Into Belgrade, Serbia

In the middle of the night the overhead lights suddenly come on in the room and I wake up squinting and confused. Look at my watch, it’s 3:39 am. MacKay is a blurry blob over by the door. “Dude, what the fuck?”, “Sorry man, gotta shit”, “I can’t wait until they invent phones with flashlights on them”, “Oh ya”, he’s scuffling frantically, “sorry.. kind of urgent.” He rushes out and I can hear him barrel down the old hallway, an elephant on every wooden crack. Hopefully everyone else sleeps through it. Maybe we still need to be on the BRAT. Crazy, this situation is lasting a long time.

He’s back asleep by 344 and snoring super loud in our little room. I’m not so lucky. I had a solid few hours of shuteye there and now my body thinks it’s go time. My throat is also burning from Acid McReflux. Rotten Ronnie’s is right. And here we go, countdown until morning. Might as well try the usual routine. Relax the face. Body scan. 4-7-8 breathing technique. Blah blah blah, it’s 4:30 now. Maybe I’ll try outside.

I escape quietly and curl up in a hammock. Doesn’t seem like there are any bugs. It’s cooler and quieter. Hmmm pretty good… Until around 5:30 when traffic picks up outside and a dog starts barking on the other side of the fence. Well fucking fuckitty shit-fuck. Sneak back in and try again. It takes a while to fall back asleep and then the morning gets destroyed filling in for the time I spent not sleeping during the night. 

Come to again hours later and MacKay is up and getting ready, “Rough night?”, “Ya, couldn’t sleep. I’ll go get showered up”, “Don’t really have time to go out for breakfast”, “Wow. Morning nuke. We’ve got fucking rice cakes…”

We get our gear packed up and try out the rice cakes on the patio. Nice morning. Rice cakes suck. The bread sticks are ok.

Laura gets up comes outside and sees our bags, “Oh no, you’re leaving?”, “Yep, heading to Belgrade”, “Oh I extended my stay haha. Well, I’ll just take a maintenance day”, “Nice. This is a good spot for it”, “Ahh I’m going to miss you guys…”

While we wait for the bus Laura gives us some tips on Montenegro and Albania. She can’t say enough about them and I make notes of the places she mentions since letting other people do your planning is totally the way to go. She reminds us of Kotor in Montenegro, tells us to for sure get to Gjirokastër and Berat in Southern Albania, and if we get to the Albanian coast to stay at Hamara hostel. Awesome intel.

“I think you guys will enjoy Albania. You have the right attitude”, “We’re pretty easy”, “Exactly”, there’s a rumbling on the road, “Ooh does that sound like a bus?”, “It does! Good bye, guys. So nice to meet you!” We dole out the good hugs and head for Bobcat Gap.

It was not our bus. We kick it with rice cakes by the construction trench. Guess they’re not working today? Hmmm where’s this bus? Raul’s mom, Anna, comes out and tells us they will call 10 minutes before arriving. We can wait inside.

Back on the porch and Laura is eating bananas, yogurt and porridge. Smart lass. “You’re back! Yay!” Anya comes round and says hi before setting out for a walkabout before her free walking tour at 3.

Raul also shows up and thanks us for staying, “Spread the word of Timișoara !”, “We will for sure. Great city”, “Oh did you know that Timișoara will be European Capital of Culture in 2021?”, “Capital of Culture? What’s that?”, “We applied to be one of the European cultural capitals. They pick a few each year. It is very good for the city. Higher profile. More funding. Renovations, you know”, “Sure. That’s great. Is that why the castle is being restored?”, “Ahh yes, maybe so!”

The bus finally comes. The driver is a big, bald, built and tattooed dude cranking AC/DC. People look tired, probably not thrilled about the music. Oh it’s Iron maiden now. Not sure heavy metal is what people want while they’re trying to sleep. Not that you can sleep anyways as the bus stutters through narrow streets having to pause and wait for oncoming cars every 20 yards. Pretty sure this is gonna be the one hour, round up everyone in the city until the bus is full thing like they did to us so many times in South East Asia.

At one of the stops a super tall, super white dude comes straight back and sits right beside me. He instantly gets into conversation. Welch guy named Medarith. He’s a chipper, over-talkative, thick-accented type and self proclaimed ‘Computer Dude’. He clearly got 8 hours more sleep than me last night. “Are you from North America?”, “Yes. Canada”, “See I always say that. No one gets offended”, “Ya, that’s clever…” He’s a nice enough know it all type of guy and I try my best to stay engaged. 

Crazy playlist going on in this mini bus. Next song up is Elvis Presley. The Trooper into Blue Suede Shoes? What is this mix? Who the hell does that? We’ve also heard RHCP Zephyr Song and that newly released Jimi Hendrix song, Man Child. And yep, there it is. Was only a matter of time before Metallica came on. Atlas, Rise! Interesting choice. Who is this random music vandal?

Medarith takes his foot off the talk pedal and I thankfully rest my head against the window. Pretty cramped and warm in here. But 15 bucks door to door to cross a border we thought we were gonna have trouble with is totally worth it.

Iron Maiden’s Fear of the Dark comes on as we approach the Romanian border. Things are taking a while. A clipboard comes around and we sign our names and passport numbers on it. We pass all of our passports forward to a guard. People get very anxious when the back opens and bags start getting searched. But we’re out with no bother.

Through no man’s land and Ozzy Osborne’s Crazy Train comes on as we approach the Serbian border. The driver turns it up a touch to let Randy Rhodes finger tap our ears off as we get to the gates. 

Similar routine at the Serbian border but a little shorter. Quick look in the back at the pile of bags… and we’re off.  The border boss is an attractive lady wearing a blue jacket with yellow writing similar to FBI jackets, but hers says цзарина – literally, “Czarina”.  No question who’s the boss here.

There’s a roadside billboard for a casino called “Slot Club Kentucky”, with an image of a roulette wheel and a sexy nurse.  I’m not seeing the connection to the Bluegrass State.

Not far down the road we pull off into a gas station for a bathroom breather. Check my phone and there’s only an hour and a half drive left in the trip. Timișoara to Belgrade only takes about 3 hours. I suppose the bus coming over an hour late and then taking an extra hour to round everyone up makes this a full days excursion though. 

Walk into the gas station convenience store and Montell Jordan’s This Is How We Do It is playing over the house speakers. Hilarious. And Awesome. Thanks Serbia. MacKay and I are grooving, it’s a good pick me up. “This is the strangest day for music we’ve ever had I think”, ‘Oh yeah, for sure.”

We get some sandwiches and water. I don’t think my credit card worked the last time I was in Serbia. Does this time. Noice! We grab a seat on the patio out front. Nice to stretch out. Daaayum these are good sandwiches!

While we’re chowing down, Rando DJ Bus Rock Dude collects money and asks the address of where everyone is staying. I book a room at Reveler’s hostel and show him the address. We don’t have any Serbibucks yet and pay him the equivalent of 30 Ameribucks in Romanibucks.

While we’re waiting to get going again I start chatting up one of the girls from the bus. She’s a tall brunette with freckles and intelligent eyes. I noticed her Montenegro passport at the border crossing. I tell her we’re going down that way. “Me too. You should go to where I’m from”, “Oh yeah, where’s that?”, “Herceg Novi. It is the most beautiful place. Not just because I am from there. I mean. I am not just saying so..”, “I know what you mean. I bet it’s beautiful. Herceg Novi. Can we stay with your mom?”, “Ha! Yes and my dad. Where will you go in Montenegro?”, “We don’t really know yet. Don’t know anything about Montenegro to be honest. We heard Kotor is cool”, “Well yes, Kotor, you will have to go. The capital, Podgorica, isn’t that nice. Kotor area is. Herceg Novi is the nicest though”, “Well you would know. We’ll try to get there.” 

Her name is Mia and she’s doing a student exchange in Bucharest but needs to go home and renew her Romanian Visa.

We get back on the road. Quick stop in Pančevo to drop someone off. Getting some classic Serbian driving in now. Straddling lanes, gunning and breaking, controlled chaos. Ahh I missed this place. I’m glad we’re back here. It was fun driving through Serbia on the rally. Like a switch was flipped and no rules driving was totally fine all of the sudden. Took some getting used to, like driving on the PARTy.  Especially with the Admiral being right-hand drive. Not very safe. But really fun.

Spotting some interesting graffiti in a mix of Cyrillic and Latin, I can make out enough Cyrillic to recognize words like “partisan”, but I think my favourite is simply the word “Brooklyn” – but written in Cyrillic.

The van is passing everyone on the right hand shoulder, this is great. Or maybe this is a bus lane? I dunno, but we’re fucking cruising now.

We get to Belgrade and it is jaaaaam packed for rush hour. There’s a bridge across the Danube with high-rises in the distance. The bus driver pulls off beforehand and claims he can’t go into the city. They’re sending someone to pick us up. Ok…

I open the map. Looks like it’s only a 20 minute walk to the hostel. I show MacKay, “I’m down.”

We grab our packs from the back. Mia comes over, “Walking in”, “Ya, it’s only 20 minutes”, “Ah yes, good thinking.” She says she’s going to Montenegro and back to Bucharest in a week. “Wow that’s a quick trip”, “Yes. But I am young. I have friends here to stay with and will leave for home in couple nights”, “Ok we’ll meet you in Herceg Novi. Tell your mom to make up an extra bed for us”, “Haha yes, of course. I will.” We shake on it and walk away. 

At the end of the block I realize that she may have been inferring we should hang out in Belgrade while we’re all here. Doh. I also realize we didn’t even tell Rando DJ Bus Rock Dude we were leaving. Ah well.

Things are delightfully sketchy and divey on our walk so far. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy this sort of thing. This mural has been the highlight.

But the closer we get to the hostel the nicer it gets. Rounding the last corner on the home stretch and things are now downright gorgeous. Cobblestone streets and patios to drink on, old architecture, a beauty day and a chill vibe. Knew I’d like Belgrade.

Reveller’s Hostel should be just up here. “This place is sick dude!”, “Yep. Oh we passed it”, “Naturally”, “Back this way. Ya, I’m stoked.”

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