My whole of 2013 was spent wandering Europe, and making some of my best memories, and friends of my life. One memory come to mind when I think of Europe, and that is my time hitchhiking the Balkans. This hitch in particular, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Romania.
Hitchhiking the Balkans
How it started out, was losing all my money in Zadar, Croatia. I was a brand new travel blogger, making almost no money, and was on my way to Venice for a press trip, when the inevitable happened: I lost all y money. I say lost because I don’t know if I lost it, or if it was stolen. What I do know is that I woke up in the afternoon after a night of partying at a local club, and all my money was gone. Like a rookie traveler I had it all with me (not that it was much), and at the time did not own a bank account. All I had to my name at that point was 7 euro.
What to do? I searched my options and came up with one and only one. My dear friend was running a hostel in Bucharest and offered me a job and place to stay until I got on my feet. I accepted and told her I’d be there where I could. Relieved, I set off. Only problem was, was that I was 4 countries away with only 7 euro. So I walked to the main highway and stuck out my thumb.
My second problem was that it was Sunday. I have hitchhiked all over Europe and have always found that I have no luck finding rides on a Sunday. Today was no different. There were not very many cars, and the ones I did see were loaded down with the whole family, probably coming back from a weekend outing. I walked as I hitched, walking for miles and miles until dark.
I arrived in a little town on the Croatian coast, one that I’ll never remember the name of, and started searching for a place to sleep. There were dogs everywhere, and not an abandoned building anywhere. It was getting discouraging. First I couldn’t find a ride and walked 20 miles, and now there was no where to sleep. I was really hoping I could just blame it on Sunday and that I would have better luck the next day.
Eventually I found a large and abandoned field where I could be relatively hidden from people and dogs, and spread out my rain jacket to lay on under some trees. It was the roughest night ever, as I got about 2 hours sleep with all the dogs howling nearby, packs of dogs running by or fighting, and drunks stumbling around nearby. When the sun finally made an appearance I got up to try again. Thats when I noticed that my whole body was covered in slugs, accompanied by a slimy white trail where they had each oozed on me. it took a rushed and freaked-out 30 minutes to get them all off and get cleaned up. I hate slugs.
I stumbled to the road in possibly the worst mood ever and stuck out my thumb, with not a whole lot of enthusiasm or hope. But guess what? I was picked up in 4 minutes by the very first vehicle to go by: A large semi-truck. Spirits lifted.
Happy to be on the road again, we were off. First stop Was Split. We obviously didn’t stay long, before hitting the road again. This is where I started getting worried. My Serbian truck driver didn’t speak any English, and I really didn’t know where he was going. He pointed south, and thats all I cared. As long it was in the opposite direction of the slugs. The reason now that I was starting to worry was because we turned off the coastal highway that I knew was the right direction, and headed straight east through the mountains. I got out the map and pointed to the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and he just saying yes yes. So I just sat back and enjoyed some surprisingly amazing scenery, through the back hills of Croatia.
Near the border we stopped at a tiny town. This was his final destination. The town, another I cant name, was obviously all about the farming of oranges, and right then was the perfect time of year for eating them. It’s a damn good thing too, because by then I was starving. I walked down the road until no one could see me, and then ran into the orchard and picked tons of awesome oranges. I sat eating them for a good while, then filled my backpack and pockets and anything that would hold an orange, before heading off again. For 3 days all I ate were oranges, and yet they were so good I didn’t even mind.
I stood around for a couple hours eating oranges and sticking my thumb in the air before finally getting a ride. this nice old man took me to a nice wide spot in the road that would be good for more hitching, about a kilometer from the border. It was getting close to dark, and there was going to be absolutely no where to sleep around here, so I started walking. I never got another ride, so i walked all the way to the border and into passport control. They couldn’t understand how I had gotten there if not on the bus, and even tried to get me to pay for a bus the rest of the way.
Instead, since I had about 3 euro left to my name, I went to the Bosnian side to the check point, and started asking cars for rides, that were forced to stop for inspection. This wasn’t working. It was dark and I much of looked sketchy, because no one wanted to take me into Bosnia. So I decided to make friends with the border guard and have him ask people for me. It worked. The very next car that came up was a brand new Audi with a beautiful Bosnian lady in it. He asked if she could take me to the next town, and she reluctantly agreed. I was off!
