The view from my hotel room is very dark, but the big shiny thing in the middle is the train station – the perfect view! I woke up at 3:15. The disadvantage with going to
The view from my hotel room is very dark, but the big shiny thing in the middle is the train station – the perfect view! I woke up at 3:15. The disadvantage with going to bed when I’m staggered is the way my body doesn’t move at all, which eventually makes my pressured blood wake me up. And with two-three hours of Internet before the epic non-union-member of Serbia, I just had to start writing people and look for buses.
Walking to the train-station was a sport I learned the day before, since I lived in a labyrinth. Once you know the perfect stairs, it was just a few minutes. Here’s the train:
I spent most of the time asleep, varying between different dreams. Shopping in China, the train filling up with people, going with friends etc. The staff were nice enough to let me spread out and test my joints and bones on the various chairs.
20 km/h is the speed we did most of Belgrade with. Quite a difference from the German trains! Why is not Germany building trains here. Or China! Going by trains in China changed so much between 2005 and 2012 so that it’s like 100 years in between. What an amazing evolution. China are big in Serbia btw. I didn’t take pictures of it because of no battery, but the station before Belgrade was packed in Chinese Communist Party propaganda, written both in Chinese and Serbian. Here is a picture I just stole from CNN showing Serbian workers celebrating Chinese investments:
The article is here: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/09/14/europe/serbia-china-investment-intl/index.html
If you’re from the CNN, maybe you could freely use my other pictures?
We arrived in Niš 12 minutes late, but the next train was on the other side of the same track, so no worries! Niš is a beautiful city to visit. I’m sorry to rush through. I’ll be slower the next time.
The train between Niš and Dimitrovgrad went through a beautiful mountain pass. A river in between, train on the south side and a road at the north side. I was staring at these mountains all the time. I have a mixed relation with heights. I’m so scared of heights that I’m fainting if walking over a bridge or standing on a balcony. Even my own balcony, two meters above the ground, gives me the creeps. At the same time, I like climbing. Like once upon a time, in Meteora, An Australian backpacker and I decided to climb one of the monastery mountains and sleep in one of the many caves we saw up there. We also had a dog with us, that the Australian scared away once he had pushed off our vodka bottle so that it crashed down. Poor dog, just looking after us! Anyway, none of the caves we found up there seemed safe enough to sleep in – they were all leaning outwards, with nothing to tie yourself in. And we were too tired to climb down. So we found a tree, and tied my waist to the tree, and then him on top of me. Spooning, with half of Greece below us. When I woke up that morning I was like … “damn”.
Anything like that won’t happen on this trip though, I promise! Here’s what I’m doing when there’s no internet: Civilization I.
Arriving in Dimitrovgrad, we had 50 min until the next train. My stomach started hurting from hunger. I had spent my Serb money in Belgrade, but was thinking that on the border I must be able to use Euros or cards. In this restaurant for example. Ah, I wish I was brave enough to take a photo from the inside. The first thing was a scared lady sitting on the very inside of that door. Then it was packed with empty shelves. There was one (not two or three) sausage that was cut in half and looked like it’d been there since Tito times. And on the shelves you found the most random things such as tea and spices but mostly emptiness. I didn’t know how to get full in there, or how to pay for it. The lady looked like she wanted to disappear. She was having such a nice time in there doing nothing, and now suddenly she has to look at a disappointed tourist. It’s breaking my heart.
So how did I get full? I must introduce two of my travel mates, Celine and Bob Stacy from Seattle. They kept communicating in English, a language I understand, so when Bob got the food, I followed his tracks like a trained coyote. Unfortunately they took only Serbian money and I had 40 left, which is about 40 Euro cents, but that gave me a big white bread. Serbia was Bob’s 100th country ever, and Celine’s 96th, and here at the border they look very happy to enter Bulgaria, their 101th and 97th. Before the end of this trip, Celine will also reach her 100! Now, they aren’t counting countries, of course not, but if someone else should do it, they have strict rules for when a country counts. Like I was in Croatia for example, by walking around, eating breakfast/lunch, taking photos etc. But I was not in Slovenia or Austria because I was just sleeping in my train. But I’ve been in those countries before. In Slovenia I played board games with their largest collector, who also was a strong Hare Krishna fan, teaching me all about that
Anyway, It’s always lovely to find some Americans since Andrew Yang started to inject the American debate with so much common sense that I’m beginning to believe in a just world with people actually taking care of each other. I showed them my Andrew Yang/Sail to the Cop cap and they pretended to be impressed. Although I would also pretend to be impressed if I was on the train between Serbia and Bulgaria with only three other passengers – a drunk Serb, a sober Serb and a manic Swede.
