This day just got worse and worse, and then it got better. My hotel is to thank, in large measure, for the improvement of my mood.
I will cop to waking up with a heavy heart - the first thing I did was look at the pictures from graduation last night at UGA, and it made me sad that I couldn't be there. And there were a TON of pictures posted. I don't know why, but I couldn't get back to sleep after that. My alarm was set for 6:45, but I woke up around 4:50. Maybe anticipation and sadness mixed together. Whatever it was, I took a cab from my hotel around 7 AM, and I was on a train around 7:30. My hotel concierge fellow wouldn't mail my post cards, telling me that there was a box at the train station. Liar. I found no box, and when I asked one of the ladies at the ticket window of the train station, she had no idea where to put them either. So I held onto them, hoping to see a post box when we stopped at one of the many train stations before we left Romania for good.
My train ride was helped immensely by an Australian couple who sat in the seats near me. They were probably in their mid-50s, and he was of Macedonian decent. They were on their way to Macedonia for a wedding, but they had had a devil of a time getting here from Australia - a couple of missed connecting flights were the main culprits. So we talked for the 2 hours until we got to the Serbian-Romanian border. That went pretty easily. They collected all our passports, took them in the building, and came back about 10 minutes later to give them all back, with pretty new stamps inside. The customs guy did make several of us open our bags, but it was more of a formality than a real inspection. He offered to post my post cards when I told him about my problem, so I was very grateful, especially since they already had Romanian stamps and this was the last town in Romania. The next stop was in Serbia, and we all got our passports checked, stamped and then got off the train. It ended there, and the next train, the one to Belgrade, didn't come for about
This town is called Vrsac (pronounced Ver-shahts), and it has one of the most atrocious color schemes inside the building that I've ever seen. Don (the Australian man) and I walked to the supermarket, about a 5-minute walk, to change some of his money to Serbian dinar and a get couple of drinks, since they'd not had breakfast. He speaks Macedonian, which is very close to Serbian, so we had no problems. His wife - I never caught her name - watched all our luggage. I felt pretty safe with that choice. The train finally arrived, and we hopped on, admiring the countryside for the next hour or so. Then, almost everyone got up to get off the train at a particular stop. A guy who had asked us about the frequency of stops on this train told us that there was a bus to Belgrade at that stop, since this train didn't go all the way to Belgrade. Both pieces of information were news to us. Before we got off, Don asked the conductor, and he said that we needed to get off at the following stop, and that taxis would be waiting. A kid, about
14 and with his mother, leaned over and explained the situation to us in English, translating what the elders were saying for us. My Australian friends wanted to go to the airport, but I just wanted to get to the train station, which is where I thought my train ticket
So we got off the train at God-knows-where, and there were no taxis. There were minibuses that took off as soon as they were loaded with people. Apparently they know when the train gets there, because they were all busy. Me and the Aussies said our farewells, and I got the last possible seat in the last possible minibus - crammed in there with 14 other people, several of whom had neglected deodorant, or maybe even a bath. I was lucky to be in the back corner, next to a cracked window (until the obvious lack of a clean oil filter on our minibus took over). We rode in precarious conditions for about 20 minutes before we stopped, probably at the first street corner that you consider inside Belgrade's city limits. Half the bus cleared out, and a French guy asked me if this was the only
stop, to which I could only shrug and plead ignorance. The driver closed the door and kept going, so we all just sat tight. At the next stop, everybody else got off. It was the Dunav Train Station, which is where my train ticket said I was going. The French guy - probably around my age, was with an older Russian woman, and I don't know whether or not they paid the driver, who was engaged in talking to some young thing who had just gotten off the minibus, but she was the one who told us all about Dunav Station. When the French guy walked away, he handed me 150 dinar (about 1.5€) and said I could either give it to the driver or my girlfriend, but he didn't really need it. I don't really know what that was about, but shortly thereafter, I gave the 150 dinar to the driver, who looked at me quizzically and then walked off. I followed the others to the station, which was hardly worth that title. There was nothing there. Me, the French guy, and the Russian lady talked outside for a few minutes before they decided just to get a cab
to the main train station (which was closer to my hotel). They told me I could join them, so I took them up on it. They didn't even ask me to contribute to the cab fare when we got to the train station.
I had wanted to go ahead and get my ticket to Vienna for Monday when I got to the main station, but since I didn't have any money, and ATMs are fairly scarce, I couldn't do that. I also couldn't afford a cab to my hotel, since I had no money, so I walked. It only took 20 minutes, but most of it was uphill. And then it was only 12:30, and this was the first time on this whole trip that I've been told my room wasn't ready and that I'd have to wait until 2 PM, when check-in time started. So, I left my bag with them and parked myself in the hotel restaurant. I needed alcohol, and they obliged. I ordered some rum-based fruit drink that tasted like the Caribbean, a club sandwich with fries, and a chocolate parfait. This place is the reputed best hotel in Belgrade, and they certainly look the
part. Honestly, I just like walking in the place, acting like I belong, and then not going back outside for long periods of time. It makes me feel classy.
At 2 PM, I went and checked in, and I even had a valet carry my luggage all the way to the room. Fancy. I gave him 20 dinar for his trouble. Then I took a nap for about 30 minutes, and the world was a better place.
After my nap, I walked back to the train station - not so long when you're not carrying a 40-pound bag behind you - and purchased my ticket to Vienna. Then I walked along the pedestrian street that one of the ladies at the concierge desk had described to me. I told her I wanted to go shopping for clothes, and she seemed happy about that. She also told me that things would be open until 10 PM, and even tomorrow, unlike Vienna (I had told her about my upcoming trip and the need to go to the train station). She was snarky, and I dug it. I walked all the way to the end of the pedestrian street, which is
where the castle is, and then I turned around and came back. I didn't buy any clothes, but I did get most of my other shopping done - a post card, a snow globe, an authentic Yugoslavian sport pin for my travelling hat, and even a Nazi 5-mark banknote. It was a pretty productive hour or so, and the guy who sold me the pin + Nazi banknote was very informative and spoke great English. We talked all about the memorabilia, coins, and banknotes that he had on display. I also had a conversation with a Serbian guy in Russian - mind you, I was speaking Russian and he was speaking Serbian, but we were able to understand each other, for the most part. I picked up a cheap slice of pizza from a bakery window on my way back to the hotel, as well as a free bottle of the soda Cockta "Easy" flavor that some girls were giving away. I hate Cockta (see my entries from Slovenia), but this looked new, and it was free, so I decided I'd give it a try. I'll do that tomorrow, since I don't want to do any more caffeine in hopes
of better sleep tonight.
This hotel is pretty amazing, and I'm paying a pretty penny for it. But it was highly recommended, and I've been frugal enough that I can afford it. I'm averaging under $28 per day for this whole trip, and that's after going crazy in Romania a few days and starting the trip in London averaging over $70 per day. I can still afford over $100 a day for the remainder of this trip, though I do hope to be able to keep some money to bring back to America.
Lastly, I just finished grading ALL THE FINAL EXAMS for my McAfee class, so now it truly is summer for me. It also means that I don't have to worry one more bit about school until June 1st, when TCU starts up again. But by that time, I'll already be back in America. Oh, and I get to meet up with Eno in Italy in less than a week now!
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