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.