Toulouse wasn't easy - we spent an hour and a half at the entrance to the freeway waving our thumbs and signs for the freeway towards Bordeaux. We had two signs, because the fist place we tried to stand for a while was in front of a block of flats, and I waved my thumb while Solene sat down to create a 'Bordeaux' sign, and a guy on the third floor must have seen from his balcony, because he came out with a sign he had printed on his computer especially for us. Nice, hey! He also suggested we move further up the road to the traffic light where there was traffic from multiple directions, but it still wasn't a great spot, and it was hard for people to stop.
But eventually someone did, and we convinced him to take both of us (he thought I was on my own, as Solene was accross the road aiming her sign at other traffic) and thus managed to get as far as the toll booths of Montauban, where we were miraculously not told to leave (I'm fairly positive it was a no-pedestrian zone) and managed to get a ride within about 15 minutes. And it was a brilliant ride with a lovely couple with a big car with plenty of space who were going 300km in the right direction. Very lucky. And we had lunch together and everything. At 4pm, they dropped us at a slightly deserted gas station where I accidentally woke up some people sleeping in their car in front of the entrance by getting my recorder out and playing a gig. We didn't ask them if they were going our way after that. We also tried for a ride on a motorbike with the most sophisticated sidecar I have ever seen (think of something like a convertible Smart car on an even smaller scale attached to the side of the bike, which was also enormous). Unfortunately, there was already two people, so the only remaining seat was on the back of the bike, and wouldn't quite fit both of us and our luggage...
Anyway, a nice truckdriver agreed to take us an hour or so up the road to the toll booths at Niort, where we approached a car that was about to leave from the little parking lot there to head onto the motorway, and it turned out they were heading to the nearest little village to the little village we were heading for. and they were Czech, and Solene speaks Czech. So, despite already being three in the car, they took us the whole rest of the way - right to the door of Solene's cousin's Chateau.

So yes, I'm staying in part of a Chateau. It's not wuite as grand as it sounds, but it's pretty cool none the less. The three houses that have been created from what remained of the old buildings (it was mostly destroyed in the revolution, apparently, and most of what is now here was built afterwards) are surrounded by a moat with ducks all a dabbling in it. And this house is all lovely modern rooms, until you open a random door, and there's the old granary, with a peaked roof, no ceiling, and stone castle walls. Oh, and there's a winepress in the garage. Built in. It's the take-you-shoes-off-before-you-get-in style.

And this afternoon, after my phonecall with Sarajevo (about which more later, probably), we went to another, more impressive chateau nearby, (you can look at the pictures and decide which is which) and wandered about the grounds, which was all very pleasant, though a little damp, as it rained all morning. But pleasant in a moist, green sort of way.

And tomorrow, the plan is to set off earlyish and get to Paris earlyish. I'll be staying with Sean for a week or so. Or at least until the weekend. I might need to start heading for Sarajevo after that.

Sunday, October 19

leaving Toulouse

So sometime earlyish tomorrow morning, Solene (my current hitchhiking partner) will leave Toulouse to travel 559km (that's 5 hours and 1 minute, thankyou google maps) to a place called L'Herbergement. There we plan to stay two nights before heading the 400ish km to Paris on Wendesday.
In other news...
I had an email from the school in Sarajevo today. They want to know if I can be there at the beginning of November. And they'd like to interview me.
It would be very, very good for my career to have this job. But it would mean full time work for at least 6 months. Scary idea that.

Thursday, October 16

Kat's current list of crazy plans.

Disclaimer: i don't guarantee that i will actually do any of these things. I also can't promise i won't do all of them.
1. Live in sarajevo- if iH give of a job as dos there, the contract is 6 months, and starts on my birthday...
2. Work in Kyrgyzstan- i applied to a school there asking if they'd give me a 3 month contract.
3. Buy a motorbike- i just had a ride from one end of vienna to the other on the back of a bike. And it was fun. And made me think i should buy one. It would be easier than hitching in some ways. Harder in others. Feels like less responsibility and investment than a campervan, though, which is one of the other ideas always in the back of my mind.
4. Travel from Montonegro to Malta
5. Use Sean as a base in Paris to go to Belgium, amsterdam, bits of france i've never been to.
6. Join the couchsurfer group that plans to hitch from Biarritz to Italy or so in costume in early December.
7. Travel overland from europe to Singapore.
8. Return to Montreal.*

*I miss montreal. I do. But as the weeks since i left turn into months and months, and my life of travel and 'where can i go next' continues- goes back to normal, one might say - i find the memory of the stability, acceptance and 'at-home-ness' is, not exactly fading, but perhaps becoming less important, as i remember what life was like before i had that. This isn't to say i will stop doing the visa application. Just that i accept that it is going to take time, and that it might be a while before i get back. If they let of back at all. But that's ok. I'll find places to live and things to do in the meantime. Not sure where or what, but something will present itself, i'm sure!

Wednesday, October 15

Zagreb-Toulouse via Prague.

2300km in 4 days.
Ridiculous really, isn't it?
So i left Zagreb somewhat reluctantly, as i had a brilliant week there. I was volunteering for the queer festival, which was mostly a film festival, with a few performances. I had the easiest job ever: i just took peoples tickets for the films, then want in and watched the films myself. For free. And the performances. It was great! And i met so many wonderful people and went to some very entertaining parties, and generally had a lot of fun. I definitely plan to go back and visit Zagreb sometime soonish!
However. I left. Late. But i made it to Vienna that night anyway, stayed with a wonderful couchsurfer called Lonny, who fed me well and then drove me all the way across Vienna on the back of his motorbike to the spot recommended by hitchwiki. I waved goodbye, got out my sign, and a car stopped. Instantly. It was a good spot.
I arrived in the suburbs of prague at 5.30, managed to meet Solène by 8.30 and put my stuff at her friend's place where we were staying and then she took me out to see a squat that was having a party for the Freedom not Fear march (which i had missed, as i was still in transit). We didn't stay long, but it's nice to know Prague has some interesting things happening these days.
The next morning we were up horribly early and at the gas station we needed by 9ish and riding with a turkish truck driver 10minutes later. He was very surprised when i greeted him and asked him where he was going in Turkish! I found it a little harder after that, as my turkish is a little more buried under german and random slav than it was a month ago! The day went pretty smoothly after that, too - 850km in 12hours is really not bad. It was the first time i had hitched in germany or france, (apart from a few rides on small roads a few years ago when i accidentally ended up in france instead of spain), and it's a somewhat different experience. For a start, once you're on the freeways, there's no standing on the side of the road. It's all gas station to gas station, with the occasional toll booth for variety. You need a good map with the stations marked. And there are so many highways that you often have choice, which is annoying. In the balkans, most of the time, there was only one road, so the choice was easy. One advantage of the gas station method, though, is that you can choose who you ask, and you often get people who wouldn't stop, and you can avoid anyone that you don't want. You can also talk to them and work out exactly where they're going and if they are the sort of person you want to ride with. And, of course, convince them that you are the sort of person they want to give a ride to!
In this regard, Solène and i were good travel partners for a Czech-Germany-france trip. We would look at the number plates, and if they were Czech, it was Solène's job, germans were for me, and french we could both ask, of course. And then the language also determined which of us sat in the front seat. It worked well!
We spent Sunday night at Solène's aunt's place in Besancon - even arriving in time for dinner- and were dropped back at the toll gates the next morning. The second day went about as quickly, but felt more annoying, as we had several stops when we waited an hour or so. Not bad, but we had got used to excellent luck, i guess. Still, we made the 800ish kilometres to Toulouse in 14 hours, and were dropped off just in time to get the last metro into the centre.
Yesterday i did practically nothing, having something of a recovery day, and then in the evening we went with some of solène's friends to a screening of the 1926 silent film of Faust, in the basilica of St-Sernin, with a live performance of the soundtrack on the rather impressive organ there. So the plan is to be here a week or so, hopefully catch up with people i know, hang out with Solène and friends, who are all trying to help of retrain my accent so that's it's less canadian, and then i'll head for Paris. And I haven't planned past then yet!

