Hitching Europe Blog #11 Team Plovkip: ZZtop Sofia Beards

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Belgrade, Oh Belgrade. We thought you would be a slavic stronghold of Titoesc Soviet boring heritage, sky high ramshackle grey blocks, grafiti, war-torn, NATO bombed. You turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Medieval, ancient, mystical, classy, musical, cultural, we could brag about you for fucking hours. After just 3 hours of sleep (i know, once again), a alcohol-fun-guitar inundated nite, we get up, our spirits not beat down by it all, but instead lifted, that just works after fun nites like these. Encouraged, full of life, hope and resilience, we consult our hitch wiki friends. We take trams and buses through the outskirts. The contrast between the city center of Belgrade and the suburbs is striking. Here we do find the Slavic horrendous Soviet shithole we expected. Sky high grey soviet flats, contrasting with the beautiful women we meet on the trams and buses, and kindly are willing to give us directions.

Then suddenly we hate our friends. ‘Cause the description on the internet said we only would have to walk 150 meters. The sign says 3 kilometers. Fuck our lifes. Fuck hitch wiki. Sorry for this reckless language, but when youre hung over, swearing taboos are easily broken. We walk up a hill, almost deciding to venture the walk. I had only been wearing flip flops from the day we embarked on our journey, but these bushes and trees asked for shoeful measures. I grab my Vans. We look at the road and the little urban jungle we are about to machete our ways thru and decide otherwise. We walk back to the road and hail a cab. After fiercly bargaining with the driver we even get a reasonable price.

Bogdan, 42, speaks fluent english. We ask why. ‘I used to work in a bank you know, before the war. I quit the job. Serbia is a crazy country, you can earn more money driving a fucking cab than being a banker. It is less fun but i have to feed my two kids.’ Then we start talking about women, always a gamechanger for guys who just started talking about heavy serious stuff. ‘Oh yeah you just came out of Croatia did you! I have some very good memories of those girls before the war, before all the shit started’, he bursts out in laughter.

We are approaching the service station, he proposes that he also could drop us at the tollhouse, for there are lots of international people there. And so we did, for the same price, cause he had to turn around there anyway to make his way back to Zagreb. The concrete soviet style buildings of the toll are visible on the horizon, surrounded by the most beautiful forests and mountains. What we thought would be hitch hiking heaven, turned out to be living hell. In the burning sun we raise our thumbs, and hold out a piece of carboard with SOFIA and NIS written on it. When Turkish or Bulgarian numberplates would drive by, we would hold the SOFIA sign, when serbs would pass us, we would us NIS, Serbias second city appearantly, close to the Bulgarian border. In an attempt to ask drivers directly at the toll, we are being chased away by scary cops. At the onramp we bump into Michael, a Yankee from West Virginia who has been hitch hiking all over Europe by himself. He had been standing there for like 4 hours he explains, he is debating whether or not he should hike to the next gasstation 5 kilometers away. He started his journey in Scotland. In order to kill time, and keep our heads up, we exchange hitch hiking stories. Meeting fellow hikers always helps, it keeps your spirit up. Holland had been the hardest country for him to hitch hike through, we hear him rumbling on. Fulled with shame we try to explain him otherwise. And there he went. He ventured the hike, 5 kilometers, all over the motorway, over the shoulder. Not even through the mown grass, but over the asphalt.

We had Karma on our side for so long, for all these weeks. But in Serbias tollstation, our spirits are seriously being challenged. Literally everybody from this point on drives in exactly the right direction, whether it is only Nis, or Bulgaria or even Turkey. And no one decides to pick us up. The little dismissive fingers and shaking heads from behind their windscreens drive us nuts. The scorching heat takes a toll on us, and severely dehydrated we know we have no water left and there is none for sale anywhere. After 4 hours a car stops. Our life saviour. Marco. A Serb, on his way to Sofia to visit his ladyfriend. We look at each other in relief, drops of sweat rolling down our temples. ‘Serbs don’t take hitch hikers for some reason. I don’t know what is wrong with them. I used to hitch hike all the time to see my grandparents and it always works. I think this is something recent.” Well, guess what, we don’t even care, we are on our ways to Sofia! Marco, a bearded plumber loves ZZ top. The tunes of this band sound at full blast, and for me, being a rock n roll diehard, this is a heavenly blessing. One CD, on repeat for hours, we just love it. We talk about the band. He really admires the lifestyle of the guitarist and he says he always wanted to be one. We exchange stories. The greatest one is that all the band┬ámembers of ZZtop have long beards, except for one. “And you know, the funny thing is, the last name of the only guy that doenst have a beard, his last name is Beard!”. We laugh joyfully, we lean our heads to the headrests of our seats. We sigh. Life is damn good.
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