The midnight train going anywhere…

Monday 18 May

Well, back to the city of Sofia to be exact…

After my third (and final) love/hate relationship with Belgrade which has subjected me to visits to health care professionals, garnered a wealth of new friends, a bruised heart and a partridge in a pear tree, I find myself on an emotional stumble to the train station, bags in tow, six beers in, turning to take in a hostel dear to my heart for the last time.  By my side is a particularly special someone that I have to leave.  Time called on another temporary hostel love affair.  Turning to see her disappear from view, I reluctantly bundle myself into a dark cabin filled with large, snoring Serbians, and whisper a distant tune into the air:

What’s the fascination, with lovers at the station, you have to tear yourself away…

I sing a few more bars as the train jerks into life, creaking over tracks and shaking through the gears.  Smoke from a cigarette wafts from the adjacent compartment.  I catch the aggrandised glow of the burning cherry, and I rise to light my own, leaning tentatively out a gangway window.  Each grind of metal takes me further away.  “I can still get a taxi back from here…and here…and here…” I ponder, exhaling fumes slowly into the cooling air, contemplating the romance of jumping off at the next platform.  But she wouldn’t like that.  Nobody would.  Except for maybe me.

The harsh truths of the constant globetrotter once again sink in, around about the same time as I sink into my uncomfortable compartment seat for the next ten hours.  “I’d rather know you for three days than never have met you at all.”  It does little to lift my spirits.  Darkness takes over as city lights recede, and I make out my companions in the gloom for the first time.  A large, excessively hairy man and champion wheezer has beached himself over three seats on both sides, his exposed belly like a basted, shaggy chicken. An elderly, giant gentleman with legs like sequoias infringes on my comfort from distance.  His long fingers interlock in a pose of unconscious contemplation.  Death and his brother sleep.  I sit with my back to the direction of travel, rest my head on shuddering glass, and with glassy eyes, close hooded lids and attempt an uneasy sleep.

It’s been a long time since I was on a train, and the transport has always held a mythical air regardless of current mood.  Ahhh the romance of the rail.  The irony isn’t lost on me as Mr Hairy breaks wind in his shuddering comatose.  Chattering Serbian lingers from passengers down the aisle.  A TV talent show is spotted buzzing in a distant signal box, the solitary viewer lit from the glow of the tube.  The callous locomotive drives on into the night.

Lifesavers

Lifesavers

Traveling and relationships.  That’s an interesting juxtaposition isn’t it?  Never the twain shall meet.  Certainly in my case.  But after blinking blindly in early Bulgarian sun, roughly woken several times in a chilly night by officials demanding papers, I arrive back to a comfortable place.  Within moments, I meet a lovely couple gracefully growing into the twilight of their lives.  They’d each been traveling for over 20 years, having met on a boat in India 16 years ago, and inseparable ever since.  With the added comfort care package of Yorkshire Tea, Marmite and Scottish oatcakes from my sister, they were the angels I needed.  Someone, somewhere had been listening, and there was hope for me yet.  India they say?  Maybe it’s about time I get there.

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The Black Hole of Belgrade Booze Boat Blowout

Tuesday 05 May

Alright, this is getting ridiculous.  A few weeks ago I had arrived back in Belgrade to spend a weekend seeing friends and getting up to mischief with (a) hot Serbian woma(e)n.  I’ll only stay a couple of days thought I, adamant that a return to Sofia would be imminent and I would be into Turkey before you could say doner kebab.  Alas dear readers, I once again never factored in the black hole of Belgrade.  You would have thought I would have learned by now.

It is my third time in this den of lascivious iniquity, and on each and every occasion it has this annoying habit of keeping you lashed to the wall of dissipation.  And try as you might, you will not break free until you’re dragged kicking and screaming to some kind of clinic.  Take that how you will.