I really wanted to put her mind at ease because I knew she was a little nervous about picking up a stranger in the middle of the night at the Croatian-Bosnian border, so I put on my friendliest face and chatted her up, doing my best to act like the ever-interested American tourist. i even told her I was a travel writer and was only hitchhiking because it was a bigger adventure. She warmed up to me and we got along great. She picked up a friend, another smoking hot Bosnian lady, and we headed for Mostar. When asked, I told them I didn’t have a place to stay (no lie) and that I would find a nice hostel once I arrived in Mostar (total lie). They wouldn’t have any of that, and convinced (wasn’t hard) me to stay at their house with them. So I did. I spent the night with two of the hottest Europeans I’ve ever met, telling stories over bottle after bottle of wine. One of the best night ever.
The next day I explored Mostar, very hungover, and it turned out to be one of the most amazing little cities I’ve been to. It has so much evidence of recent wars, yet still has amazing mid evil architecture. This is a place I want to see again for sure.
More hitchhiking. Not really wanting to leave the beautiful Mostar (or my Bosnian lovers), I headed out for the highway again. I made it to Sarajevo by sunset, and had a short tour around the city before it was too dark.
In reality I was just scoping out a place to crash and free wifi. I finally found some free wifi, and got on Couchsurfing to see if anyone would answer an emergency couch request. Within 10 minutes someone did! A girl names Esra offered me a couch at her flat, and she picked me up not long after. What luck! And such a great girl.
More luck the next day! Esra was actually suppose to go to Serbia, and all the way to the capital of Belgrade the next day but couldn’t go anymore. Since she had already bought the nonrefundable ticket, she just gave it to me! A free ride from Sarajevo to Belgrade?? Thats like hitching still, right? So for the rest of the day my lovely Couchsurfing host showed me around Sarajevo, until it was time to hit the bus station.
Belgrade was ok I guess. I didn’t see anything very moving. It was sometimes intriguing to see modern and decent high-rises, and then next to that a bombed out building that they never bothered to fix from the Cold War. But other than that, I didn’t see much, even though I walked all over the city. OH! I can say one good and very surprising thing about Belgrade: Free WIFI everywhere! Everywhere I went there was free public WIFI with no password that worked well. I was pleasantly surprised.
It was a short hitch, followed by a couple long rides into Romania from Belgrade. I didn’t get too much scrutiny at the border, and a while later arrived in a pretty little city called Sighisoara. Here I was tired. Tired of hitchhing, tired of being dirty, tired of being hungry, tired of a constant orange diet, and tired of being on the constant move. I was completely broke, and that was the only thing stopping me from spending much more time in each of these great cities. It was almost depressing leaving these places so soon after arriving. I was ready to just get to Bucharest and relax and regroup.
So I headed to the train station. I had no idea how I would get on a train, but I went anyways. It was almost dark and hitching was out anyways, so I just headed there, like a zombie towards noise. Once there I noticed a train, and the sign said Bucharest. It was like a sign from god. It beckoned me like an oasis in the Sahara. I looked around to ask how much a ticket costed (I have no idea why, it was surly more than the 3 euro I had), but no one was anywhere around. Literally. No one. Not at the ticket counter, not at the gate, not around the train. I was lost as of what to do.
Finally the announcement went off that the train was leaving. I was standing next to it, wondering what to do. I knew I should go find somewhere to sleep, but I was cloudy from exhaustion and didn’t think. As the doors were closing I had a mini panic and stepped inside without thinking. Nothing happened. So I stepped into a car and found a room to sit in. Immediately I fell asleep.
For hours and hours I slept. I kept having dreams of a mean Romanian ticket guy asking for my ticket and then kicking me off the train at some dark and scary place in the middle of the night. Then someone did wake me. A Romanian girl was waking me, telling me that we were in Bucharest. I guess I had told her that that was where I was going, before falling asleep. She also told me that the ticket man had been around a few times, but after not being able to wake me the first time she told him I was with her, and that I was American. Since she had a ticket and since not too many Americans are train hopping in the middle of Romania, he figured it must be true and left me alone. To this day that girl and I keep in contact.
Then I stepped off the train in Bucharest. My final destination. I could not wait to get to my new home, find a hot shower, and convince my friends to take me to the nearest McDonalds! This quick trip was one to remember for sure!