Author: Denis H
Date of Trip: July 2004
I could submit a couple pictures if need be … I have been told that it’s not the usual writting for an article selling a destination destinations etc. so it may not suit your needs. I now intend on doing something similar with South America. It is what people dream of but will never do … but I do and when they say.. “It’s never too late” it totally applies to me. The trip started towards the end of july 2004 and I was home in mid May 2005. Almost a year ago alread but ready to go again…
Here I go…
Some of you asked me to keep you posted, others, to let you know but I now can’t remember who asked what. To my friends and Pipe Band buddies, just so I don’t have to repeat myself. (www.pipeband.ca)
This is it; I finally made it home, hooray! I’m also sad in a way as I got used to being on the road. After ten months, I now know I can hang out anywhere I want in this world, but without someone, it was very inefficient, no one to share anything with… I have also earned the right to brag and embellish my travels as I see fit but this is not what it is about …later though. (That is what Rudolf Erich Raspe said “A traveller has a right to relate and embellish his adventures as he pleases”)
The worst has been on this ten month adventure. An attempt at picking my pockets in Budapest on the tail end of the trip by two jokers as they made me laugh so much, that I forgot to get upset. Then, leaving my shampoo bottle behind and probably in some run down shower stall. The thing that annoyed me the most … being short changed everywhere. (Taxis are the worst) It was safe in all places, more so than in Western Europe. I won’t talk about Africa as on my previous adventure, I got mugged in my first week in daylight with a second attempt later on in the trip. This was much safer.
I did what I set up to do and more. Damn it! I hate it when I get lost though!!! It’s easy, you meet decent and interesting people and they lead you astray and or they send you all over the place. I just hate that when it happens.
I must also admit that, this part about early retirement, not having a second career, it just goes to show, how life can be so unfair. I did try to find some work, join your club. I even applied for some volunteer work abroad with some of the big Int. outfits, the likes of MSF. Cause of my work background, I was simply turned down or ignored. It seems that we are all painted with the same brush since Police/Military personnel are the evil one around the world causing grief and mischief about.
I first started my travels as a Bloody Tourist with some organized tours. The first one was from Vancouver to Beijing with an overland to Shanghai. This tour was cheaper than a one way ticket from Vancouver to Hong Kong. From Shanghai I flew to Hong Kong where I started my second overland organized tour, from Hong Kong to Beijing via Guilin and Xian just to mention two. I then spent a couple of days in Beijing waiting for my other organized tour to depart. This one was from Beijing to St Petersburg, Russia with a stop in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia including an overnight in a GER. (Mongolian tent) I met some interesting people, mostly Aussies. They sure can be a lot of fun … Even when they fall off horses or take mom with them. This tour included Mongolia being the Trans Mongolian Railroad tour which turned, sort of, into the Trans Siberian Railroad going across Russia. From St Petersburg I then flew to Warsaw in Poland.
From Warsaw up to Gdansk for a few days, then back to Warsaw. I enjoyed Gdansk. I took the overnight train to Kiev in the Ukraine and then to Lviv. Lviv is a beautiful place; I even took the Puccini Opera one night. From there it was back into Poland to lovely Krakow for several days and some trail walking, then on to Prague in the Czech Rep. This was the first time I got lost and somehow, one morning, from Prague, I ended up in Newcastle, in the UK of all places. Damn it! I hate that, it makes me look like a fool, getting lost like this. Mind you, Newcastle is a nice place by the river and I also had a chance to see the Hadrian’s Wall. I’m working my way down with the autumn season as the weather is nice and cool and now I’m going north, cold and raining.
After a couple weeks in the Uk visiting friends, I’m back in the Czech Rep. From Prague, I dropped down to Cesky Krumlov for a few days and did some hiking, this is so nice. Then it’s over to Brno to drop down to Bratislava in the Slovak Republic. Too easy and simple to just drop down to Budapest from here, I then decided to check the rest of the country and I go across to have a look, Banska Bystrica and Kosice. Now it’s time to enter Hungary. I’m not on the main path anymore, they hold the train up for us. Eger is the first town out east and then Budapest for my second time. Sort of can’t recognize the town as it has changed a lot since my last visit under the commie system.
From there it’s time to enter Romania. I read and heard all sort of things about Romania, but what a surprise, as none were true. I went all over the place in Romania, up down and sideways. I met the Dracula family, lost some blood, which I replaced profusely with some wine and supplemented it with some cheap vodka, just in case …I learned to abuse all them substances with my Aussies friends on the train across Russia, and let’s not talk about the beer at 50 cents for .5 L. First city was Oradea, then Cluj Napoca, Maramures area with its “Merry Cemetery” Targu Mures, Sighisoara, Brasov. Bran, Sinaia, Sibiu, Timisoara, and the Southern Carpathian Mts and finally Bucharest, which is very south in the country. By then it was winter as it took me too long to get out of Romania. There’s snow and it’s cold. It was time to acquire some gloves and warmer pants. Where ever I stop for the night, I now ask if they have HEAT. I’m hoping that it will be warmer south.
