Week 13: The stories we can tell

Sometimes things happen that make you want to quit it all. You are scared and alone and tears are flowing down your cheeks and everyone you know and love is so far away. And in the moment you find yourself wishing for the comforts of home, or the last hostel you were in that felt safe and where you made friends. But you get through it and it becomes a story, one that you will be telling and laughing about for the rest of your life and you realize it’s one of the reasons you are doing this. And last week was one of those stories.

I left my hostel in Slovakia late, I miss-timed myself at breakfast and ended up missing my bus. I’ve learnt not to worry too much about these things. I was traveling on my interrail ticket so I could just get a later train, not a big deal. But somehow the bus got me into Poprad in time for my train and I jumped on it thinking the hard part of the day was over. Yes, I had a lot of traveling to do that day. I was heading for a small city in Northan Romania that had come highly recommended but wasn’t all that easy to get to.

I had chosen to break up the journey, this way there would be no hanging about train stations in the middle of the night. My first day had 4 trains, the first an easy domestic trip from Poprad to Košice, I almost missed the train and then it was running late. The interrail websites travel plan left me with only a 12-minute connection. We arrived into the station after my next train was due to have left but it was sitting there waiting for us.

This train was heading onto the Ukraine, and so was I. It was hard to understand why I needed to make this particular detour but so far the interrail website had never done me wrong, why would it now. The place I was heading to was called Chop, it sits right on the border with Slovakia and Hungry. I sit on the train staring out the window at the passing scenery, Every km there is a marker post counting down to the border. The ticket collecter checks everyone has a passport on them, she isn’t satisfied until she has seen it.

I start to get uncomfortable, maybe a stopover in the Ukraine isn’t the smarted idea after all. We reach the border and scary-looking guards board the train and check everyone passport, I haven’t had mine checked since I flew into Norway almost 3 months ago. We are held at the border to ages before being allowed to move on. We reach chop and hour before I think we will, I forgot to factor in the time difference, the ticket collecter hurries me off the train, three of us get off, we are met by an angry seeming soldier who shouts at us to hurry up as she is waiting.

We are lead into the customs hall, I get my passport checked and stamped and then another soldier asks me what I’m doing here. I say I’m waiting for a train connection and I’m let through into the station. By this point, I had been to a few ex-soviet countries, but this train station felt like I was back in the ’70s. it was large with benches down both sides and a rather oppressing feel to it. Two old women in aprons stood watching the comings and goings of the few people who sat on the benches, I felt incredibly conspicuous, a young girl on her own with two backpacks, one, as most people have been kind enough to point out, almost as big as I am.

I sit watching the time and writing in my journal. Everything is written in the Cyrillic alphabet and so the only thing I can read is the arrival and leaving times of the trains. They all seem to stop at the station for half an hour or longer which seems odd until I realize that they are keeping them so they can do the border checks.

I watch a queue form in front of the customs office door. The time that my train is due to arrive is approaching. I think I need to be in the queue too. I join the line and look around me. I want to ask someone if this is where I need to be, but I’m not sure who. I see people walking about with massive wads of cash, it makes me a little uneasy. The man next to me is with young kids, I decide to ask him.

I ask if this is where I need to be for Hungry, he looks confused and it’s clear he doesn’t speak English. I get out my phone and show him the name of the town I’m heading to. He grabs me by the arm and practically drags me to the ticket office window. I’m a bit taken aback but he talks to a woman who appears to be his daughter and she turns to me and speaks to me in English.

She asks me what I’m doing here. I tell her the trains sent me, I’m heading to Debrecen in Hungry and the website told me to come this way. She can’t seem to believe that a website would do that. It makes geographical sense she says but you don’t come to this bit of Ukraine without a local who knows the system, they still do things the old way here she tells me.

She asks if I have a ticket, I show her my interrail card. She tells me that’s not going to get me out of the country, to leave you need a ticket with a signature and stamp on the back. She asks if I have money, I have euros and my card I tell her, she shakes her head, that won’t work here. She shows my pass to the person behind the ticket office window. No, that won’t get me out of here. She calls her dad back over and they pay for my ticket (3 euros), it cost 90 something Ukrainian hryvnia, the price printed on the ticket is 66. in this part of the world, you still need to pay a bribe to get anything.

She gives me my ticket with the stamp on the back and tells me to stay with her. I’m beyond grateful. We pass into the customs hall and they check the back of our tickets and then check our bags. The customs officer finds my citalopram, he takes it out and starts waving it about.

“Box! Box!” he shouts at me.

Fuck. I don’t have the box.