Sunday, October 12


Made it to prague without any problems, though getting into the centre and managing to contact Solene was fun, and took 3 hours, thanks mainly to the extraordinary unhelpfulness of every Czech person i asked.
So here i am, with one night in prague before heading to france tomorrow. We have 850km to go in a day, which means an early start. And then almost the same distance the day after all the way to Toulouse.

Friday, October 10

One of my cardinal rules of hitchhiking is never be in a hurry. Things get stressful then. And then you get desperate and make mistakes. So here i am, having left zagreb far too late, barely out of the city and getting annoyed that my ride has just wasted a half hour of my time by wanting to take me to the wrong border. We sorted out the misunderstanding, he's taking me back to my highway, but has stopped for petrol before we get there. Also, he doesn't seen to be going anywhere himself, just willing to take me where i want to go, which isn't a good sign, and we don't have a language. Re i think as soon as we get back to the highway, i will make my excuses, say i'm looking for ride all the way to austria, and get out.

Which is exactly what i did, and now i'm suffering EU shock at a gas station near graz. The prices are horrible, i have to speak german with actual native speakers, i didn't notice when we entered Austria, and the gas station has free wifi. All shocks to the system.
I will make it to Vienna tonight, but only if i put this down and go and ask some cars!

today's plans

So the plan today was to leave early and hitchhike all the way to Prague in one day. The longest solo hitchhike I have done.
But somehow the reception of Annie Sprinkle's Big Green Queer Wedding last night - the last event of the Zagreb Queer Festival was way too much fun and I didn't get to sleep until 6.30 this morning, which made my plan of leaving around 8 a little tricky. And now it's 2pm, and I'm still here.
So a slight change of plan - I have a choice of two places to stay in Vienna tonight, so I will turn up and work out which one is easiest. Vienna is only halfway to prague, so I should be able to leave here in the next hour and still get there at a reasonable time tonight and then leave early and still make it to the Freedom not Fear march in Prague with Solene. But if not, then at least I'm sure I'll make it to Prague for the night!
And then early Sunday morning, Solene and I head for France in the longest hitchhiking-all-at-once trip I have done. I generally prefer to do shorter trips and stop and see lots of things, but this is a 1600km dash across the continent in two days. Should be fun!

In other strange news - last night someone recognised me from my Couchsurfing profile. She said 'Hey, you're the couchsurfer', and I said 'I am a couchsurfer, but... which couchsurfer?' and she said 'the one from the mailing list!' and I said 'which mailing list' and she said 'the queer couchsurfers list' and I said, 'yes I am but how on earth did you recognise me from that picture?'. It seems she had noticed my posts to the list talking about going to the various festivals I've been to in the last few weeks. So next time I'm in Zagreb, it seems I have more than one option for where to spend the night!