In Bucharest I met a middle age American going into the Republic of Moldova to research an article for a magazine. This is really not on my itinerary. Getting lost again& We discussed traveling together, he agrees, visas are obtained and we take the train into the Republic. Not only did we make it into the Rep. city of Chisinau, we ended up in the city of Tiraspol in the unrecognized Transdniester Republic. A want to be Republic, lost between the Ukraine and Romania, which is part of Moldova but they want to be independent. I really don’t know why, the monthly income is 30 USD. It is heavily subsidized by Russia. They have their own Gov. money, passport and some excellent wine. They are more advanced than Romania in this modern world, figure that one out???? They certainly could use some tourists and or visitors …From there I returned to Bucharest for a few more days. From Bucharest down to Sofia in Bulgaria and then it is down to Rila for it’s monastery and Biazgoevgrad. I made an attempt to get into Macedonia because the book said that I don’t need a visa …wrong, my mistake and I simply have to turn back. Canadians do need a visa probably cause our Gov, won’t recognize Macedonia as an independent country. (Formerly Yugoslavia) Also, my Gov. has nothing good to say& about it. If one was to listen to what is said … I would still be home. It is time to get lost again as I had NOT planned to go to Greece. So, here I go, down to Greece into Thessaloniki where I’m looking for that sun. That is not the case. Well! The sun is now showing, no snow, but it’s not warm as it is not south far enough. But Athens is just beautiful, worth a several days for the visitor …me. Unfortunately it is not so nice I hear in the summer. Actually, all of Europe should be avoided in the summer, like July and August. You come in the summer and you will find out why in a real hurray.
I’m still looking for some warm weather so let’s try Malta. I already got lost here and there so, why stop now … Very nice place, I must admit. But it is still a summer destination when the weather in hot and so is the ocean. In Malta, 25 cents is worth about 4 $ CAD while in Romania they still have 1,000,000 notes worth approx. 40 $ CAD, from one extreme to the other, let’s get that calculator out. It gets confusing and I lose track of my change …and they all, I mean ALL know how to take advantage of that situation. Romania is removing four zeros as of July and Malta hopes to go to the Euro soon. I spent a week in Malta doing both islands. Very nice and they do drive on the wrong side of the road.
I’m still looking for warmth so, let’s move on to Tunisia. Hey! I’m really lost now, what the hell! Someone is bound to ship me home at one point, why worry??? Again, it’s a summer destination. I could have used my gloves a couple of times but I had already unloaded them. I had kept my pants though. I spent a month going all over the place and making a big circle around the country including the odd camel ride and the overnight Bedouin tent. I guess we are a lot luckier than Europe and Northern Africa when it comes to escaping the winter blues, as we can go south and find that warmth. Europe has to wait for summer to get out of town, which they all do, whereas we stay home, cause it’s nice and warm. We also have lakes and rivers which we can swim in, they don’t anymore.
I have to get out of Tunisia but I now have a new passport. Mine was full of stamps and visas. I can only stay 30 days without a visa so; I fly to Roma, Italy and it is not my first time. Rome, what a place as it is full of tourist already in mid March. Wall to wall people, get me out of here& I took the train down south to Bari. Finally I’m not so lost anymore; I can almost see Albania& Well! At least I know in which direction it is. I’m getting back onto my original trip destination, Eastern Europe. Ferry over to Albania with the bus over to Tirana where I get my visa for Macedonia. If you ever hear me complain about the roads in Canada, just hit me but please, remind me as to why you hit me… and not too hard… I have taken Tai Chi to defend myself; I would not want to hurt you. This has to be the worst of it when it comes to roadways. (Romania must be second then…) I can see the busses stopping for people but stopping for pot holes??? It is that bad so, one cannot be in a hurry. I go down south as I want to get in Macedonia from around Lake Ohrid. This is just a beautiful place. It is surrounded by mountains, which still has snow covered top and it looks just gorgeous. As a visitor, I can then linger and I do. From there it’s up to Skopje. (Skopia) A bit of a nightmare as it is all of a sudden expensive, more like price fixing with nothing to see. Main industry, the foreign armed forces and the hotels have learned to inflate their prices. I do one overnight and then up to Kosovo and to Belgrade, Serbia. What a neat place Belgrade is and with a few things to visit, not like Pristina in Kosovo, which is mainly soldiers or so it seems, to keep the peace.
From Belgrade it’s over to Sarajevo. Again, what a surprise, neat place and one can see all the bullet holes and the damage done from the war. If there was tension in the air, I certainly missed it. I would certainly have taken a UN posting here knowing what I know now… It is worth a few days.
I now go up to Zagreb in Croatia where it looks more and more like Western Europe and just beautiful country site. People are friendly and helpful.
Time to get to Ljubljana (Lubiana) in Slovenia; it is my last commie country to visit in Eastern Europe. Now I wish I had more time to hang around. Just gorgeous around here, green with rolling hills and lot’s of trees, clean water and a lot less garbage floating on the rivers…
It is time to get to Budapest to fly to the UK so I can get closer to home. I stopped in Newcastle to visit my friends again. Should I get lost again, just before I get home? Why not hey! So, a quick ride gets me over to the ferry to get to Belfast. Neat place and it is busy and booming, no pun intended here& Then it’s over to London Derry with a cross over to Ireland visiting Cork down south and Dublin. I got to go home now; I’m running out of time but not really as time I have and some money too. This is it for me re: Europe. NO more churches, monasteries, museums etc. as I have seen one too many. The only places, (Bragging part…) which I have not visited in Europe are: Andorra, (didn’t know it existed) Iceland, Liechtenstein, and San Marino. I may have blinked when I went through?? It is possible though, they are so small.
My next adventure. Could it be the Islands in the Atlantic?? (Not much of a sailor though) OR South America?? I hear that Chile is nice and now there’s access to Antarctica … Or will it be Asia that I have not visited yet?? (Vietnam, Laos etc.) All I know for sure is that someone sure missed out on a hell of a good adventure, any takers for the next one?? Drop me a line then…