Road Trippin Eastern Europe

July 17, 2009 at 11:12 am

I recently got back from a road trip around Eastern Europe for my birthday. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The freedom of driving, stopping at little towns here and there.

Slovenia was a hidden surprise. Places I have always wanted to go like Lake Bled. We rented a row boat and rowed out to the island with the church, had lunch, walked the neverending steps to the top. It was so amazing. Hung out with locals in Ljubljana, slept in parking lots, farm fields, hidden alleys or driveways, or even the middle of town!! The one shower I took that week was in somewhere Croatia. We had been dipping into the lakes, rivers, Adriatic Sea, whatever water was there.

Finally, furry and with slick hair, I busted out the shampoo, razor, and soap. After a dip in the sea, we headed to the showers (the ones where you’re supposed to wash off the salt water) and at 8 am when people were also taking a morning dip or eating breakfast, I had a shower, shampoo, shave and all right on the beach in front of everyone! If you pretend like no one is looking, they really aren’t right?

Leaving the Croatia coast was tough, I said goodbye to the sea a few times. Cliff jumping was unforgettable. We were told to go to the touristy spot and not the ‘dangerous, local, spot’ where there were pathways off the backside of St Peter’s church. But somehow as luck would have it we ended up there. 2 hours to warm up, plus another half hour each standing at the cliff edge looking over 20 meters down, not knowing what would happen if we jumped (we were the only ones lucky enough to be there), we finally did.

I wanted to scare the crap out of myself, and I did. I definitely did. Sweating, shaking, swearing, praying, chanting, throwing things – mix of emotions.

Just as I was warming up, a ship came by playing the song ‘Life is Life’ and then part of the song said ‘jump jump jump jump’. I figured it was a sign. After that passed some fisherman came by to throw nets. It was now or never.

I finally jumped. The birthday jump. I don’t even know how I did it, it just happened. Jessie did it. So could I. ‘FEET FIRST’ I said right before I plunged. Why didn’t I follow my own advice? I know – probably because falling from that high up is so unnatural and my body was scrambling to find ground or something to hold onto. I landed, hard. I had no idea that water could do that much damage. Jessie was ok, so should I be. But, I landed wrong. Bleeding and bruised, not able to sit
for still a couple weeks now comfortably and not being able to turn my neck, but, I did it!

The birthday jump.

Driving was tough but we met up with the others and we road tripped to Sarajevo, playing the game ‘Encore’ and losing track of time. It was all about the word ‘love’!

I left the group in Sarajevo. An interesting city, wish I had more time to go on the history tour, but just walking around and talking to locals in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia gave me a touch of the REAL history, what people really remember and not just from the tours. I also remembered some of the news from ‘91. The streets were crowded and crazy with cars, people, cafes, trams, cars parked on sidewalks, one ways – glad I made it out of there!

I had to pinch myself a couple of times. Here I was, driving in my littled rented Peuguot ‘Pooh’ through Bosnia… BOSNIA!

On the backroads. I had enough gas, but no cell phone. I knew how to change a tire – at least in the States. I didn’t speak slavic. My butt was cushioned with towels and sweatshirts as I was still recovering from the jump, and I stopped about once every hour or two to adjust. Bosnia is beautiful with large mountains and the road curves along the river. River one side, huge tree-covered rocks on the other.

I learned quickly one word, ‘obilaza’… construction. I tried to avoid it but it was construction season. I ended up taking several backroads, hitting some stop and go construction on gravel roads. But when there was no construction, I was cruising through now-flat countryside and windy roads through small cities. I felt like I was driving the backroads to my sister’s house in Wisconsin, only a different language and centuries of different history, different people.

What were they like? They had families too, they played in the yard, worked on the farm, had jobs, went to church, to the pub, to the dentist. What are they like? And here I am, an American in Pooh passing cars, farmers, tractors, not knowing where I am or much about the people or land. Again I had to pinch myself.

I popped in the Slumdog Millionaire sountrack as I cruised with Pooh through the backroads, feeling happy and peaceful, eating my cheese and crackers and my warm water, just doing my thing. In Bosnia!

After I played the soundtrack at least twice, I turned back to the radio. I loved listening to the radio stations that played the local music, it made me feel closer to the culture somehow. Then finally a great hip hop song came on, and I was jamming away.

Then, like the twilight zone or Brigadoon, I crossed a bridge and everything changed. The music station suddenly switched. The signs no longer had any slavic looking words. Everything was in Russian!

Where was I? What happened? These words aren’t on the map? What’s going on??

Finally I pulled over at a gas station. No English – all they spoke was German! Twilight zone. I could understand most of it and was back on track, but it made me really want to go back to German and Russian classes!

Again, pinching myself, here I was in former Yugoslavia, driving, the signs were in Russian, the people spoke German.

Times like these however make me happy to be alive. When does this stuff happen? I loved every second of it. It’s overcoming challenges or doing different things in life that give me energy and peace.

I was a little bummed but also relieved to be back in Hungary, where the roads are really nice and easy to drive on, a little hard to navigate around Budapest but it worked out just fine. It was somewhat surprisingly comforting hear some Hungarian words. Pooh was returned and all was well. Back on foot. Goodbye Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, thanks for the memories!

I’ll post pictures as soon as I can get them developed – from my disposable cameras!