Tuesday, October 7

Zagreb adventures

I left zelenkovac at lunchtime on friday, and got rides pretty easily first out to the highway, (i use highway in the australian sense of 'main road between cities' not, as i have recently realised it is used on this side of the world to mean 'freeway, or multi-lane motorway'.) then to past Banja Luka and then all the way to Zagreb with a nice Slovenian businessman.
Once in Zagreb i wandered about the southern suburbs (having been dropped on the highway in the south of the city) until i found wifi to check email for the first time in days and also work out what post of currency they had so that i could decide how much to withdraw. I think the Kuna is about the 305th currency i've dealt with in the last two months. Bring on the euro, i say. Purely for my own convenience, obviously.
Once i had money and the address of the squat i had arranged to stay in, i headed for it, or at least, into the centre, as i couldn't find the street on my map, but figured it was more central than where i was. It wasn't until later that i discovered that streets can be in nominative or genitive case- two forms which, naturally, bear little resemblance to each other. I swear they just do it to confuse foreigners...
Once i asked a nice lady in a bookshop to help of look it up on one of the maps she was selling, and paused for a splurge of an almost real dinner, and then got a little disoriented and walked 10mins in the wrong direction, giving me a tour of the centre on my way, i found the squat. And 3 random montrealers who let me in and then reassured of that i still understand quebecois, and that my accent is more english and french than canadian. The french french think otherwise... I also met some girls who were making an art studio in the squat and ended up going out with them to a bar and then a club at the nearby student centre. Both places were interesting- the bar is called Kriva Put, which means 'the wrong way' and the gallery on the other side of the courtyard/beergarden is 'the Right way'. It was a good place, with the right line of people, and i felt quite at home. At the student centre there was an electronic music performance going on, which was intermittently interesting and unbearable. The guy who appeared to be playing Super Mario Brothers on an old gameboy throughout his set was an example.
At about 1.30 i decided it was time to in home, as it had been a long day. I was a little concerned that i didn't have a key, it was pouring rain and quite cold and i hadn't yet managed to talk to the person i was supposed to about staying, but i figured the canadians would let me in, at least.
When i got back there it was all dark and quiet, though i could hear music from the other side of the yard somewhere. Noone answered my knock, and i resigned myself to waiting in the shelter by the door for someone to come. Half an hour or so later i remembered that the people i had left at the club not far away had a key, but by the time i got back there (through the pain again) it had closed and everyone had left. So i went back and stood and waited again, assessing my options. At one point someone did put their head out a window, but in a part of the building that i wasn't sure was part of the squat, so when i said 'can you let me in' and if shook his head and disappeared, i just figured they were the neighbours or something. Of course i found out later that it was all the same place, so he could have.
Anyway, having considered going to a hostel (not worth it at 3.30 in the morning) and wished very much that i had my sleeping rag and bivvy that were locked inside with my stuff (there were a couple of sheltered almost indoor places i could have slept, if i'd had my stuff) I resigned myself to waiting another 2 hours til the canadians left for their 6am train. And then the door across the courtyard opened and i realised the music was coming from there. I asked the girl who came out if she knew the people in the squat, and she said no, but that i should come and john ties party. So i did, although my exhaustion levels couldn't quite keep up with the dancing they seemed to expert of me. After telling my story and warming up a bit, i discovered that the room we were in was also squatted, and they were just a bunch of friends using the space for a party. And then the police showed up and very politely told us to leave. So we did. And as we did, a girl called Marina said 'you have no where to sleep, so you can come home with me. So i did. And so did half the party, which then continued in a quieter more subdued fashion until 7am, when i finally went to sleep on marina's floor in a borrowed tshirt and trackpants (all my stuff was soaked after so much wandering around in the rain). It was good, though. Marina was an excellent host and i had a shower and heat and all sorts of luxuries the squat didn't have.
The next afternoon when i got back to the squat, i found the art-studio girls again and the introduced me to someone who could give me a key, and i arranged to stay one more night, figuring i would work on getting couchsurfing or something after that. Also, they were having a band play on the sunday night, and were expecting the police to show up, and the chances are we would have been kicked out for the night anyway.
Key in hand and night's accommodation secured, i set off for the film festival office to offer myself as a volunteer, which is, of course, the reason i came to Zagreb.
I found the info centre, rather than the office, but close enough. They rang the office and then asked me if i was ready to in straight to work. Half an hour later i was taking tickets at kino Europa, and then seeing a film about homosexuality, biblical literalism and religious parents. It's called 'For the Bible Tells Me So' and is an excellent doco. Since then i've taken lots of tickets, and seen lots of good films, one terrible one, and a theatre performance involving puppets raping and murdering each other that was so well done i expect nightmares. Very disturbing. Oh, and i have also met Annie Sprinkle, who will be performing tomorrow.
While collecting tickets that first evening, i met Marta, one of the Zagreb people i had met in Sarajevo, and the one who had told me they still needed volunteers and that there was a squat i could stay in. She was impressed to hear i had followed her instructions to the letter, heard my plan to find another place to stay, and resolved to find me something, as she felt somewhat responsible for me! 5 mins later, someone came up to of at the door and said 'i hear you need a place to stay. You can stay at my place.'
I moved to Gordana's place the next afternoon, and found myself very well looked after. I have my own bed in my own room, i have washed myself and my hair and my clothes and my towel and i've caught up on lots of internet. And learnt to appreciate mac computers. And i think i've decided what to do next. But I'll blog about that next time!

Friday, October 3

forest interlude at Zelenkovac

So i'm sleepingin a wooden bungalow in a forest, and i've spent the evening tending a fire, playing with a kitten and talking to a woman from Nis who came here for a one week holiday 4 months ago and never left.
Getting here was relatively easy. I walked out of Mostar and spent about 20mins with my thumb out before a truck stopped for me and i had a lovely 4 hours with a nice guy called mari, who spoke enough german to explain to me some of the more confusing things about Bosnian geography, like which villages are muslim and where Hercegovina ended and Bosnia began and then where the Bosnian republic of Serbia started. It was odd, knowing we were nowhere near the border, when he points at the hillside across the gorge (there are some gorgeous gorges in this country. Or countries) and says 'that's croatia'. By which if meant the bit of Bosnia that is catholic, and therefore croatian...).
From Jajce i got a ride with a guy who spoke about 10words of italian, except some of them were german... If had never heard of Zelenkovac, but, after a brief pause to get a 30mark fine for speeding, dropped me at the turnoff to Mrkonjic Grad, where i asked the first person i saw, and discovered that i had got out about 10km too early. But it turned out ok, as i was only there another 10mins or so, a little worried in the fading daylight, when a farmer who lived somewhere right near this place picked me up, bought me a beer in a bar in the village of Podrasnica, and not only drove me to the door but walked in with of and explained where he had found me. All the while talking to me in local language (whatever they call it here- it's too political for me), despite my minimal understanding.
Zelenkovac is a rather amazing place to have found on couchsurfing. It's an ecological zone, and a site that hosts a jazz festival and similar things in the summer, and they rent out the bungalows that are already finished. There's a plan to finish more of then by next summer. It's good to be in the mountains and out of the cities, even if it is rather chilly up here. And my bungalow is unheated... The bar/gallery has a nice fire though, and there is a bathroom with hot water. And a little kitchen. It all feels rather like camping, though. And it's definitely a summer sort of place- i'm told it will be closed in a few weeks and not reopened until april when the snow melts. It's almost a pity, because i could imagine it would be cosy and oh so rustic to spend a few nights here in the middle of winter, probably snowed in and very dependent on the fire. And then it would be very annoying that all the different rooms are only accessible from the outside- you have to in outside to get to the shower, the bedrooms, the kitchen...
Today, however, I spent nearly the whole day today outside in whatever sun i could find with the noise of the brook (it was originally a water mill) constantly in my ears. Makes a change from city and highway noises. I sat about, read my book (i'm about halfway through the french Terry Pratchett Sean lent me a few months ago!), played my recorder (added the blackadder theme, early one morning and danny boy to my previous repertoire of mainly mythica songs), went for a walk and found some of the most impressive mushrooms i have ever seen, played with the kitten some more, poked the fire (which was appreciated even in the middle of the day), and walked the kilometre or so into the village for supplies and a coffee in one of the TWO bars there (it's may be a one horse town, but it's got two bars...).
All in all a very peaceful break. And completely internet free (though i did spend an hour getting my computer fix by sorting photos and playing solitaire). But the lack of net means i have no idea if i have a couch in Banja Luka tmrw night, or if i should go straight to Zagreb, where at least i know there is a squat where i can stay.

Thursday, October 2

Pros and cons of staying in Sarajevo

Pros and cons of staying in Sarajevo
It's cheap.
I know a few people there now.
I know a place to stay
The IH school there is looking for teachers and sound pretty flexible about contracts and whatnot
The school provides accommodation to native speaker teachers.
Otherwise i'm told i can rent a house in the centre for 150euro a month, and don't need a whole house and i don't need to live in the centre.
I haven't seen all i want to see there.
It's easy to ride the trams for free...
It's pretty, despite the communist concrete and war damage, which rather add considerably to its charm.
There are dozens of second hand clothing shops in Sarajevo.
I might actually learn some modern history
The people i've met are all interesting and interested.
It would be interesting to live somewhere where people my age remember war so clearly.
Bosnia Hercegovina is a beautiful and very confused and confusing country.
Such a huge percentage of the population left during the war, and a lot have come back, which means a lot of people have travelled or lived in other cultures. Even as refugees, this gives then a different viewpoint to that which i have seen in most of the rest of the Balkans.
I'd have to learn a slavic language...