“I have a doctors letter!” I tell him,

“Box!”

“Doctors letter!”

“Box!”

“I have a doctors letter!”

“Doctor?”

“Yes, I have them from a doctor!”

And with this he lets me go.

I get my passport stamped again and finally, I’m on a train heading to hungry. We cross the border and at the station, the Hungarian border guards come on and check our passports and bags. “Why are you here?” one of them asks me. “Tourist?” Yes, I nod, I’m a tourist. I get off the train and realize that it shouldn’t matter why I’m here, I have an EU passport, I can be in Hungry for whatever reason I want.

By the time I reach my hostel in Debrecen I’m tired and hungry and just want to eat and sleep. But when I get there it’s not what I expected. It’s just a one-bedroom flat with bunk beds in and there isn’t another woman. I don’t like this.

I dump my stuff and go out to find food. I haven’t really eaten anything proper all day.  I end up in a cafe and have cake for dinner, it doesn’t help. I don’t want to go back to the hostel. I don’t want to sleep in that room. I decided to just get my stuff and find a hotel or something, somewhere I have a room of my own. I get back and then can’t get through the gate to the hostel. I ring the doorbell but no one comes. I stand waiting and pressing the bell over and over. A man comes out another flat I have no phone signal or internet so he tries to call the hostel for me, we get thought and someone says he will come, the man leaves and I carry on waiting.

No one comes to the door, the man comes back with a woman. They try to call again. I start crying, these people are being so nice to me and I’m stressed and tired and I can’t hold everything in anymore. I finally get into the hostel, the owner sees that I have been crying. They get me to sit down with them in the kitchen, I don’t want to, I just want to leave but I’m ushered in. They ask me what’s up. I say I don’t like the lack of women. It doesn’t feel safe to me. They listen and can understand what I’m saying, there is a small privet room, it doesn’t have windows but it has a lock on the door, I can sleep there if I want to. I start to calm down. If I have my own room I will be ok. I stay and sleep ok, but I’m glad to leave in the morning. I just want to get to Romania now.

The journey the next day is easier. I get to Sighetu at about half 4. I walk to my accommodation. When I get there I’m greeted by a middle-aged Romanian woman. She doesn’t speak English but she seems like a nice person. She shows me around the house and then gets her daughter (who organizes everything) on the phone. We have a quick chat about what time I want dinner and then I hand her back. I’m given soup at half 5, then the rest of my meal at 8.

For the next few days, I’m treated like a queen. The area of Romania I’m in is really interesting and I enjoy looking around. My host is amazing. I get my washing done and get a 4-course meal every night. On the second day, a Canadain woman comes and we eat and chat together, it’s perfect.

After the stress of getting there my time in Romania is better than I could have hoped for. It feels like a different world. I see gypsy camps by the side of the roads and horse-drawn carts. Most people don’t speak English and I have to use google translate if I need to speak to people. Everything feels different and I love it.

On Saturday I have to leave, I have booked an overnight train from Baia Mare to Bucharest. Armed with a bus timetable to Baia Mare I confidently set out to the bus stop. I hypo on the way and when I get there I’m feeling a bit shit. There some old woman waiting for the bus. “Baia Mare?” I ask. They shake their heads and point at the time table, it looks like the bus I thought I could get doesn’t run on a Saturday.

I go into the train station and ask if I can get a train, the woman speaks English and shows me on the train map why I can’t get a train. She says the bus might come. I go back out and wait for it. Nothing comes. I start to panic. There are taxi drivers standing around, the keep staring at me and leering, I don’t want to need to get a lift with one of them. I try phoning, Dragos, my Romanian friend but he doesn’t pick up. I go back to the train station. The woman sees me and phones a taxi company to ask a price to get me to Baia Mare. She organizes one for me, it feels safer this way.

The taxi driver comes, he speaks a bit of English. We drive through the mountains, the clouds are low and the roads wet. This doesn’t seem to bother him, the roads around here feel a bit like wacky races, everyone overtaking each other whenever they can. He also has a habit of taking his hands off the steering wheel, crossing himself, then putting his hands together in a prayer every time we pass a church. I can’t help but wonder if God, if he/she exists would priorities road safety over arm gestures to accompany the prayer?

I reach Baia Mare and get a phone call from Maja making sure I’m ok. It feels nice to know that even though I am hundreds of miles away I have friends who are there for me when I need them. 67422537_2730329900311740_5562428354256175104_n67441410_2730329966978400_1319010282239950848_n67457290_2730330116978385_2682688696804704256_n67466576_2730329940311736_4846806405249761280_n67494240_2730330016978395_3392004465589485568_n67627029_2730329770311753_5958473546387685376_n67643480_2730329746978422_1888455626372153344_n67731746_2730329633645100_7471197672699854848_n67785497_2730329536978443_8270152668832333824_n

I know this was a long one so if you got to the end thank you, I hope you enjoyed it!

With love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

 

Week 12: A familiar face and a faraway place

Warning: this is a long one!

After 2 and a half months Sarah comes to visit. We started planning this so long ago, April to be exact. At that point, Budapest seemed a lifetime away. I had so much to do and so much to see and then suddenly I’m sitting in a cafe in Budapest seeing one of my oldest friends walking towards me.

Me and Sarah met when we are about 11 in a climbing competition, since we have done many stupid things together. It is her fault I dreamed up this trip, we are in a competition to see who can visit all the European countries first). When she said she wanted to come out it was when I thought I would be easily hopping from capital to capital. We settled on Budapest and Bratislava, I let her do the planning for this bit.

And now we are in Budapest and she is melting in the heat of mid-summer in central Europe and I find that I’m pretty used to 30 degrees now and we are joking and laughing about how I’m so excited about finding cheddar in a supermarket and everything feels so good.

We get to the apartment and she almost has a meltdown when she can’t get the key to work as it is hot and she is tired and I laugh and take it from her. We get the aircon working and she half climbs into the fridge to cool down. We laugh and I love the feeling of not having to do the introductions with someone new. I have loved everything I’ve done, I’ve met amazing people but 5 days with an old friend feels like a treat.

We get confused over Hungarian currency then cause a queue at the ticket machine for the tram as we can’t work out what tickets to buy. I force her to walk through the city to the supermarket in the heat to buy food and then we go back to the apartment and I cook us dinner and she does the washing up and everything flows.

The next day we do a free walking tour, the guide is obsessed with art nouveau which gets a bit much after a while. We eat lunch in a traditional Hungarian restaurant and find a water misster that sprays you to help you cool down. We sit by a fountain and then head to a bathhouse where we do walking races across the pools which Sarah wins and endurance competitions in the cold pool that I win.

That evening I manage to fuse the lights and the aircon in our room. We laugh and improvise. The next morning Sarah learns I will sleep through everything but my name being said. After breakfast, we head out into the city again and find our way to the musical fountain on Margaret Island and we sit getting splashed watching the water show.

The next day we take a very hot train to Bratislava. It’s 34 degrees outside and there is no aircon only an open window to keep us cool. She does her colouring in and I write my journal and knit. We reach the city and our accommodation and Sarah gets stressed out with a key again. We dump our stuff and then head into the old town for a walking tour. This one is better the guide is really good and we both enjoy it. We find dinner then head back to the apartment for a quiet evening.

The next day we do a city game (a bit like an escape room but running around the city). We enjoy it but there are a few bits that seem to have a got a little lost in translation and we way over complicate it at the start. By the time we finish we are both crazy hungry and so get pancakes followed by icecream and by the time we finish our ‘lunch’ its 5pm. We sit for a while in a square and then head home via the well air-conditioned supermarket where we spend ages hunting unsuccessfully for peanut butter.

We say we will get an early night but instead, I keep us up looking at trains and planning another part of my trip and getting overwhelmed by train timetables and then it’s almost midnight and we need to go to bed. I’m on a train to the High Tatra mountains and Sarah is going home and I can’t believe our time together is over already.

The journey is pretty easy, I each Poprad and take a risk by going to the supermarket before getting the bus but manage to time it perfectly and only have to wait 5 minutes before a bus to Zdiar comes. The driver doesn’t speak English and it’s a little hard to communicate but I manage. I overshoot the stop I want and have to walk 1.5km back to the village. I get an incredibly warm welcome when I reach the hostel and even though I don’t eat Pizza I go out with everyone that evening having cooked and eaten first.

After dinner, everyone sits out on the porch chatting. I plan with Megan and Rachel to go to the Polish lakes the next day. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and I can’t remember how it comes up but I end up telling Rachel that I’m autistic. A few of us chat about it for a while. Rachel is a psychologist and is researching into autistic girls. There are some teachers there as well and it’s really interesting to talk to them about their experiences and share my own. It’s funny how things work out.

The next day I’m up early to get a bus that ends up not existing. Megan, Rachel and I stand at the bus stop for 45 minutes in the end but we do get to the Slovakian border and from there we walk to the national park on the polish side. It’s busy, it’s a Saturday and this is one of the most famous lakes in the area. The first bit is just on a road, my blood sugars try to go low a few times but I manage to avoid a proper Hypo.

