I'm a father, manager, programmer, scrum master, geek, & movie lover.

Back From Europe!

EuroTrip Days 1-4: This Never Happens to Indiana Jones

My train ride from Zagreb to Athens will be about 30 hours. I expect it shall be excruciating. Cvijeta, Emina, Sonnet, and Cassie, and Cvijeta?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s mom threw me a little going away party just before I left. They made dinner and danced, and gave me little gifts ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú a stickyball yoyo, fuzzy handcuffs, and a scrapbook which I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m not to read until I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m on the train. Sniff. The girls waved goodbye to me with white hankerchiefs as the train pulled away. It was all very dramatic. Sitting on a train. 15 hours down, 15 to go. Just found 2 big rips/holes in my detachable daypack. Uh oh. It won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t survive the trip! Shit! And regular daypacks won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t attach to my hiking pack. Looks like I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll be throwing away some stuff and carrying everything in my hiking pack, except as a carry-on at airports. Scenery is beautiful! Train is a great way to travel (my head is out the window like a 100kph dog). Currnetly 40 mins past Skopje. Route: Zagreb->Vinkour (sp?) -> Sioc -> Beograd -> Nis -> Tabanougi -> Skopje -> Ufleb? -> An? -> Thessaloniki -> Athine. Border police checked my passport at the Macedonian border. Guess what? I need a visa to pass through Macedonia! I was promptly escorted off the train by two (sexy female) armed guards carrying 9mm pistols. They tell me that I must get a visa before I pass through Macedonia, and that the nearest place I can get one is at the Macedonian Embassy ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú in Belgrade, 12 hours from whence I came! FUCK! Unfortunately, there are no more trains to Belgrade today. I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m standing on the Macedonian border (a single building surrounded by hundreds of miles of nothing), there are no hotels, and no more trains to Belgrade today. It is 3pm. What the hell do I do? Turns out there?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a train to another city (Nis), and I *may* be able to get a connection to Belgrade from there?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ BUT that train?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not for another 2.5 hours. What can I do but wait? On the plus side, this border crossing is quite picturesque and there are some cute puppies playing with eachother. I ask ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWhat about my tickets? I have no tickets to get back, and no extra money!?¢‚Ǩ? They say not to worry because it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a visa issue, so my trip to this point is invalidated and I can get back there for free. Phew! I try to take a photo of my train leaving without me, and get in trouble by the border police. Apparently you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re not allowed to take photos anywhere near a border crossing, even if there?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s nothing there. I got the photo, but they almost confiscated my camera. Lucky?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ this time. Waiting for the train. Getting bored of the puppies. One of the sexy police offers me a coffee! Yay! She has a wicked accent. She makes me the coffee (Turkish) by hand, which takes about 20 minutes. It was *soooooo* good. Mmmmm. Cop-coffee! Caffeine always tastes better when it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s legal. For a dash of home, there?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a Bombardier train parked on track number four. The Madedonian flag is a yellow sunburst on a red background. Weather is summery at this border. I wait for the 5:30 train and hop on. We arrive in Nis at 8:30 and find that the next train to Belgrade isn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t until 1am, in 4.5 hours!!! Booring. It will arrive in Belgrade at 5am. The first return train leaves Belgrade at 5:45pm, which means I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll have 9.5 hours to kill. I guess I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll get to see Belgrade after all! All signs in Nis are in Cyrillic, so I can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t read shit. Haven?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s slept since Sunday night and today is Wednesday. Won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t get sleep tonight and tomorrow night is on another train (Monday night was goodbye to Irena, Tuesday was party with girls and get on train). Gahhhh. If all goes according to schedule from this opint, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll get to Athens 15 minutes AFTER I am supposed to meet Erin at the Athens Airport ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú wherever that is. (Note: originally, before this fuckup, I was going to be in Athens 35 hours BEFORE Erin). No way to reach her from here. Eek! Oh, and I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve now spent $20 of my $40 phonecard budget sending sms to figure out what to do! Yay! In the Nis train station I meet 2 guys who are seeking asylum from Serbia and Montenegro. They?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re very friendly to me. Try to get me to be their ambassador and vouch for them to enter Canada! No way! I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d be responsible for them! Neither one spoke English, so it was interesting. I gave them Emina?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s phone number in Zagreb, because she works with the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNo Borders?¢‚Ǩ? people. Another Serb was sitting in Nis station with his 4 small children (2 babies, 2 under 10). He eventually translated for the Asylum Seekers. His deal is that he is German, of Hungarian descent, married to a Serb, BUT he came home night before and she was gone, with all the money AND the motorhome. They were now living IN the station trying to save enough $ to catch a train to Belgrade, where he can get visas for his children to enter Germany. He needs 10 Euro for his ticket (his children can travel by train for free). In Germany his kids will get free education, and he will get social assistance, BUT begging for money in Serbia is rough. He gets about 30 dinars per day, which is less than $0.50 Canadian (0.25 euro). This is one of those times where you have to ask yourself ?¢‚Ǩ?ìIs there a reason that I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m here, and that I didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have the visa I needed??