Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wegoslavia

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. :)

4 comments:

  1. i like your exit strategy :)

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  2. and then....vancouver with me!!

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  3. You guys are wrapping this amazing trip up the smart way :)
    PS Thank you for posting the last year. I adored reading it all!! Ethan every once in a while will hear me laughing hysterically and say: "God damn it Kristina, stop reading Marina's posts and do your homework!!" ;)

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  4. Jenny: :D Yes. I'm really looking forward to that too. If only there weren't so much to do when we get back to Vancouver. That part freaks me out. Haha.

    Kristina: Thanks for reading! :D Your comments made me happy. And do your homework, goddamnit!

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