I'd have to learn a slavic language...
Sarajevo gets pretty damn cold and snowy, i think. And i bet there is less heating around than in canada...
I wouldn't be able to wander about europe as i have been. And there are still festivals i want to go to, although not so many in winter.
They might want me to start soon, which would make my vague plan of going through italy to malta difficult.
They might want me to work full time! Gah! Though i did ask about part time and they said they were very flexible.
There's that whole extremist element who beat up queer festival goers last week. Living in the same city as people like that could be interesting.
More than one local warned of that Sarajevo is not such a safe place, and that i should watch out for pickpockets etc.
Didn't i want to live in Romania? And learn romanian?
Or do some sort of volunteer thing somewhere? Why an i looking at a real job?
I would end up saying 'super' in regular conversation. Probably when speaking any language, too.

Wednesday, October 1

next stop

setting off from mostar right now to a place called Zelenkovac. Google it. It's pretty. I found it on couchsurfing and thought it would make a great place to stop on the way to Zagreb!
The only problem is finding it. I know the nearest town, but from there i just have to hope people know. I'm thinking they will.
No net there though. Or not much, and it's a long distance call. So i.ll post next from Banja Luka or Zagreb, in a day or two!

Tuesday, September 30

thoughts on mostar

Back at abrasevic, and sitting here surrounded by the very concrete reminders of war, and listening to periodic explosions in the distance. It's only kids setting off fireworks for today's bajram holiday, but it's an eerie feeling nonetheless!
It's nicely counteracted by the hillside behind the ruins though. Like Sarajevo, Mostar is surrounded by hills, but unlike the greenery of Sarajevo, these ones are a rocky, dusty grey-green. They are impressive, though. The climate is also much warmer, with today being t.shirt weather! And the sun was so nice to see. Although it made waking up rather warm, as i was all rugged up for the cold night in my bivvy!

pristina to mostar- catchup post

So i've been busy, and with people, so haven't blogged much. Now i'm more or less on my own again, so i have time to sit in a cafe and write.
Quick summary: the day i left prishtina i went to Prizren by bus with some polish people i met in the professor's guesthouse, and spent the morning wandering around in the rain. In prizren i also bought a recorder, so i finally have a portable instrument, even if it is one people don't want to hear too much of... At least it's a wooden one and isn't too shrill. In the afternoon i said goodbye and went off to find the highway back to Skopje, as i needed to enter serbia through a border point that wasn't in kosova. A million short rides later and i was back in Skopje. After One night at the creatively named hostel-hostel), i went to find the highway to Nis. Half an hour wait at a petrol station and i had a reasonably easy series of rides to nis, with the last one being right to the door of my hostel, which was rather nice! I spent the evening with other couchsurfers and locals, which was fun, but meant i didn't get such an early start the next morning...
Leaving Nis i walked through the fortress and then past the local concentration camp. I got to the highway, and went most of the way to belgrade with Yet Another turkish truck driver. I'm very glad i can communicate in turkish. That and german are the most common languages of the people who pick me up!
Belgrade was interesting, but i didn't do much outside the queer festival, which i will write about separately. I stayed with a wonderful couchsurfer host who lived in a delightful rundown old house, where the window was my most common means of leaving or entering. Even if i had had a key, the door was somewhat temperamental!
In Belgrade heard about the Sarajevo queer festival, and decided to in there next, rather than Zagreb as planned. I also met Solene, who had the same idea, and together we hitched to Sarajevo on Tuesday. After a latish start, we ended up just past the wonderfully mountainous border in the town of Visegrad as night was falling, and were concerned that we would spend the night there, when a lovely guy who lives in Austria but was visiting family picked us up, drove us all the way to Sarajevo, and let us sleep in his house for the night. He and i communicated in german, and with Solene he spoke Bosnian while she spoke czech, turning to me for translation through english and german when necessary. And then together Solene and i would speak english, except if we wanted to be sure our friend didn't understand, when we spoke french. See, this is why i travel. I average 3 or 4 languages a day!
The next morning he drove us into town and, miraculously, we ran into the very people we were looking for a net cafe to contact (friends from the Belgrade fest) in the main square of the old town.
Sarajevo is a lovely place. Despite the festival problems (more later), i really like it, and i met lots of lovely local people who made of feel very welcome- something i didn't really get in Belgrade. So even though the festival ended up cancelled, i stayed nearly a week, mostly staying in the office-apartment of an organisation that helps people get out of military service. Or something. And yesterday, before i left, i contacted an english school that is looking for teachers. I think i could quite happily spend the winter here...
Yesterday, after my first lovely sunny day in weeks, i set off in the late afternoon to come to Mostar. The plan was to meet Anthea, who i last say in Montreal, but it didn't quite work out, so i'm here alone. I had the address of a good place here though- a youth centre sort of community place called Abrasevic. I had no idea what i would find there, or if i would find it at all, as i only had a street name, but i did, and found a bunch of nice people, including, by chance, the one guy from here i had met in Sarajevo, still sporting an impressively bandaged broken nose from the queer festival violence. And it's right on the 1995 front line. I'm told that the building on one side of the courtyard was occupied by Croats, and the other by the muslims. Certainly both are pretty thoroughly destroyed. The building that houses most of the youth centre was also destroyed, but has been partially restored.
In Sarajevo there were signs of the war all over the place, if you opened your eyes and looked. i think more money has been put into restoring the capital. Here, the signs are really impossible to miss, with bombed shells of buildings everywhere, as are the tell-tale skeletal rose indentations in the pavements from shell explosions. Every building, except the few that have been re-plastered or are new, is pocked with bullet wounds.
Last night the abrasevic people let me put my tent on the roof, and i'm told that tonight i can sleep on a sofa or something. The roof was ok, but a sofa will be luxury! In the mean time, i'm out exploring Mostar, and tomorrow i.ll head either to Banja Luka or Zagreb, depending on couchsurfing and hitchhiking luck!

Friday, September 26

Festival Tour

So, i was in Belgrade, at the Q*ueer festival, and I heard about this festival in Sarajevo, so I came here for that. After all, I was thinking of coming anyway. And then I heard about this festival next week in Zagreb, which wasn't in my plan (I was going to head south from here) but whatever. It sounds like fun!
Of course, festivals in this part of the world mean police protection, and living with the possibility of fascist or fundamentalist violence. I am mostly pretty safe, as I am female, and once you're out of the immediate area, and look relatively 'normal' then there isn't much danger. Still, I haven't taken so many taxis in a long time!
There was a minor attack in Belgrade - three people were slightly injured, but the police response was swift (there was a busload of them outside the festival the entire time).
In Sarajevo the attacks from the fundametalists, (who were particularly mad that it was held during Ramadan) were more serious. It is the first queer festival they have had, and they expected trouble, but they weren't prepared for what happened. Here's a BBC article about it. I was mostly safely still inside the Gallery when it was all happening, and then we had a short walk behind the police lines to the place where police were getting taxis for us, and thankfully, unlike others, our taxi wasn't followed or stopped by a guy with a gun...
Anyway, the festival is now more or less cancelled. I will write more when I can. Until then, I will upload my phone photos as I take them (and when i find wifi...).

Sunday, September 21

dark danube

The very dark picture i just uploaded is of the danube. I'm on a boat. A boat that's fixed to the shore, but still a boat. The saturday night party and concert of the queer beograd festival is being held here. After an attack last night, we were escorted here from the daytime venue by the police. It was like a parade, except at night, and with only about 50 people, and on banners or noise... Very odd, really!
But it'r been a good night, nonetheless, although i'm currently by a window seeking refuge from the serious passive smoking habit the balkans have forced me to develop...
The band are now playing Roxanne, so i may have to go dance.

Wednesday, September 17

safety strategies

And back to border crossings that take forever and give of time to write...
I'm on my way from Skopje (again) to Nis, and in a truck which is what is causing the delay. I could get out and try for a car, which would in faster, but might not take me the whole way, and i would lose the time advantage waiting for another ride. This guy seems nice enough, and speaks enough german that we communicate quite well, and is going all the way to Nis and beyond. I just have to wait for this incredibly long line of trucks to move. Which they haven't since we stopped here 10mins ago...
So it turns out there is some post of problem with the serbian computer system, and all the trucks are stopped. Some have been waiting 3 hours already. So i said goodbye to my driver and walked through the border to try my luck on the other side. And find a bathroom. I found both quite easily, and got another ride in another truck that had got through the border, but this time with a young guy i seen to have no languages in common with.
Just about every driver, in any kind of vehicle, in any language, seems to have the same list of questions and conversation topics to cover. First comes the 'where are you from' part, and then the 'where are you going to / coming from' and questions about my whole trip. Then there's the surprise that i'm doing it all by hitchhiking, and alone, what's more. Which almost inevitably leads to the 'are you married / do you have a boyfriend' question, at which point the conversation either moves on to other topics (languages spoken, countries visited, how far away and beautiful australia is, and whether i think they could get a visa...) or becomes more uncomfortable as they suggest i marry a [insert country here] man. And aren't [insert country here] men handsome, and don't i like them? Occasionally this leads on to where i am staying that night, and why don't i stay with them.
I have a few strategies that deflect some of these questions. In turkey when i was travelling with Xav and Marcin, i was doing all the communicating, and the questions took pretty much the same line (but more frequently got more uncomfortable, as turkish men are just generally irritating like that), with, of course, the added question about which of the two guys was 'mine'. After the first couple of drivers, i picked Xav to be my husband. ("xav, i know we only net two days ago, but i just told our driver that we are married...), and when asked where my ring was, said he had on money to buy one.
On my own i have a different strategy. I invent a friend in the town i am going to, and usually let it be assumed that it is a male friend. If i have a couchsurfer to meet, then i use what i know about them, and embellish as i like (or as i can in whatever language we're using), but i've also just invented completely fictitious people. The other day i made up an entire family. Sort of accidentally, as he was asking me (in a combination of albanian and macedonian and german and slightly lewd hand gestures) if it was a man or woman friend i was meeting. I got confused, somehow, and ended up saying both- a couple, in fact. Americans. And then if asked if they had children, and i thought i said no, but then if asked how many children, and i thought 'oh well' and invented a 6 year old daughter.
Whoever i choose to invent, i let the driver know there is someone waiting for me, even sometimes writing or receiving a fictitious sms from them. I figure it'r all just slightly safer that way!

Tuesday, September 16

Another pristina moment: walking along the street with my pack, i realise the kids behind of are listing all the countries of the patches on my bag. I smile at them, and they ask in rather excellent english "have you been to Japan"
"yes, i have" i reply.
"and to all these other countries?"
How old are you?
I'm 28. how old are you?
15, (said the elder. The younger must have been about 12 or 13, but was slightly more comfortable with English, and did most of the talking). What do you do?
I'm an english teacher.
Ah. And do you know what country you will in to next?
Yes, i'm going to Serbia tomorrow morning.
Oh. It's bad in Serbia. Did you visit Kosova before?
No, this was my first time.
And what do you think?
I think that a lot of changes are happening now, and that if i come back later, i lot of things will be different.
Yes. They will. How long did you stay here?
three days.
And what do you think of the people...
The 20 questions continued in this very intelligent manner until we reached the bus stop that i was looking for.


So i'm sitting on a local bus in pristina that will hopefully take me to the right bit of highway to get to Nis. It'r an interesting ride. There are three guys sitting up the front of the bus, one of whom occasionally gives some of his attention to driving the bus, the second occasionally wanders back to sell a ticket or two, and the third just sits in a special seat, pen in hand, writing something every now and then. Mostly, though, they are just chatting. And each bus stop is an excuse to pause for a while. Hopefully the trip across town won't take forever, and i.ll be on the highway before it.s dark!

Monday, September 15


Having driven all the way through Skopje, and out the other side, we finally got out of the truck at an intersection, and the driver pointed up back towards the center. We found a bus, sweet talked the driver into letting up on with only one ticket between us (we hadn't yet managed to change money in Macedonia, so we only had the last of the change from the border insurance) and we managed to get into the center of town. The next challenge was to find some money and then some wifi so i could use skype to phone Erin. Eventually we found both, Erin told up where to meet her, and told up to jump in a taxi. This would have been a find idea, if we hadn't been carrying our backpacks and therefore had 'stupid tourist' written all over us. Not having a clue what sort of price taxis were, we asked first, and were told by several different drivers that it would be 5euro. Prices in euro instead of the local currency always annoy me and make me very suspicious. So we asked a waiter, and discovered it was only a 10minute stroll along the river. Which is what we did. And then, despite mispronouncing the name of the street, we found the place miraculously easily.
That evening was spent going to a jackson Pollock lecture and having dinner at a place called 'Macadonian Kitchen' with erin and a couple of her American friends, which was a great introduction to the city. I spent the next 4 nights at Erin's, even though she had other friends staying as well (Peace Corps volunteers in the capital get a lot of visitors!), and spent most of the time doing not very much, which was lovely, and felt like a bit of a holiday. And while i liked Skopje, it is not the world's prettiest city (most of the older bits were destroyed in an earthquake in the 70s or something - just at the height of the communist concrete era) and i worked out that my path is likely to bring me back through Macedonia, so i can see more later. Really!

