In this portion of the soul searching quest, I head northwest to Budapest, armed with emergency hazelnuts and the German guy that pronounces Macedonia like macadamia. He names himself “Andi Belgrad” in my contacts and lets me choose the hostel. Probably not the best move…
First on our sizeable agenda is the pinball museum (thank you Atlas Obscura), an underground cavern housing restored gaming machines from as early as the 1950s. We spend three hours jumping from one tournament to the next, losing pac man and defeating the bad guys in a safari shoot out. A game of air hockey reveals that we’re both supremely competitive and although I suck at everything else, I win Mortal Kombat fair and square.
That night I sleep alongside 4 men in 6 bed dorm that should’ve been for two. The South American men in the room were snoring like hogs when I checked in, and they are in the exact same position making similar breathing noises when I return hours later. I’m greeted with a very confronting sight in the morning thanks to some strategic interior design. The shower floor is decorated with a curly ball of black hair and a pair of soggy men’s underpants.
“How did you sleep?” I ask Andi.
“Terribly.” Same. Poor bugger signed himself up for an eventful night with thirteen others.
Slightly grumpy and not yet caffeinated, we walk towards the House of Terror. It’s a World War II museum with a lot of reading involved but a 12 euro ticket means I’ll be damned if I don’t have a good time juicing the last bits out of it. It’s quite fascinating at the bottom but the 10-minute elevator ride isn’t great for claustrophobia or the gassy ones. In the concrete basement are original torture cells; a thin, tall one forcing prisoners to stand for days on end, a half ceilinged sitting cell and one with a floor of cold water.
We exit onto a busy street and our ears prick up to the sound of a trombone from an eye-level window. A few steps later the melodic screech of violin strings graces the streets, and from around the corner floats a piano ballad. There’s street art on rough grey walls, some vintage stores, a quaint coffee place and hold up, Grandpa Andi’s forgotten his glasses and can’t read anything. We have a joint account now because little miss I-didn’t-research-the-exchange-rate took too much out at the ATM. For dinner we stop at a sandwich shop where the workers shout your order in unison like a pack of football players. Here’s a photo of me parenting my beautiful baguette child next to Andi who can’t believe how good it is.
At a multi level graffiti-covered bar we meet a reggae drummer from England called Ali. He and I drink a stranger’s vodka shot, half each of course—if it’s poisoned we’re both going down. There’s a live jazz rap band on the menu and it’s not the best so we bounce out the door in search of a boogie.
We begin with a quick beer refill at the mini mart and try out some venues with very questionable and not-parent-friendly names. We choose an underground rave cave and throw ourselves at the walls and dance floor. To be honest I don’t think the Hungarians know what to do with me, they keep a wide berth for my spinning top torso and sudden stylistic changes.
I watch Ali contemplate the contents of his wallet and the expensive ziplock bags pulled out from Calvins on a street corner. We bid farewell to him and wish him the best of luck on his wild pill goose chase. I finance 2 kebabs for Andi, eat an entire packet of biscuits and collapse into stuffy bedroom hell. According to the reggae drummer, you’ve gotta be so faded you don’t realise everyone else is snoring. At 2:48am, I’m the first one home, and at 4:34am I’m not in the mood to be rudely awoken so the men who snore get an earful of abuse from moi.
A long morning walk leads to a vertical slide down apple crumble cliffs. We dust the dirt off our butts and emerge out of the trees to a spectacular sunset that fades into a gloomy cloud kingdom. We debate the correct melody of Hungarian Dance and make a zig zag path over the bridge, procrastinating our return to the party hostel where the entire staff is Australian eurotrash. I’m SORRY, that was brutal but sometimes the truth hurts. I’m exempt from this demographic due to my disdainful avoidance of their notorious nightly pub crawls.
I knock a lady off her bike and to be honest, I’m still not sure whose fault it was but boy it could have been bad. Her bare head sweeps the road, just centimetres from a car tyre, making shock waves that rattle my skeleton. I cop a lot of hateful glances, as if I did it on purpose, and yes, citizens of Budapest, I am a cold blooded killer, thank you for having me.
A nap mondata: I looove party hostels!
A hely dal: Hungarian Dance no. 5 in G Minor - Brahms
It’s early morning in a party hostel, the prime time for solitary reflection, some sleepy reading and tea. I flop from my bunk to the couch and squint at The History of Salt, one of the few English books on offer at Reveller’s hostel in Belgrade.
I spot Andi, the excitable German who’s followed me from Theth, peeped his head out in Ohrid and boarded the same bus in Skopje. We finally swap travel plans which are identical, if you can believe it, and plan a thrift shopping extravaganza the following morning.
I text the slumbering dragon that it’s time to awaken; the day is young and so are we! Off we pop for a coffee, hit some thrift shops, make a pastry stop and cop a face full of fur coats. I learn that “knacken” is the sound made when nuts are cracked open—one of the more useful terms I’ve picked up. I soundtrack our walk with a very average rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee.
He talks me out of buying the ridiculous knitted hat and we both fight over the dark-washed wide leg jeans with bejewelled pockets. It’s a no on the glittery knitted underwear and some truly heinous souvenirs of arguably the worst period of fashion history, the mid-2000s. I settle on a rust coloured singlet for a fair price of 50 dinar (70c) and stretch my wallet for one navy tshirt ($1.90).
I explicate complex Australian terms such as ‘drongo’ and ‘dickhead’ which he finds hilarious and we make penis unicorn horns on our foreheads. At the hostel, we compare our op shop finds with other travellers (see photo of BJ who’s clearly not packing light). At dinner I have lots of fun facts to share about salt, for example, did you know that salt ships were so infested with rats that for centuries they believed the rat species could reproduce without contact? Inconceivable!
In bed, I grapple with the benefits of top versus bottom bunks. Here are my findings.
- Shielded from light
- Easier to climb into when drunk or hungover
- Rights to floor space for belongings
- Can piss off the top person by kicking if they snore
- Quicker escape route in case of alien invasion
- Protection from the lava floor.
This next day, the 8th of October, someone very dear to my heart turns 22 (it’s me). Scarlett and I treat ourself to a lovely breakfast of roasted hazelnut milk porridge and avocado toast and explore more thrift shops. I buy a festive princess bandana and participate in some fur coat fabulosity.
We have a LaVazza americano at an underwhelming Yugoslavia museum. There’s a bug in my hair and the buses are on strike but we make it back in time for a rosemary craft beer (eat me) followed by a honey-undertoned Pablo, the best brew in the entire world!
Since it’s my special day, I eat my dessert before my dinner. There are shots of rakija waiting for us when we return but I’m ready to collapse into a weighty slumber and also I hate rakija, get it away from me. A Lithuanian guy with wide eyes interrupts me as I’m closing my door.
Enthusiastically and very loudly he asks, “Excuse me do you know where I can go to party? I want to party. I am a very easy going guy.” I wish that was an exaggeration but those are the exact words that exit his fast-moving mouth.
“Why are you asking me?” I snap, and continue my voyage to my bed. I’m 22 now so it’s no bullshit and survival tactics only.
In the morning, my hungover eyes blink goodbye to The History of Salt and opt for something more sour, a raw account of the Vietnam war that I’d be destined to leave behind hours later on my Flixbus to Budapest. Upsetting, but as I am now a grown-up, I purchase a sweet treat to make it all better.
фраза дана: Wanna hear a fun fact about salt?
песма места: Ready to Go - Republica
If I had a super power it would undoubtedly be shapeshifting. Not only is it ridiculously easy to deceive people, escape social situations and go to the bathroom without paying for entry, but it would give you access to such a wealth of talents and customs. Kevin, the American I met in Ohrid, would fulfil his childhood dreams with the ability to fly. Speaking of dreams, we’re now in Macedonia’s capital and you really have to blink twice or three times to believe it’s real.
Skopje is recovering from an earthquake in 2008, and instead of revitalizing the city, the government chose to install hundreds of statues in an effort to boost tourism and the economy. In a sense, it worked, because people come here to see the statues, but the city is missing vital infrastructure and is resultantly the weirdest place I’ve visited. Hence I will ladle out my multicolored brain casserole with respect to the kitchen it was cooked in.
The city is strangely bleak, very quiet and creepy as hell. We decide we may as well engage in some typical tourist behaviour and give the lonely statues some attention. There are just so many of them that none seem to stick out. I’m reminded of Syndrome, the grossly misunderstood villain of The Incredibles, who says with a snicker, “When everyone’s super…no one is.”
The buildings are cheaply renovated with unstable foundations, cheap finishes, wires sticking out and surveillance cameras at every corner. Mother Theresa was born here, and if you walk past her house there’s a mosque at the rear. The long-standing feud with Greece means everyone wants a wedge of fame and the rights to the name. Bit of a circular blame game if you’re asking me—rarely worthwhile as I’m grossly uneducated in Macedonian politics. Just here for a good time, folks! says the ignorant tourist.
I spot a Snapchat flavoured ice cream which I’m sure tastes like dry-roasted youth and saucy unsolicited self-portraits. I try to avoid the kebab stand with flies that buzz buzz buzz in circles around a greasy meat cylinder. A pair of grimy hands carves off a piece to taste and I cast a worrying glance and shimmy away from my bold counterpart who ingests the indeterminate animal. Lunch is bread and oily baked beans that make my stomach scream. I approve the purchase of an antique match case for a girl Kevin’s seeing and I say he can light the fire of their love with it and serenade her with The Doors.
The city‘s pride and joy is a monument of Alexander the Great in the very centre, whose face appears on tourist mugs and magnets and tees. We take tips off Zoran, a friendly local guide whose loose dentures I try not to stare at. We had planned to do a walking tour but there were only two attendees and I was one of them. A furious ticket officer reprimands us for dodging the bus fare and we don’t repeat our mistake on the cable car to the top of the mountain. There’s a damp, grey view and an Australian in a pink t-shirt who offers me a taste of mint-flavoured Sprite (spoiler alert: it’s minty).
Both our left ankles ache in the same place after the hike in Ohrid which means it’s beer o’clock. We’re both quiet people so there are long periods of silence between topics. I splash out on a delicious $4 strawberry daiquiri, and we crack table peanuts like monkeys and avoid the rain.
In the morning we venture into the local markets near the Old Bazaar and try a creamy, rich Turkish coffee. I buy a shirt for the heck of it and haven’t worn it once. After Kevin leaves, I take a prime opportunity to do nothing in the place where there’s nothing to do except look at statues. I play Jenga with the guy that works at the hostel since there are no other guests. His dessert is digestive biscuit and milk soup and what an ingenious meal it is!
By far the most interesting city I’ve been to, it’s a very confused and confusing place bogged by political turmoil and halted in disbelief. The streets, although sparsely populated by people, are haunted by statues. Maybe this is a Medusa situation, and if so, I am offfffffff, preferably in eagle form.
Фраза на денот: Honestly what is going on
Музика на местото: Quiche Lorraine - The B-52’s