Down through the Balkans, protests in Sofia, and a month in the northern mountains of Greece

Oh how time bloody well flies when you’re constantly on the road. Even typing up a blog entry can be hard to sit down and type up… But as it has yet again been too long (mostly due to being on a mountain for a month), I’m forcing myself here. Even though where I’m sitting a Greek wedding seems to be blaring from the church across from me… Oh yes, I be in Ioannina, Greece.

Where I left off I was still in Brasov, Transylvania. I left the day after, choosing (foolishly) to walk to my hitching spot, a lovely two hours away. Having not eaten a whole heck of a lot, I was ‘quite’ tired by the time I arrived at my location. However, a ride came fast, and it was off to Sinaia with me, with a military man. Of course we had a bit to talk about, and before I knew it I was at the castle in Sinaia. The castle is at the top of my list in terms of luxury and intricate… everything! I don’t think there was a wall without carved faces, scrollwork, huge mirrors, weapons… and a few secret doors. It was definitely more of a palace, as there were really no fortifications, but still, damn well impressive… Though I still prefer my Scottish castles. True castles!

I then walked on south, another hour to the edge of town (unneccessary, but hey I’m stubborn this way), and while no vehicles went towards Turgaviste, there were many on the road to Bucharest. So after switching my sign, I got a ride within ten minutes. Bucharest bound with some… tourism operators.

Bucharest was my first true city in a while, a while being 4 or 5 months. The honking cars, mixed smells of perfume, cologne, and varying qualities of food hit me like a brick. Finding a safe place to free camp would be very hard, and the night was then spent trying to find a hostel. Yippee, welcome back to the city, Steve.

I spent the next couple days there, walking about as I usually do, visiting the national military museum as I usually do, relaxing’ish, and spying out my next route – through Bulgaria.

Getting out of the city was easy, thanks as usual to the website http://www.hitchwiki.org and the journey out through the slums was interesting… the contrast between the partying youths and the down trodden workers that is. My first ride was with a trucker who took me to the border, a merry man as they usually seem to be. Laid back, just mellowing along the road.

On crossing the border, my first run in with a Bulgarian. I asked a restaurant waittress for a fill up of water, and… She shook her head! I turned to leave, a little confused, and she urges me back. At that point it clicked in me what I had heard before, that shaking the head means yes, while nodding means no. Har har. That was in Ruse, a hot, dry nuclear city I eventually walked across to find myself a ride (not many good hitching spots). I camped on a hill outside the city, watching the lights on the plant throb blood red, and the massive mosquitos buzz around me as exhaustion took me.

Luck the next day. A ride from a metal delivery man down near Bjala, and then on to Veliko Turnovo with his friend. But wait times were lengthy, maybe an hour or two on average, and a couple I met on the onramp in Veliko spoke of similar troubles. But I was soon taken onto the turn-off for Lovech, with a lovely young couple, Uko and Katie. About five minutes after that, another ride all the way to Sofia with mercedes lady, who even bought me a hamburger. Huge for a guy who never usually eats ready-made food.

And then Sofia. Greeted by huge parks, a street blocked by a protest, and literally on stepping out of the car, having a beer bought for me by Richard, the Somewhat eccentric English hitchhiker. We grab a couple or beers and share some tales of our travels as the protests nearby blare with horns, whistles, and catchy slogans being roared. “Octabka!” (resignation) being the main one. As night fell he departed to his couchsurfers place, and I took up residence in the park. Fairly quiet, no complaints.

The next day I did my wandering, but the next few nights the protests really drew me in. I walked with them, talking to people who I could talk to, and was even randomly offered a place to stay for my stay – an old dental office from my new friend Javor. And I believe it was the next day that the protests got interesting.

It was that day when, on arrival to the protest, I noticed them surrounding parliament – they were trapping the politicians in. For a peaceful protest, this was new. As the hours passed, more police arrived at key points, donning riot gear slowly, and receiving orders. A bus filled up with important looking people, and the police moved in from the front and the rear of us. When they charged the still peaceful crowd, people started to sit down. They were thrown out of the way and the bus advanced. The crowd surged into the bus’ way, and I’m not sure who got violent first, but soon there were punches being thrown on both sides, and the police started looking quite tired.

Soon rocks began to fly, some chunks easily big enough to crack a skull or slightly implode one. It was around this time I found myself in front of the bus, squished up against a cop. I looked at him, and he looked at me… but not at me, it was more of a glazed view in a panicked situation. I then saw the guy beside me take a baton to the head and thrown away. I received a slap (yup, a cop slapped me), and was then charged into by a cop who ran head first into the crowd, grabbing anyone he could.

When the bus turned and they forced the crowd another way, the crowd simply moved like water around a rock… Endless water. And after many windows broke on the bus, the politicians retreated back, with massive cheers from the crowd. The lines re-formed, and I believe more people came to join as they heard of the escalation.

It was around this time I met Uko and Katie once again, and talked with them and other friends as the situation grew.

Not too long after, people started to tear up roadsigns, gather garbage bins, and even rip up pavement blocks to literally wall in the politicians, and this went on at least an hour or two. But things quieted down for a while. Cops sat down to rewt and hydrate, as did those on our side of things… It all mellowed out, save for the non-stop drum beats, shouts, and whistle blowing. But around 4am, that all stopped.

From sidestreets they came, from just about every direction it seemed, in a well coordinated move to segregate the crowds into manageable sizes. They charged into us, hitting any who came within reach. As they cut into us, Uko and Katie went one way, and I the other. People were running everywhere, even old women weren’t safe as I saw one grabbed and thrown to the ground (to be fair, not all the police were doing such things). The crowd returned with more garbage bins and cement blocks on the road, but again the police stopped, holding their formations about a block in each direction.

As 5am creeped about, not too many people remained, and a bulldozer was brought in to clear the walls. I wanted to see it to the end, and maybe 30 people were left when the escorted bus made a run of it, speeding through the loose lines and out of the picture. The last thing I saw as I walked on away was about 10 people rebuilding one of the crumbled walls, whilw police tiredly watched without much interest at all.

Needless to say, it was an interesting night. I found the spirit of many of the protesters to be inspiring, to see so many people care enough to constantly come out every day for around 40 days (at the time), and make their voices heard. From what I gathered, there were mqny reasons for the protest, enough that at this time I’m much too tired to go into them. But the one that sticks out in my mind is the Bulgarian government appointing a man well known for corruption into what I believe was a top tier security position. The decision was revoked, but the people were sick and tired. Bulgaria is known as the most corrupted state in the EU, and its good to see the people care. However…

However, many either see the protests as useless, that nothing will happen, so why bother (a sentiment carried by many of us Canadians), but many more see the peaceful protest as useless, that the boys up in the ivory tower need something that perhaps isn’t outright violence, but… aggression, an escalation of force. And I can understand that. I’m not sure if I agree, its not an easy position to take either way. I do however support the Bulgarian people, and found their spirit extremely uplifting. As this isn’t just a Bulgarian or even European problem… This is something every country has to deal with, and too many of us concentrate on weekends, retirement, or what’s going to be for dinner rather than the state of the world.

As I travel on, however, all I can do for now is seek more of these sentiments, learn, spread what I observe, and wish the best to my brothers and sisters out there, at least trying to do something. As I hit the road south a few days later, Sofia had become yet another place of some true and important memories, and some good friends I won’t soon forget.

But Greece! Greece was so close now.

Ok ill do part two the next chance I get. I think I’ve written quite a bit as it is!

Not all those who wander are lost

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About OutsideYourWorld

I'm a Canadian from Vancouver, BC. In the winter of 2011 I quit my job and sold as much as I could to travel. I began in the summer of 2012, in Glasgow, Scotland. I have travelled since then, and don't plan on returning home for a while yet. I travel to experience different cultures, languages, landscapes, and to further my knowledge of... myself. Travel is what makes me happiest, so on I go.
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