Romania behind us and still feeling cold in Serbia, we departed Belgrade quickly in the hope of finding warmer nights in Bulgaria and eventually Turkey. As ever, the sun is a hitchhikers best friend and my hitchhiking journey was no exception to this rule.
As with all big cities, leaving via hitchhiking can be difficult and it took us a couple of hours to find a road that we deemed almost, if not wholly suitable. After a couple of rides we were at the edge of the city, waiting at a toll booth when we started receiving competition from other hitchers. The road was too busy for most cars to stop and two lone individuals dropped all hitch etiquette to grab a ride before us.
Hitchhiking has unwritten rules such as when you turn up in a hitchhiking spot that already has hitchhikers in, don’t stand in front of them and steal their rides. Slightly peeved, we soon caught our own ride and left other hitchers standing alone. Despite the fact that the road was too busy for most cars to stop, it was a large lorry that stopped for us.
We bundled into the lorry and pulled the door shut, waving apologies to the only hitchhiker who hadn’t tried to cut in front of us. The Turkish trucker was driving back to Turkey and looking at a map, he would have to pass straight through Sofia, our intended destination. I made myself comfortable and settled myself into a hugely comfortable seat that rocked and bounced with the motion of the lorry cab. If you’ve never been in a lorry, you should try it some time. Even if it’s just to meet a trucker. Many of them are so lonely, that they make great company.
We chatted at length despite not sharing a language and it was only when he jumped out of the cab to check something that the girl I was hitchhiking with drew attention to something that he had slipped under a pile of magazines as we climbed into the cab. It was a porn DVD covered in rather graphic images of small, blond girls. I looked at the small blond girl I was hitchhiking with and laughed. Although he didn’t let us into the truckers lounge, he bought me coke and provided many hours of entertainment. That was all I needed from him and what he chose to do on his lonely nights in the truck cab were of no major concern to me.
Several hours later, I found myself eating vegetarian lasagne along with 3 energetic kids and once again, loving the diversity that life was throwing my way. We walked by ruins in Sofia and even better, played fantasy board games. I haven’t had this privilege for many years and thoughts of endless ‘quality time’ spent playing Final Fantasy IX sprung into my head for the first time in years. Although I loved video games many years ago, I am extremely grateful to be free of them now. Fantasy board games are absolutely allowed however!
Throughout my journey, I slept under bridges, on beaches, in parks, and in the homes of many wonderful individuals without hardly ever paying for accommodation. I was spending next to nothing, but when an English friend came to visit from Korea, we booked into an apartment for a couple of nights. It was expensive for the budget that I had learnt to live on, but it offered private rooms for four people, warm heating, and a fully equipped kitchen. I was very disappointed to find out that the heating only came on when the temperature was below minus twenty, the kitchen consisted of only a sink, and two of the beds were in the living room. I went to complain to find that there were no staff and when I finally found someone, they offered me extra blankets for the lack of heating, the use of their toaster to warm my bread, and a complete lack of understanding about the non-existence of the private rooms as indicated on the website through which we made the reservation.
I’m not much into complaining and decided that I preferred sleeping outside or on the sofas of strangers than for paying for something that I don’t get. My delicious reunion dinner with my friend I met in Korea was quickly converted to whatever we could serve on plastic plates with no utensils. We compensated by buying a box of red wine. Boxes of cheap Bulgarian wine help overcome these problems. As do mountains. We had a lovely hike in the mountains. Just not at the same time as the box of red wine. I spent a day in the company of many dogs at a shelter. There was one, a beautiful husky who stood out more than most. I think that it was his eyes that got me.
On the last night of our three day apartment experience, we were joined by our Slovakian friend that we met several weeks before. I was delighted to see him again and the guy he hitchhiked in with came to meet me, shake my hand, and offer me a few words of wisdom before allowing me to reunite with my friend.
In Slovakia, I learnt a little about the village drinking. In the company of my Slovakian friend, I was about to learn a lot more about drinking and hitchhiking at the same time. We started off by taking nearly two hours to walk a fifteen minute journey, ‘aided’ by a box of wine and as I crawled into bed in the early hours of the afternoon, I realised that my adventure was about to become rather confusing and hilarious at the same time.