Nobody wants to let go of their Summer holidays, but with a busy few months coming an end, I'm craving the routine of the academic year. It's been a regular World Party of fun, flights, and family, (fans of Ready Steady Cook, please click the link, you won't be disappointed).
In early July, I returned to Summer School . . . and survived again. This time it was even more enjoyable than last year, and I even managed to fit in seeing friends, family and the optician!
I've been busy writing over the summer too. Here are three stories I've had published:
- A young fan tries to help a failing country singer - The Waitress
- A Sunday funeral takes an unexpected turn - The Seventh Day
- Hot sun, cold beer and a feisty horse at the Mexican races - The Feature Race
And now for the travel blog!
For the last few weeks, I've been travelling around the Balkans before heading back to Spain. Instead of giving you a blow by blow account of the sight seeing and new countries (six), I'll tell this story through some choice quotes.
Bosnia and Montenegro
I met up with old friend, Guy in Mostar, and within a few hours he was already boasting about his passport stamps and outlining some of his many questionable business ideas to me (one being to start a broth making company). His favourite joke of the trip, was to continuously offer stock cubes to fellow travellers. On this particular occasion, we had an early morning transfer to Montenegro, and a still drunk Guy showed the pack to a bemused Scot sitting next to us in the car. We were snapped back into reality when Sonia (our Bosnian driver), nearly went straight into a truck, because she insisted on overtaking lorries near tunnel entrances.
Me atop Montenegro's highest peak
"I just want to go somewhere poorer" - Roman, (Canadian hitchhiker)
Every hostel on every trip has some silly wanker like this. On first impression, he seemed like a nice guy but obviously had some strange ideas about travelling. He seemed to think that 'poor but friendly' locals would take him in, feed him, and marvel at his Canadian passport - without him actually taking steps to meet anyone. Guy made a good point, that if you do want these unique experiences, you can find them. Just go to the middle of nowhere, with nothing, and you will need people's help. Home stay and Work Away projects are probably much better ideas for this, or maybe cycle touring, but good ol' Roman thought you could do it all on an iPhone from a hostel bed. Fool.
Fergus was one of the good sorts of people that you meet. Although he was still in university, he had quite a level head on his shoulders and was making the most of the Balkans before heading to his parents' luxury villa in Italy. On an eventful night out, he had to sweet talk the locals out of belting his dick head drunken friend 'Beansy', we met the famous Mostar Bridge jumping guard, and he accosted a group of Neo-Nazis, telling them that hailing Hitler was 'not OK'.
|A cat in Kotor, Montenegro|
"There is nowhere before Belgrade. I would rather burn and snort my money than go there."- Alex, (Monetegrin hostel owner).
I really enjoyed Montenegro. I knew very little about it, but found it full of tall people, cats and mountains (three things I like). Kotor was a little overwhelmed by cruise ship day-trippers, but it was certainly more interesting than the bus ride from Zabljak to Belgrade. The hostel owner who did not suffer backpackers getting lost on the mountain lightly, was right.
|Dubrovnik, the start of the trip|
Belgrade to Budapest
Belgrade is not pretty, but it is pretty interesting - East Berlin cool, and full of Germans coming to party. As Europe's most destroyed city, it was understandable undergoing a bit of reconstruction. Vladimir was one of these guys who had an answer for everything, and gave us the Serbian side of how history has unfolded (spoiler alert, not many countries like Serbia). He talked us through the country's obsession with basketball and the number three, and how vampires and Cyrillic script originated in Belgrade.
While the girls I was travelling with aroused no suspicion, the customs officer and his dog were very interested in my annoyingly big holdall bag.
"Does your dog like Marmite?" I asked.
He didn't answer, and carried on rummaging.
"Are cigarettes even that much cheaper in Serbia?"
"How many cigarettes you have?"
Back to square one.
Due to a diplomatic dispute between Serbia and Romania, the border was difficult to cross via public transport. I took two buses, walked across the border, and dragged my holdall (and all of its illicit cigarettes) the 4km to the nearest town. A policeman then gave us a lift to a train station, but instead of waiting three hours for the next train, we got a lift to Timosaora with a no-eared station employee. We listened to Romanian folk music the whole way.
|Street musician in Timosaora|
"That's one stereotype of Romanians that we like, playing chess all the time. Everyone else just says we are gypsies. (Raul, hostel owner)"
Another good guy was the owner of Freeborn hostel in Timosaora, Romania. He had build up the place in a small house in the centre of town, and had made it unique and cool, while using every tiny bit of space. One of the draws was that if you could beat him at chess, Mario Kart, or ping pong, you won a free beer. Raul spent most of his time being 'too busy' to play any of his guests, but did come for a drink with us. It doesn't take much, to make a hostel fun, but having a Nintendo Wii will definitely do it.
|The Balkan stalwart - Cevapi|
"Is there a vegetarian option?" (me, pescatarian)
For some reason I thought that Eastern Europe, would be a good place to change my diet. After a summer of school dinner puddings and too much beer, I've decided to cut out meat from my diet. I've signed up for a 15km race in early November, so I am hoping that I'll get in shape beforehand.
Kebabs, Gyros, Goulash and bread make up much of the diet in this part of the world, so finding a vegetarian option was not always easy. After three months of eating out, I'm relishing the opportunity to use my own kitchen again.
|Budapest Parliament at night|
As ever, this was a whistle stop tour in order to take in so many new places. Will I ever learn? I was disappointed not to spend more time in Bosnia, which seemed like a country with a lot to offer. I'd also like to go back to Romania, which was an interesting mix of New European and 'horse and cart'.
I think my favourite part of the trip was Montenegro. I knew very little about it before going, and was surprised to find that many Germans and Russians did know all about it. Great hiking, nature, and coast.
I'm not sure where my next trip will take me, and the blog may be a little quieter due to writing commitments. But, when I have something of interest to write about, you will find it here. Remember, you can subscribe by email, or follow on Facebook for updates.
On a final note, Juchitán de Zaragoza, my home between 2012 and 2014 has been devastated by an recent Earthquake. I feel really saddened by these recent events and wish my friends there and all the residents of Oaxaca the best with their recovery.