Grandpa Andi has booked our bus tickets for the wrong date. I smooth my hair and summon some feigned stupidity and puppy dog eyes in readiness for the green Flixbus that pulls into the station. The driver makes a halfhearted attempt to scan our useless tickets and ushers us on. Andi boards the bus, giggling like a child that’s written poop on the living room wall with a sharpie.
We arrive in the dark and try two different ATMs searching for the mysterious Slovakian crown, before realising they use euros here. In my defence, I did google it, just missed the part documenting its discontinuation in 2008.
The hostel is muggy and filled with people that sit in silence and turn towards us as we walk in. Breathing in hot human air proves unpleasant at best, so we unpack and venture out in search of holy grape juice. A small bar in the square called Wine Not fits the bill. The red wine tastes of wood and cherries and goes perfectly with the British louts shouting at the adjacent table. Goddamn they are obnoxious. We discuss the limitations of a second language, myself sitting comfortably speaking my first language.
The next day calls for an exploration of Bratislava Castle, where I collect an orange earring off the ground and declare it mine! A few photoshoots are in full effect, and it’s only polite to clap for the girl who’s throwing crispy brown leaves and faking a smile that disappears as soon as they hit the ground. We seek out a café bookshop because the day is diesig (hazy) and lounge in modest wooden chairs for a few hours. I devour a short story about a young lad who robs a bakery and boyyy I feel you, I’d push through a lot for a crispy brown loaf.
I suck at making decisions. To remedy this, Andi and I devise an age-appropriate subset of scissors paper rock called “rocks, scissors, documents.” It’s almost exactly the same as the original, but somehow better in every aspect. In the morning, we embark on a day trip to Vienna, aboard a bus with Fun and Relax printed on the side. In the city are vibrant pompous people dressed in scarlet and purple and emerald green. Monuments stake their place in pristine glory, amongst buildings adorned with fine art and between streets dripping in syrupy riches. At a cafe, we sip expensive espresso and watch old men and stockinged women hover at the bar.
I’m sour that they speak German here and I do not, however I do know a few fun terms like Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Guten Appetit. I learn that the letter ß is not in fact a B and yet again I am betrayed by my ignorance! There’s a famous schnitzel place down the street, inside forest green awnings where a queue of people shift and rub their hands together in anticipation. A 60€ piece of crumbed chicken? I think it deserves a sideways glance and a scoff.
The burnt browns and oranges of autumn float and spread into furled leaves outside the city centre. We walk there after a divisive round of rocks, scissors, documents. Discarded foliage lines the walkways where families collect nuts and walk their dogs. The photo below I’ve titled succinctly, “Either I opened the camera too early or Andi was sitting in front of me and wrecked my shot by moving—probably the latter.”
Phrase des Tages: Laber mich nicht voll, digger!
Musik des Ortes: Rhapsody in Blue - George Gershwin
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 showcasing 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 juice the last bits out of it. It’s quite fascinating but the 10-minute experiential 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 are lead to the sound of a trombone from an eye-level window. A few steps later the melodic screech of violin strings graces the pathway, 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 graffiti-covered bar we meet a reggae drummer from England called Ali. He and I drink a stranger’s vodka shot, half each—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 names. An underground rave cave sounds like a prime location to throw ourselves at the walls and across the 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.
We snatch some breaths of fresher air and watch Ali contemplate the contents of his wallet and the expensive ziplock bags pulled out from Calvins. We wish him the best of luck on his wild pill goose chase. 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 4:34 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 LOVE 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