The first lake we reach is so crowded. It’s nice but there are so many people. I find it harder to appreciate nature when it’s that busy. We sit a while and eat a little but then head off for the next part of the walk, this takes us away from the crowds and is much more interesting. It’s a long day but we all enjoy it. On the way back, we meet a Polish lady and her daughter, they have been coming to the area for years but haven’t met any English speakers before. We chat as we walk. We are all tired by this time and so it’s nice to have another conversation.

We say goodbye when we hit the main path back. The three of us try to figure out the best way to get back to the hostel, we have missed the bus we wanted and the next won’t be for a few hours. We walk the 2km back towards the border and try to hitchhike but to no luck. Then a car pulls up in front of us and a familiar face pokes out, it’s our Polish friends and they dive us all the way back to the hostel.

We all shower then head out again. There is a beer festival in the village and everyone else from the hostel is there. It’s not something I would normally go to but the hostel is such a nice place and the people so welcoming that I feel comfortable enough to go with them. I eat and drink tap water while everyone else tastes lots of beer. It’s a little noisy but I enjoy myself. As things start to wind down a band is playing outside and everyone is out there. I go outside too but the noise and vibrations from the music is too much and I return to the shelter of the building.

I see Rachel looking around for me but I can’t go outside to tell her why I disappeared. I feel embarrassed that I can’t be outside. I want to be with the others but I can’t be in that noise. Even though they know I’m autistic it’s still not fun to have to say I can’t join in because of something everyone else enjoys. I think about going home, but I don’t want to go. It’s a situation I have been in a hundred times before, the longing to join in fighting against the overwhelming stimulus that makes me so uncomfortable I have to flee from it.

But people come inside and when I explain Rachel and Megan stay inside with me until it finished and we all go home. I don’t like making people choose between being with me and being in the environment I can’t tolerate but they didn’t seem to mind and they choose me.

The next day I take it easy, sleeping in and eating nice food. I chat with Rachel about her research and manage to do some writing. It’s nice to just sit and relax. There is a thunderstorm in the evening and I sit out on the porch in the pouring rain watching in.

On my last full day in the Tatra’s, I join two Aussie sisters and we do the saddle hike, it’s the one everyone who goes to the (https://www.gingermonkey.eu) does. The scenery is amazing and I’m pretty pleased with myself once I’ve done it. After 4 years of not hiking my fitness isn’t as good as it once was but after my time in Lofoten it’s getting better and I enjoy the feeling of pushing myself.

That evening after dinner it’s movie night and so I settle down to watch slumdog millionaire in the living room. It’s been an amazing 4 days in a part of the world I hadn’t even heard about until it popped up on a Lonely Planet post on Facebook.

I’m sad to leave the next morning but I can’t help but look forward to what the final 2 months of the trip will bring.

And as a reward for getting thought all these words, have some lovely pictures!

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I hope you have enjoyed this episode!

With Love

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

Week 3: The kindness of strangers

I often feel incredibly lucky, something that other people seem to struggle to understand. And yes medically I haven’t done too well in many ways and I would never wish my lovely mix on anyone else but all the same, I feel lucky. This feeling normally surfaces after interactions where people show the better side of humanity, the one the newspapers and media seem to forget about or just don’t want you to see, the times we are good to each other for no reward, the times people have gone out their way to help me out. It happens more often than I would expect.

Maybe some of the feeling is because in London everyone is always in a rush and more often than not plugged into headphone or scrolling through their phone and yes when I’m commuting I have often been guilty of the same thing. Sitting on a crowded tube is hardly anyone’s idea of fun, plug in and get it over with. But it’s more than that, in London I often feeling like nobody has got time for each other, The constant grind of city life takes over and we are all cogs in this much bigger machine.

But for three weeks now I have been away from it all. A small farm 4km from the main road in Lofoten is about as far removed from life in London as you can get, and I’m LOVING it. It’s no surprise, I love mountains and lakes and being outside, I’m not a city person, and, for the first time in years, I have been able to do something totally for myself without having to worry too much about pesky illnesses.

My time in Lofoten is the first stage of 5 months of traveling, most of which, I will be on my own. Before I left for this trip and was telling people about it one of the questions I was most often asked was who I was going with, many people seemed shocked that I was going alone. But I love traveling solo. To me it’s easier and much more freeing than going with someone else, I am the only one my plan has to suit, no one else needs to be consulted, no compromises need to be made, this trip is entirely for me.

