I’m finishing this in Thessaloniki, Greece (WE MADE IT!!!). It’s Monday, July 13th.
There was a lot to say about our day in Czech that ended in Belgrade. Hence it took a lot of time to write it. And since then even more to share; the massive holiday migration of Turkish families heading home for the summer. A caravan of Poles who carried us to the Greek border. The hitchhiker we bumped into multiple times. Arriving in Greece…! Good truckers and bad ones. But that is all yet to be documented. Enjoy this recap for now. No pictures of that stretch, sorry 🙂 some photos of Belgrade instead. Time to go back in time a few days, to when we had just found a hotel in Mikulov and watched the jazz show…
Is it day 2 or day 4? I am losing track. Mikulov (which was Wednesday and its now Friday), feels like last week. It was wonderful, and yesterday started that way too. Then it hit a dark moment, and ended in an unimaginable way, in Serbia!
After a peaceful night at the hostel we booked in Mikulov; feeling well rested and ready for lots of great new experiences, we set off, out of that cute wine town and made our way towards Breclav.
We made a short 1.5 km (1 mile) walk to the main road where we felt it was appropriate to hitch a ride. At the moment we thought to put our bags down, turned towards the oncoming traffic, and held out our sign, a car stopped at the intersection in a small 4 door. A man stepped out smiling and friendly, popped his trunk, I sat in front, Zuza in bac,k and we were off.
Our driver was a clean cut guy in a short sleeve white polo shirt and shorts with a nice smile. His car was very clean! Much better than the truckers and delivery drivers we’d had so far. His english was good. Up until that point Zuzanna had done most of the talking since our drivers from Polamd to Czech all spoke spoke Polish, not english. I was happy to finally take over the entertainment role in our hitchhiking duties. The driver told us about his job as a sommelier for vineyards in Mikulov. We talked about wine pairing and some California wines he had just tried.
During the 15 km ride, we passed through Lednice, another charming village in the area. Our hitchhikee explained that all the towns together made up a UNESCO heritage site. Each town had a historical palace, not only Mikulov. Since we were passing by the Zámek Lednice, he offered to go off the route to Breclav and quickly drive by to see it. I was elated Not only did we hitch this ride in seconds, but we were seeing palaces, and learning about the history and wine specialties of the region. Amazing.
He dropped us off at a Lidl in Breclav and we tried to spend the last of our Czech Koronas on some supplies.
That’s when things headed south.
There were two roads going east out of Breclav. One went north and the other south. Our plan was to spend the afternoon exploring Bratislava and then hitch out to a tank station or forest to camp for the night. From Breslav we needed to go south towards Bratislava. But we were already on the northerly road so we walked further to the edge of town and found a nice spot to catch our ride.
It wasn’t long before we realized we were across the street from a police station! But once we saw some cops pass by, we observed they didn’t care what we were doing. Then an older guy rode by on a bike, pulled up besside us and explained (in Czech which Zuza understood) that we were in the wrong place. I quickly figured he meant we should be at the southern road out of town. We thanked him, walked several hundred meters, got to the other road, and began thumbing again.
Minutes passed and again – even though we were at the new road – someone told us we were at the wrong place. This time it was a young woman in a small car full of random personal belongings [ahem!! messy!]. She was saying something about the road we were on being the old road, and the other road was the one people would take to Bratislava. But her and Zuza’s Czech/Polish communication wasn’t as fluid as it was with the other guy, eventually she just asked us to get in with her. She drove us to a gas station a little further towards the main highway.
From the gas station we waited, and waited. The sun beat down on us, ni rain today. But a little rain might have been better then strong hot sun.
Construction workers across the road smiled and laughed at us. Countless cars drove by. We started to disagree on what our sign should say, or if we should go to the other road. After 45 minutes we ate some premade sandwiches and then tried again, tweaking our position on the road, trying to only thumb without a sign. Then we tried with a sign for the next small town towards the highway: “Lanžhot”. At least that, I figured, got us closer to the cars heading to Bratislava. But still no luck. It was about 8 km to Lanžhot, we started walking, Zuza in front, me trailing behind, holding out a thumb and our sign.
When relying on strangers, and strangers aren’t offering help, the idea that the choice to rely and depend on them is a good one, starts to cave in.
We walked over a bridge, deep in farmland now, corn growing all around, and no where good to set up a tent. Not that it was time to give up, it was barely 2pm, but it still made the situation feel worse. As we traipsed on the side of a road, like outcasts, knowing each car judged us, I heard a freight train pass back where the bridge was and joked we could hop a freight train.
