After long delays during my trip from Porto to Greece, I finally arrived late at night. The entire city seemed to be asleep, the streets were darkened, the hostel quiet. Perhaps the citizens of Greece were tired due to the fact that IN ATHENS THEY DON’T FLUSH TOILET PAPER. THEY PUT IT IN THE GARBAGE, CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT SHIT? But, anyways, I fell asleep excited to see the Parthenon atop the Acropolis the following day.
After awaking and quietly creeping around the room so as not to disturb the two others sleeping inside, I headed out and up. The Acropolis was unsurprisingly packed, selfie sticks were wielded with reckless abandon, children wore virtual reality sets that I imagine showed what life was like when the Acropolis was built, I did a feet first Charlie Brown missed the football type fall that made everyone stare at me. Fantastic day.
One of the things that struck me was how huge Athens was, the city seemed to expand in endlessly in every which direction. Sitting among the regular residences and buildings, were Greek ruins. One second you could be enjoying a nice Gyro, the next sitting at the foot of a statue depicting Zeus doing erotic Zeus things. Even more impressive than the trip atop the Acropolis during the day, was the view from below at night. The buildings are lit up beautifully, almost as if they’re glowing from within.
After going out and grabbing a few drinks with some new friends from the hostel, we decided to head to the beach the following day. Athens marked the one month anniversary of my being on the road so I was excited to do a more leisurely activity like visiting a beach. The trip there proved to be unfortunately eventful. At first, it all started out fine. We took a tram that would be about an hour to a nearby beach. But quite suddenly, my nose picked up a scent, weak at first but I cannot stress enough that this wasn’t a good scent. I perked my head up and looked around to see if I could identify the source. That’s when the panic began to start. I watched as one woman who was standing by the door covered her mouth and nose, her eyes searched frantically for an escape. The smell was stronger now- the origin was almost undoubtedly human excrement. The woman pushed her way out of the crowded entrance. Others started to wince and panic, they too covered their noses and mouths. The tram doors opened and the crowd flooded out. Only a few remained including myself and my three hostel companions. But the smell did. not. leave. It grew in strength, it found every crack and crevice and sunk into the walls. The source: a homeless man who stood either unaware or apathetically at the door, likely happy to have so much personal space.
Having escaped the scent, we made out way down to the beach where shortly thereafter we watched a fight break out among girls that involved some swings, some hair pulling, and a surprising twist at the end; mutual respect and admiration for one another and a peaceful solution. At least that’s what I think happened, I have no idea, I don’t speak Greek.
I get a considerable amount of enjoyment from watching people argue with Ryanair employees. For those of you who don’t know, Ryanair is like the Spirit of Europe, except their flights occasionally take off. Waiting for my flight to Sofia, I witnessed two wonderful examples of different types of travelers. The first was a man wearing all of his clothes in order to avoid paying an exuberant bag fee, the second was someone losing their mind at an employee at the denial of her bag because it wouldn’t fit in their example carry on bin. To be honest, I’m not even sure if she ever caved and made it on the plane. The employees of Ryanair are not messing around, it’s almost as if they’ll be fired it anyone notices an above average sized carry on bag going on or coming off the plane.
Upon my arrival in Sofia, I immediately made a silly mistake; I didn’t purchase a bus ticket. I intended to, I got on the bus and asked the driver where I could buy one, but he just said something in Bulgarian and pointed to the back of the bus. Figuring that this was a sign that I was okay without one, I took my seat. I watched as the outskirts of the formerly communist city passed by my eyes. The buildings were bleak, colorless, laundry hung from the windows and people seemed to be standing outside for the sake of standing outside. Greece was in the high 70’s and sunny, Sofia was in the 50’s and overcast. The bus pulled into a stop next to one of these buildings when a ticket agent got on. The bus driver pointed to me. The next thing I know a burly ticket agent is standing over me demanding I present my ticket in broken English. After much of the bus was left snickering, I finally ended up paying a pretty hefty fine. Not a hot start to my Bulgarian adventure.
The hostel was nice, but quiet. The age range was surprisingly diverse. I was bunking with a middle aged Mexican man who didn’t speak any English though he was intent on communicating with me and my Spanglish. One of the nights I was there, I was cornered by a man who had a plan to open an Airbnb type place but specifically so people could rent out RV’s specifically to go out into the desert. He was convinced humidity was almost always what killed people. Later he began telling me the virtue’s of Nostradamus and the genius of “Charlie” Manson. Then he offered a girl his shower since she’d complained the line to hers was so long, she declined. There was also another man who wandered around the hostel constantly brushing his teeth with a mysterious electrical toothbrush that I never saw him charge. When not doing this, he was watching movies on the hostel computer. Now that I think about it, I might’ve been staying at a mental hospital!
