Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bulgaria - Day 10 & 11: My AC/DC Tribute!

No stop signs, speedin' limit
Nobody's gonna slow me down
Like a wheel, gonna spin it
Nobody's gonna mess me 'round

Hey Satan!
Paid my dues.
Playin' in a rockin' band
Hey Mama!
Look at me
I'm on my way to the promise land

I'm on the highway to hell
Highway to hell
I'm on the highway to hell
Highway to hell

AC/DC Highway To Hell

Now that you have the song playing in your head over and over - have you ever heard the expression ‘It looked good on paper?’ well - the bus ride from Sofia, Bulgaria to Bratislava, Slovakia was one of those ideas!

Intended to help save some travel money - the idea was to hop a bus that traveled between these two points - a bus that Villy has used before to visit her family - normally traveling with just her daughter in tow. It is an 18 hour or so trip that starts in Sofia, Bulgaria - travels through Serbia into Hungry, through Budapest right into Bratislava, Slovakia! Piece of cake! How hard can it be?

Luckily for us - Tony volunteers to drive us from Lovech to Sofia with Villy - rather than subjecting us to two bus rides in the same day! God bless Tony! We arrive in Sod\fia with just about 40 minutes to spare - Villy is very helpful in getting us tickets and proclaims that we are lucky as there are many seats available and we should be able to spread out!

Sweet!! Things re going great already!

Villy gives us a wonderful bag of munchies for the road stuffed with half dozen pasties, two sandwiches and some fresh fruits and vegetables - we are all set! So after a short - but sweet good-bye - we board the bus - on the right side at the suggestion of Villy to stay out of the sunlight!

Villy and Tony are gone.

Our link to translations - our link to knowledge - our link to sanity. We are truly strangers in a strange land.

You have to remember - the closest thing we have ever done to a bus trip are school field trips to the Zoo! But this bus is very nice - the seats are somewhat comfortable - it is air conditioned and at the moment we are on there are only a few people.

Hold on.

Scratch that. More people arrive. They begin to argue about seats in languages I know nothing about. Two elderly - gentlemen (I say elderly - but both of these guys look like they could rip off the top of a tuna can with their teeth. They have tattoos on their arms that I swear indicate they are Nazis on the run) - let’s call them Boris and Ivan - indicate something to us. I shrug, smile and look back at my book. After all - Villy told us we could sit where ever we wanted! They leave the bus - returning with Helga - a short, stout woman with a bun wrapped so tightly her eyeballs are just about ready to fly out of their sockets. She rattles of an exchange to me and once again - I smile, ever so patiently (foreigners!), and return to my book.

“TICKETS!” She screams - her eyes bulging even further - the veins in her neck popping.

We produce the tickets as if our lives depended on it - quite certain the Nazis were envisioning all sorts of tortures for us. Helga points to the obvious seat numbers on the tickets (yup - missed that one I did!) - the actually seats being across the aisle and one row up. So - nodding, smiling and moving slowly as not to have her snap at us as I notice a bit of frothing in the corner of her mouth - we move up the aisle.

Boris and Ivan take their seats - a smug look of Nazi pride on their faces as they settle in - pulling large bottles of beer from plastic bags they have bought with them. Great! Just what we need - drunken Nazis in Serbia on a bus doing 85 KPH - where is Keanu Reeves when you need him?

We settle into our seats - not too bad - there is a young couple behind us -no one in front of us…

Hold on.

On walks this HUGE woman - like something out of a Swiss beer commercial - actually a Swiss Sausage commercial - with two HUGE blonde pigtails and a large bulbous red face - she is dragging behind her two teenage daughters - not huge like Mom, although I don’t think genetics will be as kind to them in the future as it is now, but with the same type of pig tails. Luckily - Mom plops into the row in front of us but across the aisle - the seats (yes I said seats) actually grrroooaannnn under the stress. The two teenage daughters park themselves in the row in front of us. Ok - not too bad - this should be OK. Keep this in mind for later.

The bus really begins to fill now with a wide assortment of passengers - a lot of backpackers and just some plain old folks looking to go home to Slovakia I think. One man begins to strip down in an effort to get comfortable for the ride. Not a pretty site. Several folks to stand to use a little deodorant. I have a feeling it will only get worse as the time passes.

It becomes obvious that we have American stamped on our foreheads as we get the stink-eye from several of the older passengers. Lisa likes to make eye contact with people and smile at them - with the younger folks she was 100% - with the older folks - she got the stink-eye. The stink-eye is the look that you get when someone is just about ready to tell you to “@#$* Off”! It is a creepy feeling - especially when you are just trying to be nice!

But - we suck it up - bury ourselves in our books and just figure we will sleep the night away until we get to Bratislava. Until the two Gretel twins decide they want to lean their seats ALL THE WAY BACK - which is practically in out laps!

Let me pose this question: when you are on a plane or a bus or anything that has reclining seats - when there is a passenger behind you - do you A: Recline all the way back intruding on his/her space? Or B: Recline partially, allow for your comfort and that of your neighbor? I think most would pick B - the Gretel twins, however, picked A - not only did they pick A - they could not sit still to save their lives. I still have the marks on my knees to prove it.

To make things worse - they started taking turns stretching out across the two seats while the other twin would stretch out across Mom - using her large body as a massive twin bed. While this is not a bad idea - YOU DON’T NEED TO LEAVE THE FRIGGIN’ SEATS RECLINED TO DO THIS!!!

So - at our first break - I left the Swiss Chocolate family get off before us and then quickly set their seats forward all of the way. Gretel didn’t even notice! So for at least a few hours we had some comfort again.

Until we hit the Serbia border. (Cue terror house organ music!)

Because Serbia is not a part of the EU - the bus must go through Customs and thus all of the passengers. So the driver walks down the aisle collecting all of the passports to give to the boarder guards (along with an assortment of water and Cokes). The boarder guards do their thing and hand back the passports to the driver! Cool! We are on our way again!

Hold on.

Everyone got their passport back but Lisa and I - if there ever was a big sign pointing out the Americans - there was one now!

A big Serbian guard - with a HUGE gun holstered to his hip boards the bus - our passports in his meaty, sweaty hands. The driver points us out and the guard approaches us and..

Simply hands us our passports. At this point I am praying for a bathroom to check my underwear.

Other than that - the ride through Serbia - albeit long - is pretty uneventful. Ivan and Boris - after putting up that entire stink - move to separate seats to stretch out. Rat Bastard Nazis! The Gretel twins still do not notice that I have pushed up their seats and Lisa is happily reading her book as I am. Or at least that is what we are trying to do. The fact of the matter is that bus travel sucks! Next time - I will spend the extra money and take a plane! I’m only stuck in my book because I don’t know who is looking to slit my throat! Now that may be an exaggeration - but when you don’t know what people are saying but you do know they are talking about you - it is awfully difficult not to be a little paranoid!

We hit the Hungarian boarder and have to go through Customs again! Great! But - this being a country in the EU - it should be a heck of lot easier. The EU Border Guard enters the bus and asks for Passports. He checks the Gretel twins and gives them back - he checks the Mom and gives it back - he checks the lady next to us and gives it back - this is going great! We will be out of here in no time!

Hold on.

He takes out passports! He has our passports and continues down the aisle - checking passports and handing them back. He returns to the front of the bus - only our passports in his hands and off to the guard tower he goes to run them.

Now the whispers and ticks really start! Not only do we have American stamped on our forehead - but now targets as well!

Apparently we clear whatever security we needed and our passports are returned. I sport a smile and proclaim “Obama for President!” - they all love him here in Europe! The bus begins to slowly move through the gate! Great! We are on our way!

Hold on.

We are stopped at the next gate and a couple of guys with sub-machine guns strapped to their backs walk up to the bus. The driver steps out and he is ordered to open the baggage area. Great! Now our baggage is going to be searched and if we are really lucky - maybe they’ll strip search us in front of the bus!

The driver returns to the bus and pulls out the manifest, he begins to read off a list of name - none of which are ours! It’s all young folks backpacking across Europe. They look shaggy and could possible be mules I guess! God I love profiling! We are in the clear finally! So with the target off of us - we just smile knowingly to the other victims as they make their way back on the bus after their bags have been rifled through. This time - they smile back.

What to you know - we actually made some connections!

The trip was a bit easier after that - Hungry was a breeze and we actually made it to Bratislava a couple of hours ahead of schedule. We were the only two to get off there and we were VERY happy to finally land!

Villy had given us her cell phone to use (the plan is for her husband Jan to bring it back on his bus trip to Bulgaria) - so we call Jan - wake him up and he ends a taxi. Within 45 minutes of getting into Bratislava - we are at Villy and Jan’s wonderful little home on Tomankova 5 Street! Two bedrooms - a bath - kitchen and WC - it is very tastefully decorated and very, very comfortable. Jan is warm and welcoming - giving up the master bedroom for us while he sleeps in his daughter’s room. By this point - it is 3:00 AM - and we left at 10:00 AM the previous day.

Next time - we fly!

No comments: