Bulgaria has its own history with emphasis that this town is not named after a woman or a saint but from a church. St Sophia Church. The grand scale buildings and guards at gate are enough to make you feel glad you visited. The metro has areas of Roman reign section off between the turnstiles and ticket machine. Martin is a common Bulgarian name according to 25 year old Martin. He left his town to find work. He runs the desk at the hotel and I assumed he’s the massage therapist too at said hotel. The younger bartender upstairs move to Sofia to find a girlfriend he “come from a small town of 10,000” and we could tell he was on Tinder. Our hostel was shitty no sink in kitchen so dishes had to cleaned at bathroom sink so I ended up going to hotel for a few more bucks. Travel buddy stayed at hostel so we’d both get a good nights sleep. Next morning she’s pissed, the groceries we purchased went bad because the refrigerator wasn’t working? No money back but a poor review and never again notion. The woman below weighs 8 tons she holds three coins in her left hand (Christianity) and her name is NOT Sofia.
Serbia with little Siberia
An Overnight train from Sarajevo to Belgrade. Taxi guys looming at train station to take advantage of your tired and weary ass “ how much? . “ Twenty Euro” then in a quick gesture he tacks on another 5 for each suitcase. No thank you we walk. Yes a Starbucks not yet open but outdoor seating empty after humping luggage uphill and over stairs. We are told once it opened 0700 am by the sullen mean spirited barista “Next time you can not sit there” I immediately say “okay” but my travel buddy is justifiably pissed off. He takes our order and serves burritos cold and since one was touched “ I cannot heat it you touched it “ He was a bona fide asshole. So this is Belgrade. Cold reception leads me to guess what else is next? . My bad impression ended once we trudged to Hostel Che and were greeted by Dutch gal Melissa with her first words “yes” and “sure”. Hot water in kitchen and tea was available and all was good again.
“I feel like we are leaving on high note” I said to my travel colleague. The day before we got on the accordion bus and it was packed! A bunch of youngsters rushed the doors and the driver pissed off for obvious reasons. Moments later the bus slams on the brakes and several people fall. After the commotion everyone got up except one gal who obviously had an ankle dislocated. “Everyone off” and in the distance, wailing siren getting louder. The transport was for her, and later a guy said “oh ya I saw it on the news” huh?. The adrenaline pump we received from the ordeal was used up in the long walk. Today we went to a mall got nails, eyelashes, and a blow out. Taxi to dentist who came highly recommended. Once teeth cleaned (legit) it came to about 100 bucks for everything. The high note was meeting Adis,Haris, Dr Tarik and others who made us feel safe and comfortable. Tonight overnight train to Belgrade. Until the next time adios and goodbye.
Train from Mostar in 2.5 hours. All I knew about here was the Winter Olympics in 1984. There was plenty of snow as we got off train and I felt bad giving a guy stink eye when he said “ 10 euros” via Uber taxi, reading ahead of time can be detrimental as well as necessary because it can portray a place as dangerous. Sarajevo is Not! Hillside homes and narrow streets made more narrow by the storm a day before. Cats and cars have the right away and you better get out of the way quickly! Not a history buff like my travel buddy, I did receive an interpretation of what started World War I. The catalyst necessary for independence, the assassination of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand. Maritza whom I met in Split said “ you will love Sarajevo, the people there are Muslim, Orthodox and Christians, they are all nice” what is especially nice is walking in the city among churches, synagogues and mosques and hearing a call to prayer and church bells at the same time. You are right Maritza! Ciao
Bok Bok Croatia
The Balkans.the Dalmatians the Croatians. I don’t know how they identify themselves but as get ready to board a bus I say Hvala. Onward to Bosnia with an opportunity to see what has been going on since 1995. The Adriatic Sea holds its secrets and Croatian history is steep in comparison. Simply it’s a beautiful country and with the implications I felt safe.
Approaching eagerly I look out the bus window to see a town I only read about. Taxi drivers and locals ask “ where do you stay?” Old town or the city. I look directly to travel partner and she says “old….” Limestone steps often steep and not uniform. Honeymoons are celebrated and Special gifts like a diamond placed in the middle of a credit card as a souvenir. The Romans,the Ottomans and Venetians created fortresses and walls to withstand pounding waves. Bells are heard throughout day and evening. I stop and listen and it feels very special to me. Exploring The Old Town is best served by a walking tour. Anything you want to know can be answered during those 3 hours. Futbol can be heard playing in most bars on the Telly. Construction guys have a soft spot for cats and the cats here are phat. Antiquity at its finest is one of the best parts of being here. Next stop the Golden Bruce Lee. Bok Bok
2nd Largest population, 200,000 out of 4 million live here Per walking tour Ivan points out the imperial palace along with military escort structures. The nuances of a developing language and discussion of who did what first. But it was Maritza who at 23 years old, told me her interpretation of both old and new. “ I was born after the War” . Free medicine for all but waiting for vision and dental you might choose private. The Kuna is now obsolete, so recent that stores still list both prices. “ I miss the kuna” the wallet was thicker and she saved some for sentimental value. “ You must have Burek in Bosnia it is not our dish” . “ you will like Bosnia there are Muslims, orthodox, different people living together….they are nice not like here” I disagree. She asked about Biden and smiled when she asked about Trump. A sheepish grin as though she knew what was happening in the states. “ It’s a big deal to go to Las Vegas and get married,maybe I’ll do that”. My teachers keep getting younger and Maritza you are Dobra!
Can’t recall last time I was on an isthmus. The Adriatic Sea and me have a connection, While in parochial school a kid used to call me “Adriatic”. And now we finally meet. Its low season here and historically the Romans, the Ottomans the Venetians all came and ruins remain. Walking tours provide a past present and future insightful interpretation of all that is Zadar. Predominately a Catholic country (Croatia) “92%” as stated by our host. Nikola Bašić designed the Sea Organ which makes the heart swoon. The Adriatic how I Zadore you!
Zsa Zsa Zagreb
Arrived day and half later than anticipated. Delays are part of the experience. Shuttle to downtown then a tram to hotel. Forget it I just wanna get to hotel. 57 euros didn’t sting but I knew taxi driver Alen was taking me literally and figuratively for a ride . Crisp cold bite of air 25 degrees greets your face. The city appears drab and austere. Then you discover 1 million people of Croatia 4 million population live here. I’ve changed my mind no facade I just needs to get out and walk around. Little fur babies with matching ensemble seem to outnumber larger dogs. Salty is the underlying base of most dishes and Croatia off season makes dining and getting around a cinch. First few days I enjoy the touristy stuff and miss knowing I’ve got six weeks of hikes ahead, instead of sleeping in and lounging.
57 anything is a lot. I hit these birthdays with a soft punch reluctantly accepting that I am running out of time. But I am fortunate to have a lifelong friend who loves to seek plan and execute escapes I could not imagine for myself. This time it’ll be the The Hike. The Soumela Monastery in Northeast Turkey. 3900 ascent and I think I’m ready. It’s during these hikes I think about what I’ve become and where am I going. I’m wrestling with the fact that the earthquake in southern Turkey will continue to need help and maybe I can talk my friend into getting there. As I sit in hotel cafe and people watch I am amazed how kind we treat each other in the simplest manner. Next stop Zagreb Croatia. Hope you join me if in spirit and I will do my best not to cry.