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Two days

Of mixed experiences while crossing Slovakia

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I had popcorn in Budapest... it got me thinking...
Try as I might, I could not remember the last time I'd had popcorn. It's one of those comfort things that's forever been around. We always had a stash of microwaveable packs at home. Later, with my ex, we would even take the time to fry them “old style”. I remember laughing at the way they fizz when you pour chilli sauce over them, their tiny anguished shrills. Popcorn's awesome. So why haven't I had any in months? And what other simple, normal, day to day niceties have I gone without?

I lost my camera's cable, so I'm effectively cameraless. So for this entry, I'll use the magic of Paint, Google Maps and Street View for a couple of images.

The visit to Romania was very homely and personal. For me, Bucharest was a city of graffiti, musicians, painters and writers. I could have stayed had I just wished to. I still might go back. It's a place full of movement and will. I like what I saw of that country, from the beautiful women, to the exquisitely eccentric gypsy castles of Cluj-Napoca. Or their seductive tales of medieval festivals and warm beaches, of werewolves and stabbing love.

Then Budapest. I stayed in the house I sent a Couchrequest to the first time I was there. And I was right. Even two years later, staying with Dorka and her family proved to be the energizing and homely experience that I expected/needed. But it is Budapest, so even though we weren't out looking for it, every night there was music, or friends, or both. There was even a massive Board Game Night event that Dorka is involved with. Just perfect.

But now, let me tell just you about Slovakia. This might take a while, so go grab some coffee.

First day.

I left Budapest a bit late, true; but it was difficult enough to leave, I just could not rush it. I got to the main Pest Train Station at almost 11. My intention was to hitchhike, but still I inquired. A train ticket to Krakow would normally cost around 30€. By normally I mean three days in advance; if you buy it same day it costs three times more. Yes, you read that correctly! Ninety euros for an eight hour ride! I wouldn't pay that even if I had it. So I got my local 500 Ft ticket and left for the highways.

Here was the first mistake. Not a big one, but this things tend to escalate: I missed my stop. Had I stepped off the train where I was supposed to, I would have been on the E77, gotten several rides through Slovakia, maybe make it to Poland that same day. That did not happen. Instead, I got off at the last station and walked towards where the Highway 2 intersects the E77, while holding out my “Kraków” sign. A car stopped. Then, the second mistake. We were enjoying some Manu Chao when I got distracted and saw E77 speed past. My driver was going to visit some friends and insisted I should come. I did. After all, why did I learn to say “Miért ne?” if not to use it! Once in what turned out to be Operentzia's recording studio, I checked the map and decided on a new route. I enjoyed the tea and joint they offered, then left. I should have gone back to the E77.

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It was around 3.30pm when I crossed the Slovakian border at Esztergom. It did not go well from there. After asking and figuring out where to go, I walked a couple of kms out, and got my last ride of the day. It was 4. At some point I found a bridge over some train tracks, and stopped to rest. I never stopped flagging oncoming cars, be it while walking along the road, or while on that bridge, but it was a small road and people were not going far, already going back home. Drivers kept pointing down, which means “I'm coming here” or “not going any further”. It's basically a polite No.

I seriously considered making camp under that bridge. The wind had been getting steadily stronger, and the trees next to the tracks did not seem to sway as much as the rest of the world. Scouting around, I found a nice spot with very little wind, where I'd be protected by thorns. Nice place to camp! So when I had but decided to stay there, I grabbed my packs and continued walking. I would not quit; not while there was still light. It was around 5.30. My next pointer, Slevice, was some 44 km away. I would make that 34 at least. Then I met Josef.

I know his name was Josef because he showed me his I.D. Not just that, he showed me everything he owns. I met him by the side of the road, he said something, so I crossed to hear him better. It was clear that I did not understand a word, but he did not seem to care. I guess some people are just lonely, and will take any chance to talk with (or to) someone. He may have also been a little crazy. He just did not stop talking.

