Stop 31: Istanbul, The Publishing Consultant

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I miss Bulgaria already! There and Macedonia are 2 places I’m definitely looking forward to go back to the next time I do Europe and finally get to explore Albania, but the next place on my list was Istanbul, Turkey. Not so much by personal choice but simply because a flight from there was over $100 cheaper than anywhere else. However I’m glad I did…

The bus was just like any other night bus: shit… We rocked up at 5:30 in the morning and it was still pitch black outside. I looked outside the station and saw tons of taxi drivers standing outside like vultures reminding me of pretty much everywhere in Cambodia. I’d planned a vague route to get to the tram line and then get onto the tram to Sultanahmed (Istanbul’s bus station is nowhere near anything…) and from there I knew to walk along the tracks until I found some obscure restaurant called Neyzade, and finally I would be able to find my hostel. Of course that was the plan; and of course like most of my plans after 2 minutes it went out the window as the station looked nothing like it did on Google Maps…

I trundled over to the information desk and asked if they had a map. The girl behind the counter said she didn’t have one but could use the internet. I then asked where Mehmet Akif was, as from there I could find my way. The girl looked at my extensive notes and noticed the word ‘Sultanahmed’ on there, and she said there was a shuttle bus going to Fuckknows Square and from there Sultanahmed was a 5-10 minute walk.

If she wasn’t a probable Muslim saving herself until marriage I would have jumped over the counter and fucked her to death like Mr Garrison does to people on South Park! So I politely said thank you and asked how much it would be (Not to fuck her to death, I’m not that confident! For the shuttle bus…). “No problem…” She replied.

“Maybe I should have asked how much it was to fuck her to death instead of for the shuttle bus…” I thought.

When the bus got to Fuckknows Square the driver told me to follow two random Turkish kids; about 15 years old, 4’10 tall and moustaches gay men in 80’s American nightclubs would be proud of. I followed these kids and they were wheeling their bags down the street throwing them out of arms reach without a care in the world. I gained confidence knowing that if these kids felt secure enough to do that then I didn’t need to worry about getting mugged or feel that anything dangerous was going to happen.

Eventually I said goodbye to Charlie and Chaplin, and made my way to the hostel. I was shown to my room and it stank. I took a deep breath and asked for the password.

“No Wi-fi in room…” Was his blunt response.

“Minifucks soaked in ice-cream…” I thought. Oh well, I’ll just use the Wi-fi in reception. Except my Wi-fi wouldn’t connect. When I asked I was met with the guy shrugging his shoulders. “Perfect!” I thought, and I went to get some sleep. I was on the top bunk. I looked up and saw the ceiling falling apart two feet above me. Welcome to Turkey!

Fortunately for me this hostel is just like me when it comes to first impressions; The smell was gone by the time I woke up so I can only guess it was a smelly guest who had checked out. I went downstairs and met the owner, Saad. He was really cool and gave me a tour of the place, explaining there was Wi-fi on every floor (Which there was, I have no idea why the other guy said there wasn’t) and showed me up to the terrace, which was a really cool area to chill. On top of that, he said for 12 Lira (about £2.50) he would cook me a traditional Yemeni meal in the evening. He wasn’t Yemeni (He was Syrian), but he’d lived all over the Middle East, and now Turkey, so he was quite a cultured fellow.

I thanked Saad and did some sight seeing. Here’s some photos, please like them on my social media pages so I feel important when I’m huddled up in bed at night in some random country wondering why the fuck I haven’t gone and got a career yet like everyone else my age has…

When I got back Saad told me that he was a writer and had written a book about his experiences in Syria. We swapped stories about books and he then said he’d love to publish it but had no idea how to get started. I gave him a few tips like a writer friend of mine once gave me. He seemed really appreciative.

Just then a tall girl with South Asian origin wearing a hijab walked in the room. When I went to India 6 years ago I noticed when girls of that culture covered their faces with a hijab you could really appreciate their beauty; there’s no fancy hair styles to tart yourself up, it’s all about the natural beauty in their face. It’s mesmerising. Of course I would never dream of touching a girl from that culture unless I had fallen in love with the girl beforehand, but it was still nice to admire her beauty. She seemed quite shy, asked Saad some questions and headed upstairs.

