Crossing Borders. A Three Part Series.

Part 3. Sofia & Stefan.

Now I was focused on finding somewhere to camp. Being on the outskirts of the city would prove to be an advantage, even if I still had to be fairly cautious. I started to walk along the road and my bag weighed me down again. ‘Why did I bring so much?’ Very generously a taxi driver stopped and offered me a lift. I told him I was headed to a fairly large district on the very edge of the city, Boyana. It took its name from an old orthodox church dating back to the 1600’s. The day after I managed to get a swatch of said decrepit temple, but thats another story all the gither. Originally I planned to make my way up past the church and to a waterfall some way into the national park. So I would find somewhere for the night before embarking on any sort of waterfall quest and head for the Boyana waterfall the following day. Despite the language barrier the taxi driver seemed a good man. His wife and child were in the back and we shared some laughter about the comical situation now taking place. They weren’t even going this route in the first place but he took me further down the road in my decided direction and let me out where it was easy to navigate and settle for the night.

There and then I found myself in the middle of this great, stretching road which went on and on until the heady beginnings of the city of Sofia could be seen to commence. Behind lay nothing but neglected fields of despondent, moribund grass. I could only gaze forward which in truth to anyone passing through on an ordinary day in Boyana, Sofia this road would have been just like any other road. Not for me. ”Fuck” I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe I was there. And so quickly aswell. How did this happen? Why did I do this? What do I do now?

I skipped along the road (like a mad fanny to be honest) and cried out cheers of an unburdening joy. ”Yasss!!” A possessed loony among streams of cars passing me on each side, drivers bewildered at the exhilirated ginger traveller playing a game of proverbial chicken. I didn’t care. My hopes now are maybe they read the situation exactly how it was and felt a deep sense of gratitude for witnessing my watershed moment. Or maybe my wishful thinking played no part in their experience and they only seen some foreign alien prancing about oddly on the road. But whatever meant nothing to them meant everything to me. The demons within me who had held me back for so long fought hard to derail me and they didn’t go down without a fight. I had learned to resist however and inspire the adrenaline to sail through me only to instill happiness, periods of absurd peace of mind in situations where usually i’d lose the nut. These weren’t the times when such calm feelings were expected yet for many years I had waited, dreamed and worked for times like this. Truly the small moments that make life worth living.

P1000904

”My Watershed Road”

It was too late to enter the city at this point so I searched for a nice spot to pitch my tent. A single person Ferrino Lightent 1.. Snug and secluded. It’s actually class and I seriously regret not using it more. (I only used it twice through my whole trip; this night and then another time outside Bordeaux Airport behind a bush.) Along the road and to the right there was this small lake, kinda like a pond, and a wee dusty beach area on one side. Cars surrounded the pond and the owners sat outside, fishing quietly. The beach area was empty. I kept my distance and went there, far enough to be left alone or to not disturb anyone around. Well I started to set up the Ferrino for the night until a young guy came along and asked me to leave. It was a private fishing lake. I had no idea but I wouldn’t cause a fuss. I started to repack my things into my bag, gutted with my predicament. Then the same guy stumbled around for a bit, spoke on his phone with someone in Bulgarian. He returned to me shortly after.

”Bring your stuff over here man.”

We walked around the lake to the busier side and stood next to this old wooden cabin with some benches outside. I was allowed to set up directly beside it. Phew. After I had my things sorted, Stefan invited me for a drink at the benches outside the cabin. It was his uncle’s place and they made their business by charging folk to fish on the lake and supplying them with food and drink. He spoke better English than me to be honest. We spoke a lot about his life in Sofia and his future, his dreams. It was cool to speak to someone like me apparently and he hoped one day the opportunity for him would also be there to venture out like me. But money was an issue. Bulgaria is officially the poorest country in the European Union and Stefan would only make 12 Euros for a 12 hour shift. 1 Euro per hour. I felt guilty turning up with all the bullshit I had in my bag. I tried to level that with advice of my own and stories from where I’d come from. With each passing topic or story I felt proud and extremely grateful for my start in life. There’s an unsettling discovery to be found in conversations like these. And even if I couldn’t help be born into my opportunities it certainly didn’t lessen the effect of his words.

I didn’t get a great sleep. The cabin was directly beside my ‘watershed’ road and cars drove past frequently as if the traffic never stopped. When I woke up all the fishermen were still by the lake, fairly obvious they had stayed the whole night. Stefan took me to a tram station, much further into the city.

”It’s important to help others out I mean.. isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”

Where would I be if it hadn’t been for people like those I had met in my cross country adventure? Without hesitation these folk saw me as another person in need rather than an unwelcome stranger. Stefan later told me that his uncle was ready to let me stay at the beach the previous night but they were concerned about others mugging me for all my stuff. He said anyone like me was particularly vulnerable. I didn’t resemble anything other than a lost foreigner. He fed me Bulgarian sausages in the morning and helped me find my way to the centre without hesitation. We could all learn a lot from a young guy like him.

Stefan.. When you’re reading this, I want you to know how grateful I am for that time and all the help you gave me. You didn’t need to do any of that but since you did there’s nothing but love on my behalf. I look forward to the mad adventure we take on when I come back to Sofia.

Once again.. Thanks mate.

P1000908

”Boyana, Boyana”

 

Advertisements

Bucharest.

Taken from my journal, 1st June 2018.

Zen Tribe Hostel – Strada Radu de Afumati, Bucharest.

I wouldn’t spend long in the Romanian capital. Last night I stayed at a hotel not far from the Airport. A few locals offered to drop me off in their taxi free of charge. They explained to me that the North of the country was much more beautiful than where I would see and even asked me to join them in another renowned Romanian hotspot, Brasov. However I politely declined as I wanted to focus on my original plan of heading South to Bulgaria.

P1000872

”For a short while I took some time to chill  under a bridge. Trying to figure what the hell I was going to do.”

Yesterday I got up reasonably early and started to hitch-hike into the city centre. A bus driver picked me up fairly swiftly and took me to the outskirts of town. I took a path through a park, next to a river, but the determined heat was arduously difficult. I paused frequently on benches and even lay down on a wall at the edge of the riverbank and used my bag as an effective headrest. The day before had been enduring and left me jaded, somewhat haggard. But the excitement of this whole affair was carrying me and my bags to ceaseless glories and immutable perspicaciousness. A taut adrenaline had gripped me firmly for days leading upto now and I needed the time to gather my thoughts. Questions unravelled one after another and my thought process lost direction so I promised myself to take it one step at a time. It took me two more hours to get to where I was going. Getting lost on the local buses, dozens of eyes staring questionably at the sallow skin and red hair of the foreigner in their midst. We travelled through some local suburbs before taking a turn onto a massive road. I couldn’t believe it. There was a roundabout up ahead as we approached and in the centre an exact replica of the French Arc de Triomphe sat proudly. I didn’t know why this was here but the whole boulevard and its towering centrepiece was identical to the original classic of the city of Paris. Maybe I’m wrong and the French copied the Romanians? It was bizarre nonetheless. Unknown to me of course, it was a local holiday and the buses were crammed with people. Air conditioning was non-existent and some of the passengers were not shy in telling the driver exactly what they thought. I got off the bus while an older gentleman barked complaints with a couple of other disgruntled passengers seeming to agree. I felt sorry for the driver but for the time being I had other things to worry about.

P1000875

”The man on the tram.”

I wandered through some run down streets searching for my hostel and with some luck I found my way without too much difficulty. On the way I walked past a doorway lying wide open to some sort of community hall. A group of men were sat in a circle, listening to very loud traditional music. At the corner of a street a couple of drunks tried to make conversation but I couldn’t understand a word they said. Upon arrival at the hostel I met Alexis, a young Romanian who owned the place with his cousin. He spoke of the city and his experience of previously living in Scotland, in Oban and Glen Affric. He isn’t working today. I plan to head off for Bulgaria and I won’t have a chance to say goodbye. But I have plenty of opportunities to meet other interesting people along the way so I’m not too disheartened.

In the evening I ventured out into the city to get a taste of what Bucharest is like. I planned to get into the Old Town. The public transport was shitty & filled with lonely, abject characters and the buildings accompanying the tracks of the tram where mostly run down and destroyed. It’s a country with issues so I didn’t expect more but its true what they say, you never really know what it’s like ’til you’ve seen it yourself. There was a marked contrast between the affluent areas and the surrounding ghettos, left to rot by a thoughtless society a long time ago in a country aiming to jump up the ladder of desirable destinations. I didn’t see many inhabitants of the buildings themselves to be honest, just some construction workers in amongst the rubble of this abandoned metropolis. Political graffiti condemning anyone who mattered by the forgotten representatives of a forgotten class hoping to make change from the ground. It saddens me to say this but it looks to me that the message will fall on deaf ears.

P1000880

”Exuberant Romanian nightlife. (This picture doesn’t do my point any justice sadly).”

