Summer Blog: My Summer In Your Hands
Click here to see ANNA SHEINMAN plank in Berlin’s most famous places…
Anna Sheinman, a third year lawyer from Downing, has three weeks to get home from Greece. She has an Interrail ticket, a backpack, and your instructions. That’s right: at the end of every post, you will decide what Anna does next. Her summer is in your hands.
Saturday 27th August
I waited for a train out of Bosnia for seven hours. SEVEN HOURS. Tab readers may have wanted me to go to Hungary, but the Bosnian train system definitely didn’t. As it happens, I love trains, and was perfectly content clambering over old Soviet engines and walking back and forth along the abandoned, grassy tracks. However, in doing so I attracted the attentions of the village idiot. Despite it being quite clear that neither of us spoke each other’s language, he insisted on talking at me at great length, until a friend Facebooked me the Bosnian for: “Please leave me alone, you’re scary and smell of fish.”
Whilst his marine odour was off-putting, and confusing so far from the sea, I mostly resented said Balkan tramp for suspending my romantic illusions of train travel. I love how, unlike planes, trains are all different, from the gleaming German triple bunk sleepers I would encounter later to the ratty faded-plush cabins of the Croatian train I eventually boarded that day. I love that trains are the only form of transport on which it is socially acceptable to talk to strangers, like the ex-Slovakian national wrestler I met on the train out of Hungary, who shyly wouldn’t tell me what his day job was now, but it seemed to involve him standing around at parties with his top off. Yum.
I did, as instructed, make it to Hungary. Budapest to be precise. I ate fruit soup, took a walking tour around its grand monuments, and learned that the Hungarians suck at choosing which side to take in a war. They should stick to fruit soup. But the date of my Eurostar (aka train porn) out of Brussels loomed large and I hurried on.
I am now in Berlin, and, as promised, I have been confusing large groups of Italian tourists by lying face down in front of its most iconic sites: The Brandenburg Gate, The Reichstag, The Altes Museum, The East Side Gallery, and just because I could, a tank. A ‘tank plank’ if you will. Pictures below:
Saturday 20th August
It was at dinner on my first night in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s charming capital, when I was asked, not for the first time, why I was traveling alone. I answered, as I always do, that I travel solo because it means I meet more people, and I love meeting people. Although I enjoy how different people are, the huge range of travellers I encounter while backpacking means that, socially speaking, there are some hits and misses. And I was in the middle of a fabulous miss.
My dining partner Anton was a Kiwi from my hostel who had impressively found an organic, vegetarian restaurant in Sarajevo. He presented his finding as luck, but it became clear it was more likely a result of his incredibly irritating eating disorder. He was a vegan, obsessing over the nutritional content of what he ate, constantly popping hazelnuts from a plastic baggy, scanning the back of a bottle of orange juice for whatever he thought the Bosnian was for ascorbic acid in aid of “keep strong and healthy looking.” I politely declined to tell him that whilst his body looked healthy, his hair looked and smelled as if a rat had died on his head. I felt like he probably had enough neurosis in his life.
But, if I though that was bad, worse was to follow. True social awkwardness was reserved for the next day, in a small northern town called Bihac, which is, I am delighted to report, pronounced ‘biatch’. I was staying in a private room, and my very sweet hostess with the troll-like name Bogdanka asked if I wanted to be shown around the town. Walking in silence, she stopped at a stall selling hideous souvenirs. About to try and work out how to make a joke about how tacky they were using international sign language, I stopped as it became clear she had just bought me one. I am now the proud possessor of a cross section of tree with an oil painting of Bihac on.
Over drinks I produced pen and paper and we began communicating through pictures. Polite pictoral conversation ensued: I drew a picture of her in front of her house and a tick in a valiant attempt to tell her she had a beautiful home. I noticed her wedding ring, so I drew her holding hands with a man, and a question mark, then I smiled. She looked confused, then picked up the pen and slowly drew. An arch. A cross. A date. Oh crap. He was dead.
Having fun white water rafting
On a lighter note, and happily not resulting in any fatalities, the reason I was in the arse-end of nowhere in Bosnia was to go white water rafting. And, I’m pleased to report it was truly amazing. Kitted up to the nines in a boat with five others, and a skipper who we met watching him jump off an 18m waterfall, we paddled for three hours, through valleys, over rapids, and flung ourselves down five metre drops. The crowning moment was jumping out of the boat and slamming down three sets of foamy rapids, feet first, until we finally came to settle on a sand bank, Croatia on one side, Bosnia on the other.
The poll is closed, and pictures of Anna planking in Berlin’s most famous sites are on the way…
Friday 12th August
The last few days have centred around Annas. And by that, I don’t mean the product of my burgeoning personality disorders (yet).
