Friday, 27 May 2011

Crazy, crazy woman!

"Why you travelling alone?" asked the dour faced official at the Croation border.
"Erm.." I replied vacantly searching for a hint in the expressionless face as to what my reply should be.
"Don't you get bored?"
"Erm.. no! No I don't, erm I meet nice people like you!" wincing and checking the face as my passport was scrutinised again.
"You are crazy, crazy woman! Welcome to Croatia!" and the face crumpled into a smile as the first stamp of the trip was placed on my passport.

There is something about each border crossing that makes me nervous. Not the meeting of the border officials, simply the fact I have become accustomed to the country I'm now leaving behind and entering the unknown. Hungary I'd grown to love and now it was Croatia's turn. Within 5 minutes I'd stopped to get my bearings and a second later a lady in a car stopped to check I was ok. Having reassured her I knew where I was going - once again using my limited German inexplicably interspersed with French - she seemed contented and drove off to be replaced by another car with the family leaning out of the window and shouting Hello! so this continued for the next 40km before I left the hilly villages of vineyards and then the flatness of the farmlands. I headed towards a national park hoping this would provide a place to camp and deep within the reserve I spotted wild boar foraging in the ancient woodland. Feeling slightly panicked I chose to sleep away from the trees and hid in long grass.

The following day I awoke to the almost mechanical sound of birds of prey sweeping over my tent, packed up and set off swerving to avoid the thousands of frogs that lined the paths of this wetland environment. Snake street was the next destination, with Dice snakes jack-knifing their way across the heat of the gravel. I rested at a lake and spotted an eagle and black cranes.

At Vukorav the horrors of the 90's war were all too evident and I sat in silence, absorbed and disturbed.

Nearing the town where I would leave Croatia behind I found a dog stumbling at the side of the road and I tried to help. One hour later I struggled to leave this feeble animal which had now cuddled into me, refusing my offering of water. Tears fell and I don't mean to be a sentimentalist but the sight of that dog trying to run after me as I continued my journey will stay with me a long time.

I reached the town of Ilok which is where I was to leave Croatia and cross the bridge into Serbia and met Frank and Franka 2 Germans en route to Indonesia. We shared a chocolate and cream pizza (this was the second strange pizza I'd had in 3 days, the earlier being chicken liver) and experiences before heading over the bridge to Serbia. Smiles greeted me at border control. I left the Germans and went in search of a cash point where I met pretentious gifted child from hell who spoke to me in German only to correct my pronunciation of "ein Bischen". His father clipped his ear before I could reach over and do it myself and the Alan Partridge "Knowing me Knowing You" sketch sprung to mind and I resisted the urge to humiliate re his high pitched voice. "where's your husband?" asked the father. "oh just down the road" I replied, making my excuses and entering a churchyard to change into trousers and a jumper and head off in search of a place to camp. 1km later 2 dogs rushed across the busy road and attacked from both sides. Feeling slightly frazzled and concerned that the sun had set I saw some trees on the side of the road, waited til the road was clear and set up camp: a miserable night with trucks speeding past.

Serbia since this has been a delight. The people are like race officials, excitedly waving their arms and pointing the way when they see me heading off in the wrong direction. Horns beeping and smiles from the vehicles I've pass. Evening sun and villagers smoking on their garden walls brings beaming faces and shouts of what sounds like "aloha". My inexplicable fear of a new environment disperses.

Yet the dogs. I am chased constantly: 1-2 dogs are then joined by another 3 and simply cycling on does not work. By now I have learnt to reach for my Dog dazer and I stop and with fury point the gadget at these dogs until they turn, growling and trot off.

"Your dogs are crazy" I said to the man on the campsite I'd arrived at late at night in a storm, soaking wet and desperate for a beer. "No! The dogs are not crazy" he laughed "Serbia is crazy"

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Lost in translation

In Budapest and doing my usual which is 1/ cycling on the pavement and 2/ wondering which way is East  - I come to a standstill and reach for my map. I look up and see a vaguely familiar face also on a bicycle and on the pavement riding towards me. We look at each other baffled while saying hello. He points to my skirt (which is silk with a distinctive pattern, my rest day city outfit and a refreshing change from padded shorts) "Vienna!" he exclaims through his laughter "McDonalds!" and then it twigs. In Vienna I had noticed a man on a mountain bike looking as hopelessly lost as me on the bicycle 'ringroad' of the city. 3 possibly 4 times we had passed each other and our last time was when I was quickly checking my emails using McDonalds free wifi.

So David from Argentina is touring Europe in a camper van, recognised me by my skirt and his English is as poor as my Spanish but we spent the day together cycling up to the Citadelle, trying on hats made from ancient funghi, drinking too much beer in a tourist-free side street near the Opera house that resulted in the barman giving me a hug and 3 kisses on departure and getting totally lost in the suburbs of Budapest despite the aid of Google maps and a GPS

Lost in suburbia
So now I will continue south of this delightful city following the Danube which has already led me through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and will also accompany me through Serbia and Romania before I leave it to head south east through Bulgaria and in to Istanbul. 

Before I leave I will share a secret with you that only 2 people know yet communicating it to David via drawings and gestures yesterday and his retort of "crazy, crazy woman" I offer it to you to see if my sanity needs checking

As you know I have had a few encounters with wildlife while camping hidden in the woods: the grey furred beast that tripped over my bicycle, stubbed his 'toe', crashed into my tent and swore in the way only a grey furred beast can swear. The hedgehog that would try burst his way in and then scuttle away when I unzipped the door, only to charge again when I zipped up. The slugs and snails that have tried to stowaway on my mudguards or hide in my tent from village to village, country to country. Yet the other night while camped in some open ground near a forest there was a mini stampede. My mattress trembled and so did I. I am too much of a coward to shine my torch into the darkness of a forest after it met the yellow eyes of an animal before so instead I prepare myself should a wild boar trample on my head in the middle of the night.. and this time I reached for my yet unworn bike helmet, placed it on my head, tightened the chin strap and fell asleep reassured that no wild boar would be making sausages out of me that night.