And it’s not like I don’t enjoy the company of other people I do, I just perfer to travel on my own. The other thing I find is I’m more confident when I travel. Part of this is having no one else to rely upon but a bigger part is knowing I can be utterly myself at all times because the interactions that I’m having with other people are all short term. I don’t worry about making the right impressions as often in a few days it won’t matter anyway.

I have always been an open person, often it seems in daily life too open. I don’t always censor what I say the way that is expected, I talk about subjects that are still, in some places, seen as taboo without even considering that it might not be appropriate. This has got me in trouble at times but I find when your traveling openness makes like easier and gives you opportunities that would otherwise be left undiscovered.

On my flight from Oslo to Bodo, I chatted a little with the man sitting next to me. He seemed a little surprised to find an English girl on her own going to Lofoten in May but quickly became my in-flight guide, pointing out mountains of note and glaciers out the window. Due to the stress of having my original flight canceled I hadn’t really looked into how to get into Bodo city center from the airport or where the ferry terminal was.

As we chatted I asked about the best way to get to town, he told me where to get the bus from, a little later he turned to me and asked if I wanted a free ride into town in the taxi that his group was hiring. Yes, yes I did. The taxi driver was a little surprised when he took my bag to put it in the trailer, 10 men in their mid-sixties (I think) on a fishing trip and a 20 something English girl with a giant backpack, it looked a little odd. They made a few jokes about me called me ‘free seat’ but I was happy enough, it certainly beat the bus with two backpacks.

I quickly settle into life at the farm, on the second week I get an opportunity to go to the shop a buy a little luxury food for myself and hypo supplies. By midway through the third week, these are starting to dwindle, I had planned to cycle to the shop by the bikes are too big for me to use. It’s 8km away a bit too far to comfortably walk there and back again but just going one way seems ok. On Tuesday, after a sunny morning working in the garden I sit down to my dinner outside by some visitors to the farm, they are American and seem friendly.

One of the ways of getting about advertised here is simply to ask visitors if they are driving your direction and if they can give you a lift. It seems a little cheeky but I thought it was worth a try. I chatted with them for a while and then asked if they were going in the direction of the shop and if there were could I get a lift. They didn’t know where the shop was but offered to take me anyway. I was delighted and when they said they could even drop me home again I was in so much shock my mouth dropped wide open a just hung there a moment while I reveled at my good fortune.

It was a fun outing, Chatting with my new friends and pointing out local landmarks. The scenery around here is pretty much always spectacular and the biggest problem is knowing which way to look.

On Monday we get a helper at the farm for the day, she is a Swedish lady who is traveling in her van and camped out at the farm overnight. We work together on the peppermint bed and chat about travel, climbing and a load of other things. She tells me about Henningvaer. A small fishing town where a lot of good climbing can be found. Having done no research into climbing in Lofoten before I came I’m eager to get down there, at first it looks like she might be able to give me a lift later in the week but this ends up not being possible.

But I still want to go. The best alternative, hitchhike. There is a part of me that is not overly convinced with the idea, how easy will it be to get picked up? Will I just end up standing at the roadside for ages, what if I get to Henningsvaer but can’t get home again? But this trip is about getting outside my comfort zone so I decided to try.

Tove is heading out so gives me a lift to the main road. I stand watching for a car to come for a few minutes (this is the main road through Lofoten but it’s hardly busy). I hear one coming around the corner and thinking ‘here goes nothing’ stick out my thumb. To my utter astonishment, it stops and I get a lift all the way to the turning to Henningvaer.

It turns out hitchhiking around here is pretty easy. People seem willing to help and I have an easy journey. Reaching Henningsvaer I look around the town and then go for a long walk along the seafront by the mountainside. The sun is shining and it’s an amazing day. I take a long walk with a breathtaking view around every corner before returning to town to go to the climbing cafe and get some food.

It’s a nice place and I treat myself to a big dinner and actually spend some money. On the table next to me is an Aussie family. As they start to get ready to leave I ask if I can get a lift to the main road with them, they are happy to give it. They go for a walk first then come back to pick me up from the cafe. We chat easily and it turns out they are heading the same way I am and will go past the end of the road to the farm. It’s a great way to finish the day. They are lovely people and the conversation is interesting the whole way back, they even give me a massive pastry to take home.

Things like this are one of the reasons I like to travel solo. You have to take a few more risks in terms of human interaction and most often you come off richer from the experience. I have always believed the best in people and it’s nice when those beliefs are proved true.

Now please enjoy some of my pictures from Henningsvear!

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Hope you enjoyed!

With love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx