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 11: Complications

Whenever anyone asks me I’m always gushing about how much fun I’m having and how good this trip is. It’s easy to talk about the good things, the people you meet, the things that you do. It’s easy to tell people how much you are enjoying something. It’s easy to make it sound like everything is easy. It’s what you are supposed to say. But what about the times when things get to you and when your body is rebelling and you want it to just stop?

Traveling with diabetes has its own fun. Firstly there is the logistics of traveling with meds. Insulin has to be kept cold, I don’t need very much, one of the good things about having funky diabetes, but I’m still trying to keep several vials cold in the central europian summer. Insulin aside there is my Dexcom (blood sugar meter). I honestly wouldn’t do without it. Having information at my fingertips has made the hiking and complete lack of routine much easier.

But it’s still not easy. I can’t eat the ‘normal’ traveler foods. Bread, pasta, rice, etc are off the menu in the evenings and low carb can be hard to find. Blood sugars also react to heat, stress, activity, sleep, timings of when you eat, water quantity and pretty much everything else you can think of, making it super easy to maintain good control whilst living with no routine at all.

The thing I have found hardest is hiking. In Lofoten I had a few times when my sugars got really low on the hill, it took me a while to figure out that I needed to not take any long-acting insulin for the day when I’m going to be walking. In fact, often I won’t take any insulin at all until I get back from the walk. I wish there where hard and fast rules I could hold on to but often what works one week can cause me to go really high the next.

I try not to get annoyed by it all but sometimes it feels like a disruption I would rather live without. It also means I’m a bit wary about going out with other people, I don’t want to hold then up with my blood sugars getting low. For the most part, it’s been manageable but I felt like I’m fighting a losing battle some days when I go out.

Then there is the fun on the Chronic Fatigue. If I’m honest I’ve been really pleased with how my body has reacted to everything, As long as I sleep well at night very little has been too much. I have been getting tired, but often a quiet day has been all I’ve needed to recover. But it can be hard to have that quiet day, there is so much to do and so much to see that not going out is hard. And so by the 20th of july, I had pretty much run myself into the ground and needed to stop for a while.

Through necessity I booked myself an Airbnb in Vienna a crashed for a few days. I didn’t go out that much and In slept a lot. And after 5 nights I did feel much better.

I knew I was likely to need to take a bit of time out, 5 months is a long time and for the most part, I have simply been rejoicing in being able to be out in the world doing these things, but sometimes it’s hard.

I want to be able to eat normally and not having to think so far ahead with my insulin and food. And I wonder if there will ever be a time when I don’t have to take so much care with sleep and rest? It can be hard to accept to myself that despite everything I can’t quite travel the way I want to, but every time that thought come up I remind myself that a couple of years ago all this would have been impossible.

Sure there are complications, but I would rather live with them than not try at all.

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With love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

Week 9: Flying high

After a week of spending most of my time on my own, I was really needed some human company. Traveling to me is about seeing new things, meeting new people and coming out of my comfort zone. I was managing two of them easily but a week almost solo somewhere I didn’t know had left me wondering if the best part was now over,

Gdansk is a lovely little city, steeped in history and an easy place to spend time, but the best part was at my hostel there were people who wanted to talk. It wasn’t the best hostel I have ever stayed in, but it was friendly. I spent my time in the city on walking tours and visiting the war museum. I made a friend and on my last night, we walked around the local supermarkets, giggling like crazy, on the hard task of spending my last zloty coins, a full 3.69 of them, about 78p in UK money (I managed to buy food to make lunch for my train).

My trip to Berlin was an easy one, I had to get up at 6am, but I had hardly slept due to the noise of the traffic and people having sex in my dorm room (WHY???). I had an old fashioned train compartment to myself most of the way and was able to sit with my music and knitting, enjoying watching the forests pass by.

Berlin is somewhere I had always wanted to visit. As a kid, the second world war was one of my main interests and I studied the cold war in history at school. I have always been a bit of a history nerd and so I couldn’t travel through Europe without going to Berlin. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the city. I have been told lots of different things, (it seems to depend on who you talk to whether you hear about the amazing history or have ideas hinted at you about the subcultures).

I was maybe expecting somewhere a bit like London just with ex-soviet architecture in one part and modern glass buildings in the other (I have no idea where that idea came from, an autistics mind view on capitalism versus communism). But as I am notoriously bad at picturing new experiences in my head it wasn’t a surprise that the picture I had was drastically wrong. Yes, there is a lot of communist housing blocks, especially in the area I was staying in but within the time I had walked from the train station to my hostel I was starting to get a feel for the place.

I enjoyed the history of the city, I enjoyed walking about the place. I saw the Memorial to the murdered Jews and the Berlin wall. I went on a couple of free walking tours and museums but the best thing about the week was the people I met.

There was always someone to talk to and people were always inviting me to do things with them. Often I like to go out during the day on my own, not having to worry about what anyone else wants to do is a freedom in itself but I enjoy human company too and so having people to interact with when I’m back in the hostel is important too. In Berlin, I had the perfect mix.

On my first day, I went out with Lillie and Gabriele, two girls who were volunteering in the hostel, they taught me the rules of the public transport system as well as being good company. Most of the people in the hostel were partying at night, not my thing, but as most of them didn’t go out till 10sih I never felt like I was missing out.

On my third night, I went out with Lillie and Gabriele and some other guys staying at the hostel. The falafel place we went to was in one of the cheaper districts that I never would have gone to on my own. We sit outside chatting and eat a huge amount of food for hardly any money. Afterwards, we go to a bar. I don’t go out much. It took 8 months for me to start going out some Saturdays after work and I have never gone out in a city I didn’t know well.

It’s an amazing feeling. This confidence that I find when I leave the bubble of home, when I’m in places I’m not afraid to be myself. We talk about as we walk, for me, it’s much easier to be confident when I’m traveling as all the relationship with other people are short term. It doesn’t matter what people think of you, if you get on great, you might even stay in touch and see each other again but if you don’t who cares, you will go your separate ways.

That night I’m up till 1am, chatting with people and feeling free. I’m full of joy and last weeks loneliness if left forgotten.

For my last night in Berlin, Lillie and I have a sleepover in the hostel lounge, one of the guys in the room snoring really loudly and I was up for several hours the night before due to the noise. We both have to be up early to catch trains and need to sleep so obviously stay up chatting for ages and giggling together, it’s like something out of an American teenage girl’s movie and we both love it.

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I hope you have enjoyed this last episode!

With love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx