A Day Of Wishes And Legends

During my final day in Sarajevo, I went exploring to see the heart of the city. I saw beautiful cathedrals, statues and art galleries, really taking my time to feel the atmosphere of these places. Then I went to Sebilj fountain in the middle of Baščaršija square. The legend is that if a traveller drinks from the fountain then they are destined to return to the city someday. So I filled my water bottle, took a sip and wished to come back to Sarajevo.

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For Ramadan, the end of fasting each day is signalled and celebrated at the Yellow Bastion. We were told that the festivities weren’t to be missed so our evening plans were set. We hiked up the steepest of cobblestone hills, past a sad but stunning all white graveyard, then reached the top. The view was breath taking, seeing the whole of Sarajevo stretched out in front of us, the sun setting in the distance. We gathered round with everyone, waiting anxiously, intrigued by what was going to happen. When it was time, a piercing cannon echoed out across the city and lights lit up around us, then the chanting began. The whole experience seemed very communal and filled with togetherness. Everyone enjoyed some food and we left them to the rest of their ceremonies.

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For my last evening there we had to continue our night. We returned to the Goldfish bar and a steampunk style waiter in a top hat served us cocktails for the rest of the night while the rain poured down outside. We made a wish on the fish of gold and headed back to our hostel for a new day.

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Safely In Sarajevo

This journey was a new one for me as it would be a shuttle ride. I imagined some sort of bus but it was pretty much just a guy rocking up in his car and road tripping us where we had to go. The two other passengers were locals, one a little girl and the other her grandmother. The guy’s driving was mad and the young girl squealed with delight anytime we hit a bump, while the old woman tutted each time. She was however a sweetheart and in true grandma fashion, she fed me the whole way.

It was a 5 hour journey that went by very quickly and only required one stop. After easily passing through passport control, we were in Bosnia. The scenery was magnificently mountainous, all lush and green, reaching for the sky. During the drive, the young girl wanted to practise her English with me so we exchanged names (her name was Mariya), I was asked how many numbers I was and then she named animals and made their matching noises. However I’m not sure if it was a mistake or if Serbian birds rawr.

We did some colouring together and I don’t mean to brag, but I totally stayed inside the lines in the princess picture. We had the exciting moment of cows crossing in front of us where Mariya had to be practically restrained from going to play with them. Then finally we arrived and despite the rain, Sarajevo was a beautiful place. Already upon entering I had seen cathedrals and galleries and restaurants, all in a row. Despite this once, not so long ago, being such a dangerous place, it now looked like my kind of paradise.

The Train From Hell

After delaying my journey to Belgrade so I could spend one more night in Hostel Mostel in Sofia, I got up nice and early to catch my 9 hour train. I arrived at the wrong station, attempted to communicate with 8 people until I found the right one and then proceeded to spend 20 minutes trying to buy a ticket. But still I stayed determined and went for my platform. A man grabbed my suitcase from me and only said “follow”. In my pure panic I attempted to protest and retrieve my bag but he was having none of it. But instead of him stealing my bag or luring me to a murder alleyway, he then dropped my bag on the train I was catching. I had a moment of real gratitude thinking a kind stranger had helped me and then real life punched me in the face and he demanded money. I paid him what little I had as this was clearly not someone I wanted to argue with.

I boarded my train and settled in to my little area, when the announcer informs us all that without moving an inch, we were already running 2 hours late. I accepted my fate of a terribly long journey and just wrote for a while to keep my mind occupied. However this was soon interrupted by an unsettling man sitting across from me and proceeding to stare intently at my chest. Not a couple subtle glances but instead glaring as if his life depended on it. I was however relieved of this uncomfortable situation by a woman that I can only assume he was with, seeing what he was doing and beating him with a newspaper.

I slept some, watched a couple episodes of downloaded Netflix and continued to journal. All of a sudden the train began to violently jerk every 10 seconds. Then stop. Then reverse. Then return to normal. Then speed up rapidly. Then repeating that full process for a good hour. This was obviously not a good sign but I just had to embrace the chaos as questioning a staff member was not an option. Eventually the seats filled up somewhat and a woman with a baby sat next to me. Now this isnt going to turn into a crying baby situation, in fact it was a very well behaved child. What was unique about this situation was that with a few Bulgarian words, she passed me her baby and left! I later came to learn that she obviously needed the toilet and wanted someone to watch her child. But in the moment I felt sheer panic as I had inadvertently acquired a baby – certainly not the usual travel souvenir.

Instead of taking 9 hours, the journey took 14. I dealt with money grabbers, creepers, domestic disputes, babies and the cherry on top; all toilets overflowing and becoming unusable. But I made it in one piece and never gave up, it was just a reminder that not all things travel will be shiny and fun. However the good moments will always be worth the work.

Kiev to Chisinau in 17 Hours

Even though a train ride isn’t as exciting as my other posts, my 17 hour journey from Kiev to Chisinau was amusing enough that I want to share. To set the scene appropriately it should be said that I was dreading this. It was long, began at 1am and meant leaving the incredible people I had spent the past few days with. Plus if the tiresome experience buying the ticket was anything to go by, there was going to be a lot lost in translation between myself and well…. everyone.

I clambered onto the claustrophobic train, set up my bed and settled in for a bumpy sleep. Everything was surprisingly comfortable and I began to drift off when I heard the strangest noises. I looked over to the stunningly beautiful old woman next to me to see if she heard it too. We had previously greeted each other and despite the language barrier, her warm smile made her seem like a more than acceptable bunk mate. Within seconds I realised that in her sleep she was humming and speaking what I can only assume was Russian. Now normally I love a sleep talker because the gibberish people come out with is hilarious. But of course this time I had been cheated, as I was being disturbed by something that was probably comedy gold and I couldn’t even understand it.

I cranked up the music in my headphones, managed to fall asleep pretty soundly and remained that way until about 7am. I’d been an early riser this trip so I accepted the 5 hour sleep and used the time to update my journal. I’ve become very consistent with my writing while I experience the world and at ten pages a day, it was my treasure chest for memories. I took in the stunning views I was seeing of the newly risen sun glistening off the water and felt pretty serene on my once dreaded journey.

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At the border crossing from Ukraine to Moldova we of course had some pretty intense passport control. I was expecting stereotypical angry Eastern European guards that hated me for my inability to communicate. But what I got instead was a kind man that worked so hard to get me through the stressful process with what little English he knew. Of course it still took forever and they checked everything of mine about ten times. But it ended on his words of “you are young and beautiful, be careful”, not in any sort of creepy way, just pure protective advice.

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On the train were 3 young girls, I’d say between 5 to 9 but I couldn’t promise, as my age predictions for anyone are often shocking. I absolutely love kids and have worked with them as an instructor at Go Ape (plus my upcoming newly received job as a nursery practitioner would further develop my experience). I saw them bored out of their minds, running up and down the aisles for something to do and it broke my heart. Now it’s important to note that since I have pink hair, this has in the past qualified me as everything from a magical fairy to a mystical angel in children’s minds and often vocalised thoughts. So it was no surprise to me that the girls were staring at me constantly and grinning away so whenever it happened I would wave and smile.

Eventually this led to them coming over and as children do, they would shyly wave, run away and return two seconds later. I decided it was my mission to entertain them however I could so that their little brains didn’t explode and their parents could get some peace. I began with the classic shock at how adorable their stuffed toys they clung to were. This of course pleased the girls greatly and granted me the privilege of petting their fluffy friends. Next I got out a notebook and my colourful pens and began to draw simple stars and then gave them the pen and set them free. What I received was many artistic stars, hearts and smiling faces.

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The final move was something that had lasting enjoyment for I kid you not – a whole hour. My dad and his fiance had matching colourful googly eyes on their suitcases and to satisfy my jealousy, generously got me the pink version. So I pointed the eyes in their directions, gave it a good shimey and they whirled around hilariously. This cracked the girls up to the point where the whole carriage was filled with joyful child laughter that you can’t help but love. As I said this continued for a while and it gave me a strong sense of pride. Despite never exchanging a single word (because we couldn’t), I had become their silent babysitter and the parents were beyond relieved. Having children for such a long mind numbing transportation can be exhausting and instead they had time to themselves but still their daughters were happy.

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Now the time dragged on, there were no toilets and I had no food or water, but it was nowhere near the hell I thought it would be. Instead it was filled with kind people, adorable children and peaceful reflection.