That ‘minibus’ out of Thessaloniki eventually materialised in the form of a beaten up maroon Volvo, which was driven by a chain smoking pensioner. I sat next to a Macedonian girl called Ana (see where I’m going with this?), who is one of those golden people. Not only is she luminescently beautiful, with a golden tan from her Italian holiday – and speaks perfect English – but she is so kind, you can’t even hate her for it. She counseled that Skopje is horrible in August: it is devoid of people, covered in building works, and 52 degrees. Ana told me I should head straight to Lake Ohrid, Macedonia’s answer to Brighton. Then she spent an hour helping me find her hostel. Major girl-crush.
I spent a couple of hours the next morning verifying her story. I wandered Skopje’s bazaar and stared in horror at the wildly expensive, ugly statue of Alexander the Great that has just been erected in their main square. The bronze monstrosity’s €9 million price tag is even more confusing when you know that the place Alexander came from is actually now in Greece. After a quick game of ‘spot the building that isn’t under scaffolding’, I got on the bus. One slight altercation en-route with an overly flirty Grandpa later (“So what do you think cheating is?”) I was in the mountain ringed town of Ohrid, a tangle of crumbling streets which tumble down steep hills to a vast, glassy lake.
Beautiful lake Ohrid
I arrived at the aptly named Sunny Lake Hostel at the same time as a Finnish girl called (guess what?) Anna. Along with a hostel full of variously quirky, loud, and charming people, we spent a happy two days swimming, cooking group meals, eating ice cream at 25p a scoop, and competing as to how many of the area’s 365 churches we could visit.
Back in sweaty Skopje for a couple of hours before my night train, Macedonian Ana invited me out for dinner. Arriving at the restaurant hungry and tired, I was plied with questions, sushi, and sparkling wine by her friends and her. She decried the thought that I pay, and ordered a taxi to take me to my train. The Macedonians, it seems, know how to host.
On board the train I heard a voice behind me: “I said I’d see you again.” It was the creepy Grandpa. So, I shut my cabin door tight, and slept until I woke with the light and views across the Serbian hills. I have spent the day exploring Belgrade, which is surprisingly chic. My helpful hostel keeper even tells me the night life is “bangin’.”
But, the poll is in, and I am off to Bosnia. A lovely Serbian girl who sleeps in the bed next to mine has offered to drive me there tomorrow morning. And yes, her name is Anna.
The poll is now closed, and it was another close one – 51% of you voted for Hungary, so Anna’s packing her bags again.
Monday 8th August
I am sitting in a small, stiflingly hot room that is filled with bachelor pad-style leather chairs and has pictures of Greek gods on the walls. I am surrounded by chavvy, middle-eastern men. They are staring at me. I would like to think this is because I look really good today, but it’s probably because I’m covered in mud.
In time honoured literary tradition, I shall backtrack in order to explain how I got here.
For the next three weeks, I will be interrailing. Every summer, I am confronted by reams of Facebook statuses (statae? staetum?) that assure me this is perfectly normal, doable, and not even particularly adventurous. I like trains, airplanes give me greenhouse gas guilt, and I had to get back from the family holiday in Greece somehow, so the interrail ticket was bought. Sorted.
What I did not account for was my complete inability to plan ahead more than about five minutes. This, I am discovering, makes travelling in Europe difficult, expensive, and ultimately very muddy.
My journey began in the Cyclades. I spent a week on an island called Naxos, and passed the time avoiding my parents and drinking unlabelled, homebrewed firewater with a friend. Life was so easy back then.
A boat back to Athens, a dozen stops on the metropolis’ exceptionally efficient metro, and a train ride chatting to an artist called Lenous who is convinced that the anarchic revolution is imminent, and now I’m in Thessaloniki.
The whitewashed walls of Thessaloniki…
My hostel is disgusting. It’s the only one I could afford and it’s filthy, and surrounded by strip clubs. Hoping the cultural delights of Greece’s second city were simply further afield, I wandered into town. Whilst I was meandering along, reminiscing over the whitewashed houses and clean-shaven men of Naxos (who thought I’d miss those pervy guys so fast?!), I got lost, fell off a curb outside a busy cafe, and landed in a big-ass puddle. This will teach me not to wear white shorts. Needless to say, the only hotspots I found in town (other than, in fairness, a rather yummy lunch) were those on my very embarrassed face.
Covered in mud, I traipsed back to my airless hostel. I am now on a quest to get the sod out of here. I’ve been told that there are NO TRAINS here. This makes interrailing tricky. I’ve also been told that the Republic of Macedonia doesn’t exist. This also makes life tricky. But, one slightly shady character (oh ok, my hostel owner) told me that his mate has a minibus going to Skopje this afternoon. This, it would seem, is my only chance to escape this ugly town. I will see what Macedonia has to offer, but where next?
It was a close one. 79 of you said you’d like Anna to go to Bosnia, whilst 72 of you wanted to send her off to Croatia. But, Bosnia won, and Anna’s off!