It's been a whirlwind. I'm dizzy.
Sparta Travel Blog› entry 21 of 31 › view all entries
After about a week or so of traveling I finally have found a computer and some time to sit down and let you (and by "you" I mean "Mom") know that I am alive.
It's been so crazy! I feel like I've been around the world three times over in the past week. (Once I find a computer that I can hook up my computer to, I promise promise PROMISE that I will load up all the pictures I have been taking.) Every day, I wake up and have to take a minute or two to figure out where I am, what time it is, what day it is, and where all my stuff is. But I am finally lovin' it - in every sense of the word. My homesickness has finally abated and I am enjoying the whirlwind of traveling and exploring I am doing. Finally this trip is turning out to be everything I dreamed of and more... albiet with a few hiccups along the way.
Let me see if I can figure out where to start...
Last week, in my desperation to get out of Amsterdam (nothing against Amsterdam, but I really wanted to see the rest of the world), the two closest friends I made at the hostel - Ellie and Jim, a sister & brother from Toronto - graciously asked me to travel with them. Their mother is Serbian, so they have a house in Serbia; their father is Greek, so they have a house in Greece. I jumped at the chance to travel with them; I left Amsterdam with them that night.
We spent about 28 hours on trains - that was the first part of this dizzying week! From Amsterdam to Koln (Germany) to Munich (Germany) to Vienna (Austria) to Budapest (Hungary) and then finally to Belgrade in Serbia. (I put up blank blog entries of where we traveled so you can see it on the map. I also was a Picture Nazi and took pictures at every train stop so hopefully some time soon I can post them to the blank blogs to you can see.)
By far my favorite stop was Budapest. What a BEAUTIFUL city. We bought a bunch of picnic food and took the subway down to the Danube River. Ate and hung out with some Londoners we met and played kickball and watched the sun set. The pictures I took along the Danube are amazing.
Belgrade is an amazing city. Given that Serbia was part of the former Yugoslavia's 10-year war (in the 90s), Belgrade is not very high on the European tourist map. And that is why I loved it. Ellie and Jim have spent a lot of time there so they navigated me through the city smoothly. I got to do a lot of amazing things - eat local cuisine, drink local moonshine, see a movie, and of course, take tons of pictures. Ellie and Jim and Nenad (our local friend) took us clubbing! I went clubbing in Serbia! The club was on a boat with House music - we bought a nice bottle of vodka for 3,000 diners which roughly translates to about $40. I can't wait to post those pictures.
Two days later, Ellie and Jim, their mom, and I took off in their car to drive to Greece. So began the next dizzying leg of my journey. We were basically in a car for two days. We went from Belgrade across to Sofia (Bulgaria) then down to Thessaloniki (Greece).
On the way to Bulgaria, we had to drive through the better part of Serbia - the local areas much more affected by the war. We drove through Nis, about 20 km away from Kosovo. The scars from the war are much more apparent there - whole towns were abandoned because of land mines. It is such beautiful countryside - completely hard to believe that a war was waged there with genocide, ethnic cleansing, and land mines. (Although it is hard to say who was commiting the genocide; both sides claim both sides were doing it.) It was a sobering experience.
Bulgaria is an interesting country - in my eyes completely bereft of anything to do besides... farming. But then, even the farming looked a little decrepid, I am at a loss as to how that country and its people supports itself. I need to read up on that.
Finally, late at night, we got through all the border crossings and finally made it to Thessaloniki, Greece, where E & J have an older sister. We basically spent the night there so their mother could visit with her daughter. The highlight of that day for me was genuine Greek cuisine! Didi (their sister) cooked up this dinner that was absolutely to die for. ...and after a week of terrible European McDonalds and PB&J, I was ready for a meal.
And finally, yesterday, we drove through the length of Greece to get to Sparti. (You might know it better as Sparta, from the movie "300".) I got to see Mount Olympus! Greek countryside is absolutely beautiful... and hot! I've been welcomed into E & J's circle of friends here - surprising a lot more diverse than you would think, given the sleepy village feel of Sparti. E & J spent their summers here growing up - it's a little hard to keep up because they really know their way around and, of course, everyone speaks Greek. They all speak English to accomodate me... and then they forget and unconciously slide into Greek.
Really, I am having a great time though. Tomorrow Jim is taking me to see Athens - to see the Acropolis and possibly explore some nightlife. Then the next day we all are going to try to see one of the Greek islands. Then I'm off to Rome.
That's it for now. Like I said before, I will try to keep this blog up-to-date but I'm not exactly sure when I am going to get some time in front of a computer again. Please be patient with me. I have a lot of other fun little stories about the things I'm learning here in Europe, but alas, I don't have time to write. Language barriers really make for some funny miscommunications. So I will probably update the blog later.. when I put up pictures and such.