Soon it was time for our Yemeni food. It was a spicy shredded chicken dish with rice. It was amazing! Afterwards me and the South Asian girl played a game of chess (she fucking destroyed me!) and got chatting. She had a British accent so it surprised me when she said she was born and raised in Australia. The conversation naturally drifted to travelling which then went into origins. I said I had Indian family and she replied that she was of Pakistani origin. I asked questions about her culture as I’m always interested in learning, and asked if arranged marriages were still common in her culture. She said it was, but it was far more lax than it used to be. Now you get to know people as friends and if they get on then they would probably begin proceedings to go into a marriage together. In fact she said she was seeing a boy at the moment as a friend and feels that she would probably marry him in a couple of years. I was happy for her as she was beaming while talking about him, and maybe one day I’ll meet the pair of them in Chiang Mai, or wherever I am in the world…

The next day Me and Saad had 2 hours to kill, so I took him on a crash course showing him how to self publish a book. We went through the ins and outs of the legal bullshit and he said he wished I was here for a week, and he would have given me a free bed so we could get this book finished and ready for the world. I gave him as much info as I could before my shuttle bus came and than it was time for me to finish Europe with a tear in my eye and go back to Asia.

So the hostel was a lot better than the first impression suggested, and I gained two new friends in the process. Not bad for a days work! When Saad’s book becomes available to buy I will post a link if any of you are interested in finding out about the regime in Syria from a Syrian’s point of view (I’ve read a bit, and it’s very powerful), and now I can add ‘publishing consultant’ to my ever growing CV list which now somehow includes football freestyle teacher, flare teacher, Thai teacher, hostel worker, bingo caller and fire juggler. If only I knew how to turn these diverse experiences into cash I’d be laughing…

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Stop 30: Karlovo, Bulgaria. With Mira Hristova

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When you think of a Balkan Beauty you need look no further than Mira. Her elegance, natural energy, posture, body language, determination and confidence oozes class way beyond her years. I am fortunate enough to be able to consider Mira a friend and as I am back in the Plovdiv area asked if I could meet her at her home town and have her show me around, and she was more than happy to…

I first met Mira a few months ago whilst celebrating finishing my eighth book. I was pumped as you can imagine, and dangerously drunk. One night we’d been drinking for god knows how long and went to a bar in Plovdiv. I heard people talking English and introduced myself as you do when you are drunk. I ended up chatting to Mira for a fair while and felt a connection with her, so we agreed to keep in touch as at that point I was planning to stay in Plovdiv to teach English.

The English job never worked out and I moved on. I messaged Mira saying goodbye and that hopefully one day we’d meet up again and wished her the best of luck with her studies. We kept in touch through social media and as fate would have it I was to do one big loop around the Balkans before passing through Plovdiv again to catch my flight in Turkey. So I messaged her saying that we should meet for a coffee and she said to let her know as she was back in her hometown, so I… Well, you read the first paragraph…

Karlovo is picturesque, especially when coated in snow. I planned on taking around 5-10 photos of the place, and maybe a couple of me and Mira, but that plan went straight out the window as soon as I arrived.

Mira met me at the bus stop. We hugged and she asked me if I was hungry. I had a Maccy D’s for lunch (don’t judge!) and I said I wasn’t. So she said we would go back to hers and meet her sister before exploring the town.

I met her sister and she was really friendly, albeit a bit shy. We said hello and swapped a few jokes before me and Mira left. As we did I saw their mum using a broomstick to knock off the 1/2 metre long icicles off their roof. Those things looked like they could kill on impact!

Then it was off to Mira’s favourite spots. We shared stories as we walked up the hill towards the waterfall, which looked insane as it was covered in snow. I took a few sneaky pictures of Mira trying to get that world class natural shot that she could use as a profile picture until she got pissed off, then it was off to the next place, which was some hill where people went sledging.