I'd say he's in his sixties. An unremarkable, little old Slovakian man; well shaven, small, gray. He would come some 10 cm from my face when talking. Laughed a lot, spat a little, and licked his finger before turning every page. He was nice. There was no running water in his place, so he had to carry bottles and gallons from the street tap, and that's why he was outside when I walked by. He took me in, and showed me everything he had around, from his empty wine bottles, his dog and empty fridge, to his childhood pictures and the contents of his wallet. I took a tour of his house, admiring every picture on the wall, his magazine cut-outs of pretty girls, and learning how to turn the heating on, and where the thermostats were. He gave me some strawberry jelly and excused himself for not having coffee. I think. I understood very little of what he said, for he did not use his hands when speaking. He simply did not care, being just happy of the human presence. I did get it though, when he asked if I wanted to leave. I guess if I'd stayed for longer he would have offered one of his several dusty couches, but when he asked a second time, I said yes. It was dark already. Cold again, trembling in the biting wind, I walked on.

I think I hit a new low point that night. You will not understand what I felt, unless you've ever started wetting your lips at the sight of a derelict building. What I felt at the sight of that overgrown, roofless carcass can only be described as lust. I stalked it from the other side of the road. Barely any cars passing by, but they were now unimportant. There were three abandoned buildings in total. Two with no roof, one with just no doors. To my relief, all empty of people. But the third one had signs of use: empty bottles, pizza boxes and stray pieces of clothing. Also, a broken down couch, only a hinge holding it all together...

Google was there in 2012. It wasn't so overgrown back then.

Google was there in 2012. It wasn't so overgrown back then.


With the right leverage, I finished splitting that couch and took it's backrest with me to another house, into a room with half a roof. There were no doors, so I could see the highway at my feet. I felt completely vulnerable, but i was safe from the wind. I crawled inside my sleeping bag, set my rucksack as far and protected from the door as possible and had a good night's rest. With my knife under my pillow, of course.

Second day.

After a surprisingly good night, I woke as soon as there was light. The wind had not stopped; I could see the trees swaying violently outside. At least it wasn't raining. Yet.

I got on the road and set a limit: If by 10 I was not in Levice, I would backtrack all the way to Hungary, and back to the E77. But by 7AM I was already at the outskirts of town. Looks like just as people the previous evening were reluctant to pick anyone up when going back home, they seemed almost eager to get some company for their way to work. What came after was my mistake, just mine... My driver told me, when he knew of my destination, to follow road's eastwardly direction where he dropped me. If we had had a common language other than grunts, he also would have told me to get on the proper road, not just follow the one I was on. As such, I ended up walking a good 10k's that morning, going in the complete opposite direction from where I wanted. But it wasnt that bad, really. I could actually call it a nice walk. Still I was glad when I got a ride and finally got back on the planned road.

My leisurely highway strolls

My leisurely highway strolls


A few quick rides and I was past Krupina, halfway through Slovakia. Then I was picked up bt a man who did not speak neither english, spanish, french, italian, german or japanese. We still could exchange a few words. Mexikanski, tekila, that kind of things. Yet we formed one of those inexplicable bonds. An ancient friendship made of silence and smiles. He drove me well past where he was going, leaving me in a service station outside Banska Bystrica. He said there was a good restaurant there, and that I must try a typical Slovakian meal: Bryndzové halušky. He actually wrote the name on a piece of paper, then gave me 25€ for it.

I could not refuse. So I thanked him and got off his truck. I had forgotten it was cold out, we were now in the mountains... so I hurried inside the wooden building. It was like entering a movie set. I was almost surprised to not see minstrels singing among the thick benches and long tables made from whole logs. Furs and old farm instruments decorated the walls, stuffed animals stood or hung here and there, a boar's head at the center of all. The space was dominated by a big fire pit—sadly off— around which the waiting staff pranced about in their traditional garments. Only the waitress's Crocs broke the kitschy charm.

Broke as I am, with still no wallet, nor credit or debit cards and stretching every penny I got, I considered only getting some coffee and moving on. But if I was to truly show my gratitude, I had to eat that which the money was given to me for. Besides, it would have been a mistake not to, I learned. Bryndzové halušky is awesome! At least to me. You either love it or hate it, the guy next table said. And I love it. It's gnocchi-like potato! and the cheese, and the savory bacon! That and a cold draft beer, and I still had 20€ to spare! Take the good as it comes, when it comes. The bad will find you on its own. Delicious.

