A few months ago Honey Vader invited me to a music festival in Bulgaria. I didn’t know any of the bands or what genre of music it was but I booked a ticket anyway.
Every country has their own way to laugh at tourists right? One thing Australians like to laugh at is how many people think they can fly into Sydney and catch a bus to Uluru that afternoon.
“It’s just on the other side of the island.”
We’re not lump of sand in some tiny atol you ignoramus. Have fun starving on your surprise 31 hour journey across the desert.
This is how I planned my trip to the music festival
Oh flights to Bulgaria are really expensive. I’ll just get the cheapest flight in the area and hitchhike to Bulgaria. $39 to the Czech Republic?! That’s close to Bulgaria right? I booked without even looking at a map.
Stupid mistake number 1: Turns out Brno isn’t close to Bulgaira at all. It’s actually 1700km away.
My flight to Brno was due to arrive at 9:50 on the 11th. The music festival starts on the afternoon of the 13th. That gave me one and a half days to hitchhike 1700kms.
I had arranged to meet Alan at the airport. He’s a Jesus look alike who tells stories like how kids dance. The plan was to have a beer and some grub then retire at his place for the night. This is what we did instead.
That’s felda’s, the biggest club in Brno. I’ve just been enthusiastically fed a line of beerajuana and I’m loosely shaking my body to a tub shaped man scream over some trash pop*. He’s wearing only leather briefs by they’re slipping off because he dances like an epileptic salmon. A belt of bloody sweat has developed on his belly from the thrash of his blingy CD necklace. Occasionally he runs into the crowd to rub the stenchy mixture onto the audience. It’s really fucking weird. Everyone’s into it including myself. I can’t tell if I’m enjoying it or if I simply feel energized by seeing live music for the first time in months.
Anyway I was jerking and jumping with little self awareness or ability. Next to me was a shirtless Jesus swaying like a ocean buoy. Together, surrounded by g-strings, mullets and other Eastern European fashion anachronisms, we were watching a young overweight guy, wearing only leather briefs, cover himself in sweat and blood. I had one of those moments, ‘I wonder what my Dad would think if he saw this’.
I woke up the next morning feeling . . . Well nothing really. Any capacity to feel anything but a shipwrecked sway had been blunted out by Jesus’ beerajuana cocktail. Rather preferable I thought, let’s get on with the day.
I got a metro and a bus out to the edge of the city following some hitchwiki advice. En route I prepared my tools.
Not my best effort but workable.
My first ride was a portly gentleman with a spritely voice unusual for someone unaccustomed to speaking English. We talked about Holst an beer and he dropped me 50km further forward. It was a good spot and almost straight away I met a group of Bulgarians driving a mini van, three young guys with concave faces and dark eyes and an elderly guy who looked like a homeless wizard. They were going all the way to the Bulgarian capital. The younger guys seemed keen for me to join but scraggle-wizard demanded I pay him.
Stupid mistake number 2: politely telling the driver to get fucked.
I hopped in another car 10mins later. This guy was driving to Bratislava and asked whether I wanted to be dropped at a gas station or the highway.
Stupid mistake number 3: “Gas station please.”
The gas station was just before the turn off to Vienna. All the traffic going through was headed to the Austrian capital or the Slovakian countryside. There were a few trucks heading to Romania or Hungary but they’d only stopped to sleep.
Stupid mistake number 4: not going to Vienna.
I got a lot of offers from families and students to go to Vienna. I said no every time thinking it would be more efficient to go directly South to Romania or Serbia. Vienna is only a little out of the way and had I gone I would have had way more travel options.
Instead I stuck it out and waited for a car heading South. It was about an hour and a half until I started having doubts. I headed to the gas station store to ask for directions to a train station when I saw a police car roll in.
Stupid mistake number 4: asking the cops to take me to a Police station.
Budapest was only 150km away and the cops could have taken me to the border but I thought hitching was going to slowly so I asked for the train station.
The only train going out of Bratislava that afternoon? One to Budapest.
Whatever. Gotta keep moving. It took me four and half hours to get to Budapest. What a fucking waste. Even if I had waited on the highway for another three hours it would of been better.
I arrived in Budapest feeling rather stressed. I had travelled 8 and half hours and traversed only 250km. I had 1450km to go and the festival started in 24hours.
At the ticket office:
“When’s the next train to Sofia?”
“Tomorrow at 1pm.”
“When’s the next bus?”
“Great, how do I get a ticket?”
Aahhhhhh. Action, action, action. Now, now, now!
I got a metro and a bus to the city’s outskirts. Hitchwiki had recommend a spot – it looked quiet and there were signs pointing to rural towns – but what else was I supposed to do?
Stupid mistake number 5: hitchhiking at the Citroen car park.
Half an hour later a young bald guy dressed only in green stopped. He looked surprised.
“Where are you going?”
“Serbia or Romania, I want to get to Bulgaria.” His face tells me I’m an idiot. He points to the country town signs to confirm.
“You need to go onto the highway.”
As far as I could see the highway was protected by barrier walls. I found another bald guy, this one with a big face and a scary smile, and asked him where I can hitchhike. He pointed to the forest.
“It’s not dangerous.” Ok. That’s a weird thing to say.
Stupid mistake number 6: going into the forest.
I followed what I thought was a path.
In hindsight I realise it was probably just broken grass left behind from bald guy wandering around looking for forest grub or a quiet spot to masturbate. I think this because the path didn’t actually go anywhere besides in circles.
25 minutes late I was in the middle of a forest, fucking lost and desperately hopeless. What the fuck. I choose the direction which sounded most like a highway and just walked straight.
I walked like this for until I found an opening in the trees. I had arrived at a giant department store, so massively and isolated it had it’s own free shuttle busses. I tried to scout out for a highway entrance but the roads all flew into one big tentacley mess, like an octopus orgy, everything going everywhere, no one knowing where they are or what leads to what.
Pack it in Nick. You’re stuck buddy.
I hoped on a free tesco bus and got off at the same time as a young couple of canoodling teens because they seemed as confused as me. Luckily it was at a metro stop. I went to the international bus terminal thinking I should buy a ticket for tomorrow.
“Hello. How can I get to Sofia?”
“This is check in.” Middle aged woman who looks like a bird choking to death.
“Where can I buy a ticket or get information?”
Points lazily to the left. Cranky bitch.
The other booth, the actual one for ticketing, closed immediately after my arrival.
“How do I buy tickets?” I desperately ask a security guard pushing me and another lady away.
Points back to the cranky bitch.
The other two ladies attempted to communicate with her. A few words here and there, a bit heated, and the blinds close. That’s it. Busses are running outside, people are waiting but there is no where to get tickets or get any information. The Hungarian international bus terminal closes at 7. Too bad. Go on the internet.
“Can I help you?” A young lady with hair like the prettiest of the Captain Planet villains.
Her name was Dora but we quickly renamed her Wingirl* because she needed an action name befitting her actionself. Wingirl and I actioned our way around Hungary’s major transport nodes – Wingirl asking and ordering and me standing around like a hopeless jerk. It was an emotional roller coaster of hope and disappointment as every option Wingirl raised was quickly destroyed by a league of glum faced Hungarian transport officials.
Oh there’s a train at 3am!
There’s a bus tomorrow at 6.
And one at 8.
Ohh there’s a train tomorrow morning at 11:30.
No, no, no, no, no, shakes head, no, nope, never, oh wait yeahh nope and no.
I have no idea why the fuck everything was so hard to work out. It even seemed difficult for Wingirl and she speaks the language and lives here. What would I have done without her? I would have been so lost and slow.
At some point Wingirl and I forgot about transport for the night. I was going to get a train the next day so fuck it let’s sit down, eat some gyros and talk about life.
I had a lovely evening with Wingirl but I woke up feeling melodramatic anyway. I had spent $92 Euros on a train and missed the first day of a music festival and a chance to see my friends HV and Selena. I was angry at myself for making so many horrifically bad decisions and I was even angrier at the glum faced Hungarian travel officials. I needed a good pick me up.
Fucking good pick me up. I bought this cherry strudel at a bakery that’s been running for 95 years. I asked the counter man, Hungarian Anthony Hopkins, what’s the best thing he’s got.
“I only like this.” He points to the cherry strudel.
I bought three salty filo pastries and a cottage cheese strudel as well. I’m pretty sure he likes these too.
The bakery is around the corner from the Hungarian parliament building. This is what I looked at while I ate.
On my way back to the station I counted how much florian* I had left. About 225, 80c or so. That’s about enough for another pick me up right?