I have destroyed my immune system with such wanton abandon that Bacchus himself would have been impressed.  This is a direct result of the peer pressure I’ve endured from new hostel buddies; including – but not limited to – French deviants, super cute American cheerleaders, Serbian sexual predators, fellow crack addicts, and locals who drink paint-stripping Rakija as if there’s a decorating job in their stomach.  Friends have hit on the idea to create a (classy) sunset booze cruise on the swirling waters of the Danube and Sava, and so far be it from us to turn down the chance to be the guinea pigs.  A selection of pre-rapture photographs can be viewed below.

A small selection of the motley crew

A small selection of the motley crew

And so I find myself flat on my back following 72 hours or carnage, sunburn and…other stuff.  I’m subjecting myself to the apple only diet/detox, I’m on day two, and apples can go fuck themselves.  How can anyone actually do this?  I long for a steak.  Or an egg.  For the love of god just an egg!  I’ve introduced low-fat yogurt, lemon water and raw garlic for some variety.  I smell divine.  Seriously someone should fry me in butter.

Unfortunately all of this necessity has been due to my regular change-of-season fever blister arriving with four of his big, well ‘ard mates.  I’m hiding away until I’m back on my feet, which shouldn’t be too long, and then the games begin again.  In the interim, I reminisce on those recent heady days which have brought me to my knees.  That Belgrade baseness that few cities in the Balkans can rival, and indeed you have to return to Budapest to even come close to the Serbian capitals’ penchant for party.   They know how to throw down here.

But feareth not my dearest readers, for soon I must away, and steal through the night to seek out new worlds.  Or just back to Sofia.  I must leave the curse of the Green Studio Hostel (and all who sail in her) behind once and for all.  Ahhh but would we want to have it any other way?  Who could forgo such friendship and merriment?  Such drunken debauchery?  Such weeping lip sores?  Not I said the fly, as once again he passed precariously parlous to the spider’s web.

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Hitchhike to India leg 16: Belgrade to Novi Sad and military wankers

Saturday 18 January

I’m sitting nervously on a bone shaking tram for ten stops before I realise I’m going in the wrong direction and I’ve forgotten my kilt knife.  Serbians glower strange looks as they see a bag laden angry dude curse his way back into town.  I hate losing time on hitch days, and especially missing the morning commute traffic.  Unperturbed and with some good fortune I find myself – belongings intact – standing in a bus stop lay-by some 15K out-of-town on a road I’m convinced goes to Novi Sad.  Because a bus which said “Novi Sad” has just passed.

It’s a glorious day.  The sun is shining, if there were birds they would be singing, and I’m in really high spirits.  I spot a nice photo-op with my gear at the side of the road – a picture I occasionally take to document the hitching.  It’s not long before some asshole decides to piss all over my fire.

I’m squatting down lining up a shot when a car swerves from the other side of the road right at me, beeping continuously and narrowly missing my head.  Upon rising, the driver is angrily blaring Serbian at me.  I politely inquire if he speaks English.

“YES I SPEAK INGISH.  VOT ARR YOU DOING HERRE?  DIS IS MILITARY BASE!”

He gestures to an open field and some trees beyond.

“I’m just taking a picture of my stuff on my hitch-hike to India.  I’m trying to get to Novi Sad…”

“DIS IS MILITARY BASE.  YOU CANNOT BE HERE.  GO AVAY!”

He gestures again to the empty field.

“Is it invisible?”  I desperately wanted to say.  Damn those Serbs with their new technology.  Invisible military bases.  Watch out world.

“GET BACK IN CAR AND THEN GO TO POLICE!”

He then speeds away before I had the chance to explain I didn’t have a car, and if I did I wasn’t going to drive to a police station and explain I was taking a picture of a field and told to turn myself in.  Public enemy number one.  I imagine to myself he thought me some sort of spy, especially considering I was speaking English.  I should have told him my name was Bond.  I  wanted to ask if the base was behind that thick line of trees nobody could see through.  I should have requested if he’d take a picture of me.  I thought of so many things I could have done to totally rip the piss out of his tiny paranoid mind for half an hour after he’d gone.  Don’t you just hate that?  Comedy gold ten useless minutes after the moment has past.   I took a picture of his “base” anyway just to spite him, which you can see below.  Eventually a ride interrupted the monthly talk-to-myself.

