I had never guessed that solo travelling would be this easy! I seem to never find myself on my own, which was something I had prepared myself for, but during this last week I have hardly had a moment to myself. Also, in moments of doubt help is always quick to find, and you dont even have to look too lost before a kind stranger will make sure you are alright – another benefit of being a female traveller, I suppose.
Of course you meet awesome people at hostels but even in transit I seem to stumble into people I can travel along with. In Athens a swede at my hostel overheard that I was going to Thessaloniki and we ended up spending they day together – as it turned out to be an all day jurney! Confident that we were in splendid time we made our way to the train station to get tickets for the train leaving four hours later, but no, it was already fully booked. So we waited for seven hours for the next train and arrived at our destination sometime past 1am. Then when I left Thessaloniki to go to Bulgaria by myself I soon met other backpackers, and we shared a cabin and food all the way to Sofia. Here I went on alone but, again, I end up sitting next to a nice little family and kind old lady, who followed me all the way to Varna.
I keep being surprised with myself for my new found general sense of directions. As I move around and wander about new cities, I can get by with just the maps provided by my hostel without ever taking out my phone and, defeated, ask google for directions. I do, however, seem to have forgotten the amazing traffic etiquet here in Europe. Not having been able to rely on zebra crossings for the most part of this trip until a week ago, I have become weary of them and tend to stand still waiting for a break in the traffic so that I may take my chance and cross the street only to moments later, feeling surprised and a bit silly, run along this stranger who, with no second thought, strolls casually into the traffic – and every car comes to a polite halt with no beeping or screetching tires!
Despite being the second largest city of Greece, Thessaloniki feels more like a cute small town with a habour and an old town area with small intricate roads climbing up the hills of the city. I’m proud to say that when I was faced with the steep slopes of the old town I did not look back but walked determined on, albeit I might have wobbled a little with the 15kg on my back and the sun drawing to its highest point overhead. All the same I marched on for what felt like an enternity, and nearly getting lost, until I reached my new hostel a sweaty mess. I’ve barely stepped inside the hostel before I was invited to explore the city by this Canadian, so off I went again. By the habour I finally found some monument/artifact testifying to Alexander the Great’s legacy! (tbh it wasn’t nearly that exciting but for being the first mention or sign of his former presence in this country.) We also enjoyed a short and, most importantly, free boat ride along the coast of Thessaloniki – on a real pirate ship even.
Varna turned out to be just what I needed! It’s a lovely beach town – or the sea capital of Bulgaria as many signs in town proclaimed, with many big open spaces, trees, fountains – the whole shebang, and super tourist friendly. The first day I spent chilling on the awesome sandy beach of the black sea – disclaimer: the black sea is not even a shade darker than any other ‘normal’ sea! Varna also has the best park I’ve visiteded on this entire trip, by far. It is simply enormous and, still full of life in every corner – I felt like the entire town must have passed by at some point but it was never at one point crowded. The archeological museum is also worth paying a visit if you ever find yourself in Varna and have become sick of the beach. There you’ll learn all about Varna and Bulgaria and see the oldest gold treasure in the world, which was discovered in this very city – kinda cool stuff.
With blisters covering both my feet I limbed from train to train as I travelled from Varna,Bulgaria, to Brasov, Rumania, and feeling pretty sorry for myself. But with two layers of band-aid and a good nights sleep I was ready to explore Transylvania, only now the weather had decided to quit. It was raining and windy and before long my feet were drenched, and just as I had decided to give up exploring and was about to turn the corner to my hostel, magically the rain stopped and I gave it another shot. Brasov has a great number of beautiful old buildings and churches, and if you are not afraid of big hills you can get a great view of the city from above – otherwise, just take the cable car.
I had joined my roomates on a daytrip to the nearby castles and it did turn out to be an all day trip, getting in the way of our plan to go to an escape room in the evening.. However, you cannot go to Trasylvania and not visit at least one castle, so we saw three. It was another wet and grey day so the view, as the car drove along, was all you’d expect of transylvania – deep green thick forest with mist rising from the trees feeding into the miserable sky. The first castle (which really should’ve been the last because everything paled in comparison to this one) was in Sinaia, and there are no words with the power to convey the rich beauty of the Peles Castle – luckily I have pictures that can give you an idea. Unfortunately, the castle is very popular for this exact reason and it was super crowded and incredibly disorganized. We were being pushed about in a mob of people all pressing to get through the entrance. Some had waited for an hour while others rudely pushed through, almost causing a fight – it was worse than what you might expect at a concert. But when you finally make it inside all the hassle becomes worth it.
The third stop was the Rasnow Citadel, which is probably a wet dream come true for medival history enthusiasts, the rest of us can just appreciate the amazing view of Rasnow and the surrounding mountains covered in wild undisturbed nature. It wasn’t until the day of my departure that the sun showed itself, but I had plenty of time to soak in some d-vitamin (not that I have been lacking!) for I was catching the night train to Budapest.
Thinking I was saving time and money by travelling at night did come at a price in the end though – the payment: sleep. There is something about the movement of trains (and buses for that matter) that can suddenly make your eyelids very heavy and if the temperature is right you can easily be overpowered by the drowsiness. Typically, however, when you most desire sleep it stubbornly will not come. Fortunately there was a German guy who also had trouble sleeping who kept me company as we watched the sun rise in the flat hungarian horizon. So yesterday I wandered sleep deprived through Budapest, only taking short breaks to rest my feet so that sleep might not overwhelm me. However, as I unburdened myself of my backpack at the hostel and was generously allowed a quick shower in the staff bathroom, I completely forgot my phone when I left again – which is a curse-worthy shame because Budapest must be the most beautiful city I’ve visited so far. I walked aimlessly as far as my feet would allow me, and then a little further – something I now regret as new blisters pain with every step I take.
Next stop Prague!