Sunday, September 14

Kriva Palanka

We had lined up a couch in Kriva Palanka with Jillian and Dan, two American Peace Corps volunteers who teach English at the two schools there. The instructions we had for finding them at home (it was a public holiday) were "Ask any kid to show you where the Americans live - they all know!". So we did. Except we didn't see any kids, really, so we asked adults, but, once they had ascertained that we were talking about the teachers, one of whom has a beard (not that there are any other Americans in town, but just about everyone remarked on Dan's beard!), we got pointed up a hill. It turned out to be the wrong hill, but it was an adventure anyway. And some kind man in the house we were pointed towards (which seemed to have a goat track for a street) who obviously had children knew exactly where they lived, and pointed us in the right direction, then watched us walk down the hill, obviously still looking a bit lost, and ended up running down the hill to show us more directly. Even so, as their house hides up another dirt track, it took another villager or three to get us there. But we did, and Jillian answered the door and welcomed us into their lovely woodpanelled, many-leveled, 70s-decorated home, inhabited by the two of them and a tiny kitten who seemed to have endless energy. And very sharp little teeth!
We had a lovely night staying with them. In the afternoon we explored the local sight - a monastery up in the hills, which was beautiful, peaceful, and sold t-shirts, one of which I bought from the resident nun (the only resident, apparently), and then came back to a lovely home-cooked meal (my first in a while) and our first taste of Skopsko beer and macedonian wine (both drinkable, neither anything special!).
In the morning we said goodbye, sampled the local version of the turkish Burek for breakfast, and walked to the edge of town to flag down a lift. Except there wasn't any traffic. Well, not much. After an hour, standing in the sun in the 33 degree heat, mike managed to convince a truck driver who stopped at the nearby gas station to take us. He was one of the most silent drivers I have ever had, and dropped us on the wrong side of Skopje (the far side - it would have been great if we were continuing past Skopje), but he got us there, and in air-conditioned comfort. And the ride through the hills of Macedonia was amazing, and a truck provides such a good view, so I enjoyed the ride!
And then we were in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia!

Getting to Macedonia

On monday morning, Stanislave drove Mike (another couchsurfing hitchhiker) and I to the right highway on his way to work (only adding one or two hours to his journey...) and, after a brief stop for coffee and strange local breakfast, we started walking along the road, looking for a decent spot to stand. We paused to write a sign that said MK (for Macedonia) and while we were doing it, some lady started talking to us. At first she seemed kinda annoyed about something or other - maybe she thought we were writing directly on the wall we were leaning on with our piece of paper. When she saw what we were doing, she started telling us about the bus to Macedonia, and we said 'Nie autobus, Autostop!', and thanked her and walked ahead. Except 30 seconds later she called out to us again, and started giving us lots of advice - showing us how to hold our sign, and that sort of thing. We said thank you, and started walking ahead of her. 30 seconds later, she calls out to us again, and we wait for her to catch up, and this time, she opens her handbag and produces a packet of biscuits, which she presses into our hands. Next comes a booklet about some saint and a newsletter about some doctor - all in Cyrillic, and I try to demonstrate that I can't really read Cyrillic, but she just approves of my efforts, and won't take it back. Next comes 20lev (about AU$20) which she also won't accept back, despite about 5 minutes of trying. Next she takes us to the local fountain - Sofia is well supplied with underground natural springs, and the locals take their waterbottles to fill at the fountains. While we filled our bottles, she told and showed us how we should drink some and wash our eyes, because it was good for eyes and stomachs. In the end, we took photos of her, and, although she wanted a copy, as she didn't have an email address, and didn't know the address of her daughter who lives in New York, it seemed a little difficult. In hindsight, I should have remembered the existance of snail mail addresses, and the fact that photos can probably still be printed on actual paper in some places...
Oh, and I should also point out that all the communicating in this adventure was done in Bulgarian. No, I don't speak Bulgarian. Nor does Mike, but with collocations (such as Autobus, and something that sounded a lot like the italian 'ochii' for eyes) and Mike's Polish - and my passive Polish (I hadn't realised how much I had absorbed over the years - thanks to all the polophones I have associated with!) and lots of sign language, we understood each other reasonably well!
We finally left her at the water fountain, and walked another 5 minutes or so to a gas station, and got a ride with an air traffic controler about half an hour later. He drove us to Kjustendil, a small town on the border, and went out of his way to drop us at a good spot on the edge of town, where we waited another half hour, and bought some biscuits that tasted suspiciously of laundry powder, and then got a ride all the way to Kriva Palanka with a lovely guy who spoke very lttle english, but tried really hard!
The only minor delay was at the border, where there was a new system, only a week old. As of the 1st of September, every visitor to Macedonia has to buy travel insurance at the border. It only cost 3.5 euro for 6 days, or 4.3 for 15 days, but every foreigner had to buy it, and there was one guy in an office selling it. Each person would tell them how long they wanted to be there, and what currency they wanted to pay in, he would look up his list, tell them the amount, then take their passport and type (with one finger) all the details into his computer. The forms would print in triplicate, three signatures were required, he would take the money and make change from the random piles of random currencies he had in front of him, and hand you your insurance policy. As we arrived soon after a whole bus load of foreigners, it took nearly an hour (lined up in the sun) to do it. Hopefully they will get more efficient as they get used to the system...

three days in Sofia

And macedonia makes 55 countries... I'm in a truck on my way to Skopje and have time to write!
My three days in Sofia were great, staying with stanislav, who must have been Sofia's busiest couchsurfer this weekend. There was marcin and i (Xav had found another couch) and then 2 french guys arrived the second night, and then another CSer i had been emailing about hitching together showed up and didn't have anywhere else to go, so stayed on the floor, as Stanislav had finally run out of actual couches! I started calling it Hostel Stanislav! And the language tended to be french as everyone but Marcin understood.
The highlights of Sofia were:
*the grand architecture of the centre,
* the roman ruins and ancent churches hidden in subway underpasses and building courtyards
*the bar called 'Boats' (Lodki) in a park that had such a great and varied mix of people- and music- and where i net several lovely people, including Milen, one of the sweetest and most entertaining guys i have net.
*a local dish consisting of feta cheese fried with honey and walnuts, which i'm assured has the very original name of 'cheese with honey and walnuts'
*staying in the delightfully datedly decorated Hostel Chez Stanislav, in a communist concrete suburb, smoking narghile at 4 in the morning, speaking quebecois, and discussing the comparative merits of montreal and Sofia.
Sofia was fun!

the end of the trip to Sofia (from a few posts back)

Eventually, a truck driver agreed to take us as far as the parking place, and we crammed in (we were quite good at cramming by then) and finally left the border. Our troubles quite over, and we had another hour or three at a gas station a little later. None of us were feeling particularly fast that day anyway...
Our next and last ride was a fascinating iranian british man who had spent many years as a fighter pilot before becoming a political prisoner and escaping by walking from iran to greece. He teaches in london now, and as he can't return, he goes to istanbul to meet his friends and family, and was driving a lovely air-conditioned rental car all the way to Sofia for a bit of a holiday. His stories kept us entertained all the way into the very center of Sofia, where the three of up found a garden cafe for a adds and waited for our wonderful couchsurfing host to arrive and drive us to his home. After so many adventures, the last stretch was so easy!

