Just popping in

Greetings from Trogir, yet another coastal Croatian town. Sure, the old town is kind of pretty, but they all start to look the same after a while. Especially when every menu is full of fish and the cafes are all overpriced because you can smell salt in the air.

I’m going to write more about our travels later, I don’t much feel like it now. Boo hoo, no one gives two tosses anyway so what’s the rush, right? Of course.

In case anyone was wondering, my hair is looking splendid. It’s grown past the stage where it appears I have big red ear muffs and now I just look like a messy, bearded hippy. All those private school teachers would be so proud to see me these days. I even walk around in 3/4 pants and wear thongs. If I ever get back to Newtown it’ll be like I never left.

Only a few days to go until we fly to Dublin for 8 hours, then to Tampere in Finland to grab our stuff from Lahti before heading back to Tallinn and another month of toilet cleaning. There’s a dirty rumour that the place is actually getting organised now, perhaps even rosters! So much for spontaneity.

I still haven’t lined up a job in the UK, and I don’t really care. Things could be drastically changing plan, but I don’t like to give too much away. Not just yet, at least. Perhaps I’ll be lucky and manage to coax all three of you readers into a blog cliffhanger. It’s doubtful, but it gives me something to do.

Since I’ve had nothing much else to do except hang around in cafes, I’ve started ordering an espresso and a cappuccino at the same time. The waiters always think it’s for two people. Oh the hilarity. Eventually I plan to make it so common that they come on specially designed saucers, with two cup emplacements. That’s my dream. I’m a sad man.

I miss action ball. I cry myself to sleep over it most nights. Instead, I’ve roped Em into playing chess with me on a small travel set we bought. The fun never stops.

-Estonia; +(Finland, Latvia, Greece, Bulgaria)

Hi again.

It’s been too long, once again. Let me fill you in:

  • Emily and I are back together and things are going well.
  • I left the Viru hostel a few weeks ago to do some travelling
  • Em and I spent some time in Finland with Heli and her family
  • Now we’re backpacking
  • Photos (somewhat unordered) can be found here.

Savonlinna was fun, met some of Heli’s uni friends and I made a shitty little clay turtle whose leg fell off. :(

Em and I both have house keys to the Salomaa’s now, so we’re gonna steal some shit when they’re on holiday. Suvi’s coming to the hostel to work over summer (haha). Em and I are going to be back there in mid-June for a month until we head off for the UK, or something.

We took a flight from Tampere to Riga and spent a few days there in the Old Town Hostel. It was fun catching up with our Latvian hostel cousins and there was even a big free cocktail party one of the nights, so I got rat-arsed. It was rather windy but not too chilly.

One night we checked cheap flights to the south-eastern end of Europe. We could have both flown to Istanbul for about $160 each and nearly did, except that the flight was taking off in 4 hours and we had no way of getting to the airport in time. Instead we booked mildly more expensive tickets to Athens that departed in a few days time.

To kill some time before we headed to Greece, we took a bus to Liepaja, on the Baltic coast. It was a slight nightmare, as we’d heard that apparently there was an old Soviet naval prison that had been converted into a hostel. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Unfortunately we had no map and managed to find tourist destination on only a whim and 40 minutes of walking.

After negotiating the bus system and which routes to take, we cheekily ran off without paying at what we 50/50 thought was our stop. It wasn’t, really. We did take some nice photos on the walk and nearly got mugged by young children on bicycles, so it was sort of worthwhile.

The prison hostel had no English speaking staff, the season had only just begun so they hadn’t reopened all their facilities, there was a primary school excursion occurring at the same time, we had to wait 30 minutes for an English speaker to tell us to come back at 9pm (it was 5:30), we got fined on the bus the second time for not having tickets, all the shops and cafes in town were closed, we had no dinner and slept in a freezing cold prison room with broken beds after a brisk 40 minute tour. Then we had to pay and get back to Riga.

Fortunately, I took a cool photo of Emily in a gas mask and it made it all seem worth the effort.

The flight to Athens was funny, mainly because the Latvian girl sitting next to Em had never flown before, nor seen mountains. She experienced both sensations by the time we touched down.

This southern end of Europe is already ridiculously hot. Being acclimatised to the Baltics certainly doesn’t help, but it’s still fucking sweaty here.

Again we had no accommodation booked in Athens and it took us 3 visits to different hostels and a metro trip across town until we found some. They were half the price of the original place we looked into, so it wasn’t so bad.

Athens is kind of a disappointment. There’s not a whole lot to see or do except the Acropolis and the Agora and we paid for neither. The country itself is expensive to boot and we still failed to find a respectable kebab house. After two and a half days of dicking around (and no souvlaki or olive bread), we took a train to Thessaloniki. We’re going back when we have money and we’re old to visit the Islands.

Thessaloniki was nice. We didn’t stay overnight but we did stay from 8am until midnight. In a park, mainly. We spoke to some funny old Greek fellow who was more interested in chatting with us about the town and whatnot than he was in helping his colleagues in fixing some public sprinklers. Who can blame him, really?

We took a night bus to Sofia, Bulgaria which departed 40 minutes late from Thessaloniki and arrived 30 minutes early in Sofia. Again without a map, we hiked in the 4:00am darkness trying to decipher Cyrillic street names until we found our beds. Well, more like our couches until our beds were ready a few hours later.