During my stay in Bulgaria, I toured the Rila Monastery up in the mountains, if it weren’t beautiful enough, mist hung in every mountain valley. I also did another free walking tour (the staple of any backpackers itinerary). During the walking tour, I learned something interesting about the city of Sofia. In it, is a statue of St. Sofia, a woman who gave birth to three converted girls who were all murdered for their conversion to Christianity. Interestingly enough, she has nothing to do with the name of the city (it’s named after a church that travelers would first see upon approach), but being that it’s Bulgaria and the winter’s are especially frigid, she is always cold.
(That’s not my photo)
Sofia is probably the first place I went to that I don’t have a glowing review of. It was nice being there, and it was an interesting view into Bulgarian culture, but maybe it was just a bit too bleak. From Sofia, I headed to Bucharest, Romania. Romania was one of the last communist hold outs. The communist party was toppled only in 1991, and it’s clear that the city is still figuring out how to move forward. That being said, it’s a beautiful city. It’s full of older architecture that’s reminiscent of Paris, their parliament building which was started under the communist regime is one of the largest most extravagant government buildings in the world. They have a chandelier so big that it requires an entirely separate room above it to enter it for repairs. I only stayed in Bucharest for a day, because from there I headed to Bran, Romania, the supposed home of Dracula’s castle. Bran is a small town nestled up in the mountains, and it was on my way there that I had one of my truest backpacking adventures.
To get to Bran you have to take a train to Brasov. Brasov is kinda scary, especially the train station. There are gypsies everywhere and it just generally doesn’t give off the greatest vibe. I knew I needed to take a bus to the stop nearest to the airbnb I was staying at, but I was unsure of which bus. After meandering around a bit and nervously noting the setting sun as I asked driver after driver of how to get there, I finally found what I thought to be the correct bus.
It was fully nighttime as hopped on the bus and tracked the trip on my phone to make sure I was at least headed in the right direction. At first, we were. We were inching closer and closer to Bran, but then, the bus turned completely around. I went up to the bus driver.
“Bran?” I asked.
“No.” He said.
“How do I get there?” I asked.
“No english.” He said.
But he beckoned for me to sit down. Not again I thought. But having nowhere else to go I reluctantly sat back down and at the next stop, my trust was rewarded. The bus driver found a young woman who spoke English to help me. She asked me where I was going and began chatting with her friend in Romanian, then to another nearby passenger who was seemingly also suggesting something. Suddenly, there were four or five people all sitting in a circle around me discussing what I should do in Romanian. On the one hand it was kind of cool; so many people willing to help. On the other, I wished maybe they would give me some hints between the Romanian. It all ended with her pointing me in the direction of a bus station. “Your bus,” she told me, “will be there in two hours.”
It was already 10:30. The bus station was completely dark. Silhouetted figures paced around it, their faces concealed by the night. I found a bench that gave me the best view of my surroundings and sat down. It’s funny how when you’re on your own, even innocent things can seem ominous. Whether it be laughter in the distance, or a dog barking, it all just begins to add up and find a way to fit within the scary narrative your brain is painting. A bus showed up- not headed to Bran. At this point, I wasn’t even sure I could check in that late. Finally I caved and hailed a taxi.
“Do you take credit?” I asked.
“No.” The driver said.
“No, you don’t take credit?”
“No English.” He said. I showed him my credit card.
“No.” He said.
“Can you stop at an ATM?” I asked.
“No understand.” He said.
“Bank?” I asked.
“No understand.” He said.
“Money machine?” I asked.
“No understand.” He said.
“Cash machine?” I asked.
“No understand.” He said. And just as my patience was about to run out, a fellow backpacker trudged his way over wielding his cell phone. We looked up ATM but it just said ATM. How about bank? Banco, as it turns out.
“Banco?” I asked.
“Ah, yes, Banco.” He said.
So at this point, I was thinking I’m just about safe. I’ll get there, show up, and all will be right with the world. But when we got there and he dropped me off at what I knew to be the closest point to the airbnb, I didnt know which way to go. So I went left. As I began to walk, Some unsettling thoughts began to creep in. I’m in Bran, Bran is in the heart of Transylvania. Transylvania is the home of Dracula and werewolves and just as I began to let these thoughts creep in, dogs starting howling and barking. Non stop as if they were possessed. I made it quite a distance before I realized I was going the wrong day. I walked back down and headed right this time to finally find my home for the next three nights.
Dracula’s castle, as it turns out, isn’t really Dracula’s castle. Vlad the Impaler, the former Romanian leader and the supposed inspiration for the character did spend a few nights in the castle, but it’s importance was mostly similar to that of other castles. Those of great wealth and power lived there, but no blood sucking vampires. At the top of the castle, they do have a room dedicated to the character which seems to be a bit less than your expecting upon entry seeing as the entire thing is marketed as Dracula’s castle. Bran was a nice town, hikes surround it, and it was nice to see from a cultural standpoint. Unfortunately from there I’d have to head to Brasov again to catch my first night train to Budapest, but that will be on the next edition of the blog. Thanks for checking in.
OH, and some house keeping notes.
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Also, I’m home on July 18th! Don’t fret, I’m going to finish this little project I’ve started.
Thank you to everyone who has been keeping up with this. Hope you’re enjoying it!