Mira told me she wasn’t going to run up the hill. “Challenge accepted!” I shouted as I began to run. Half way up I shouted in her direction again screaming “This was a terrible idea!” As the hill was covered in ice, not to mention the oxygen levels as we were in the mountains, and also that I am a lazy fucker…

I didn’t die though! Mira came up the other side saying “If I fall it’s your fault!” But neither of us did, then we went down and got some lunch at a local restaurant where her sister worked, and she ended up joining us.

The 3 of us had lunch and a drink, which came to something stupid like 12 Lev (£6) So I offered to pay for the meals, knowing that the girls are both students and probably work hard enough for their money without having to spend it on necessities like food and water. So a small gesture to say thank you for showing me around was the least I could do…

Mira’s sister (whose name escapes me; let’s just refer to her as Mini Mira…) Went to meet her boyfriend and go shopping, so we said goodbye and skipped off into the sunset.

I’m lying, we skipped towards the town centre. Then she went in full on tour guide mode and talked about the history of Karlovo, including a massacre that happened there in the late 1800’s. She made a joke about Karlovo being a great place to be murdered if I ever wanted to come back and we went to see the big statue of a man and his pet lion, which he used to tell the Ottomans to get fucked. To be fair, who’s going to argue with a man who has a pet fucking lion? According to absolute fact the Ottoman’s then said,”You know what? You can keep your fucking country!” And ran as fast as they could eastwards! And that was the day Bulgaria became an independent nation…

Obviously I’m talking complete bullshit. But the statue still exists! The lion represents Vasil Levski himself; as ‘Levski’ in 19th century Bulgarian means ‘like a lion’ as in the Bulgarian folklore the story goes that some people were jumping over a deep ditch, and Vasil Levski jumped the furthest which Rakovski (another Bulgarian ledge) exclaimed “That is a Levskii jump!” So I’m afraid he didn’t have a pet lion to keep the Ottomans and street performers at bay, I’d love to tell you he did but that wasn’t the case. Right! That’s your history lesson for the day!

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Then we walked up a few more streets and saw these strange plaques on walls and on the ground. Apparently no one knows where they came from. They just appeared all over the place one night and people were walking past saying “I’m sure that wasn’t there before!” We then celebrated doing a lap of the town by getting shitfaced. We didn’t really; I was still staying off the alcohol at this point being extra careful after my boxing lesson in Serbia, so we both had a hot chocolate in a local cafe. I met some of Mira’s friends and smiled awkwardly knowing the extent of my Bulgarian was the word ‘Blagodaria’, and that doesn’t even mean hello! (It means ‘thank you’ in case you were wondering…) I felt like Del Boy speaking French…

Before I knew it 5 hours had gone and it was time for me to catch the bus back to Plovdiv. I said goodbye to Mira and gave her a hug. I could feel the emotion and love in the hug, it was like she meant it, like saying thank you for coming all this way to see little old me. No, thank YOU Mira for being your brilliant self and taking the time out of your busy schedule to show me around your stunning town. When you travel you tend to meet exceptional people and Mira is definitely in that category. The girl is definitely going places and I feel fortunate that a chance meeting when I was off my face has led to getting such a beautiful friend, one I hope to keep in touch with over the years and who knows we may meet again someday soon. It won’t be for a while as I’ve accepted a job teaching English in Thailand, but I’m sure our paths will cross again…

Stop 30: Karlovo, Starring Mira Hristova

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When you think of a Balkan Beauty you need look no further than Mira. Her elegance, natural energy, posture, body language, determination and confidence oozes class way beyond her years. I am fortunate enough to be able to consider Mira a friend and as I am back in the Plovdiv area asked if I could meet her at her home town and have her show me around, and she was more than happy to…

I first met Mira a few months ago whilst celebrating finishing my eighth book. I was pumped as you can imagine, and dangerously drunk. One night we’d been drinking for god knows how long and went to a bar in Plovdiv. I heard people talking English and introduced myself as you do when you are drunk. I ended up chatting to Mira for a fair while and felt a connection with her, so we agreed to keep in touch as at that point I was planning to stay in Plovdiv to teach English.

