5th September 2014
3:23pm, train to London Bridge
So after the trials and tribulations of last year’s interrailing adventure, coming home drained and close to broke, having nearly been kidnapped by Americans and having had to share a room with a Nazi maniac, and having almost driven my neurotic dad into an early grave, there was only one thing to be done… to do it all again! Except this time in a supposedly more dangerous place, by myself (mostly), and without the homely, easy familiarity of trains to ferry me around. This time, I’m sampling the delights of trains, buses and minibuses, because the rail system in the western Balkans is either absolute crap or non existent. (I’m inclined to think the one in the east isn’t much better, but I’m just jaded because I have a 5am train to catch from Skopje to Thessaloniki.)
I learned a few things from last time, though. And, as such, here are my 10 European tour commandments:
1. Thou shalt take waterproof shoes, in order that thou can actually do something on rainy days. Being cooped up in your hostel all day is not fun.
2. Thou shalt not just go for the cheapest dorm accommodation all the time, because sometimes you just want some sodding privacy away from singing Australians and people waking you up at 5am with the Champions League music set as their alarm. Twice.
3. But if thou art going for a dorm, thou should go for a largeish room. Otherwise you may end up alone in a room with a psycho and no one to hear your screams when they brutally murder you.
4. Thou shalt schedule frequent rest days. There’s no point seeing and doing everything because eventually you’ll burn out from culture overload and appreciate nothing.
5. Thou shalt have a contingency financial plan in case thou runs out of money. Twice. The second time being when you need to buy your train ticket to the airport for your flight home.
6. Thou shalt not give money to the needy because sadly they’re probably faking it. There are loads of scammers. Swallow your philanthropic urges and move on.
7. Thou shalt not buy wine to drink by a river or canal if thou lacks a corkscrew.
8. Thou shalt not pay for deeply overpriced tourist experiences if thou has just run out of money and been bailed out.
9. Thou shalt try the cuisine of the country thou art in, because thou may be pleasantly surprised. I would never have tried Czech, Polish or Hungarian food otherwise but they’re all awesome.
10. Finally, thou shalt ALWAYS exert a level of self control at a free bar, or thou may end up chundering spectacularly, while bragging about gameshow achievements, and vandalising a toilet.
My journey will, if all goes to plan, take me through Belgrade (Serbia), Sarajevo, Mostar (both Bosnia-Hercegovina), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Kotor (Montenegro), Pristina (Kosovo-yes-Kosovo-the-one-that-isn’t-officially-recognised-as-a-country), Ohrid, Skopje (both FYR Macedonia), Thessaloniki (Greece), Plovdiv and finally Sofia (both Bulgaria), possibly via Prizren (Kosovo-fuck-that-can’t-be-bothered-to-type-out-again) and Podagrec (Albania). It’s quite a journey and, after Monday, I may not see a familiar face until my chauffeur (otherwise known as my mother) picks me up from London Gatwick on October 8th, probably weeping with joy that her eldest and favourite has hopefully returned unscathed.
My chaperone this week is undisputed king of the Countdown world, Barnard Conor. He’s travelling down from Szeged in Hungary, where he’s been living for the last year after having to flee the country because the paparazzi stalked him so relentlessly following his mindblowing performances in last year’s 30th Birthday Championship (i.e. The Biggest, Best And Most Prestigious Countdown Tournament Of All Time). Or something like that.
Mildly embellished exposition aside, it will be reassuring to see someone I know, plus has the added bonus of soothing Neurotic Dad’s frazzled nerves, if only for 2 days before I plod off alone once more.
London Luton awaits. To be continued…
A Jen with ALL THE FEELINGS