Monday, 20 September 2010

Hrvatska and Crna Gora Part 6

Saturday 18 September. Ulcinj-Beograd. 14 hours. 4 cars. 2 buses.

But of course I still had to make my way back to Beograd. So, I got up early, started hitching. Got a ride with two security guards who were totally cool and dropped me off in Bar. Car number two brings me a few kms further. 3rd car brings me some kms further from that point. And 4th car brings me to Podgorica. From where I catch the bus back to Beograd . I thought I’d give myself a break after all the hitching I did. And get a comfortable and relaxed ride home. Boy was I wrong. It was the most stupid decision I could have ever made. I mean, if I had taken the train, it would have left later. Given me some extra hours to roam around the capital. AND still got me home earlier. But no, I chose the longest and most uncomfortable ride home. Going through all kinds of villages and towns I didn’t need to see. And talk about winding roads. But then again, they call it Crna Gora for a reason.

Hrvatska and Crna Gora Part 5

Thursday 16 September. Herceg Novi-Ulcinj. 3,5 hours. 5 cars. 1 ferry. 1 bus.

I survive the night. Though slept with one eye open. Get up early and start hitching. First car is a fireman. He drops me off at the ferry. I ask how much the ticket is. The lady behind the counter says it’s free if I’m in a car/bus. I’m like, I’m hitching. She’s like, just jump on then. I’m like, cool! I walk up the ferry and this man asks if I’m going to Budva (he obviously saw my sign). I’m like, yeah. He’s like, well we’re headed that way. If you want you can jump on our bus. I’m like, I have no money. He’s like, oh no worries, there’s plenty of space. Turns out to be a tour bus from Poland carrying a bunch of teens for a ten day beach holiday. In the bus I speak with some teens. The first thing they do is offer me beer. I’m like, it’s 10.30! They’re like, do you want vodka then? I’m like, ?! Maybe this green stuff then, it only has 12% alcohol. I decide to give it a try. Not bad. We have some chit chat. They teach me some Polish. I won’t repeat what they taught me, except for this: kocham cie. I get off in Budva. Check out the beach. Too crowded for my liking. Can’t wait to get the hell outta here. Walk to the end of town. Catch a ride with a dude from Beograd, who owns a shop in Budva. Totally nice. Asks for my number. "To show me around Beograd some time.” He drops me off in the middle of the highway. But before he leaves, he arranges my next ride. I get in to this minivan. Dude in his twenties. No English. But asks for my number as well. To get a drink later in Ulcinj. He speaks not a word of English. And my Serbian doesn’t make for much of an exciting conversation. I wonder what he thinks we’re going to talk about. He drops me off in Bar. Next car I stop brings me all the way to Ulcinj. There, I meet my host, totally adorable dude who drives me around his scooter, feeds me some of the best pljeskavica I’ve had, introduces me to his friends, family and shows me around Old Town, beaches and let’s just say Ulcinj was wonderful. What a nice way to end my trip. After all it was my final destination…

PS. The minivan dude calls me.
PPS. I answer.
PPPS. He says something in Serbian.
PPPPS. I say something back in English.
PPPPPS. Awkward silence.
PPPPPPS. I hang up.
PPPPPPPS. Come on, this was never going to work.

Hrvatska and Crna Gora Part 4

Wednesday 15 September. Split-Herceg Novi. 9 hours. 8 cars.

Said goodbye to lovely host Igor, who hosted me two nights in Split. Get a bus to my hh spot. First car stops. Young dude.Waiter. Late twenties. Drops me off in Omis. Cute little town. He says it’s the best town along the coast. It has a river, beach, sea, mountains. And him. He really wants me to stay and says he has room for me in his place. Even though tempted, cause Omis really is gorgeous. I thank him for the offer. I stop car number two. Old man. We don’t speak much. Fine with me. Gives me more time to appreciate the beautiful scenery outside my window. He drops me of in Makarska. 3rd car (actually mini van) stops. Hippie dude. He says he will drop me off at a better hh spot. He does. There are more people hitching at this spot. I decide to hh with this polish couple. We stop car number 4. Old dude. Creepy type, my instincts tell me. As soon as the polish couple gets off (they were only going 10 kms), my instincts prove me right. But before he gets a chance to get touchy feely, I grab my phone and pretend to talk. For the next half hour. He manages to keep his hands to himself. I get off. Still 80 kms to Dubrovnik. Car 5 stops. He brings me some 20 kms further. Decent dude who spoke excellent English. Drops me off and I stop car 6. British dude. From Bournemouth. Thirties. On a cross country trip. Promoting his scuba diving social network. On a quest to personally visit all diving centers in South East Europe to get his site in the spotlights. Also does some charity work. Going to Africa to raise money for his charities back in Britain. Totally intriguing dude. Too bad he can only take me 20 kms further. He drops me off at a gas station. And at this point it’s pretty late in the afternoon. And not a lot of cars going down this road... I'm starting to get a little bit worried. I'm gonna need some luck to make it to Crna Gora. I stick my thumb out and first car stops. With a license plate from France. Old man. Says he doesn’t know where he is going. Hmm…doesn’t sound like someone I want to be traveling with at this point. But then he says he’s going to Podgorika or something. I’m like, Podgorica?! Really?! I’m headed for Crna Gora! And he says jump in, which I do of course. He is from Nice. A writer. And biology and geography teacher. Taking a 6 month sabbatical to travel through South East Europe and Afrika. And writing a book in the process. Very interesting man. He drops me off in Herceg Novi. But actually I need to be in Ulcinj that evening to meet my next host. It’s 19.30. And starting to get dark. I don’t want to hitch when it’s night. I hitch a short ride to the bus station. Turns out the last bus to Ulcinj had already left and the next one is the next day. I ask for a bus to Beograd. There’s one in half an hour. I’m like, what do I do now? Pay for a room and go to Ulcinj the next day or go home tonight? Then all these old ladies approach me, asking me if I need a room. I’m like, I don’t know if I can trust these people. I say I don’t have more than 5 Euros on me. At first they say no, but then one says yes. Is she for real? For all I know, she might lure me in some trap or something. But I do want to see Ulcinj and I decide to check one of the rooms out. Not very luxurious, but what do you expect for 5 Euros/night. I take the room. It has two doors. But no locks. Just to be sure, I block the doors and windows with the extra furniture standing around the room. I go to bed with my phone in one hand and pepper spray in the other.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Hrvatska and Crna Gora Part 3

Friday 10 September. Zadar-Split. 1,5 hour. 1 car. 1 boat. 1 Yugo.

I wake up early this morning and hike the 8kms from Puntamika to the hh spot. The long walk along the marina was totally worth it. It was just gorgeous. Got to the bus stop. And put my sign out. 40 minutes goes by and no car stops. This is unusual. This never happened to me before. I never had to wait more than 15 minutes for a ride. At this bus stop there’s a bunch of kids sitting and laughing. Probably thinking I’ll never get a ride. I want to prove them wrong. But then their bus comes. 5 minutes later a car stops. A guy. Engineer. Works in Zadar. Lives in Split. Speaks English. Totally nice dude. Even gives me his number, in case I need some help. Drops me off at the bus station. Spent that first day in Split walking around the ‘maze’ that’s Old Town.

Then next day I had just moved to my next CS host, when I get this message from another CSer that his friend, who is a skipper, has to transfer this boat from Dubrovnik to Primosten (a town 80km north of Split). He asks if I want to join. Hell yeah, do I want to join! I mean, how often do I get an offer to sail along the beautiful coast of Croatia? So, next day I meet these 3 guys and we take the ferry to Korcula. That night we party, drink and sleep on the boat. I felt just slightly claustrophobic. Next day we wake up late. And then we finally hit the road. I mean water. It was my first time sailing. And I totally loved it. Didn’t feel seasick at all. Sunny day. Beautiful clear waters. Swam a bit. And I even steered the wheel for about 1 hour. Totally loved it. And then we got to Hvar. Gorgeous island. But one night was really all I could afford. Next day we leave for the Blue Cave. Magical. After that the rough part starts. Wild seas, winds and a lot of rocking of the boat was going on. And definitely my stomach was turning and rocking. Couldn’t wait to get to land. And when we did, their buddy from Split drove up to drive us back. So there we were. 6 people. 1 car. A Yugo. Need I say more? Just getting out of the marina was challenging. You see there was this tiny hill. But we just couldn’t seem to get pass it. Two times we tried. And failed. So we drove back 50 meters and then hit the gas pedal. Hallelujah. This time we made it. That 1,5 hour ride felt more claustrophobic than two nights sleeping in a bunk. I was a sardine. In a Yugo.

Hrvatska and Crna Gora Part 2

Thursday 9 September. Zagreb-Zadar. 4 hours. 2 cars. 0 pervs.

Well, that thought didn’t last long. After a few wonderful days in grey and rainy Zagreb, where I stayed with 3 totally different, but all very interesting and special in their own way Couchsurfers, exploring their city, hanging out, talking, drinking and eating, I felt much better about that first hh day. So, I thought I’d give hh another go. Took the bus out of town and walked to the toll station. Made myself a sign and stood there for like 10 minutes, when someone tapped me on my shoulders. A lady asking me if I was going to Zadar. I’m like, yeah, that’s what is says on my sign. OK, I didn’t say it in that way. Anyways, she’s like you can come with us, we’re going pass Zadar. I’m like, hell yeah, that’s a first, someone offering me a ride! So I get in this minivan with this couple. They seem decent. And even spoke some English. They tell me about their daughter who is roughly my age. Time flies by. We make a stop near Plitvice National Park, have a drink and continue. We go through a 5km long tunnel. I am tired. I want to sleep. But I can’t. I need to stay awake. Even though this couple is totally decent up until this point, I’m still a bit paranoid after that first hh experience. I want to stay awake and be aware. I hear some strange noises beside me, but I don’t dare to look. I don’t want to know what they are doing there. I just pretend I’m sleeping. I will never know whether it was my mind playing tricks on me or if something indecent was going on next to me. They drop me off just outside the city of Zadar. And I get a ride from a nice man who drops me off in Zadar center.

In Zadar I couldn’t find a couch. So, I walk into Old Town hostel and ask for availability. They say they’re fully booked. But that I should try this other hostel on the other side of town. I’m like, I will see, I’m not quite sure if I want to pay 15-20 Euros for a dorm room. So I go around and explore Zadar. Go to the ‘white steps that sing’. But it’s super crowded. So I sit somewhere else for a while. Watch people. Look at the ‘greeting to the sun’ and then when most people have left the place. I finally take my turn and make my way to the white steps. I take my shoes off, walk down the steps and as I place my foot on the last step that’s covered in water, I slip. And fall hard. On my ass. Completely drenched I stand up. Look back. People staring and laughing. I’m like, argh what the hell, I might as well go all in, which I did. Then I walk through Old Town and I find 30 Kunas lying on the ground, just waiting for me to pick it up. Which of course I did. I’m like, maybe something ‘bad’ had to happen to me first (unintentionally entertaining tourists with my not so gracious fall) and now I’m getting something good back :)

Around 22.30 I’m thinking, hmm…maybe I should think about a place to sleep. So I go to the bus stop, but decide to hitch a ride to Puntamika where this other hostel is. I haven’t even stuck my thumb out or a car stops immediately. I’m like, hey I’m getting good at this. I walk over. Turns out he was waiting for his daughter. Oh. I walk away to the next bus stop to try and hitch from there. But then the same car pulls over and says: just jump in. Which I did. Drops me off at the hostel, but on the way there I saw many houses offering rooms, so I decide to give it a try there first, hoping that I could get it cheaper there. The first two houses I go to ask 25 Euros. I’m like, maybe the hostel aint that bad after all. But I want to try another house. This one is completely dark. Either they’re sleeping or not at home. I’m not sure if I should ring the bell. But I do. An old lady in her PJs steps out. I ask if she has any room available. She says yes. 25 Euros a night. I’m like, I don’t have 25 Euros. I only have 50 Kunas (7 Euros). She starts laughing. She’s like, that’s nothing. And at this point I remember that instance with the couple that said they didn’t have space in their car for me. So I put my best puppy face on. I start begging and…it works! She lets me in. I sleep very comfortably that night :)

Hrvatska and Crna Gora Part 1

Monday 6 September. Beograd-Zagreb. 4 hours. 6 cars. 3 pervs.

Yesterday I was talking to my guy housemate who is a hitchhiker himself. I told him about my plans to hitchhike to Zagreb. He was like, yeah cool, go for it, it’s easy to hitch in the Balkans. Then I speak to my girl housemate who was like, NO DON’T DO IT, it’s dangerous, there are so many creeps out there. Hmm…who do I listen to? I am torn, but go to bed thinking I will know what to do in the morning. This morning I wake up. Late. I remember my guy housemate telling me that you should start early when hitching. So, I was like, well, I guess the train it is then. I get ready and go to the station and ask for a one way ticket to Zagreb. With student discount. 33 freaking Euros! I’m like, no way I’m paying that! It was 10.30. So, at this point I was like, should I go for it or not? Will I dare to go out there. Alone. A girl. Hitching for the first time? I was like, f* it, I’m gonna try. It takes me another two buses and 1,5 hour later I arrive at my hh point. Well, actually I got off one stop too late. In stead of getting off at the highway, I end up in the middle of the next village. To get back to the highway, I stick my thumb out for the first time that day (for the first time in my life for that matter). A car stops almost immediately. An old man. I get in. Of course he spoke no English. And I still don’t speak much Serbian. But with the little I know, we have some small talk, before I know it we’re back at the highway (it was only a 1 minute ride). Wow, that wasn’t too bad. That went quite well actually. So, I’m pumped up for the next ride. I stick my thumb out and first car stops. A red car. Another old man. And again no English. He says he can take me to the toll station. I get in. we have some chit chat. Then he starts to look and get real excited telling me how he’s never met an Asian in his life. Let alone sit so close to one. In fact, the dude is so excited, he starts making me some ludicrous offers. Asking me for my hourly rate and shit. I’m like, WTF? I pretend I don’t understand him and try to direct his hands back on the wheel and eyes back on the road. But this creep doesn’t give up. No he pulls the car over to SHOW me what he means. I’m like f* it, I’m getting outta here. So there I was in the middle of the highway, toll station still a few kilometers away. Do I go back to Beograd? Or do I continue? I mean I’m pretty shaken up by all this. But I’m like I’m not letting this weirdo ruin this for me. So I stick my thumb out again. Car number 3 stops almost instantly, but about 100 meters away. I walk towards it. An old man gets out, leans against the car. He asks: so, do you want to work for me? I’m like, no not again. Why am I getting all these sickos? I don’t even stop and walk on. Thumb out. Car 4 stops. It has a Ljubljana license plate. Yeah, I think, this dude will go far, passing Zagreb probably. And yes. He says he will go to Zagreb. I get in. Again old man. No English. But he seems decent enough. We talk some. We stop at a gas station to get some gas and he buys me a juice. We continue. We talk some more. But then I’m pretty much talked out. I mean with my limited Serbian, I can only talk that much. So an awkward silence follows. And then Mr. Decent turns into my 3rd freak for the day. Getting all touchy feely and wanting more than just my sweet smile. No, this dude wants company. I’m like NE DIRAJ ME. NE JE NE. But this a*hole apparantly forgot all his Serbian. He is quite persistent. Then I get my phone out. Pretending to dial the cops and talk on the phone (you have to know that I don’t even know the number for the cops. Let alone where I was at that point. So it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if I knew either of the above). Anyways, this pretending to be on the phone keeps him quiet. And his hands to himself. For the next half an hour or so I keep ‘talking’ on the phone. Then he slows down. He goes to the exit, I’m like, now he’s either gonna take me into the bushes and kill me there and then, or he’s gonna kick me out. Clearly it was the latter, else I wouldn’t be sitting here telling you this story. He’s like, I’m not longer going to Zagreb, since you don’t want ‘to put out’. I’m like f* you, I can’t wait to get out of this car. So there I was halfway to Zagreb in the most abandoned of gas stations. But I didn’t care at that point if and how I was going to make it to Zagreb. I was too shocked. Come on’ 3 out of 4 cars were total pervs. The kind of people my lovely girl housemate warned me about. So, I take a few minutes to myself and freshen up. I get out of the toilet and I see there’s a car parked in front. An older couple. I ask where they’re headed. They say they will pass Zagreb. I’m like, can I please get a ride. They’re like, no, we have no space. I look at the backseat and there’s indeed a huge suitcase there. But I also see some space beside it. I’m like, I don’t care, I can squeeze my bit larger than average size ass in there. They’re still like, no, no space. Then I start to look desperate with puppy eyes and all (and I was really quite desperate at this point, knowing that not many cars stopped there) and start to beg to the lady. She starts to feel sorry for me. She looks at her husband with questioning eyes. Then they say yes, jump in! Yeah! This puppy eyes thing works! The next two hours were totally awesome and comfortable. We talked some. And before I knew it, we were at the exit for Zagreb. I get off. And thumb out. 6th car stops immediately. 2 guys. Thirties. Bold. Wearing sunglasses (and it wasn’t sunny in Zagreb ). Black leather jackets and pants. They ask if I’m alone. I’m like, do you see anyone standing beside me/hiding in the bushes? They’re like, if you’re alone, then get in. I’m like, should I..? I was like, f* it, I mean after those 3 creeps this morning, these guys can’t be all that bad. A few minutes into the ride, I’m starting to think I might be wrong, as they take a sharp left turn. “I just need to drop my friend here off at this warehouse, cause his car is parked here”, says the driver. I’m like, OK… Then we return to the main road. A few minutes later he takes another sharp turn to the right. He’s like, “actually I have to drop this car we’re driving in off, cause it’s a company car. But no worries, we’ll go to my car and I’ll drop you off in the center.” I’m like, OK…So we walk to his car and I’m like, I have a choice now. I can thank him for the ride and just leave. Or I can walk with him to his car and get in. As we approach his car, I look at his backseat. There’s a baby seat. I’m like, this dude has a kid. He can’t be all that bad. And he wasn’t. He was totally cool. Spoke English and delivered me in one piece at Zagreb’s main square. There, I sit down. And for the next half an hour or so all I do is just sit. Breathe. Look at the sky. The people. And basically just appreciating being here. Being alive. Having made it to Zagreb. Despite the many rides and a perv or two/three, I managed to get here quite quickly. It only took me a bit over 4 hours. Not bad at all for a first timer. But I say to myself: I’ll never hh again ;)

Saturday, 4 September 2010

What are the odds?

So, I was on my way back from Peja, Kosovo and I get stopped at the border. Turned out I was reaching my max of 90 day stay in Serbia. Next day, out of all the places I could go to (Timisoara and Osijek were some of the options) I get sent to Vukovar, Croatia because, well, why not?

