The ride from Budapest to Belgrade certainly could have been disastrous as we went to the wrong train station – a small one out of the way from the main international station that was actually only walking distance from our hostel. We took a cab out to this almost industrial looking rail station to only to find out that we couldn’t actually buy tickets at this station to get to Serbia. So, in a panic, the Poo Crew are frantically running around like chickens with their heads cut off asking anyone and everyone whether or not we could just get on and pay the conductor and if the train even stopped there. We decided to risk it and knowing which train was which, thanks to one of the staff members at the station, we hopped on, fingers and toes crossed. All the cabins were full and the slim corridors were too small for all of us and our packs. We ended up popping a squat in the exit hoping that someone would get off at the next stop so we could sit somewhere for the upcoming 8 hour train ride. So, there we were sitting beside the train exit, the stenchy dunny, and the motion censored door to first class on the train which appeared to be empty. At least we were on the train, ticket or not. The train conductor came by not too long after and motioned us into first class. We looked at him with hesitation and then he ushered us in to sit. Apparently the woman that helped us find the right train had explained to him our situation and he was kind enough to allow us to first class for the trip. And for regular price. Who’da thunk it?! What could have been a major muck up turned into a first class ride into Serbia! Belgrade here we come!!
Belgrade, Serbia is a destination designed for those who don’t want to sleep. Belgrade’s specialty for all those night owls out there are the heaps of Splavovi barges. These are basically giant rafts that have been turned into clubs and are anchored at the riverbank. Most of them are open until the crack of sparrows and I can tell you wh-at, Serbia knows how to party. It has now become routine for me to not leave the hostel until midnight or 1 AM and then party until 6 AM. This is how it’s done Eastern European, folks. For those of you who don’t already know, Belgrade is also a man’s paradise – the Serbian women are so beautiful they put Aphrodite to shame. Thanks to traveling with a pack of wild boars (men), I was privy to weakening of the knees and absolute awe these women possessed. Ladies out there, Serbian blokes unfortunately do not compare.
We stayed at a hostel called Hedonist which proved to live up to it’s name quite accurately. We had a sneaky peak at some of the not so PG activities taking place in the common room via the front desk’s security television. Couple of crazy Aussies didn’t check for a camera after everyone left I reckon. Anyway! Hedonist is located right near the downtown shopping district and close to heaps of bars and restaurants. The staff are so vibrant and energetic as well, loved partying with us.
Friday night, having only just arrived and gotten settled in by midnight, was a quiet one. We barely survived Budapest and needed to be in tip top condition for the Warrior Dance Festival the following night which was to be held at the Belgrade stone fortress. So needless to say, I won’t bore you with the Friday details.
Rise and shine on Saturday and we wake up for a quick nosh before racing over to the ticket center in the square to get our Skrilly Willy tickets. Success! The day was basically spent having a wee exploration of the place. There are nice parks there but otherwise, dog poop is the main sight seeing for Belgrade. I was told there wasn’t a whole lot to see in Belgrade but that the night life was worth the visit so I wasn’t all too surprised when there wasn’t too much to look at other than shops and the occasional tower here and there. The poop though, definitely was Team Brown’s highlight. That and the outrageous traffic. The cars honk at each other so often it would appear they were having a chin wag. We then strove to get the cars honking at us. Natural honking became a goal of the stay in Belgrade shortly thereafter. As the sun began to settle, we headed back to get the festivities in order for some serious Warrior Festival dancing. With tons of grog to go through, we were about to get right yobboed. We started off just the crew playing the card game Shit Head and then after getting into the Clap game (which is better shown than explained via writing) recruited half the hostel into this sweaty drinking game. Marijan, one of the very handsome staff members, then came over and offered us each this strange looking liquor in fluted shot glasses. Rakia (also Rakija) is an alcoholic beverage that is produced by the distillation of fermented fruit such as plums, apricots or grapes; it is a popular beverage throughout the Balkans. Its alcohol content is normally 40%, but home-produced rakia can be stronger (typically 50% to 60%). Which is the stuff that Marijan foolishly gave us. It’s classically a sipping drink but being the ignorant tourists we were, we thought it was for shooting. Our mistake. The second we downed the stuff our trachea started burning and our eyes watering. Should have known better than to trust something out of an old plastic gasoline container. Ah well, when in Rome! Err… Serbia.
And this was the evening that marks the beginning of my recruitment into the Game of Life which has played a role in every country since Serbia. Basically, the game is centered around how the world M-I-N-E is a very selfish word and therefore should not be said without consequence. Any time this word is uttered and caught, the perpetrator has to do 10 push-ups with a clap during the last one. Doesn’t matter where you are – nursing home, grocery store, mud pit – anywhere you get caught. So, this being also a “game”, you can imagine how we would all try to set one another up. “Hey, who’s beer is this?” or “Who’s fart was that?!” In any case, once you’re in, you’re in for life. And now there are people all over Europe doing push ups thanks to our recruitment process. Photo evidence.
After getting well watered we were off to Warrior Dance Festival – an open air concert at a fortress. What an amazing night. I wasn’t really into electronic music before then but hot damn I can say with conviction that it definitely gets everyone going. What a good night of rampant dancing and near front stage views of Prodigy and Skrillex.