Saturday, September 13

Prishtina, Kosovo

So I made it to Prishtina, but still haven't found much in the way of wifi (by which I mean I haven't found an unsecured network) and the guesthouse I'm staying in doesn't have any... So all the typing I've been doing on my phone, and all the photos I've taken, will have to wait. Hopefully tomorrow I'll find something. And then there will be several updates all at once...
Be prepared.

Wednesday, September 10

6 Years...

So today, I think, it's been 6 years since I left Brisbane for my first teaching job in China. The longest I've lived anywhere since is 7 months (Padova, Italy), and my average is closer to 3 or 4. I've been back to australia for 3 months, 4 months, and two stints of 6 months in that time.
But basically, it's been 6 years travelling.
It's a long time.
But why stop now?

I'm in Skopje, Macedonia, and head for Kosovo and Serbia soon. I have written much on my phone, but haven't had any wifi lately to upload it! I will try to find some in Kosovo...

Sunday, September 7

Still alive

Haven't found wifi lately to upload the blog I've written on my phone, but I'm still alive, in Sofia, and planning to hitch to a small town in macedonia tomorrow with someone I just met half an hour ago.
Life as usual, really.

Saturday, September 6

to sofia by autostop in three people

So on thursday morning i met marcin and xav only an hour after we planned... An hour or two later we were walking from the last metro stop to the place on the highway recommended by hitchwiki. We were attempting to cross a big busy road, standing on the corner, when a lady who happened to have her window open asked us if we needed a ride. And so began our trip!
Hitching with 3 people isn't necessarily the best idea- it means you need cars and trucks with enough space, and people are slightly less willing to pick up that many people. But we managed. It wasn't the fastest trip i've ever had- it took up two days- but it was a lot of fun. We squeezed into tiny cars, trucks of various sizes and one water delivery van. I spoke more turkish in one day than i had in a week in istanbul. We met about 6 other hitchhikers just after the border (which we arrived at around 10pm), and one of them, a nice french guy called emile, joined us for a midnight picnic and bottle of duty-free turkish raki, amongst all the little shops and petrol stations clustered around the 50metres of road just after the border. And then he added his bottle of syrian arak as well (i prefer raki i think) and somehow our night finished at 4 in the morning, sleeping on a patch of grass beside the Shell station!
In the morning it was too hot to sleep by about 9am, but our friend emile, who had attempted an early start, was still standing at the border, waving his sign at the few trucks and cars passing by. Unlike at 4 in the morning, the place was disturbingly quiet. I wonder if this had something to do with Ramadan, or if it's always like that. We figured that as long as he was there, there was no way the 3 of us were going to get a ride. So we sat on the little veranda of a store that sold coffee and a strange assortment of other things, and waited. None of up was feeling like standing in the sun for hours, anyway...
A few hours later we noticed that emile had gone, so we took up his position and started getting a little more proactive. Trucks and cars had to stop at the last part of the border check, which gave us the opportunity to ask them more directly. We were asking even for 5km, as we had been told there was a truck parking place 5 or 20km away (opinions varied) and most of the drivers who passed us were going there to sleep. (to be continued...)

Friday, September 5

the phrase of the day

Impressive pilot, bulgarian bribes and a sweet landing in Sofia (we arrived in one piece)

Thursday, September 4

princes islands

Yesterday, with Marcin and Xavier, two of the hitchhikers i had met at the CS picnic, i set off to see Büyükada, the imaginatively named big island of the princes islands, in the sea of Marmara. The ferry was 2 hours long, but a bargain at under 3lira, and stopped at three other islands on the way.
The ferry ride was lovely, and a good way to see the city, as always, and then getting off was like stepping into another world. There are no cars on the island- except police and other official-type vehicles, so all the transport is electric or animal. And one of the first things you notice is the smell of horses. And then you learn to watch out so as not to get run over by the horse-drawn carriages, of which there are many.
It was a very relaxing day, overall. We walked all over the island, from the house where Trotsky lived in exile to the monastery to europe's largest wooden structure to the various different beaches, all of which appeared to be paying ones, unfortunately. We also say some of the out of the way and less-touristy places, like the stables, and the cemetery. And we tried to hire donkeys. There was a guy hiring them out, and we thought it would be a good way to get around the rest of the island, but it turned out they were only really for rides across the square and back. It was fun attempting to negotiate in my minimal turkish, with Xav telling of what to attempt to say in french, and translating into english for Marcin!
There are a few photos from my phone on flickr, (see the ones dated sept 2) and the ones from my camera will follow one day!

Wednesday, September 3

back to Istanbul

The bus to istanbul was uneventful, apart from the pleasant surprise of little cakes, water and tea or nescafe being handed out just after 'take off', which made the fact that we had completely failed to find a supermarket for supplies before boarding. The overnight trip was nicely broken up by our 1am border crossing that took nearly two hours. Still, standing in the relatively turkish office waiting in line i was reassured that it was definitely turkey i was entering by no less than 11 different pictures of the great ataturk on the walls.
The last two days before sean's return to paris we spent seeing the last few must-see things in istanbul, like the grand bazar and the ancient cistern. Sean also went to aya Sofia, but as it now costs 20 lira- double what i remember 3 years ago- i decided i could skip it this time!
Once sean left, i continued to impose on the uncomplaining Roger, an old colleague, and proceeded to do little but sleep and watch tv for a couple of days. I think i was in serious need of a rest. I planned to continue this sleeping thing for a few more days, but in the interests of getting out of the house, i went to a couchsurfing picnic on Monday evening. It was, strangely enough, the first CS meeting i had ever been to, and it was a great reminder of just how useful the cs site is. I met bunches of interesting people, and was invited to a number of things in the following days. I also met a couple of other hitchhikers, and started making more travel plans!


Varna was another lovely black sea beach town, with roman ruins for a bit of more serious culture. I indulged in by newfound passion for sea bathing no less than three times in the 24 hours we were there, not to mention soak in the thermal spring that trickles across the beach. The springs are the reason the town exists, i imagine, and one of the star attractions is the ruins of the old roman baths- one of the the largest bath complexes in Europe. It's a great old ruin, tufted with weeds, overrun with cats and with a few rusty old signs telling you the purpose of some of the rooms. I liked it. We picked blackberries and little sour peaches.
We also managed to go to the same cafeteria style restaurant twice in the same time, but as they served local food that we could order by pointing, and our whole bill, including dessert and beers was only about AU$12 the first night, we figured it was worth it. Food was wonderfully cheap, actually- our bakery lunches cost under $2 for both of us, and breakfast was free at the hostel, so we did quite well! And the only inedible thing we had was something that resembled meatballs in a somewhat tasteless lumpy white sauce...

