Wednesday, July 13, 2011


We're currently in Belgrade, Serbia after spending 2 days in Sofia, Bulgaria. We hadn't planned to come to this region, but we're meeting our friend Kelly in Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 18th, which left us just over a week to get from Istanbul to Dubrovnik. Throughout this whole trip we'd often talked about how we'd like to just go somewhere random without really planning it or reading much about it, so this week seemed like the perfect opportunity to do that. So we tossed our guidebooks, hopped on a bus and said, "FUCK IT! We're going to the Balkans and I DON'T CARE WHO KNOWS IT." And here we are.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but then everything started to go a bit wonky.

When we first got to Sofia, we found it a bit of an eerie city which brought to mind such adjectives as "post-apocalyptic" and "ghost town." The downtown core was so deserted that we wondered if maybe a zombie virus had wiped out the whole population. We went into a mall right in the center of the city and were literally the only ones there. Until that day, I never realized how creepy malls are when they're completely empty.

Not a soul in sight except the man in the hat crossing the street:

We were just about ready to freak out and flee, but then we decided to go on a free walking tour of the city, and this turned out to be really cool. All of a sudden we were walking through a beautiful sector of Sofia, with pretty European style buildings, fascinating statues, and Roman ruins. We also learned a lot of Bulgarian history, which helped to put the state of the city into perspective. For example, much of the center of the city is mired in construction. The reason for this is they've been trying to build a new subway system since the 1960s, but it's still not finished. First the whole anti-communist revolution thing happened. Then they discovered priceless Roman ruins right in the proposed path of the subway. And because of rampant corruption they can barely afford to finance it all. So the subway is still in the middle of being built, 50 years later. Crazy.

Roman ruins in the central courtyard of the presidential building:

Frighteningly accurate statue of a former Bulgarian leader who was so reviled, he was actually axe-murdered:

The walking tour did improve our impression of Sofia, but overall it still seemed so desolate that we decided to leave after only 2 days. It feels wrong to say such negative things about a city where we only barely spent 48 hours, but nevertheless that was our experience. We had some good sausages there, though.

In keeping with our decision to just "wing it," we did no research before busing to Serbia. This, surprisingly, led to a bit of a disaster when we arrived: The bus dropped us off in the middle of some highway in the outskirts of Belgrade; we had no Serbian money, did not even know the name of their currency or the exchange rate, had no idea where we were or where our hostel was, and didn't know any Serbian words. Aha. So this is why we like to read up before going somewhere new. It's so we don't get lost and die in the middle of Serbia. I remember now.

Lesser travelers might have panicked in this situation, but we did the only sensible thing we could think of: we went to a grocery store and looked at the price of apples to figure out the exchange rate. Brilliant? I like to think so. Then we spent god knows how long wandering around with our giant backpacks in search of an ATM. Seriously, it's 2011, why doesn't every corner just have an ATM already?

Then another decade passed before we could actually track down a taxi. When we finally managed to find one, we immediately got into an argument with the driver because he was insisting that the drive would be four thousand dinars, which according to our apple calculations would be roughly 60 dollars. In the end it turned out he was just mixing up the words "hundred" and "thousand," which lead to a second argument when I tried to politely inform him of the correct words. Note to self: learn to just shut up sometimes.

We got to our hostel 3 hours later than planned, tired and incredibly irritated (and making a great first impression on our hosts, I'm sure). So I guess traveling with no preconceived expectations or plans is not quite as fun as I expected. Perhaps I will do a bit of research before we get to Croatia.

As for Belgrade, it seems nice -- there are actually people in the streets! -- but at this point we're starting to realize that we're not quite as gung-ho about sight-seeing as we used to be. It's a shame, because although we like it here, we just don't have the same level of excitement as we did even a month ago. We're pooped. We're ready to meet up with friends and family and spend time just hanging out, which is good because that is exactly what we have planned for the next month: First Croatia with Kelly, then Ross's family in England, then Germany and Amsterdam with Steve, then my family in California.

