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I'm Not Lost, I'm in the Balkans

But could someone please tell me how to get out of here?

When Jenni and I began planning this trip, we had the romantic notion of buying our first plane ticket west, then setting out with no plans but to make it around the world. That idea quickly hit the bricks when we discovered that the first stand alone, one-way ticket to Fiji was nearly the same price as an entire preset itinerary around the world. So we did our best to estimate our costs, calculate our time abroad, and pick our major points. But hey, this still left us weeks in between jet rides to be footloose and fancy free.

Quickly however, every ill-defined interval seemed to become well-defined. In Fiji, we took excursions. In Sydney, we were hosted by friends. In Bali, we stayed put to soak up the Yoga Barn. And in India (*gasp*) we signed up for a tour. There were few spur of the moment decisions; mostly it felt like things were preplanned and then executed.

At last we flew to Europe. After visiting Istanbul, we set our eye on Dubrovnic. We knew we were going to cross the Balkans overland, but could find very little info before we left on how to do it. We decided that if worse came to worse, we could buy a spur-of-the-moment airline ticket and get airlifted out.

In Istanbul, we bought our first bus ticket to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. No one in Istanbul could tell us how to get from Plovdiv to Sofia, but assured us the folks in Plovdiv could get us sorted. And it was true: at each city, we would be set up for the next leg of the journey, and promised that the following step would be competantly dealt with when we got to where we were going. We were finally doing it: no planning except in the very moment, hopping day-by-day, bus ride-by-bus ride across southeastern Europe.

It is very exciting and very romantic. That is, until you arrive at a bus station at 3 am, with no place to stay, no ticket onward, and no one available to help you. After you have been up for 12 hours on a bus. And need to stay awake for 4 more hours, until the bus station opens. Guarding your bags. In the cold. With no food but an overly-salty bag of almonds. And no water, because you finished that 6 hours ago. Which is good, because you already have to pee, the toilets cost money, and you just arrived in a new country and have none of the local currency.

In the end though (once you have slept, peed, and bought a new bus ticket), you find yourself someplace you had not planned to be. In all likelihood it is also someplace you would have never dreamed to say (in Chicago) "let's go there." It is very exciting, but a lot of work. Every few days we experienced a new language, a new alphabet(!), a new currency, and a new city. By the time we had figured things out, it was time to move on. It wasn't exactly what we wanted to do, but discovered the next bus out might only run two or three times per week. And we do have a time table of getting to Sancerre by the beginning of May.

The pay off, however, can be extraordinary. You step out of a hotel you found by chance that has a decent bed and a enthusiatic staff. You walk down to the main square of a city you had never heard of before and still cannot pronounce the name of. You stroll into a place for lunch, and discover a local cuisine and wine from autochthonous grapes. And you discover a culture that, until now, had been an obscure footnote in your history and anthropology classes. It is overwhelming enough to make you smile like an idiot, act as giddy as a virgin, and want to cry in sheer delight.

We did finally make it to Dubrovnic, and settled in for five days of well-deserved shacking up. But in between we discoved the mountainous Balkan landscape, the countries of Bulgaria and Macedonia, and the delightful cities of Plovdiv, Sofia, Skopje, and Ohrid. Writing it all down makes it seem like it was a small achievement, but in the moment it was tiring, confusing, and frustrating. And absolutely worth it.

Posted by Stravaigin 00:31

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