Tuesday, September 2

on to Varna

There is one bus a day from constanta to varna, and it leaves in the late afternoon, gets in late at night, and costs a fortune. So we followed some instructions we found online for getting there by local buses. A minibus to Mangalia and another from there to Vama Veche on the border. A short walk across the border, and a longish wait for a ride to the nearest Bulgarian town. We were offered taxis in a variety of languages, but thought we'd try hitching instead. We walked a kilometre or three to the nearest spot in the shade, and were there an hour or so before a minibus stopped on apparently its regular route. Miraculously, one of the three people on it spoke rather good english (being back in slavic land was a shock, even if it is 'slavic light' grammatically speaking. I still don't do slavic. AND it's written in cyrillic, which doesn't help) and helped up work out that the bus was going exactly where we wanted for a very reasonable price and if was willing to accept romanian money, as we had yet to find a change booth or bank in bulgaria. From Kavarna, at the end of the bus run, we managed to find money, some amazing bakery products and learn the word for thankyou in bulgarian- blagodarya- and got on another bus all the way to Varna.
The whole adventure took slightly longer than the expensive bus, but for half the price, and twice the adventure. And i got to spend an hour on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, which always makes of happy!

Sunday, August 31


Ok, so i'm a bit behind. So you're getting the short version.
Constanta was a lovely little beach town that i recommend to anyone passing through the area. There's a great old disused art-deco casino on the point there that was built in constanta's heyday, early last century, and a mosaic and archeology museum that we probably should have visited, but somehow Cafe Mosaic next door, with its big sofas, excellent wifi and lovely cheap iced coffees was somehow more appealing. Swimming in the Black sea was a pleasant surprise- i discovered that it's not as salty as many seas, so you come out feeling relatively clean. It was lovely, really. I hadn't swum in the sea since the lost coast in california. The only negatives were the slight crowding and inferior sand (we're so spoilt in australia) and a guy in red speedos who seemed determined that one of up notice them. We studiously ignored him...
Another fantastic thing about Constanta was staying with Luana, a couchsurfing contact who offered, not just a couch, but a bed, which was so nice we stayed two nights. Thanks Luana!

Thursday, August 28

Leaving Chisinau

Another blogging... Er... i mean border post. And this one, between bulgaria and turkey, is notorious for taking a while. I didn't get to blog at the romania/bulgaria border- as they are both EU, and so are we, the formalities consisted of glancing at our passports. But now, i've plenty of time to recount the adventures of the last few days.
Leaving chisinau was fun. Both times. As there is only one bus per day, and it leaves in the evening, i thought we could make better time leaving in the morning and hitching to Varna. I should probably thought harder about imy hard it was to hitch in Romania a few years ago, and realised that moldova would be worse. But i was itching to hitch, so we set off. Following the directions on hitchwiki got us our first ride reasonably quickly. A trolleybus to the bus station on the edge of town, then join the army of hitchers standing at the trolleybus stop. It was all a bit confusing when you're used to having the road to yourself. But a nice guy who spoke excellent english picked us up, apparently stopping just for us, and drove us to Hincesti, a small town in the middle of nowhere, Moldova. Knowing we wanted to in to romania, he dropped us at the bus stop / hitching place, where we again joined the crowd. It wasn't so easy this time though. More local traffic, a smaller road and the disadvantages of being a foreigner with luggage made things hard. The system seemed to be that people would wave their hand at every passing vehicle, some of which would stop. Everyone would crowd around, and either people would get in, or someone would shout the destination given by the driver, or both. The system for the minibuses was more or less identical, except sometimes the destination was written on the front of the bus.
We had some problems with this system. For a start, the language and geographical knowledge barriers. It was hard for us to recognise the town name, and then work out if it was somewhere that would help us. By that time it was usually too late. And it reduced hitching, one of my favourite means of transport, to the same experience as waiting for a bus, except without knowing when or if it would come or where it would be going if it did ever come. Not so much fun, really.
We decided to wall up the road a bit, to get away from the local's hitching place, but it didn't help, really, and the 40 degree heat was getting to us, so, eventually, for the first time in my hitching career, we gave up. We walked the kilometre or so back into town, got out more moldovan lei from a bancomat and started asking about other options. I'm so glad romanian is occasionally comprehensible. The first lady told us the bus station was a long way away and we should take a taxi. Next was a nice conversation with a taxi driver, half in Italian (it took me a moment to work out why i was understanding so much of his romanian!) who sang his son who works at the train station in chisinau to tell up that the only way to get to romania was a bus that would stop in Hincesti, but only if you had already bought your ticket at the bus station in Chisinau. At that second, a bus to chisinau went past, so several of the locals who had got involved in our plight threw themselves in front of it for us, and we took it right back to the very bus stop we had started from 4 hours earlier.
We paid our ridiculously expensive bus fare (226 Moldtan Lei! Each! Our hotel was not much more than that for both of us! But, to keep it in perspective, the MOL is about 10 to one to the Aussie dollar... ) to Constanta and settled down to wait the hour and a half until the bus. At some point we thought to ask what time we would arrive in Constanta, thinking it could be fun to find accomodation late at night on arrival (no, of course we hadn't booked anything in advance!). We were only slightly horrified to discover we were about to spend 11 hours on a moldovan bus, and wouldn't arrive until the next morning. It's only 545km! But then you have to allow time for border crossing, and the bad roads and the bus driver who was either just learning how to drive (he was getting what looked like instruction from the second driver for the first hour or two) or was attempting to give up a very smooth ride by going at a max speed of 20kph forwhat seemed like most of the journey. Still, at least an overnight bus solved the need for accomodation. And it started to rain just as we were getting on, which turned into the most impressive storm i'd seen in a while, so i'm glad we weren't sleeping out that night. It's the only rain we saw on the whole trip.
The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful. Several terrible movies dubbed in the amusing lektor style, frequent alternations between getting rained on or having the hatch (the bus's only ventilation system, it seems) closed and spiflicating, and the border. Thanks to my gps on this phone, we discovered that the bus took neither of the highways i had marked on this map, but rather a smaller road that runs between them. No idea why, but it wasn't the only bus at the border. We had an hour or so at the moldovan exit point, then something similar at the romanian side, although i really have no idea, as i pretty much slept through it. In fact, i slept really solidly the rest of the way- better than i ever have on a bus, i think, and arrived in constanta feeling actually slightly alive and ready to do things like work out where to sleep that night, and what to see in Constanta!