I stood for 4 hours at the side of the road outside Thessaloniki, the road was so hot that my soles started melting. I got a ride with a Bulgarian fellow who drove like the winged daemons of hell were closing in behind him. The roads in Bulgaria are not fit for that kind of driving. Heck, no roads are. I clenched the handle above the passenger door with a white fist, too afraid to blink, while he rattled on in Bulgarian. I just kept saying “Da” “Da”. Thankfully his car broke down, smoke and steam pouring from the hood, we managed to flag down another car who took me into Sofia. The driver was kind enough to give me money, take me into the metro, explain the system, and even buy me a ticket. Plus he drove like a sane person, which was nice.
Sofia is a Soviet nightmare, grey tower blocks everywhere, it wasn’t scary so much as bleak. No more Greek alphabet! Oh wait, they use the Cyrillic alphabet instead, drat. I managed to find my way into a bar, where a pretty young filly spontaneously proposed to be my interpreter. We went outside to smoke a joint and she told me she was going to a hippy festival the next day. Now that sounds like some fun! She asked me if I had a tent, and when I said no, she offered to let me sleep in hers. Well now, this is sounding better than ever!
The next day we wound our way up into the densely wooded highlands, where almost no-one lives and time has stood still. The festival was in a clearing alongside a lake. We pitched camp in the trees, and enjoyed the traditional Bulgarian folk music mixed with didgeridoos and banjos and flutes and anything you can imagine, and danced with girls with long dresses and braids and beads in their hair, and hung out in the zen teepee where bells and triangles and xylophones were played, and rode horses and donkeys and sailed small boats out on the lake, and played frisbee with the many errant dogs, and smoked joints and drank too much Bulgarian vodka, I forget what they call it. At night, the heavens opened, and rain began to fall in apocalyptical quantities. I hid in the tent, and Galia was soon to join me. Blazing lightning was followed by long rolling thunder, the storm drew ever nearing. Cowering she was, shaking like a leaf, terrified to her wits. I told her it would be alright, except she chose that moment to confess that her tent wasn’t actually waterproof. I didn’t quite enjoy being rained on inside the tent. Thankfully, no trees fell on us. Which might sound like exaggeration, but our neighbour’s tent was indeed flattened by a tree. Luckily, they escaped, for they’d found refuge in the bar, which come to think of it was exactly where I should have been. We passed a wet, cold, unpleasant night. A far cry from Greece to be sure.
But enough of that! I ditched the festival and hitched a ride with a trucker to Serbia. Gosh, I do like driving in trucks, so high up, you feel like the king of the road! The Turkish fellow had some good driving music and we made good time. He didn’t speak any English, and I still didn’t speak any Turkish, so we just nodded our heads to the beats. We ground to a halt near the border, where a queue of trucks stretched to the horizon. My new friend told me he’d be hours getting through and that I’d be better off walking. With trepidation, I gradually made my way up the line until the border post.
Serbia. A scary country to be sure. You are now leaving the EU. Seems everyone hates the Serbs, but that’s alright because the Serbs hate everyone else. How’s that for a wildly sweeping unsubstantiated generalization? I did some reading to try and understand the Yugoslav wars. It might be about religion, Orthodoxes vs Catholics vs Muslims or something like that. Reminded me of the Northern Ireland nonsense. I looked at every male Serb over the age of thirty with suspicion. What were you doing 10 years ago? Were you going for weekend trips down to Kosovo to shoot Albanians? A spot of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia? I didn’t mention the war, and no-one took it upon themselves to explain the status quo. Maybe I should have gone to Kosovo.
But really Serbia was just fine, folks were friendly enough to me. I partied with some kids from hostel on the barges down on the Danube. Belgrade is actually quite pretty.
I hitchhiked to Budapest. Went out for an evening stroll. In a reversal of roles, at every corner I was accosted by attractive young ladies, offering to spend the night together and lighten my wallet. I have never seen a city so rife with prostitution. I did not indulge. Budapest is a beautiful city, I wish I could have stayed longer.
But I had a date in Prague! Back on the road, I got picked up by a lovely Hungarian woman who spoke German. She gave me her address in the Austrian Alps and offered to host me for as long as I wanted. Sometimes when hitchhiking you can stand for hours at the side of the road, proudly holding your cardboard sign, smiling at every passing car, and it can be emotionally very hard, but when you do eventually get picked up, you really meet the best of humanity, the friendliest and most generous people you could hope to come across.
Except for the occasional crazies. In Brno I caught a lift with a hot-shot executive of a big insurance firm, probably high on cocaine, honestly I’ve no idea why he picked me up, maybe he felt sorry for me standing in the rain. He drove like a mad man to Prague, covering the 200kms in less than a hour, on slippery wet roads. I was ghostly white on arrival.
Ah, Prague. What a charming city. The old town has been a bit overrun by tourists since my last visit. I do hate me some tourists. Tourist couples in matching Day-Glo orange jackets. Do you dress like that at home? I met up with Canadian Alicia who I’d previously met in Crete. She welcomed me into her home and took me running around the city (literally). Good times. We got drunk on Pelinka, a potent Hungarian brew, I’d brought a few bottles from Budapest. What a change to sleep in someone’s home after staying on boats and hostels for weeks on end! You’re probably wondering if we slept together? You’ll just have to keep on wondering then.
I hit the road for Regensburg in Bavaria. Can’t beat Bavaria for tidiness, everyone is impeccably dressed, shiny BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars abound. I ate a sausage as soon as I arrived. A lovely German girl named Tatjiana, who I’d previously met in Belgrade, put me up for a couple of nights. We drank beers in the beer garden. Beer gardens are a wonderful concept. A hundred-year old oak spread its wide branches to shade our heads from the sun. Bliss.
Onward to my final destination Berlin. We tore down the autobahn at 180km/h, but that’s alright because it’s legal and everyone does it. What would be considered reckless endangerment in any other country is just business as usual. Cultural differences, they never cease to surprise.
Berlin, Berlin, Berlin. The city just seems to go on forever. Wide avenues, big buildings. On foot you feel like an ant. I bought a bicycle. I met up with Stefani, my friend the actress, easily the most outrageous person I’ve ever met. We partied like mad, tore up the nightclubs. I had my first experiences of hard drugs. Cocaine is fun, I guess, although hyperactivity is not really what I need more of. MDMA is fun too, although honestly I don’t need to get high to want to rub people and be rubbed by others, or spill all my truths. No, I do that just fine sober. DMT is apparently the most powerful hallucinogen known to man, thank heavens the ride only lasts 10 minutes, I was plenty ready to get off after only 60 seconds. Any longer and the extraterrestrials might have come down to take me off in the UFO. Stefani was supposed to take me to a “libertine” club, but then she chickened out. I get it, she has enough men in her life to keep it complicated.
I was just starting to really enjoy being a nomad when I got some bad news. Taxes. A lot of taxes. Enough to wipe out my savings and them some. I went back to France to hang my accountant and then got a job in an office tower in Marseille overlooking the sea. It was to be the start of some fresh adventures.