I got a ride almost as soon as I was back out, and we crossed the mountains. The good times were over, it soon started to rain. When we parted ways in Ruzomberok, on the other side of the pass, it was full storm. Umbrellas flew off people's hands, or clawed at their faces. I stood under a bus stop, with my Krakow sign up high, the wind holding it flat against my outstretched arm. I was wearing double socks, double pants, scarf, sweatshirt, coat, hat and flannel shirt. I was soaked to the core.

But hitchhiking is called like that for a reason. You have to walk to the outskirts of town, out to a point where people know just where you want to go, and are going the same way. Sometimes, that means walking in the shivering rain for a couple of miles, then standing patiently with the backpack on and a smile stamped on your face, until someone stops. Because someone will stop, that is the hitchhiker's faith.

But soon it was five, I was between towns, and people started pointing down again, arriving home. I was close to the border, but not close enough. I crossed the last town in Slovakia with no one stopping. Despair started to grow in me. Very little cars actually passed my way. It was my fault, and I knew it! You see, in my last ride I had seen a highway veer off the side, with a Krakow sign on it. It was a ring road, I saw it, but could not get off in time. So now I trembled through town, with no hope of getting any rides there. Then a car with Polish license plates approached! And drove past. The cold reached inside, and I stopped.

How do you say "I need to go left" in Slovakian? Fast!

How do you say "I need to go left" in Slovakian? Fast!


I had 20€ in my pocket. Surely I could find a place to sleep with that. I could walk back, talk to someone, go to a bar, ask around, go online... But I hate going back. I could see the highway in the far distance, it's little trucks just an arm away. No cars came, I was alone in the rain. I was tired. Tired of waiting, and watching time pass by. But two years it was since I was last in Krakow. I would not wait another day. So instead, I walked faster than before. I started to sweat under the weight of the packs , even with the cold outside. But I did not slow down.

I will not wait for you! I yelled at my fate. I'll get there even if I must walk there! I shouted as if the wind could listen. I shouted as if it would care. I spurred myself onward, my legs were burning when I reached the highway, only then I stopped. There was no space to hail the cars, no safe place for them to stop. I could not hitchhike there. But there was no need. Just before stepping out into the speedway, I felt his presence. I turned around to find a car almost upon me, having come the same way I had, creeping through my rainy thoughts. I bared my thumb. He stopped.

I made it to Krakow some hours later, before it was even dark. I had no local money, so I traded a bookmark and a smile for some coffee and apple pie. I could not stop trembling. A cold had crept inside me that only a very warm shower could thaw. But hell! I was already there. I could rest. I could even get some popcorn too.

Posted by Zaspirucho 22:07 Archived in Slovakia Tagged bridges rain budapest poland camping europe backpacking slovakia wind cold hitchhiking free_camping Comments (0)

Tired

Just a poem.

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I'm tired.
Tired of not having a home,
of people asking if I'm on holiday,
or what my next destination is.
I'm tired of having an answer to that question.

I'm tired of having no place to cook,
and no one to cook for.
Any chance I get, I stay all day inside,
for I miss the cozy warmth,
I miss doing nothing, without anyone staring.
Or asking me why.
I miss having a house, and a day to day life.

I'm tired of eating once at sunrise,
and once at sundown.
Like following some traveling Ramadan.

I'm tired of looking for people that speak my language,
or any other that I speak.
Of repeating myself with simpler words.
I'm tired of depending on others.
And having nothing but a smile to give back.

My shoulders, my back and my feet are tired.
My skin is tired.
My soul is tired.

I'm tired of nostalgia.
Of visiting places I once were,
and finding the memories better.
I'm tired of missing others,
missing places I've never been to.

I'm exhausted of planning,
and then doing something else.

But I guess, I just must love feeling tired.
For I have no intention of stopping.
Not anytime soon.

I wrote this on Facebook originally, but I guess it belongs here.

Posted by Zaspirucho 13:11 Archived in Poland Tagged travel poland europe slovakia tired poem hitchhiking Comments (0)

Hello Turkey Bye

Of ten days and what's to come

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“Where do you live?” A girl asked. “I live here, now. I live where I’m living” I smartly replied. “Yes, but where’s your home?
Ah. Now that’s the question, isn’t it?

