WADING THROUGH HOME: When the adventure starts before the adventure starts.
02.06.16 J’etaime München
I’ve always had a weird relationship with Paris. I’ve been 4 maybe 5 times ranging from 5 hours to 5 days at a time. It’s cool, has character, art, history, but I wouldn’t be keen to move there. There’s something lacking. I pride myself in going to new cities and instantly falling in love with them, but not Pairs. It feels like the worst bits of London and a bit of over touristic romance which is rather transparent. Maybe if you’re a Parisian it’s different, but I prefer the place from afar.
So I woke up to the upstairs neighbours hoovering and workmen drilling the shit out of a wall across the void between high-rises; I didn’t exactly leap up to start the day. I didn’t twang to go see the Eiffel Tower again or look at the back of someone’s head queuing for the Louvre. I just wanted to sit and drink coffee and watch the city go by and get some work done. That’s what I tried to do anyway, but the poor wifi meant a slow press day for LeftRight Repeat.
After I said goodbye to my hosts, I had a slightly easier trip through the metro to Gare de l’Est then got on my train to Munich. The train is instantly recognisable as German, clean, efficient and easy. The six hours pass like nothing. I meet a dog called Karl who is literally the best thing that ever happened to the world. He’s a 2-year-old black lab rescue dog. He was barking around in the bar coach so I went to say hey. A few minutes later his friend (definitely not the owner in this relationship) Adriann comes back from the toilet. We sit and chat for a while and I ponder what it would be like to have a dog with me.
My second time in Germany places me in Munich. The first time was Frankfurt when I was about 6 so I don’t think it counts. I jump on a tram to my ‘hostel’, a place called “The Tent“. I found out about “The Tent” through an article on here actually, by Jess. It’s exactly what it says on the tin, a big spacious, wooden floored tent where you pay €8 for a sleeping mat, blankets and a space on the floor. For those of you not comfortable with that idea, a: €8 is half the price of anywhere else you’ll find in Munich, b: you can pay €12 and get a bunk in the other tent, c: live a little. The place is saturated in atmosphere, from the reggae playing out through the cafeteria to the carnival lights hung up everywhere. There’s a fire pit which never got lit while I was there because my god did it rain. Turns out I’d just escaped floods in Paris, but they might be heading here.
At 6am I’m awake, watching bleary-eyed Aussies stumble into their pile of blankets having just returned from a night out. They offered for me to join them but I’ve got shit to do today. However, I did, of course, get distracted over breakfast talking to a Russian guy about travelling. After an hour, I finally managed to pull myself away from the conversation.
I headed into the city to find wifi and get some work done. Turns out that Munich is pretty shit for wifi. But I did find a vegan doner kebab shop which is insanely satisfying! Not just like a falafel in a bun but an actual meaty looking doner kebab, but it isn’t meat… apparently. Then I went to find a Starbucks to finally get half decent wifi but instead ended up at a place called Globe Trotters, which is literally Meccah for outdoorsy types. There’s even a pool to go paddle boarding or kayaking on inside the shop!
I finally resigned myself to actually go and get work done, I hopped on the underground and started walking towards Starbucks. At least I thought I did but ended up walking the metro route back to where I started… likely to be one of the stupidest things I’ve done of late. So I decided to head back to the tent and try to work there. Ultimately I spent the rest of the day chatting to a huge group of people who all decided I’m going to get myself killed when I finally reach the Neretva.
So without any work done and feeling slightly nervous I headed to the bus station to make my way to Zagreb.
04.06.16 The ‘Small Dark’ shade in the blinding sun.
I woke up on the bus to Zagreb, stopped in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Looking at my watch I reckon I’ve got about 2 hours left of my original 8, good stuff. Driving through the Slovenian countryside with the sun rising over hills where the mist is just letting go of its hold on them, is jaw dropping. But then once the sun had done the early part of its rising, we reached Croatian border control, which for some reason took 2 hours. Everyone else on the bus seemed totally cool with this. However the pasty white Brit that I am started feeling dizzy after 90 minutes of the sun smashing through the glass straight into my brain.
When we finally got to Zagreb I was feeling 100% not okay and fell asleep standing up at least three times, which is relatively embarrassing. I got to my hostel: Mali Mrak which translates as Cosy Warm. The place instantly made me feel totally, perfectly, absolutely fine. The hostel is an oasis, paradise, a room of requirement. To describe it with realism doesn’t do it justice but I’ll try: Hostel Mali Mrak is a townhouse in Zagreb’s urban sprawl. It’s got 9 bedrooms and every wall in the place has been painted by commissioned artists. The centrepiece is the garden. A paved space out back covered by a canopy of vines that inject green into the sun’s yellow rays all day, and shelters you from the rain. And of course, it did rain from time to time; if it ever got too bad we just moved into the garage. There’s also a kitchen outside, there’s one inside too but why use that when you have one in a garden? You pretty much don’t need to leave, so I didn’t. Apart from to grab food round the corner I lay there and recovered for the entire day. Above the layout there are the souls, starting with Rose and another volunteer whose name has leaked from my memory, who are awesome company. There’s Toni the coffee-King, Fillip the Jazz/Lute guru and Ivan’s who brought with her Juju the dog, who is insanely perfect. Finally Igor, the owner, who holds a fair bit of respect, mainly from his passive aggressive signs decorating many doors. He’s a father figure in this household. I say household because this place oozes ‘home’. The above ingredient list draws the best things out in all the people who stay. More accurately, everyone I met there was so full of kindness and joy that the ‘home’ feeling began to flow from the walls and I found myself wading waist deep through the warm welcoming atmosphere.
Can you tell I’m a fan? I’m a huge fan.
At 08:30 I’m eating Burek (Balkan pastry) and drinking super-strong Turkish coffee, again trying and failing to get any work done. Later me and Jill, a Canadian girl, headed into the city to watch the changing of the guards at Mark’s Square. This is a hilariously intense 20-minute spectacle but very impressive all the same. I just can’t keep a straight face when 5 pairs of men in capes thrust at each other as a way of returning the other’s sword into its sheath. We wandered the city a bit, found an abandoned house inhabited solely by kittens, explored the market and found one of Croatia’s only vegan restaurants.
After chilling at the hostel for a bit we braved a possible storm and headed up on a hike to Medvedgrab castle. Once there still dry we found out that we had to break in, by climbing the walls. I’m sure back when the castle was in use it wasn’t anywhere near so easy to do this, but times have changed and the security’s become lax over the last 400 years.
06.06.16 – 08.06.16 Do you speak Bosnian!?
7am. I blearily smack my wrist to stop my watch’ said alarm going off. I know I have to get up, I just don’t want to. Two hours later I hop on my train to Sarajevo with 30 seconds to spare. It’s an old, 80s style thing, and hasn’t been cleaned since its first run it seems. Still, the window is open and that lets me get photos. Well, it would’ve if I hadn’t spent the whole journey sneezing my brain out from the incessant dust seemingly built into the carriage.
10 hours, 1 book, 2 films, 2 pairs of knitted slippers forced on me for 5 euros by some random woman later, I arrived in a grey, wet and apparently angry Sarajevo. After climbing off of the trains to repeated shouts of ‘off! Sarajevo’ and into a decidedly communist looking station (the 50foot painted red coco-cola ad didn’t help) I realised that I had no idea how to get to my hostel, or any cash. First stop was the post office next door. When I asked if anyone spoke English the clerk looked at me and replied: “Do you speak Bosnian?” as he got up and walked away. 3 clerks later I finally managed to change some cash so I could go and buy a coffee and thus connect to wifi.
After my late tram, I find myself in front of what defines Sarajevo for me. A hill. It’s literally full of them. I keep repeating my new mantra ‘I’m not writing off Bosnia, I’ll give it a chance…maybe it’s just that everyone hates Monday?’ as me and my 30kg of gear climb step by step 150m. Basically, I’ve been guilty before of completely writing off a city or even country on my first impression. And thank god I did.
This hostel was ‘The Doctor’s House‘ and if Igor is the patriarch of hostels then Cat is the matriarch. Almost as soon as I got in I left again with Edina to go to Balkan Express, a bar where on Monday nights this old cinema fills with smoke, people and Balkans music played table to table. I only lasted about an hour before I crashed and headed home with Sergio the volunteer.
The next few days were spent wandering aimlessly round the city. Rather than hitting the tourist sites I decided just to pass by. Sometimes it’s nicer to experience a city by just being there, not looking for things. That being said, I did hike up to the White Fortress or Bajila Trablija twice, once for sunset and another time for sunrise. It’s a wreck of a fortress although maintained as such, and for sunset and to watch the canon signalling nightfall during Ramadan it’s a popular spot among locals. I spent a lot of time talking to Edina, Sergio and Cat. I cooked a fair amount too and just chilled. I felt hugely chuffed when Edina asked if I’d be interested in taking Sergio’s position after he leaves.
09.06.16 What am I doing?
So I’ve been here before, not geographically but emotionally. I’m just on the Neretva river now, near a place called Konjic. Only one person here speaks my language. I don’t mean like ‘gets me’, like no one else speaks more than four words of English. So I’m alone. I have this same feeling as when I left my hostel in Australia to start LeftRight Repeat 2014. I’ve gone from a week of socialising, being an extroverted conversation slut and making no friends, to being utterly alone with my own head.
Also, it’s raining and is planning to continue to do so until next week. Like raining a lot. I don’t want to spend a week in the pissing rain. Another thing, yesterday I took up smoking again when I realised how unprepared I am for this experience. As in, I have no experience. I’m fucking googling how to SUP for fucks sake.
I’m at a rafting hostel, and I know I’m going to do the first 40km section by raft because it’s not possible by Paddle Board. Well, some might do it, but me? Inexperienced and on the wrong type of board? It would be stupid and insulting to the sport to attempt it. Not to mention putting my life at risk. So yeah, by raft it is, which is cool. But this rain?
I’m going on a walk.