The English job never worked out and I moved on. I messaged Mira saying goodbye and that hopefully one day we’d meet up again and wished her the best of luck with her studies. We kept in touch through social media and as fate would have it I was to do one big loop around the Balkans before passing through Plovdiv again to catch my flight in Turkey. So I messaged her saying that we should meet for a coffee and she said to let her know as she was back in her hometown, so I… Well, you read the first paragraph…

As you can see Karlovo is picturesque, especially when coated in snow. I planned on taking around 5-10 photos of the place, and maybe a couple of me and Mira, but that plan went straight out the window as soon as I arrived.

Mira met me at the bus stop. We hugged and she asked me if I was hungry. I had a Maccy D’s for lunch (don’t judge!) and I said I wasn’t. So she said we would go back to hers and meet her sister before exploring the town.

I met her sister and she was really friendly, albeit a bit shy. We said hello and swapped a few jokes before me and Mira left. As we did I saw their mum using a broomstick to knock off the 1/2 metre long icicles off their roof. Those things looked like they could kill on impact!

Then it was off to Mira’s favourite spots. We shared stories as we walked up the hill towards the waterfall, which looked insane as it was covered in snow. I took a few sneaky pictures of Mira trying to get that world class natural shot that she could use as a profile picture until she got pissed off, then it was off to the next place, which was some hill where people went sledging.

Mira told me she wasn’t going to run up the hill. “Challenge accepted!” I shouted as I began to run. Half way up I shouted in her direction again screaming “This was a terrible idea!” As the hill was covered in ice, not to mention the oxygen levels as we were in the mountains, and also that I am a lazy fucker…

I didn’t die though! Mira came up the other side saying “If I fall it’s your fault!” But neither of us did, then we went down and got some lunch at a local restaurant where her sister worked, and she ended up joining us.

The 3 of us had lunch and a drink, which came to something stupid like 12 Lev (£6) So I offered to pay for the meals, knowing that the girls are both students and probably work hard enough for their money without having to spend it on necessities like food and water. So a small gesture to say thank you for showing me around was the least I could do…

Mira’s sister (whose name escapes me; let’s just refer to her as Mini Mira…) Went to meet her boyfriend and go shopping, so we said goodbye and skipped off into the sunset.

I’m lying, we skipped towards the town centre. Then she went in full on tour guide mode and talked about the history of Karlovo, including a massacre that happened there in the late 1800’s. She made a joke about Karlovo being a great place to be murdered if I ever wanted to come back and we went to see the big statue of a man and his pet lion, which he used to tell the Ottomans to get fucked. To be fair, who’s going to argue with a man who has a pet fucking lion? According to absolute fact the Ottoman’s then said,”You know what? You can keep your fucking country!” And ran as fast as they could eastwards! And that was the day Bulgaria became an independent nation…

Obviously I’m talking complete bullshit. But the statue still exists! The lion represents Vasil Levski himself; as ‘Levski’ in 19th century Bulgarian means ‘like a lion’ as in the Bulgarian folklore the story goes that some people were jumping over a deep ditch, and Vasil Levski jumped the furthest which Rakovski (another Bulgarian ledge) exclaimed “That is a Levskii jump!” So I’m afraid he didn’t have a pet lion to keep the Ottomans and street performers at bay, I’d love to tell you he did but that wasn’t the case. Right! That’s your history lesson for the day!

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Then we walked up a few more streets and saw these strange plaques on walls and on the ground. Apparently no one knows where they came from. They just appeared all over the place one night and people were walking past saying “I’m sure that wasn’t there before!” We then celebrated doing a lap of the town by getting shitfaced. We didn’t really; I was still staying off the alcohol at this point being extra careful after my boxing lesson in Serbia, so we both had a hot chocolate in a local cafe. I met some of Mira’s friends and smiled awkwardly knowing the extent of my Bulgarian was the word ‘Blagodaria’, and that doesn’t even mean hello! (It means ‘thank you’ in case you were wondering…) I felt like Del Boy speaking French…

Before I knew it 5 hours had gone and it was time for me to catch the bus back to Plovdiv. I said goodbye to Mira and gave her a hug. I could feel the emotion and love in the hug, it was like she meant it, like saying thank you for coming all this way to see little old me. No, thank YOU Mira for being your brilliant self and taking the time out of your busy schedule to show me around your stunning town. When you travel you tend to meet exceptional people and Mira is definitely in that category. The girl is definitely going places and I feel fortunate that a chance meeting when I was off my face has led to getting such a beautiful friend, one I hope to keep in touch with over the years and who knows we may meet again someday soon. It won’t be for a while as I’ve accepted a job teaching English in Thailand, but I’m sure our paths will cross again…

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Stop 29: Here comes the Veliko, TARNOVO!