I found this butchery near the station. It was full of chortling ladies and bearded men with strangely placed wrinkles. I asked the counter girl if I could get a slither of that fat guy on the right for the few cents I had. She danced her head to the side and grinned.
“Maybe.” She said but instead of putting he sausage on the weight and cutting a few slices she handed me this piece of work.
Maybe she could she the excitement in my face or maybe she pitied me because I’ve slept about 9 hours in two days and my eyes look like moon craters full of mascara.
It was the savouriest thing I’ve ever had. I know that’s kind of hard to imagine because savory isn’t usually used comparatively or in a scale – mainly it just means not sweet right? So this was the least sweet thing. It wasn’t bitter or sour just really not sweet. It was packed with blood, liver, spinach and some other tasty ass shit. Fucking excellent.
I booked a train at 13:05. Budapest to Sofia for $92 Euros. Fuck a duck* I have a lot of regrets. The train was supposed to arrive in Belgrade at 20:50, after that there was a train at 21:50 to Sofia. An hour, great I can get some Serbian food for dinner. It’s never that easy, transport is fucked around here remember. Around half way into the trip I became concerned – the train was going rather slow . . . and by rather slow I mean ploughing along like a drugged draft horse with umbrellas for legs. I asked another traveller, a Hungarian guy who takes this train three times a week, if I was going to make it.
“Hahaha. You hope so.”
“Be ready to run.”
And so I was. The train, now puking at a pace that would be embarrassed by a fast runner, was still pulling in to the station at 21:40 but I was ready. I was packed and suited up in snickers, my bag straps were tight and my adrenaline pumping. As soon as the train doors opened I ran out and assaulted the first official I saw.
“There.” He said calmly. It was the train right next to mine.
I arrived in Sofia the next morning at 8:15 or so. Immediately I was accosted by two burly men with ugly short shorts and big black toothed smiles.
“Where you want to go?”
“Where is that?”
I was to hear this a lot. The bodyguard guys flanked to the information desk where they translated that there are no trains anywhere near where I want to. They were confused with what to do with me so they dropped me off at another the information desk at the bus terminal. When we arrived they asked me for money for their help. I gave them 80c.
“Hello. I want to go to Polovnik Serafimovo.”
“Where is that?”
I pointed to it on a map.
“Ohhhh. Very small village.”
“How can I get there?”
“Go to Smolyan and find out.”
That’s the nearest big city. The bus there wasn’t leaving until 12:00 so I thought I’d look for a faster option.
Stupid mistake number 7: getting a taxi to the airport.
I remembered reading that there was a shuttle bus to the festival from the airport. Nope. The only thing the airport had to offer were dodgey looking cabs and an information lady who looked like a meth addict.
“I don’t know what is,” she said to me.
“It’s a small town near Smolyan. There’s a music festival there. There should be a shuttle bus here which goes there.”
“I can’t help you.”
Man this place is full of a-holes. I walked back outside to the cabbie herd.
“Which one of you guys wants to take me to the bus terminal for 12 Leva*”
They all laughed and offered me shit rates until one guy with scars all over his neck agreed. He had three licenses but there was no squabble at the other end, he was alright. He dropped me at the bus terminal and I got the 12:00 to Smolyan.
“How long does it take to get there?”
Nope. Like all the transport here it was fucking slow and stopped everywhere. I had lost my book somewhere in Hungary and my iPad was running out of battery so I had fuck all to do. I spent the last two hours thinking about how excited I was to hug my friends – that and how I was actually going to find them. I had no idea where to get off or how to even get to this tiny town. Luckily, I was adopted by a cute newly wed, a PR student and an Englishless old man who looks like a retired action hero.
72 hours of almost constant travel, 150 Euros lost and practically no sleep for three days – I finally made it.
Why the fuck did I ever leave the highway?
Since I’ve traded my bike in for hitchhiking I will be doing a short summary of my success (or not) at the end of each post.
Rides taken: 4
Distance travelled: 399km
Average wait: 31 minutes
*not a real genre – something like heavy dance beats with poppy melodies.
*double meaning, both win-girl and wing-girl.
*there’s four main train stations. It’s really confusing.
*is that a saying anywhere else or does it just sound crude?
*the name of the village where the festival is located.
*about 6 euros.