In the bus to Osijek, I am starting to get nervous once we approach the border... Just give me a stamp already! But Serbia doesn't stamp me... Luckily Croatia does. But the stamp is so vague - nobody else could read it except for the guard who stamped it ("You see, you just have to flip your pasoŇ° upside down and there you go"). I asked some fellow passenger if he could read the date and he looked puzzled. That's not a good sign. But the guard assures me that on the way back, his colleague will stamp it again, so I shouldn't have any problems... I get back on the bus, not feeling too sure, but well, the guard didn't want to stamp it a second time, even though I practically begged him, so what else could I do?

Back in the bus I start a conversation with this fellow passenger who helped me translate (because yeah, my Serbian still sucks). Conversation was good. So good so, that when we reach Vukovar I had to literally jump out of the bus, because we were so into it. As the bus drives away and I look up, I see it's gonna start to rain any second. I reach for my umbrella. Too bad I left it on the bus.

I check the return times of the bus and there's one at 14.00 and another one at 18.00. I decide to take the latter one, since well, I'm already here, why not explore this exciting town. I walk along the river and I hike up the hill to the church. Then I get a text message from this couchsurfer I contacted the night before. I didn't expect to hear back from this person, since well, my request was very last minute, but I gave it a try anyways and I only had enough time to contact this one couchsurfer.

So, the couchsurfer meets me at this church and the moment he walks up I'm thinking, this dude looks familiar... But I figured it was just because I recognize his face from the profile picture. We start walking and talking... And then we realize we were in the same city, in the same hotel, attending a similar training the week before! He remembered seeing me and I get an "Aha!" moment - this is why he looked so familiar. But we didn't talk then, no, first I had to get stopped at the Kosovo-Serbia border, then I had to travel to this random place on a whim, contact the first couchsurfer that showed up on the search - then we talked. And it turns out to be somebody I should have met a week ago! If that wasn't enough, we run into some of his friends on the streets (because well, Vukovar ain't that big, in case you didn't know) and turns out his friend and I have some common friends in Croatia, Serbia and Belgium! Don't tell me that this ain't a small world after all! I don't normally believe in coincidences, but this was one hell of a coincidence.

So, just before six this couchsurfer walks me back to the bus and we have some small talk in front of the bus, I look back at the bus and recognize the driver - same dude from this morning and he obviously remembers me as well as he makes this frantic 'stamping' hand movements. Yeah, I am that silly girl who begged for the guard to stamp me again.

I say my goodbyes to the couchsurfer and get back on the bus thinking, hmm...the driver is the same, so maybe the bus is the same. I look for my umbrella, but didn't find it. Then the driver walks up to me... with my umbrella :)

As soon as I sit down two dudes start talking to me, turns out they just came back from Osijek from some tennis tournament. One is a tennis player (he says he is the next Djokovic) and the other one is his personal trainer... We have some chit chat - they try to convince me they are twin brothers (one is tall, blond and blue eyes, and the other, well, let's just say the exact opposite ;)) and insist on taking me out for a drink. I guess you can say these are players alright ;)

Back in Belgrade, I sneek out of the bus before the players wake up from their beauty sleep and I think to myself: what a random day this turned out to be.

PS. Oh on the way back at the Croatian border - same guard from the morning.
PPS. And yeah, the stamp was really vague again.
PPPS. But this time he stamped me twice.
PPPPS. And I didn't even have to beg for it ;)

Californian Menu

Not so long ago MEC participated in the workshop "Animate It!" in Peja, Kosovo. It was part of the Anibar 2010 festival. The city was lovely - the mountain views were to die for. I could wake up admiring that view every single day. But there was something else that was to die for: the menu at restaurant California.

You see, you never got what you ordered, so you never knew what you would get. After a little while though, Vid, Maciek, Elena and I figured out the 'code':

Parmesan cheese = red chili sauce
Grilled salmon = poached white fish
Spaghetti Bolona = spaghetti Carbonara
Eurokrem = strawberry marmelade
Ice tea = hot tea

Unfortunately we never figured out what to order to get the things we wanted... And that was only the food we ordered. Imagine what other surprises the menu has in store :)
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