Some minutes passed, then I looked up to see a car had pulled over. We didn’t believe it. We didn’t run up to the car as we usually do. We walked closer, looking at the car and it just sat ahead waiting. Sure enough, the driver gestured for us to get in. It was a strange guy. Neither Zuzanna or I could communicate with him, but we could agree that he’d get us to Lanžhot. “Good god, thank you!” I thought.
Minutes later we were there, in a new small town, old, european, church in the middle. It only took a few minutes to walk to the edge. And all the despair from the last hour and a half was still there. How will we get to Bratislava now? We aren’t walking to Lanžhot anymore but we’re no better off are we? Zuzanna took the lead, I was happy to let her stoke our dwindling hitchhiking mojo. She decided we should stand on the shoulder directly in view of oncoming cars. In less than 5 minutes a blue family wagon ford with no hub caps pulled over.
Our new hitchee was an older guy, probably a farmer or some kind of laborer from the looks of his car. About 170cm tall (near 5′ 7″ in), he had dark hair, with lots of grey hairs mixed in. His skin showed many hours in the sun. He wore blue jeans cut at the knee to make shorts. His car had a lot of random junk in it, and the seats were stained with powder, dirt, and cigarette smoke. In the back seat was a yorkshire terrior. As I got in the back he introduced me to her, her name was Tinka. On the floor of the car were two bowls with some food and water for her.
We started to drive. Zuzanna had chosen to thumb the ride with no sign, so she began to talk with him. After a little time I asked for the scoop. Will he go a few kilometers? “Yes” she responded. Will he go to Bratislava?
Yes!! Actually he’s going to Sophia, Bulgaria.
My mind was blown. Our minds were blown!!
Will he take us further than Bratislava?
Yes. He offered for us to come to Sofia.
The words were like the happy buzz from a glass of wine. Zuzanna and I smiled and soaked in the return of luck and good fortune to our adventure. Sofia is just a few hours from Thessaloniki. All the stops along the way could be skipped. We could get to Greece in 4 days and 3 nights, with a total investment of about 80€, with 7 rides, 1 night in a hostel, 1 night at a parking lot, and whereever we ended up in Sofia tonight. It was a complete 180. Still not a full 2 hours since we had started trying to get a ride from the gas station in Breclav and we were on our way to Bulgaria, if we wanted. Today.
We decided we’d do it. It was getting on towards 3, by the time were got into Bratislava, which could also be difficult, starting from a highway petrol station, it could be 4 or 5. We’d have to spend the night in Bratislava at 40€ or struggle to get back out as we’d just been through with Breclav. Getting a leap towards Greece was just the right mojo our journey needed. But the more we talked, and thought through the 10 hour drive ahead, we decided it was going to be too late when we got to Sofia. We didn’t think to ask our host what the sleeping options were in Sofia. My guess is now that he’d have invited us to at least sleep on his floor. But we choose instead to settle for Belgrade.
The next hours we took turns driving. Made stops at rest stations to stretch and give Tinka a break. We flew by Bratislava and Budapest. Slovakia and Hungary never even happened. They were just a strip of road. We had to go back later. But not today. We were bound for Belgrade. By the end of the ride we’d exchanged emails and skype contacts. We watched the sun set. We passed through the Serbian border crossing, and finally were dropped off at a bus station off the highway, near the center of Belgrade.
At the bus stop we asked for help and quickly learned the best way to the center where there were lots of hostels. We were also warned that many Syrian refugees were in the city and most of the hostels would be full. As we waited, a woman overheard our english and started asking us questions and offering her own advice for things todo and places to stay. I thought to myself, Serbians are so friendly!
Soon we were on a bus to the center, and then standing at a bus stop by the main rail station, and saying goodbye to our new friend from Belgrade. There are hotels all over the place in Belgrade, but we walked around for about half an hour, to find a good price, finally we found a hotel with a private room, and private bathroom, and air conditioning, it was nice. The host was nice, and made jokes about how excited Zuzanna was when she realized we could take showers in a clean hotel. It was 11:45 pm, we were in Belgrade in a nice hotel. Once again our day ended with a frosting of magic on top.
The next day we found a other hostle, explored the center, and castle, and walked to the highest point of the city where the orthodox church stood. As the afternoon wound down, we grabbed some arugula, kiefer, bread, tomato, and beer. Hoped a tram back to our hostle and planned our next day which would involve getting out of Belgrade. Hopefully we’d learned our lesson. Even when it seems like the gig is up, we can’t lose hope. We’ll see if it works!