Sometimes I don’t update this blog for a week or more simply because not much happens. And occasionally I don’t update this blog for a week or more simply because too much happens. Allow me an attempt to recall the past several days…
I left Julia’s town (I honestly can not remember its name) on a bus towards…ugh, Wroclaw. I just can’t seem to get away from that place. This time, however, was not too bad. I stayed in the train station for a few hours awaiting my ride to Budapest. I arrived in Hungary’s capital city around 1800, checked into my hostel, and found some dinner. I didn’t really have time for much more than that, as my bus was leaving in the morning. Somehow I misread the departure and arrival of the bus that was to take me to Zagreb. The bus was supposed to leave at 0600 and arrive at 1130, which I came to realize after sitting in the hot, muggy bus station for an hour until noon. So, after already walking for an hour TO the bus station, I had to walk an hour FROM the bus station to the train station. Somehow, miraculously, I made it in time to catch the last train to Zagreb.
I did not get a chance to visit Zagreb last year, but I liked it enough to stay three days. On the last evening I made friends with three Norwegians and we stayed up drinking and playing cards until about 0400. The next morning I thought I would try my luck at hitchhiking to Split. I researched the best place to stand, used my big piece of cardboard to make a sign, and took public transportation outside of the city, to the Lucko toll station. It took me a bit longer than I thought it would to find the place where I was headed, but within two minutes I had a ride offer! Now, the more experience I get with these situations, the more selective my decisions will be in the future. The truck driver offered to take me as far south as Knin. Knin is a cute little town in Croatia that I kind of wish I had more time to explore. However, the possibility of hitchhiking out of Knin is just about zero.
Here’s the full story of my hitching experience: I was standing about 200 meters from a petrol station. As he drove past me he honked and pointed to the station, where he would stop to pick me up. He spoke only about a dozen words of English, but I was still able to decipher quite a bit. We had coffee at the gas station for about ten minutes. Apparently as a truck driver his driving habits are recorded, and he is legally forced to stop every once in a while for breaks. He showed me the paper on which they keep the log – a paper disk with writing I couldn’t understand. After that we were on our way, but not via the coastal main highway. Instead we took an incredibly scenic route through the heart of Croatia, often times on the border with Bosnia. He explained that his father is of German descent, but he grew up in neighboring Bosnia/Herzegovina. He left about 20 years ago because of the war and moved to Croatia with his family and now drives a truck for a living. His truck had two carriages attached, and while stowing my backpack in there I noticed his cargo was two new motorcycles. Despite our language barrier, the driver was incredibly nice. Still, he kind of looked like someone that works for the Russian mafia. From his crew cut to his several metal-capped teeth and even right down to his track suit, he could easily have played the role of an Eastern European hit man in any movie. He was continually offering me snacks, almost to the point of not taking “no” as an answer. We had apples, trail mix, and even some type of jerky that he made himself. It was good, but a little spicy. Plus I was unable to floss for quite some time, and I feel after eating jerky that a necessity.
We made it Knin, but first had to stop by his house to drop off something from his cargo hold. It was a big metal bracket for something, probably about 2m x 2m. I met his wife and two teenage children before he took me the rest of the way to Knin. Now, Knin is only about 100km from Split – but it doesn’t seem to be a popular route for people heading to Split. I figured I would just start walking, holding up my sign when cars passed, and eventually someone would be kind enough to take pity on me and give me a ride. Not a chance. Using the hand signals that most Europeans seem to know when seeing a hitchhiker, I quickly gathered that most (or all) people were not heading that direction. So after about an hour of frustration (and this is frustration while walking with a 25kg backpack in the blazing hot sun) I decided to check train/bus schedules from Knin to Split.
The good news: there was a train scheduled to pass through Knin towards Split in 46 minutes. The bad news: Google Maps informed me that I was a 45 minute walk from the train station. With a giant backpack it’s impossible to run, jug, or even walk briskly. I finally made it to the train station, which was even more run-down than many others that I have visited in tiny towns in Europe, and tried to ask for help from a group of older guys that looked as if they worked there. I couldn’t really get any good information, but it appeared as if the trains had all passed for the evening (it was about 1930 at the time). So I sat down and weighed my options. No hostels, only relatively expensive hotels. The first outbound train was due to leave around 0500. I tried to find couchsurfers, but the only few listed on the website had not logged in in awhile, meaning they probably weren’t active. I messaged them anyway, but to no avail. Honestly, at that point I was going to get something to eat and then set up camp in one of the old abandoned buildings near the train station. I could set an alarm for early in the morning and be on my way.
Somehow, miraculously, after half an hour of trying to plan my immediate future, a train stopped with a sign that read “Split.” I still don’t know how I was able to manage finding a ride out of Knin, but at only 90 Kuna it was worth every cent (also fortunately I had just stopped at an ATM to withdrawal some extra spending money – otherwise I wouldn’t have had time to get funds AND board the train).
And off I was to Split! The carriage that I chose was full of kids that I guessed were coming back from Euro16 in France. I could have been wrong, but that was the impression I got from them. The Croatian countryside is beautiful, but it was too dark to see much after half an hour of travel. Before the sun set I did notice many red warning signs directly along the train tracks warning of active mine fields. My friend in Croatia mentioned that these were placed by the Serbians during the Croatian War of Independence years ago. There were too many too effectively remove, so they just decided to build a small – about 1m high – stone wall and warn anyone instead of removing them.
I think that will be all for the evening. That brings me up to my arrival in Split three days ago. I haven’t posted any pictures with this blog because the wifi is horrible and I need to be within 2m of the router to get any kind of connection. Even then it is so slow as to be fairly ineffective. Tomorrow I must check out of my airbnb room, but I think I am still going to spend the day in Split and leave in the early morning. I believe I have made a decision on my next destination: south to Podgorica. The bus leaves at about 0200 so I should be able to sleep while traveling. Before I leave Split I should be able to bring my blog fully up to date as well as present my plan for future travel (Montenegro and Albania).