It’s a woman!  Only my third one!  She speaks broken English, but can take me all the way to Novi Sad.  It’s a very pleasant journey with her as we try to break the language barrier, and she tells me the name of all the towns we pass through.  Every time she mentions Novi Sad she sings it.  “Nooovi Saaad!”  With a happy trill.  The douchey military jobsworth is soon forgotten as I suck on a bon-bon.

I’m dropped yards from the old town just before midday.  After finding a hostel, in 17 degree sun I wander the quaint town, then head for a beer in the mid January summer.  I experience a power blackout around 9pm, sleep through my alarm and wake up at 3 in the morning.  So dreaming about a great night on the town is just as good as having a great night on the town right?  Except you don’t spend any money.  Right?!  Am I right?!  ‘Sake.  The streets look something like the aftermath of a festival.  All I’ve got to look forward to is two slices of pizza and a wank in the shower.  Said without a hint of sarcasm; it’s been a great day.

 

 

 

 

 

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Beaten in Belgrade

Friday 17 January

Belgrade is ruining me.  I’ve forgotten what sunlight looks like, my bed sheets need industrial fumigation and I’m a beer pong champion.  I’m on first name terms with a load of night-club bouncers, and my daily food intake consists of four boiled eggs  and/or a hamburger.  My head, heart and emotional well-being are all crying out for some relief.  It is time therefore, dear readers, to move on.

My procrastination has sunk to new depths.  In between painting the town red (with my own blood), I’ve been idly wasting time scouring the bottom of the internet barrel.  This hasn’t always been a bad thing.  I’ve recently read a very interesting e-book regarding empowering yourselves with women.  It has, to some degree, been something of an eye-opener.  Consequently I’ve been removing some dead wood in my life, and I’m starting to re-gain a little self-worth.  I don’t think I’ll ever truly shed the debauchery, but I feel I’m moving in a better and more fulfilling direction, one in which I hope I won’t be flogging as many dead horses.  I am a man!  Hear me roar!

 

Meow.

 

I wonder if this has coincided with meeting a pretty Australian?  Yes I know…I know what you’re thinking!  An Australian right?!  Who would have thought?!  Especially after I told her I hate Australians!  (Obviously said with tongue firmly in cheek Aussie friends).  But who knows?  Maybe we’ll be romantically hunting Drop Bears together in sweltering heat when I finally reach down-under?

But fear not adventure lovers, for I see no signs of slowing yet.  I’ve finally persuaded my twin to take the plunge and come and meet me in Bucharest!  Being staunch fans of vampire folklore and all things Dracula, I dangled the Bram-Stoker carrot and she took a bite.  Henceforth we will rendezvous in the Romanian capital toward the end of the month for some Nosferatu hunting.  Expect endless, biting puns that will totally suck!

On the morn I return to the road with a hitch North to Novi Sad.  Cheerio Belgrade, and thank you.  I think the people I’ve met and the lessons I’ve learned here have the potential to change my life.  Heeding them is another matter entirely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Years Eve with crime lords

Tuesday 31 December

I can’t honestly remember the last time I had a decent New Years Eve.  The onus and pressure we put on ourselves to find the best situation possible for ten seconds is astounding.  I think it’s getting worse as we get older, and much like Christmas, it’s really one for the kids.  It was more exciting being allowed to stay awake and have a thimble-full of Babycham.  Every year I try to play it down, yet every year I’m breaking out in a feverish sweat at the prospect of a nightmarish scenario where I’m not hooking up with Jennifer Lawrence on the top deck of a yacht at the stroke of twelve to the visual delight of billions of Euros of fireworks, while Elvis sings us a private rendition of Auld Lang Syne.  I remember one year I was alone in a cellar changing a barrel of beer.  One year I made out with a dude.  One year I walked a girl home and she locked me out and waved at me.   And one year I cried the whole night and smashed my apartment up.  I was on drugs.  For medicinal purposes I assure you.  This year I’m in Belgrade watching Serbia’s most famous pop star and Mafia king-pin play to thousands of crazed fans.  What could possibly go wrong?