¢‚Ǩ? I didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t want them to spend the next 10/0.25 days living in the station, so I gave him the 10 euros for the ticket, and my address, and told him to write me about how his kids are doing. Also gave them the chup-a-chups I had hidden away for my journey. The last guy I met in Nis was Serb as well, but fluent in French, so we chatted in French. Fun, but he was *super* drunk. Happily, he was also heading to Belgrade, so I could just follow him and not have to interpret any of the Cyrillic. He gave me some sunflower seeds and booze to pass the time. I was told the train would arrive in Nis at 1am. The Asylum Seekers were told 1:30, and The Frenchman heard 2:30. Great. After much waiting, it appeared at 2am, which is a time that had never been mentioned as a possible arrival time. God bless the Balkan Train System. Anyway, the Asylum Seekers, the Frenchman, and I all boarded the train. THEN the Asylum Seekers insist that I pay for their tickets, because I had money and they did not. Trick was on them, though. I showed them that all I had was 3 Euro (true!) They were not impressed, and promptly left. I assume they got booted off the train at some later stage. I gave the train man my ticket when he asked for it and he said ?¢‚Ǩ?ìYou have no return ticket?¢‚Ǩ?. I said ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI know but the border guards said it was no problem because of the visa issue?¢‚Ǩ?, and went on to explain the situation. He didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t give a flying fuck. He took my ticket and said I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d have to buy a new one in Belgrade, because I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d used this one up in travelling back. Grrrrrrr! This was *not* in my already-tight budget! Frenchy tried to get it back for me, but was too drunk and passed out. A valiant effort nonetheless. Arrived in Belgrade at 6:45am, and Darko was waiting for me on the platform (god bless SMS messaging). He helped me get my ticket back for half price (pantomiming what I should say to the guard from behind the guard?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s back). Then Darko took me through the city to the Embassy ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which is not open until 10a, and even then only for 2 hours. They close at noon. Wow. We had hours, so we went for burek on the famous Belgrade street and then walked around the main square and to the Roman castle on the waterfront at the confluence of the Save and Danube rivers. The Sava river separates New Zagreb from Old Zagreb, AND New Belgrade from Old Belgrade. Cool  Darko bought me a collection of devalued Serbian Dinar banknotes, ranging from 1000 Dinars to 500,000,000,000 Dinars. Wow! All for just $4 Cdn Now there?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a lineup at the embassy, and we have to wait behind iron bars. Spec-tac-u-lar. Once it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s my turn I filll out the forms and ask if they can have them done today ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú sure, but they need a passport photo of me, and $18 USD. We ran downtown to a 5 min photo place and I already had 20 Euro with me, so we went back with a few minutes to spare before closing. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThanks for the photo, but we need the money in US currency, Euros are not acceptable.?¢‚Ǩ? WTF? Well, turns out Macedonia is a US Protectorate, so they don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t deal with euroopean coin ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú only Benjamins. Grr. I *run* to the exchange office, get the right bling, and return. They?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re now out for lunch for the next 45 minutes. Waiting?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ waiting?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ They?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re back! Ahhhh Sweet Visa Goodness in my hands! Uh oh ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú my tooth is throbbing. Yes, it really hurts. In fact, the whole right side of my face hurts. This is not good.  Why Me??? Is my trip going to be so good that karma is pre-kicking my ass so that it all balances out? We grabbed a pancake for lunch ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú mine was kiwi/mango/orange/something, and it looked surreal (ask me for the photo of it!). Deeelicious. The accompanying beer helped my mouth somewhat, but it still hurts like hell. Darko actually took the day off work to save my ass, but they really needed him to help with 40 (forty!!) new volunteers arriving that day, so we headed to his office. I was pretty much in a sleep-deprived daze the entire time. I tried to check my email and tell Erin what was going on, but mailblocks email requires Internet Explorer 5.5 or better and they only had 5, so I couldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t even login! Damn you mailblocks! After a while I had an idea ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú to set up IMAP using TheBat email client. It worked like a charm! Dropped my pen and bent over to pick it up and snot came flying out of my nose (dripping, really)! Not a toothache after all, but a huuuge sinus blockage! I felt some relief at once. Ahhh. Good, but not. Darko finished work 1 hour before my train ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú too close for my comfort. If there?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s one thing that makes me nervous, it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s the possibility of being late for something outside my control. We were ?Ǭ? hr from the train station, and if I missed it I would definitely miss Erin in Athens. Got ot the station. Got my bag. Darko bought me a pleskavica and juice for the road. Paid an extra 10 euros for a private sleeper car, as I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d had maybe 3 hours sleep in the past 96 hours. Thanked Darko profusely for saving me, climbed aboard, fell asleep, and awoke at in the middle of the night at the border I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d been refused by on the day before. Fingers crossed. (btw ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú huge mess of sinus-snot on the pillow when I awoke. Feeling much better). All guards recognized me *except* the hot one that made me coffee. Maybe it was her evil twin on shift work? I get through no problem and go back to sleep. Total time elapsed between Macedonian Refusal / Macedonian Acceptance: 35 hours. What a huge delay! 7am ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú Greecian border. No problems! Yay! Beautiful countryside. I get out at Thessaloniki to switch trains and make for Athens. Hopefully there would be a connection soon. Yay! There is an Express in 15 minutes! I could be in Athens hours before Erin arrives! Booooo ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s full and they won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t sell me a ticket  Next train to Athens is in 3 hours, which will make me 30-60 minutes late for Erin. Bah! I chill in Thessaloniki for a while. United Colors of Bennetton and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAs Seen on TV?¢‚Ǩ? stores are here, too. As in Zagreb and Belgrade, Snickers, Twix, and Mars bars are side-by-side on shelves here.

Comments from my old blog:

James Trott (UK) said: Allow me to be the first to welcome you back derek! I know ive missed you, ya know their’ll always be a pint on the weatherspoons bar here in st albans for you buddy!

Vlad said: hilarious :) at 2004-05-17 23:41:01

(Ryan Waddell)[] said: Wow, great trip report! Sounds crazy! Yeah, I don’t know a THING about Croatia… and I don’t really feel all that bad about it. I also don’t know anything about Zimbabwe. Or Namibia. Shrug. :P at 2004-05-18 15:30:35

dad said: The most wonderful memories are made of that which you have no control over…things that just happen…not planned…and for that reason i never really plan anything,just went with the idea and let it flow wherever…..these things seem to have a mind of their own lol.That way the door is left wide open and the excitement comes from the trip/unforseen and not the destination.Planning everything to the nth degree is safe but you can’t take advantage of eventualities that add excitement.When i hitch hiked in the 60’s i knew where i wanted to end up….but how i got there was another thing…open to all eventualities and that’s where the memorable exists.Fuck ups are just added excitement lol. at 2004-05-18 15:52:27

Sandra (Cro) said: I think I already told you I think your family is cool; double ensurement now when I red your Dad’s comments…a lil’ bit sweet and corny but sooo cute… reminded me on a few precious moments in my life… …We have a little b-day celebration here in the office today and I really miss you boy ;) Hope the Cardigans were great. Your Taurus pimp pal S. at 2004-05-19 11:45:17

Sandra (CRO) said: btw…Hi Vlad. Hope u r fine, sweet and smart still and more as I met you. Aas Derek few times for you but he didn’t know anything…so glad to see you are present ;) Take care. at 2004-05-19 11:47:47

Dinko said: Hi Bit..! I’m in Zamir now, Sandra is year older. For me life is now just pool, books and coffe. Send me some email when you find time. Take care. at 2004-05-19 11:59:19