Thursday, July 28, 2011

The People I've Met, Eastern Europe

Last year I made a small blog on random people I met while I was traveling. This summer also, I have met quite a few random people outside of those I have met through couchsurfing or just staying in hostels. For me, these people all have really helped to re-affirm that there are nice people everywhere.

On the train from Nis(Serbia) to Skopje(Macedonia), my couchsurfers introduced me to a Macedonian guy who was going home to Skopje. He had horrible English, but we tried to talk as much as we could on the unbelievably slow 7 hour train ride. He was studying in Skopje and had been traveling for a week in Serbia visiting friends. He was so kind that after we left the train, he asked to grab a coffee, so we had a coffee at the train station. There I discovered he was nuts for sports so I threw out a bunch of sports names and it turned into a real conversation. Lots of head nodding and thumbs up and down. I wanted to pay for the coffee since he was being so nice, but he continually refused and insisted that he pay. Then since it was late at night, he wanted to ensure I found my hostel alright, so he even rode in the cab with me (after selecting the one that doesn't rip you off) to make sure I made it alright. Now that is a nice person trying to make sure a foreigner gets along ok in their country.

On that same train, I met a guy who was about 21 or so studying psychology in Nis, who had reasonable English. He was going home to a small town in eastern Serbia. He talked about how his dad only worked when he could get odd jobs, and other than that, his family grew all their own stuff and basically relied on friends and neighbors, a repeated theme I heard in Serbia.

On the bus from Macedonia to Sofia, I met an extremely friendly and nice girl from a small town near Skopje that was studying in Sofia. She spoke English, Spanish, German, and all the Slavic languages. When we arrived to Sofia, she made absolute sure I knew what tram to take to my couchsurfer’s place. In fact, she decided to take the same tram as me to show me the correct tram, and then she transferred to another one, which was completely out of her way.

At the bazaar in Skopje, I was buying peaches, and the seller began talking to me. One of his friends was living in Minnesota. He couldn’t understand why I wanted to go to Macedonia haha. Friendly guy, though.

In Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria, I was walking around with another couchsurfer, and we sat down on a bench under a tree as it began to rain. An older guy sat down next to us. Having learned that sharing is a great way to be friendly, less selfish, and start a conversation at the same time, I offered a piece of watermelon which he readily accepted. Now, this guy may or may not have been a bum. The only words he knew we could understand were ‘Bulgaria’ ‘Macedonia’ and ‘America’ ‘Communist’ and ‘Albania’. But after a few handshakes he began to draw stuff with his hands on the ground, trying to explain something about the split of the states during Communism. Nice guy, possibly homeless, but nonetheless entertaining. Oh, and I don’t know what he was exactly trying to say, but he liked to say ‘America’ and while placing his two hands behind his head like he was getting arrested, then laugh, say ‘America OK’, and shake my hand.

I met a woman from Canada on the bus from Sofia to Veliko Turnovo. She had been living in Italy for 10 years and was working for the Atomic Energy Commission years as a journalist. But she had a massive motormouth, kept blabbering about socialism, and didn’t have too many positive things to say about the US. Anyways, after we arrived, I instructed her that she should always agree on a price before getting in a Bulgarian cab (as she was already once ripped off by a rigged taxi-meter from the airport), so she thanked me, we shared a cab, and she covered the whole bill . Now, the kicker of this story is that somehow, we had a Bulgarian, Canadian, and American in the cab and found out that all three of us spoke Spanish so it made for a magnificient cab ride. Maybe the simplest cab ride so far in Europe haha. When I arrived at my host’s place, my phone was not working, and the cab driver refused to just leave me there and so he called her from his phone! On top of this, the next day, I needed to take a cab to the bus station to get tickets, and bumped into him. So he took us to the station, and then even came into the station with us and helped us buy tickets! Such a nice and friendly cab driver. Lived in Spain for 4 years, drove trucks to Austria and Germany for 10 years, and had 20 and 26 year old children.

Then, while waiting for the midnight bus to Istanbul, it was just me and an old guy at the stop. So he started talking to me since the bus was late. He knew maybe 15 words of English, but it turned into a nice game of Charades. He was from Istanbul but living in Burgas, Bulgaria, and had two kids studying in Sofia. When the bus stopped for a coffee break he insisted on buying me a Coke. And then at the border when everyone had to pile out of the bus and go through passport control, he made sure I knew what was going on.

So in all these cases, it makes me happy that there really are friendly and genuine people willing to talk to bored strangers/foreigners and go out of their way to help out and give a great impression of their their country. Just need to be friendly back and it usually gets you a long way.

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