And we’re back… at the hostel. We come through the gate and it looks like there’s a ping pong game happening on the patio. Two dudes are cackling and having a go, they’re not bad. Aussie accents floating in the shit talking. A blonde hippie chick is looking on smiling and a comfy looking guy in Hammer pants with long dreads is lighting up a smoke. He waves us over as we come onto the scene.

His name is Max, he’s from Bavaria. Says he’s looking after the place tonight. Super laid back German dude. He wants to know all about us. The bubbly girl, Laura, scoots over when the word ‘Canada’ drops. She says she’s from Kamloops-ish area, “Oh yeah, my brother lives in B.C. too. Where abouts?”, “North.. little town named Barrière that no one really knows”, “I hear that. Well, in that case, I’m from Seabright and he’s from Debert.”

It sounds like Laura has been just about everywhere. We tell her that we’re headed South through Serbia into North Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro, not sure where else. She tells us that Albania is awesome, she loves it there, “and Kotor in Montenegro. You’re definitely going there right?”, “Oh we don’t know. We haven’t looked into anything really”, “Haha ok. Well don’t miss Kotor. That’d be silly. There’s a castle up a big tall cliff high, high, high above the city. Some locals told me not to bother paying at the gate, to go further up through the city and climb through a window that goes out onto the same path. So I did that. Up the steps through the narrow buildings. And I found it! I felt like a detective!”, “Ha! I know, right! We’ll look for it when we’re there too.”

The Aussie dudes finish up their ping pong match. The guy on the left pretty much destroyed it, “Game on if you’re interested…”, “In getting dominated at ping pong? hahah”, he smiles and puts the racket on the table, “Well I wasn’t gonna say it.” They come over and join us.

Justin and James, two brothers from Melbourne. They’re looking at renting cars and driving to small towns all over Romania. “Nice. Ya we love doing that sort of thing. Roadtrips are definitely the way to go”, “For sure, are you on one too?”, “Not exactly. We wanted to rent a car when we were in Prague and…”

We have a good back and forth. Nice lads, smart, quick-witted Aussies. These are the chill, sensible sort of Aussies that I’m sure are everywhere but are easily overshadowed by their raucous, get hellaciously drunk and smash shit, fuck everything up type brethren that you often find travelling. They politely excuse themselves from conversation and pull out a laptop to get their ride situation sorted.

Max heads in for a sec. We lean back over towards Laura. She’s been traveling and picking up online work basically since high school. Spent time working ski resorts in Tofino and around that area. Lived in Banff for a bit. Lived in Australia for a while too. Loves the sunshine coast. Spent a month in Tasmania. Also lived in Perth (this all explains her slight Aussie accent which we couldn’t quite place but were too polite to comment on when she said she was also from Canada). She’s taking some time off to revamp her website and write a book. She does resort planning, travel planning, meditation and tantra.

Fawaaafffph just sponging up the Laura info here. She’s very direct and communicative. She’s sweet, maybe a little rehearsed sounding (which I suppose can happen when you’re a writer working on a book who’s already honed in perfect sentences that can be applied to the general questions other travelers may have). Everything kinda sounds like a travel commercial. She giggle’s after most sentences. One arpeggio giggle up.. slight pause.. then one down. The pause is like a brief moment where she looks away, thinks about it, then adds an approval giggle afterwards. Higher pitched, but it’s reminding me of Ghost Giggles from the Elektrotechnikai Múzeum.

Max comes back out with a bottle of something just as the Aussies wrap up a stressful online rental car fiasco. “Pálinka that Raul’s dad makes. It’s nice”, Justin is excited, “Perfect Timing! Oh we should pair that with some chocolate”, epiphany from Laura, “Ohhh! I have some walnut chocolates!”, “Nice!”

Pálinka is a local Hungarian, maybe also Romanian, alcohol that I think is like a plum brandy. Not sure I’ve ever had it.

Max fills out 6 shots worth of Pálinka in 6 random pieces of glassware from the house and Laura adds the walnut chocolates to a plate. Glasses and chocolates in the air, we all have a toast, “To new friends! And Timișoara!” We try them both.

“Oh ya! This is perfect. Walnut chocolate and Pálinka for the win”, apparently Laura is a walnut freak, “I love it! This is so good! What’s your favorite nut?”, she looks at me, “Favorite nut? Hmm good question. Maybe the pistachio..”, MacKay nods in approval and Aussie James is right on it, “100% with you bro. For sure pistachios”, solid high five on that. Justin is thinking, “Cashews are good”, “Yup, yup Cashews.” Max offers up hazelnut, “Ya, definitely. Super good”, “Macadamia nuts are good too”, “Oh fuck ya, that’s right!”

Another round of Pálinka gets poured and we finish off the chocolates. “Well that was easily the best game of ‘What’s your favorite nut?’ I’ve ever played”, “Hahah totally!”, Aussie James is looking off towards something in his distant past, “I had a pistachio gelato when I was in Venice..”, “Oh yeah, I bet that was deadly”, “I cried. I’ll never live again.”

Well now that the sweet taste has hit our lips, MacKay and I feel the need to make a beer run. Max shows us on a map where the closest corner store is and the best path to take. We’re on the case…

Just a few streets down and through a square we find the spot. We go around back as Max suggested and down an escalator. Hit the beer selection and get a couple of six packs to share around. Max mentioned a non-carbonated local beer so we grab that.

At the check out and there’s a girl off in the distance by the escalator that for some reason starts heckling me in Romanian. I just raise my arms in the ‘me no speak dat’ signal. She’s playing with her hair, “Hair! Long Hair!” she’s pointing at me and yelling. Ok, this is getting weird. “American! American! USA!”, and now everyone in line is looking over at me. Not sure what’s happening here…

The girl at the cash can see my discomfort, “Maybe I’ve got a hater?” I offer and she says something that I don’t quite catch. I can see that she’s trying to help but I don’t understand. The girl in the distance keeps chirping me and the cashier tries again, “Mental…. ahh mental illness”, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh.. ahhh ok, thank you. Thank you so much.”

With that in perspective we get paid up and I grab the beer and head to the escalator. The girl is getting super excited as I get closer. I reach out my hand and she grabs it with max enthusiasm, “America! America!”, I smile, “North America, yes. Canada. We’re from Canada”, “Ohhhh Canada! Canada! Canadian!” and she holds my hand overlong as we slide our way to the exit. I look back and the cashier watches this exchange with a wide smile.

At the top of the escalators MacKay is chuckling, “Ambassadors eh?”, “Something like that” and we crack a couple local brews for the walk home.

Back on the Freeborn patio we pass around some beers to our new friends. We drop the rest in the kitchen fridge. There are a bunch of fun murals throughout the house.

Raul swings through for a minute to pick something up at the hostel. He’s all smiles to see everyone hanging out on the patio having a good time. He comes over and shows us something on his phone, “Your bus to Belgrade will be here at 11”, “Sweet! Cheers man, that’s awesome.”

Inwardly it’s bittersweet though since this place has turned out to be a relaxing hidden gem and we’ve found a good crew to hang with. But that’s just how it goes. Moving on suits us just fine too.

An interesting new duo comes through the gate back to the patio. Alex from Montreal and Anya from Austria. They don’t actually know each other, they were just on the same bus. Alex does a quick scan and instantly moves over to sit right beside Laura. She’s almost immediately launching into talking about chakras and shit and he’s fake eating it up while quite obviously eyeing her up. This approach seems to be working.

MacKay and I realize that we haven’t eaten since Bistro M around lunch time. We tell everyone we’ll be back in a bit and leave to explore our options. Out the metal gate, hop the bobcat gap and head into Victory Square.

Not sure what’s going on here with the Lay Me Down Across The Lines sheet, but the lighting is cool.

(What’s going on here is an avante-garde art exhibit on transgender politics at Kunsthalle Bega art gallery)

We do a lap down towards the Cathedral and back but are coming up empty. Everything is closed. Not a single restaurant open. Too bad because it looks like there are a bunch of good ones.

“Rotten Ronnie’s?”, “Fuck it. Maybe they’ll have a Bailey’s McFlurry.” We go get MacDonald’s because it’s the only thing open. It’s exactly as you’d expect.

We get back and Alex has jacked our last beer from the fridge. What a douche. He’s got his arm around Laura now. We tell them that all the restaurants are closed and they leave to get food at a 24 how grocery store. The Aussies are gone to bed already, Anya and Max are nowhere to be seen.

MacKay and I wind down the night looking into hostels in Belgrade and some things to do in the city. We had a blast in Serbia when we drove through on the Mongol Rally years ago. It ended up being an unexpected highlight so we’re excited to get into the capital and check things out. “Good looking fortress on the Danube”, “Oh perfect”, “Remember getting completely shitfaced..”, “I was just going to.. in that Serbian fortress in Niš…”

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