I’m the lyrical gangster…TARNOVO!

Excuse me mister officer…TARNOVO!

Still love you like that…TARNOVO!

Na…na na na na…. Well yeah, you get the idea. The plan was to get various trains until I eventually ended up at Veliko Tarnovo. Do you want to know how it went? Of course you fucking do;

So first we went to Russe…TARNOVO!

It’s on the border of Bulgaria…TARNOVO!

Then we went through immigration…TARNOVO!

Still love you like that…TARNOVO!

So finally we got through…TARNOVO!

And then I got off at Gorna…TARNOVO!

At 9 o’clock it was Veliko…TARNOVO!

Still love you like that…TARNOVO!

OK, stop now please!!!!!

Don’t worry, I’m done…TARNOVO! OK, now I’m done… So like the 90’s rap states I left Bucharest and had to get a ridiculously slow train to Russe, which is on the border of Bulgaria…

Don’t you fucking dare…

…And then I caught another train to some random place called Gorna (You know, you followed the song…) and I stayed there for an hour until I finally got a 30 minute train to Veliko Tarnovo.

Nine hours later I was there, in the middle of fucking nowhere, in minus Freezing-niplets degree weather with the hostel being a good 40 minute walk. I was, to put it politely, smoothly penetrated.

Then some random came up to me starting a conversation. “Oh here we go…” I thought, but I was in no position to say anything. I was exhausted and there were no taxis nearby. So my new best friend told me to wait by the side of the road until a bus came, and was striking up conversation as much as he could. He stank of cheap alcohol and my instincts told me something was wrong, but I hoped my instincts were wrong as I had no other option unless I wanted to get lost walking up the hill by myself.

My new best friend randomly switched to speaking to me in Italian. After mentioning I could ‘get him a gift’ for helping me and saying how much other people had gifted him (a months wages in some cases) I began to roll my eyes wondering how much this ‘nice gesture’ was going to cost me. He did ask for a couple of ‘Euro coins’ so I thought if that was all it was going to cost me it wasn’t that bad. He casually kept talking about ‘his house’ nearby so I assumed if it was a scam, he was going to take me to the middle of nowhere to his house where I had no option but to pay him to stay for a night…

I soon realised that we’d been standing at the bus stop for fifteen minutes. He originally said the bus would be five minutes but when I asked him again saying my feet were beginning to ice over he said “Twenty five minutes!” It reminded me of the film Snatch when the bloke kept saying ‘five minutes Turkish!’…

I couldn’t take anymore and said I had to start walking up the hill into the abyss. The Bulgarian Hotstepper then followed me up the hill continuing to talk to me. ‘This is definitely a fucking scam…’ I thought. Fortunately just then the bus pulled up, and we both got on.

I asked for the old town, he interrupted and Eminem’d at the lady in Bulgarian and I hoped he didn’t say that we going to the Bulgarian version of the Fritzl’s. He sat with me and I tried to figure out what his angle was. He seemed way too eager for this to be just generosity. When we got off and he led me around a few corners I made sure I went around tentatively and could see him at all times in case he led me into a dark alley, jumped out at me with a weapon and demanded all my stuff. But against the odds we made it to Hostel Mostel. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and he asked for his ‘Euro coins’. I said I would put my stuff inside then come out with the money (and I would, I’m a man of my word.) I rang the doorbell a few times and no one answered. Bulgarian Hotstepper started to get restless and said he didn’t have time to wait around in the cold for a few euros so I pulled out 10 Romanian Leu (about £2) and gave it to him. He looked pretty pissed off as he took it…

Hostel Mostel!!! It was a cool place with a nice group of people. Once I’d got settled I walked up the road with Albert the Gardener (that’s what his email says anyway…) until we met the rest of the group at the bar.

I said to Uncle Albert I was going to explore Veliko for a bit, and I did what I enjoy doing most; getting lost in a foreign city. Problem being it was -10 outside and soon I was lost for too long without food, water, or any signs of life.

I took some cool pictures though and after 25 minutes found my way back. Hilariously the first place I recognised was the bar everyone was in. As soon as I’d left that bar within 10 seconds I regretted my decision, so I was happy to find the group again.

I got some food, a couple of cokes and chatted away to whoever was in earshot. It was a good night. I made a friend in a shape of a cat who kept sitting on my lap. At about midnight we all walked back to the hostel, and chilled out until it was time to stare at our phones like zombies…

I was only in Veliko for a day. I would have liked to stay one more day and explored the city, but in a way I’m glad to be moving on. It was way too cold up there, and I’m looking forward to enjoying weather where I’m not huddled around anything relatively warm to stay…well…warm. Next stop; back to Plovdiv! With a brief cameo in Karlovo to see a friend of mine before completing the final leg of the European part of my tour; Turkey!

Stops 27 + 28: Timisoara and Bucharest, I definitely needed to Bucharest…get it…? Hello, is this thing on…?

Minibus to Timisoara, door to door service baby!!! I could have got the train to Vrsac, crossed the border then got a train to Timisoara and THEN walk over 30 minutes to find the hostel, but that tires me out just saying it, so for an extra $10 I took the upper class route and got crammed into a minibus with random people. One of whom started up a conversation with me and immediately went on his phone, answering with irritated yes’s as soon as I began to speak. What was the point of starting up a fucking conversation then?!? The highlight of this trip was the Romanian border official chucking my bag to one side whilst checking the other bags. When he said “Do you have anything to declare?” I nearly replied “Yeah, you just broke my fucking laptop!”

But the laptop wasn’t broken and I made it to Hostel Costel! They seemed cool enough and I was sharing a room with Andrei, a Romanian guy who spoke good English and was easy to talk to. I spent the day chilling out and decided to attack the city tomorrow before moving on the day after that. So I chilled until the next day, where I took loads of photos and played tourist for a while.

When I got back there were about 6 Romanians aged between 16 and 21 in the common room playing computer games. I watched for a while and then said I was grabbing some dinner, when I came back they had spawned a load more of their kind and there were now about thirty of them, but now most of the kids there were between the ages of 10 and 13. I felt like the old man in the room but luckily in the bean bag room near the kitchen there was an Australian couple I could latch onto that I’d briefly met earlier so the evening had potential to be above average…

The bloke’s name was Mitch and he had a Conor McGregor beard that suggested he could fight, I could have done with him and his beard when I was in Serbia! His girlfriend’s name was Tessa and I couldn’t quite place her. She was very eloquently spoken and looked European (maybe French?) But had no hint of a foreign accent. When someone says they are from Australia you can’t exactly say “No you’re not; where are you really from?” So I accepted the fact that I would never know this mystery and chatted to them about life until some Romanian’s came over with a drink called Palinka, I do not recommend it…

What’s Palinka? Tell me in 100 words or less or I’ll block you…

Palinka is a Romanian fruit brandy that is pretty fucking painful. The Hungarians like to claim this drink as their own as well, but I like Romania and feel like I have an affilation with the country now. So I’m happy to support the team in this match…

Well done, you stay unblocked, for now…

Yay for me I guess… So we drank until 1 in the morning and I recommended to Tessa and Mitch to go to El Diablo hostel as they’d treated me so well. And in case you were wondering Tessa had Zimbabwean relatives, which was why she spoke almost accentless. Every so often I heard a southern African twang once I knew and we talked about Robert Mugabe (I read his autobiography many moons ago…) and we made (well, I made) obscure 90’s song references until it was time to go to beddybyes.

I couldn’t sleep, turns out I was suffering from problems related to the casual punch in the face in Serbia and needed to stay still and rest, which was annoying because that meant I was going to miss Moldova since I have to make a flight in Turkey on the 26th of January. It was also annoying because the hostel put the price up on me twice even though I was the only person in the hostel. Originally I was paying 40 leu (pronounced ‘lay’), then on the third day I got bed bugs so the girl at reception moved me to another room. They then tried to charge me 55 leu ‘as it was a better room’ so when I told them I didn’t want to move and I’d rather move back into the room the girl said she’d only charge me 45 leu. I wasn’t in the right mental state to argue so I let it slide…

Bad choice. I should have learned from my time in Thailand not to let things like that slide. As the next day they then charged me 50 ‘as that was the normal price’. I decided that even though I wasn’t 100%, I needed to leave as I felt they were taking the piss, which is a shame because I got on with the owner (at least I think he was the owner) well.

<*update: I spoke to the owner about this a few days ago and he was apologetic about the situation and didn’t know I had been overcharged (which I assumed anyway) there are no hard feelings and I’d be more than happy to come back. The bed bugs (which are more common than you think in hostels. It sounds a lot worse than it is…) have been killed as well and they won’t be having issues with them anytime soon. Like I said they are common and very easy to get rid of once you are aware they are there. So don’t panic, it is a decent place to stay. Now that my concussion has gone and I’m thinking straight again I’d recommend the place without hesitation>

So night train it was, and it was fucking horrendous! No beds as they were full (when I got to the platform some dodgy looking steward tried to sell me a bed for more money but I politely declined) so I got about 4 hours of broken sleep on the seat, with a couple of crazy people shouting random shit in Romanian nearby pretty much for the first 4 hours

But I got to Bucharest relatively alive, and the hostel wasn’t far away from the train station so it was easy to get to, apart from the ice and snow. It was cheap to stay here so I stayed 2 days instead of 1 and to be honest, did FUH CALL!!!

There was a nice girl at reception who checked me in and let me have breakfast there even though I’d just arrived. I’ll remember her in my will! There was also a cool guy there called Holden who had a similar sense of humour as me. He was volunteering at the hostel, as was every fucker there…I think I was the only person stupid enough to be paying for a room! So I stayed, chilled out, got cold and eventually it was time to leave Romania.

I got told that I needed to get a train to a border town called Russe on the Bulgarian side, then from there swap trains like a Benny Hill skit until I found my way to Veliko Tarnovo. Did I do it? Find out after the break…

Stop 26: Belgrade, The Day I Found Out I Could Take A Punch…

Here we go; Night bus done and dusted, all I had to do was walk my way through Belgrade’s main town until I found my hostel. I was armed with a hostel leaflet that had a map on it so I was ready to get shacked up in a nice warm hostel, have a nap then spend the whole day exploring the capital of Serbia.

All I had to do…

The bus stopped at 6 in the morning and my hostel was a good 2 miles away. Not a problem usually but in -10 degree weather it’s a kick in the ging gang goolies. My map was, to put it politely, shit, and I was soon lost. So much so that I took a wrong turn and somehow ended up at a bridge that wasn’t on my map. 2 hours later after strategically stopping at certain shops pretending I was lost so I could warm up for a bit, I finally found Star Hostel. I rang the doorbell a few times but no one would answer the door.

“For the love of God open the door!!!” I screamed in desperation as my legs were beginning to go numb through the cold, but it was useless. They weren’t opening the door anytime soon because they’d actually closed forever two days beforehand. Stupid game! So I spent the next hour looking for another hostel nearby as I didn’t know where any other hostels were because I hadn’t prepared for a closed hostel. Thanks to a nice Serbian bloke working at a local hospital (He didn’t hit me, I’ll get there…) I ended up finding a hostel nearby, a place called El Diablo’s. which was a amazing hostel with really friendly and accommodating owners. Then I spent the next couple of days seeing the sights and shit. Here’s some pictures to make it look like I accomplished something:

But of course, that’s not why you are here, so let’s get down to it:

Let’s set the scene; it was 9:30 at night, I was looking pretty above average in my fake Adidas tracksuit bottoms and my woolly hat and scarf. So I bowled it to the local Serbian restaurant and had a romantic meal for one. After I was done I paid the exact amount (Still have no idea why I’m single, I’m such a catch…) and began to walk home in the snow. As I walked across the second street I noticed out the corner of my eye someone walking quickly towards me from the side so as he approached I took a step back. He then got right up in my face and said something aggressively in Serbian (I’m willing to guess that he wasn’t complimenting my fake Adidas tracksuit bottoms…) So I played the dumb tourist, smiled as if I was oblivious to the fact that I was being robbed and said “Sorry, English…”

He looked at me confused, obviously unsure what to do, so he took the primal method and thought “Fuck it, I’ll knock this guy out…” and punched me as hard as he could in my jaw.

Luckily for me even though I’m built like a broomstick I seem to possess an iron jaw, the guy was clearly in shock as I not only didn’t go down, I immediately shouted “What the fuck?!?” After he hit me. We then stared at each other for about a second but seemed like a lot longer. Then our stare was broken up by shouting on the other side of the street from where the bloke had originally come from. I couldn’t see anyone as it was so dark so I began to think this could turn into a group mugging and looked behind me, noticing that there was no one there I ran in that direction, almost certain that he was going to rugby tackle me to the ground and nick my stuff but after carefully running through the snow for a few streets I noticed that he wasn’t behind me anymore.

“What the fuck just happened?” I thought to myself as I walked into the closest bar, the evening had quickly become a lot more exciting than I had anticipated. I looked at the barman and said to him in a confused tone, “I’ve just been punched in the face…”

He looked genuinely shocked and said to me that this is the first time he’s ever heard of something like that happen in this area. By the tone of his voice I had no reason to disbelieve him. Then he rang my hostel and got the hostel owner to come and pick me up from the bar.

I kept looking in the mirror in the bar rubbing my jaw looking impressed. I’ve been hit before, sure; I used to do Tae kwon-do when I was younger so I’ve been punched and kicked in the face a fair few times, but I’ve never felt a punch like that before. It felt like he hit me round the face with a rock. How I didn’t get knocked out I’ll never know. I’m impressed that I can withstand that kind of punishment but I still feel embarrassed that I got hit in the first place with all my martial arts training and unnaturally quick reflexes. I didn’t even see the punch coming, so what was the point in all that training? Not only that, but I ended up running in the opposite direction instead of being able to deal with the situation. Not exactly the most manly way to deal with the threat…

“What did you do?” The hostel owner said theatrically when he saw me. I explained what happened and he walked me back home. I spent the rest of the evening nursing my jaw and preparing to leave Serbia.

On the grand scale of things this went very well for me; I didn’t get robbed of any money, cards or passport. (Cambodia, I’m looking at you…) I also found out I have a good chin on me. But in terms of pride I took a real big hit. I found out I can’t fight and if the situation presented itself again I doubt I’d be able to handle it.

So the mugging didn’t go well for him, but at the same time it could have gone a whole lot worse for me. I have my health so I can’t really complain. I have a bit of a headache still but out of all the possible scenarios that could have happened I think I got off lightly…

I’m out of Serbia now and in Timisoara, Romania. I still have positive memories of Serbia despite that dickhead. The people are friendly, the hostel owners are fantastic people, and the country itself is beautiful with lots of architecture. I don’t know if I’ll be back any time soon, but I’m not going to let some punk put me off this beautiful country. He’ll get his comeuppance one day. He’ll punch the wrong Serb with connections and… well, you can use your imagination… Until then I’ll carry on doing what I’m doing and not let the actions of one person affect the rest of my trip. It’s time to explore Romania and Moldova!!!

Thank you Sunny Lake Hostel!

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I just wanted to say thank you to Gyoko at Sunny Lake hostel in Ohrid, Macedonia for being kind enough to advertise my books at his hostel. Hopefully this will lead to me reaching people who I would never be able to reach otherwise. And as they are all on Kindle Unlimited they can be accessed for free, so people are more likely to take a chance on them and enjoy my books, which is all I want…

Here is the Sunny Lake hostel facebook page if you are interested in travelling there one day…