I think it sounds like the perfect way to ease back into real life, and I'm looking forward to that. :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011


We're back in Istanbul! We've spent the last 2 weeks doing a big loop around Turkey -- Ephesus, Izmir, Pamukkale, Antalya, and Cappadocia -- and tomorrow is our last day here before we bus to Bulgaria. There isn't much to say about all these places that isn't better said through our pictures, so I'll let them do the talking for me, except to add that we finally have very slight tans! And it only took 10 months of sunlight to accomplish. Yeah, baby. That's how it's done.

We have exactly 5 weeks until we are back in Vancouver. I don't know how this year managed to slip by so quickly, but now that it's nearly over I'm freaking out a bit. It's funny, in the beginning I was pretty nervous about going on this trip, but now I'm even more nervous to come back to real life. We have a ridiculous number of things we need to get done when we get back: find a new place, buy furniture, move into new place, change addresses and phone numbers, go through a year's worth of mail, do taxes, fix insurance and credit card issues, go to the dentist...

But aside from all that, what I'm even more nervous about is the "reverse culture shock" that I think will inevitably occur when we get back. Besides the occasional conversations on facebook, or with other travelers in our hostels, the only person I've talked to in any length in the last year is Ross. I'm slightly worried that I've lost the ability to converse with anyone else. I keep imagining that when we get back, I'm going to become that annoying person whom everyone detests because they keep associating everything to their travels.


Kathy: Man, it's so hot. I hate summer.
Me: This isn't hot! When we were in Cambodia it was so hot that...
Kathy: *Slaps Marina with a fish*

Random person on the bus: Waaaah, I forgot my iPhone at home.
Me: Shut up, motherfucker, and be grateful that you can brush your teeth in the morning with water that won't kill you.
Random person: *Slaps Marina with a fish*

April: Mmmm, I love chicken.
Me: Chicken is good. But did you know they eat guinea pigs in Peru?
April: *Slaps Marina with a fish*

I'm not sure why all these people have fish readily available in these scenarios, but that's pretty much how I think it will go down.

These thoughts have been on my mind a lot because we've had a couple of encounters with North Americans lately where I wasn't sure if they were whiny douchebags, or if my perspective has changed so much that I'M the annoying one.

We had just gotten off of a 9 hour over-night bus ride, and we were all piling onto a free shuttle bus that would take us from the bus station to the center of town 15 minutes away. Suddenly...

Angry North American tourist: THERE AREN'T ANY SEATS LEFT!
Turkish bus attendant: *mumbles something in Turkish*
Angry North American tourist: There are 5 of us! There aren't any seats! HOW IS THIS SUPPOSED TO WORK?!

This goes on for another few minutes. Meanwhile, everyone else is getting more and more irritated because we all just want to GO already.

Me, finally getting fed up enough to speak up: It's called 'standing.' It's a 15 minute bus ride, it's really not a big deal. You want my seat?
Angry North American tourist: No. I mean, I expect this shit in Indonesia, but when you pay 30 dollars for a bus ride, I expect better than this.

The bus attendant then speaks to one of the Turkish women on the bus and somehow convinces her to GET OFF THE BUS so that there would be a seat available for the gringo. Somehow this placates the North Americans enough that the 5 of them are able to shut up and get on the bus. (I still haven't figured out how ONE person getting off the bus solved the issue of seating 5 people, but there you go.)

Holy crap. There are so many things wrong with this picture I don't even know where to begin. How can someone be happy that they forced someone else to get off the bus (who, by the way, also paid $30 for her seat) just so they could sit down for their 15 minute bus ride? And what is all this "I expect this shit in Indonesia" bullshit? In Indonesia they would've pointed to the floor and said, THERE'S YOUR SEAT, buddy. In Indonesia this wouldn't have even been a discussion because there wouldn't have been a free shuttle in the first place. In Indonesia you may not have even gotten a seat on the 9 hour overnight ride, so be grateful you didn't have to stand up for that, you asshole. (There I go being "that person" already.)

Or am I looking at it all wrong? Were they right to get upset at this situation? I honestly don't remember if this is how most people think in North America, or if he was just an outstandingly arrogant person with an over-inflated sense of entitlement. I suspect that it's the latter. I really hope so, or I may not last long in Vancouver before going on a homicidal spree of unprecedented proportions.

Traveling is weird, man.