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I must say, Turkey felt amazingly like home. The comfortable level of chaos everywhere, the ever surrounding beauty… Having my sister there only helped reinforce the impression. She agreed: Mexico and Turkey are disturbingly similar. Maybe not at the surface level (and sometimes at that too), but on a deep level, they are very much alike.

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With her, I revisited Istanbul, experiencing everything again as new, through her eyes and wonder. It's a great place that city, in every sense of the word. The buildings, the people. Smiles everywhere, good food and Cats! Everywhere! Not just mangy strays, no. Both street dogs and cats look well fed and reasonably safe. They are not afraid of humans, and many enjoy being petted by strangers and tourists day in and out. There was even a happy cat enjoying the views, inside the Hagia Sophia! So not just the architecture, but the whole atmosphere is very much worth the visit. Its awesome.

And it will twist your neck.

And it will twist your neck.


So for a week I was with my sister, walking around the old district of Istanbul, drinking tea and coffee and catching up. Last I saw had seen her was September 2013, and a lot had happened since! But not all was reminiscence. Together we spent a couple of days in the great grey city of Ankara, government town, and in the land of fairy houses and magic called Cappadocia. Completely different, both places were incredible.

There's lots of road in Turkey. It's a big place.

There's lots of road in Turkey. It's a big place.


First in Ankara, I brought Irazú, my sis, to Atatürk's museum. I wanted her to know who was that face that stares at you anywhere in Turkey. I feel a deep respect for the man that he was and all that he accomplished. So that was the official tourist business. After that, the personal started: we made our way to the outskirts of town to be at a friend's wedding. It was not what I expected. It turned out, the wedding was divided in two: the official, legal wedding one day, in Ankara, and the party event, a week later, in Trabzon. That is, on the other side of the country. Among the travellers, Trabzon is renowned as the to-go place for an Iranian visa. So yes, its all the way east, almost in Iran! And with my sister leaving from Istanbul soon, It would imply crossing two thousand kilometers in a couple of days. After much consideration, I decided not to go. Not an easy call.
But I get ahead of myself. For before all this, and after the wedding event, we ended hanging out and crashing with the wedding musicians and having a late night of beers, music and locals. Oh, those lovely turkish eyes...

But time was short, so then we went for a day and a bit more to Cappadocia. In particular, to the town of Göreme, place of magic and wonder. Due to its particular geological characteristics, it has evolved some interesting rock formations. They are called the Fairy houses, and with good reason! People no longer live in them, or at least cannot carve new holes into them, but they still stand testament to what was. No pictures can really convey the feeling of the cold wind rushing and whistling among the natural towers, or the relief when leaving the confined spaces of an underground city. Or chatting with a turkman over some chai, in the middle of nowhere, and with nothing but beauty in sight. We could have flown on a hot air balloon, or slept inside a comfy cave. But that will have to wait for a season with more dineros.

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large_101_1808.jpgGreat

Great


It could have been a longer stay. It should have. But it wasn't. And so we both left Turkey. The second visit is now over. It lasted little over ten days, though it could have been much, much longer. But I was itching to start the journey north. So I got on a bus to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Leaving Turkey felt like yet a new start, as if a new chapter, a new adventure started to unfold, with the Asia stories at rest for now...

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Two years before, when I left Istanbul for Sofia, a pair of very quick and gentle hands stole my camera (freakin' gypsies!). I decided not to think of it and instead started writing and drawing more. This very blog might be the result of that. So I wonder if anything will come of a new development... Starting a disturbing pattern, after arriving in Plovdiv and when I decided it was enough walking and coffee was required, I realized my wallet was gone. Gone to live her own story, somewhere far from me. She took my bank cards though. So not only did I lose my money, but also the ability to get any more.
Now that sucks.
So I'm in Bulgaria, with no money whatsoever, not even a single euro, and I still intend to make my way to Poland. I intended to Couchsurf, hitchhike and work here and there... I was just expecting to have other options too!!

So lets see how this little adventure develops! I know there will be cold and hunger. But heck, that will pass too. And summer is coming.
Hold on to your wallets!

A last one, because why not!

A last one, because why not!

Posted by Zaspirucho 17:14 Archived in Turkey Tagged buildings travel end adventure cappadocia istanbul beautiful cats europe asia goreme ankara ransack backacking Comments (1)

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