The Sofia hostel was really nice. Very cozy and kind staff. We even got some free breakfast. Not that we really needed it, most things in Bulgaria are so ridiculously cheap it’s almost embarrassing. We walked around in the morning, getting sunburnt and exploring the streets, seeing the old buildings and the fruit markets and ate two monster gelato ice creams for about $2 Australian each. We were pleased.

One of the days we took a trip up to the Rila Monastery, a beautiful little place up in the mountains, about 2 hours drive from Sofia. We grouped up with another Aussie couple and had lunch with them and more gelato during the evening.

After a lazy morning of chatting with the hostel owner about his future development plans, we took a bus up to Plovdiv, a cute little town in central Bulgaria. The hostel we stayed in was a very cute converted house that even had its own kitten. Needless to say, I didn’t really want to leave and if they’d had air conditioning I probably wouldn’t have.

On our second day there we went exploring with another Aussie guy we’d met named Jim. We checked out the ruins on top of the hill in the old town and on our way to the Roman theatre got side tracked by a massive, abandoned, stripped-out building on the edge of the old town that had fantastic views over one half of the city.

We tiptoed through the rubble and graffiti-stained concrete, half expecting a gang or a syringe-wielding junkie to jump out at us. As it turns out, a policeman called us out from the top instead, with poor Emily running down after us to let us know we’d been caught. The cop was pretty nice, he just wanted to check we weren’t using heroin or killing someone, then let us go. It was more interesting than the theatre.

In what already seemed like a random afternoon, we ended up speaking to an old Bulgarian who’d lived in the USA for 30 years before returning home to Plovdiv, then got asked to present a song for a Bulgarian music television station, then ended up sitting with the TV crew for an hour in the shade while they told us about where they were from and what they thought of life in general. They gave us free t-shirts.

Apparently, if we’re on TV at all, it’ll be on Thursday or Friday. Stay tuned.

After a tearful farewell, we left Zorro the kitten asleep on the couch and took another bus to Veliko Tarnovo. No photos yet but there’s some good ones to come. It’s a cool student town in an ancient location: apparently there’s evidence of people living here from 5000 years ago, if not more. The most important fact to know about this region, though, is that we’re very close to where Kotooshu was born. Apparently sumo wrestling is big in Bulgaria.

We’re likely to be headed toward Varna either today or tomorrow, so we can check out the Black Sea. Odds are we’ll then head up to Romania as now that they’re part of the EU we don’t need visas (yes!). A Romanian friend of mine that I met in Sofia said she can arrange a place for us to stay in Bucharest if we visit, so we might just do that.

Until next time.

Bus drivers: universal arseholes

Time for a quick Seinfeld impersonation:

What’s the deal with bus drivers? Why are they always in such bad moods? You’d think you’d be happy if you got to cruise around all day in a vehicle so big only a monster truck or a semi trailer would mess with you. It’s not like they’re frustrated with traffic; they’re not trying to get home in a hurry.

Ok. Hopefully that set the tone for this piece.

I’ve never had good experiences with bus drivers. The only memories I’ve ever had are of them being aggressive and mean, horrible people. I never really took the bus to school when I was young but I remember everyone had to have a bus pass. I also remember that the bus drivers would act as if they were working border patrol as customs officers whenever an 8 year old would hop on without the correct papers. What’s the big deal? Who the hell cares if a couple of schoolkids hop on a bus without a pass? It’s not costing the bus driver anything and the kids only need to ask their school to give them the pass and they get one. They still don’t pay for anything. The same goes for trains, but I’m not going to go into that here.

Even after my schooling days, they still run around as if they’re upholding some important station in society. I got verbally assaulted once by a bus driver because I didn’t have small enough change for my ticket. I believe the fare was meant to be $2.40. I only had a $10 note but I did have $0.40 in coins on me, so to be considerate and make the drivers job easier for me I handed him $10.40 so that he could just scrape up my $8 in change without having to think about it. Boy was I wrong.

Apparently I was out of line. I was meant to have THE CORRECT CHANGE. Taken aback, I stammered something out about how I didn’t have any change and couldn’t help it. Livid, the driver yanked the cash out of my hand and with a red face and steaming ears, went to all the trouble of picking up a $5 note and two little golden coins and threw them at me along with my ticket. He then continued to complain about how I was somehow fucking up the system because he didn’t have enough money in his till to break $10 notes… Even though he did. To cut a long description of a pointless argument short, he was a prick.

I’ve had other ridiculous experiences in Sydney but there’s no point rehashing them now. I will, however, share a brief whine about one of my Finnish bus mishaps.

Being a good commuter, I arrived 15 minutes early at the bus stop, eagerly waiting for my ride to the city centre of Lahti in order to frolick down to the main bus terminal and take a 2 hour trip to Tampere for a night of fun and alcoholism. Again, story short, the bus was 10 minutes late and drove straight past me while I stood in front on the bus stand. I waited another 20 minutes for the next bus even though it should only have been 10 and in frustration decided to simply walk to town. Of course, I’d already missed my scheduled bus by then and had to make my friend wait for me and watch our bus drive off, as he was there on time. I think he got a lift or something.
The good news is that while bus drivers may be pricks, they’re also stupid. When I finally got onto the bus headed for Tampere I managed to down a whole bottle of vodka in the back seat while I listened to my 80s pop collection on my iPod.

It’s not easy being this hardcore.