Svetlana Ražnatović is something of a household name in these parts.  Going by her stage name Ceca (pronounced Set-Sa, and not the Civil Engineering Contractors Association), in 1993 she traveled to the front to entertain the troops, where she met her career criminal husband and leader of notorious paramilitary forces.  Following his shooting in 2000, she’s had her finger in many pies, including guns, drugs, embezzlement of funds, shady football dealings, and violent criminal behaviour.  She’s managed to buy her way out of lengthy prison sentences with millions of Euros.  Oh and she’s number one ear bleeder…I mean turbo folk singer… in all of Serbia.  Hiding in plain sight, crime clearly pays, and it pays well.

So here we are listening to her screech her way through her back catalogue, with a few minutes until the bells.  The square is rammed to the brim with wild Serbs, singing every word.  We can’t get near the stage to see her and her horrible fake boobs, so we grab some beers and await the countdown.  Which just like last year doesn’t come, and all of a sudden it’s 2014.  We don’t hang around long and dash through the streets wishing as many people Happy New Year as we can in ten seconds.  Nobody wants to give me a hug, people are freaking out, and a finger wagging Serbian man tells me off that this isn’t their custom.  Thank goodness the night picks up at the warehouse club we find ourselves in.

After several beers I’m somehow swinging a cute Slovenian girl around and the room is spinning.  I’ve got another girl following me about trying to lift my kilt with her boyfriend in tow, and I don’t even know my own name.  By the time I make it home, I’ve had one of the best New Years Eves in living memory.  Except for that time I did heroin with those hookers in Dubai.

Happy New Year to you and yours, dearest readers.  I hope this one is filled with peace, love and…scratch that…sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.  You deserve it you cheeky things you.  Here’s to 2014.  Let’s make it a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

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Down in the dumps AKA: miserable bastard

Sunday 29 December

I’m lying in a bed that hasn’t been made.  Literally there isn’t a sheet on it.  (It’s probably my fault).  Someone has just dropped a foul stench from the tiny bathroom which is opposite my head.  Extremely loud Balkan-folk/rock music is blaring in the bar below, so much so if you want a conversation in the room you need to shout.  Some rowdy Slovenes are in and it’s all kicking off.  I’m bed ridden.  I’ve just watched my team lose back-to-back defeats by dodgy ref decisions, and reflecting this, I’m on a mammoth run of  failure at online chess.  I’ve developed a large cold sore on my bottom lip, a couple of mouth ulcers, I’m coughing up a lung and sneezing so violently my eyeballs are coming out the back of my head.  Several people recently have been ignoring me, or letting me down, to the point of where I think it’s one big damn conspiracy.  My netbook charger broke and it’s a small fortune for a new one.  My winter bout of Rosacea is in full swing and I look like a pizza.  To cap all this there is a hostel worker called Tarzan who is like an unstoppable sexual predator.  Do not leave a girl in a room alone with him.  I learnt the hard way.  In short I’m feeling sorry for myself.  When sorrows come, they come not as spies, but in battalions.

It had to happen really.  I was riding the crest of a wave.  Now two days before the end of the year my system decides to shut down and crap things happen.  You can’t win ‘em all.  Oh sure I’m whining about first world problems of course, I know that all too well.  But we all have those days when even the littlest thing can be the straw that broke the Camels back.  As much fun as its been in Belgrade, I am just about ready to move on.  I await the fallout from yet another inevitably disappointing New Year.  I’ll see you on the other side, my cheeky chums – bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready for another adventure!

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