We slept quite late the next day after a seemingly long night getting lost on the way home at some ungodly hour. The next day was spent in the shopping district picking up some new Connies and staying far too long at an ice cream shop because Ollie’s future wife was working there. Sunday evening was taking a turn for a repeat of the previous night but alas, I was too tired and fell asleep while the boys went out and didn’t roll back in until 11 AM the next day. Sweet heaven almighty, Belgrade is very much a vortex in that sense. Monday was spent in the Bohemian quarter of Belgrade where there are fantastic traditional Serbian restaurants and little pubs. I probably ate the biggest stuffed pork chop on this side of the moon. After a late lunch, Dougie, Ollie and myself went over to the massive shopping center across the river to pick up a few things. Namely a netbook for myself because traveling without a laptop is an extreme hassle when everyone fights for a turn on the communal hostel computers. Here is where I had a lesson in Serbian gypsy cabs. I was lucky enough to get into a good one but the driver was kind enough to learn me on the ways of unlicensed taxi drivers. Essentially, if you get into the wrong car, they will either lock you in and take you for a goose chase demanding an obscene amount of money or, if you’re completely green, they will just savagely rip you off. Serbia is a very cheap country but the exchange rate is ridiculous so it’s easy to not be able to figure it out in your head. 1 Euro = 115 Dinar, which makes the math a little tricky. Serbia is also only an up and coming tourist destination so there is not a lot of knowledge on these types of things and the locals look at visitors like absolute aliens. Despite this however, the locals are very well versed in English and are very friendly people. Thank you in Serbian is “hvala” but sounds an awful lot like “koala” which we proceeded to say in jest so I’m sure we looked like fools the entire time.
The last night in Serbia was a total ringer. Serk didn’t come out with us as he was to fly to Istanbul the next morning but god Jesus love me, what a night. We went down to one of the barge clubs with the whole hostel and everyone found their “soul mate” that night. Imagine a pack of us stumbling home in the wee hours. The poor locals must have hated us. “DO YOU SPEAK ENNNGRISH?!”
Our last day in Belgrade was spent sorting out overnight train tickets to Bulgaria with Alex, Ollie and Doug. And what an interesting train ride that was. The Eastern European trains are exactly how you would picture them to be. Especially the sleeper trains. Tiny cabins with six bunks with maybe a couple feet between each one. Tiny tiny tiny. And of course the shortest female of the bunch is in one cabin over on the very top with an older man underneath her from Montenegro who, dare I say it, was a “sleep wanker”. Thank god for earplugs because that was definitely not in the bargain.
I’ve been surprised that border control has been so easy so far. Mind you, I haven’t been out for as long as the boys have and they were questioned ruthlessly a couple of times with regards to a lacking of stamps from certain countries. Sometimes you just don’t get a stamp when entering certain countries within the Shengen zone depending on your form of transportation. We definitely got stamped coming into and exiting Serbia as they are not part of the Shengen zone, weirdly enough.
Anyway! Took the night sleeper wank train to Sofia. The toilets were Trainspotting and the cabins were surprisingly full of locals who just drank and smoked out the corridor windows of the train. Good times.
Sofia. There is not a lot to say about Sofia… There isn’t much there save for a mountain which helps pick up their tourist industry in the winter. There is also a monastery to visit in one of the Bulgarian mountains but because we were only staying a few nights and because there wasn’t much to see in the town, we just partied our nights away. Or tried to… There is a very interesting subculture of clubs in Sofia called “Chalger” clubs. It’s basically Bulgarian teeny bopper electronic music which was then extended to categorize the type of people that listen to the music and then the type of clubs that entertain these. You know you’re in a Chalger club when there are tissues all over the floor. Apparently, it’s trendy to buy a packet of kleenex and to one by one throw them in the air when you’re at the club. Very interesting indeed. I think a lot of the Bulgarians take the mickey out of these places. Hmmm yeeshh. I don’t know if it was because we went mid-week but we didn’t find Sofia to be anything special and the people not nearly as friendly. But then again, anything would be crap after Belgrade. Especially for the Root Crew. Other than spending time in our private dorm making a fool of ourselves because the weather was so crap, we were gypsy cabbed to the “Studentski” district where the bartenders MADE us buy and entire bottle of vodka. Not the friendliest of places. The interesting thing about the Bulgarian language is that they do adopt a lot of other languages as part of their own. For instance, thank you is “merci” and goodbye is “ciao”. Also, in Bulgaria, nodding your head means no and shaking your head means yes. Perhaps that’s why they thought we wanted an entire bottle of vodka? But that is all a part of the past because Istanbul changed my life. It took us a hell of a long time and a whole lot of hassle to get there but we finally made it.
Words for the wise, anyone in the Commonwealth and the United States actually has to pay 45 euro for the Turkish Visa to get into the country rather than the 15 euro that all the forums tell you. But the 45 euro is amazingly worth it. Istanbul will be my next home, no word of a lie. More to come on Turkey – the place that has healed me and never made me feel so alive. ❤