There were tons of street dogs in Bulgaria. The picture above is not the nicest picture, but the funniest. The triple dogs were first hanging out being friends. But when the train started moving, they decided to chase it away. So the dog at the right is attacking the locomotive, while the middle dog goes at the core of the train, both barking like mad. And look how the central, main, dog is just lying there relaxing, letting the smaller friends do the job. The dog on the left took a liking to me and was chasing me for half a minute, barking, barking, barking. It’s OK dog, I’ll never come back to the place you live whatever-it’s-name.
In Sofia, I tried a site called “Couchsurfing” which means that you stay for free at someone else’s place. I remembered when I tried it first time, in Budapest, and got my own private room. Nice bathroom with high ceiling. Everything for free. I wondered: will the host knock on my door and come with dirty suggestions? But nope. I could sleep anywhere, and get friends everywhere. What a fantastic site! For Sofia, I found this guy that seemed just a little bit weird. Super-intelligent, knowing tons of languages, education etc, but in his text it seemed like he didn’t know how other people works. Which is OK for me. A few negative references, but mostly positive. The reason I took him is that he had a small list of countries that he had had no one from, “zeroes that really wants to be ones” so I wrote him that “Hi, I’m Harald, your Swedish one”. That made him so eager to have me, that I felt more welcome than Xi Jinping in Belgrade.
I did the Sofia bus station using his awesome instructions, got a bus ticket and a bus and then found myself in a Bulgarian version of a Stockholm suburb: huge houses not next to each other, but with lots of parking and trees in between, which I’m sure is all luxury and nice on a hot summer day, but a tiny bit dark and shady on an October night. He suggested that we go to the supermarket and buy Swedish food. “Of course” I said, since I had written that I’m “super flexible”. It’s important to be honest in Couchsurfing, for everyone to get what they need. So if I am visiting someone, sleeping early, I’ll let them know beforehand. If I am going to a party, I’ll let them know (and invite them!) and so on. That makes it slightly harder to get couches, but they get better. It’s not about saving money, it’s about meeting people to have a great time with. And if I don’t mind if sleeping early or going out, I write that I’m “super flexible”. Meaning that they choose what we are doing. So he chose Swedish food. With meat, for his muscles. Of course!
I’m not much of a chef to be honest, and if I cook something, it’s just coconut milk, beans, veggies and spices. But the supermarket had it all: potatoes, spinach, mayonnaise and I asked him to choose between fish fingers or meatballs and he said “both!” so we got some food back. I know fish fingers aren’t Swedish per se, but that’s what I ate in my childhood and could find in that shop. I woke up 3 in the morning so now I was only trying to survive and be nice. It worked OK. Until we came home.
There was only one hotplate on the stove, working just a little bit. So we started with the potatoes. Who never boiled. So there we sat in his kitchen, two warriors of life, listening to his and my stories. He asked if Swedish women were beautiful since the Vikings mostly took beautiful women as slaves. I said our slaves were mostly English (fyouseewhatamean) and that Swedish girls are nothing compared to the Bulgarian. He asked why Icelanders can read Viking language but Swedes can’t, and I said that we’re mostly German. He said he applied for lots of summer courses in Sweden, but all they accepted were Ukrainian women. I had no idea. He was very proud of running, and showed me all his medals. He was very proud of his couchsurfing and talked about all his surfers. The potato took hours and I would have gone to bed twelve times already if we didn’t also buy a bit of beer to keep me awake with. Being half an alcoholic could be great for your social skills.
At midnight, we ate the food above, while I showed him YouTube videos about people eating Surströmming. He loved those videos. As for the food, he secretly tried to spice it with Macedonian tomato sauce. Suddenly he started talking about Greta Thunberg, who was all over Bulgarian media. That suddenly made me into the climate activist that I’m trying not to be in order to have friends and be treated as a human by most people. But now I suddenly started talking about how humans are currently killing themselves by flying, eating meat and driving cars. How the last hurricane destroyed complete cities in Bahamas, how Bangladeshi people are fleeing floods right now, how the ice is melting faster than anyone predicted it would, how fires rage everywhere and how most people just go on and live their lives as normal, as if nothing is happening. He listened carefully. I actually think that he and Greta has very similar minds. Very intelligent, and not entirely functioning with “humans”.
After downing the above plate in 10 minutes, I apologized, left the frying meatballs and went to bed. He got stressed and ended up giving me tons of souvenirs from Bulgaria, from his feeding-surfers stack. Thanks a lot for a very special night!