I thought the Old Town might have resembled a bazaar of the East but I was completely wrong. Instead I faced huge buildings of wealth and culture. What once was historically something completely different from the modern day Bucharest, the streets were filled with clubs, pubs, restaurants and eager revellers desperate for good times. Pretty girls stood outside establishments attempting to entice the swathes of young people into their workplace. Outdoor terraces brimmed with drinkers and cigarette smoke. Trashy dance music boomed from soundsystems and bright lights filled the night. At one point I passed a place with an outdoor stage set up and this huge light show spread boldly across a building block. Tourists like me loitered the streets taking in every inch of the Old Town’s liveliness. I had already learned about club culture in Eastern Europe. It exploded suddenly after an amicable peace was resolved in the Balkan region and the disillusioned populations found a new way to escape the horrors of what they had experienced.

P1000881

”The Old Town of Bucharest.”

I’m heading to Bulgaria today. From the hostel it should take around an hour to make it to the edge of the city, to a town called Giurglui, and from there I’ll try to hitchhike across the border into Velika Tarnovo, Plovdiv or Sofia. The hostel has been great and I could’ve probably stayed for longer if I wasn’t ridiculous in my methods of scheduling. I appreciated how much effort the guys were putting in to make it their own and I hope the future brings them the success they are looking for. And as for Romania.. I haven’t afforded myself the time or experience to see much and for that I bow to return again, to see Brasov, the region of Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains of the Northern reaches. Or to Cluj-Napoca, Timișoara and Craiova. At least I know next time I won’t be in a rush to leave.

P1000889

”One Night in Bucharest.”

Here’s to My Treasure Island..

It’s a new day tomorrow. Wednesday, 30th of March to be exact. And it marks the beginning of another new expedition to add to the previous escapades on record. An early morning drive to Milan in Italy followed by a fairly short flight to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia and I will be ready to take on the lower half of the Balkans. I have my tent, my hammock, my Jack Kerouac books and lavender spray for the mosquitoes and I am ready to go. I hope to take six or seven weeks and make my way through some of Europe’s poorest and unknown countries by throwing the thumb out and taking a lift with some happy locals willing to share their hidden piece of this world with an enthusiastic, ginger, 20 something from a country they might never have heard of (before anyone contests this I’ve had several conversations with people who don’t know what Scotland is. Or if they do, they think it’s a part of England..).

The majority of the countries I will be going through are not the typical destinations at the top of a European getaway wish list. But after doing some research and targeting some adventurous places I decided to go with my final findings. I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t nervous. It’s a region of Europe which still has various issues mostly linked to the break up of the Yugoslavian Republic and the brutal wars that preceded. This is not my reason for choosing these places and I wouldn’t like to think of myself as some sort of ‘war tourist’ (I don’t know the phrase word for word but I read about some Danish guy being accused of this after visiting Syria.. And after seeing widespread criticism of folk posing emphatically for photos at several commemoration memorials I intend to pay my utmost respect). Most of these countries are trying to move on from the past and bring the benefits of change to help their poor nations. And with the attempts to step away from the limelight for the wrong reasons I hope to embrace the future with the locals in a shared hope of personal wealth and a long-lasting happiness.

I can’t choose a favoured part of the plan I have drawn up for the coming months; I hope to spend time in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, venture through the wilderness of Montenegro, find out more about the Continent’s newest country Kosovo (or South-Western Serbia for when I arrive at the border) and experience the valiant & enigmatic cultures of Albania and Macedonia. Even as I head North to more common-known places like Croatia, Slovenia & Italy, I can’t begin to dream about what is in store for me.

I look forward to the moments that await me and the joy they will bring. In the previous days the thought running through my head has been one of great excitement. Embarking on a trip like this to me is potentially life-defining. Or as we fondly say back home.. ‘One to tell the grandweans‘. Maybe i’m getting carried away and it won’t be anything extraordinary. Or maybe they’ll talk about me in parts of the region as a ‘much loved Scottish explorer’. I don’t expect my name to be up there with Robinson Crusoe after a summer stint in the Balkans, but these are the scope of thoughts that enter play in the preceding moments before an adventure as such. And is it dangerous to aim high? To dream of great happenings and endearing moments? The romantic in me says no. The realist in me says ‘get a f**kin hawd of yersel!‘.

Perhaps striking the balance might be what shapes this chapter as a decorated highlight in the ongoing novel that is my life..


The last few weeks I’ve been exploring various places in La France with my partner. We’ve mainly divided our time between the wonderful city of Lyon and the South of France. Over the coming weeks while i’m away i’ll be sharing various tales from our shenanigans, so keep updated by following the blog at the links provided. Cheers X