The Long Way Home

Still Lost in Belgrade


Beograd, the "white city"

Beograd, the "white city"

7:30 am: The view from my Hotel Astoria room faces another gray concrete structure. The window curtains are orange and dim lamps cast a faint glow. The sun is rising, but it’s still freezing outside. The bus leaves at 10 and  I refuse to miss it. 

Last night in the bus station, Ari and I hopped from station agent to agent, asking when the next bus left for Osijek. “Last one,” we were told over and over. We wandered all around the bus station, through the train station, which was surreally quiet. A few military men paced in front of a bench, waiting for the next train. The further east I travel, I begin to see signs for cities in Ukraine, in Turkey, and Belarus. The famed Orient Express stopped here. I imagined Rebecca West writing passages of Black Lamb, Grey Falcon on loose sheets of  brown paper. Not much has changed since then.

Or maybe it has. What we figured out later was that “last one” wasn’t “last bus,” but “next one over,” meaning the next station over. There is an entirely separate station for Croatian buses. This is when language barrier isn’t just a cute little travel tale to tell the folks at home. The importance and beauty of the preposition! 

I am dirty and desperately in need of a toothbrush and a comb. The direness of my financial situation finally kicked in this morning too so I must get to an Internet cafe and track down some money. Two more months of European splendor! If I make it that long. It’s almost 8 am and I’m catching that damn bus back to god-forsaken Hrvatska.

8:43 am: Notes from god-forsaken Serbia

The Internet connection (or lack of) is painfully slow. I spent 45 minutes trying to connect, then gave up. I don’t even have access to email, my lifeline. I stormed back to my room to find 2 women dressed in french maid unifroms standing outside my door. One woman had a broom in her hand and the other a bottle of window cleaner. They pressed their ears to the door, probably checking if I was there. I marched between them, breaking up their little conspiratorial party. They burst into laughter.  When I looked through the peephole in the door to see if they were angry, they had already gone. 

I know I should make the best of this and not have such a crap attitude, but I am so ready to just go. 

10:00 am: I made the bus. I should have asked Ari for 20 dinar for the seat reservation (roughly .32USD – it’s customary for a seat charge on Eastern European buses), but the lady who guarded the turnstile knew I couldn’t understand Serbian and let it slide. See, everyone is so nice here — I just wish the circumstances were different for me to enjoy it all. Am I not cut out for die-hard travel? How brave am I, living on the promises of friends for cash, blowing off my bills back home and doing volunteer work when I could use my own donation? I am so disappointed at how American I am acting right now. 

11:00 am: I am still on this bus. The irony that yesterday the bus left on time and today I am on time and the bus is late is not lost on me. I am laughing to myself thinking of the Hotel Astoria’s idea of an “Internet cafe” — an unheated office room with an empty desk, a spinning rack of travel brochures and a pleather couch loaded with boxes. God I love Eastern Europe! I do, actually.  I already miss Belgrade just thinking of my return to Osijek. 

one last look before I go

one last look before I go



On the Train to Ljlubljana
March 4, 2009, 8:27 PM
Filed under: Croatia, Slovenia | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

leaving osijek

Leaving Osijek feels more unreal to me than when I left the States back in the Fall. I spent this last week teaching and hanging out with Andrija and Ivana, and Rebecca, the girl from Belfast. Rebecca helped me teach by reading to the class. Her accent is so sing-song and beautiful. I asked her to keep reading because it gave me comfort, and because the students weren’t accustomed to Irish-English. These last lessons were held in Tenja. Goran, the local teacher, told me I had a gift for teaching, that I was a natural at it. I realized how much I love my language, trying to break it down for others to understand.

Andrija had Rebecca and I to his house for dinner yesterday. Plates piled high with cabbage slaw, roasted chicken, lamb cuts, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, and krempita for dessert. Andrija showed us his insect collection from his studies at the agricultural college. He told me that he loves talking with me, we never run out of things to say. And I thought this is how it was with C, and why I thought I was falling in love with him. Someday I will get it right.

What do I do now? About my family, finding more money, getting my shit together when it comes to relationships. I still don’t know what I want to do when I return to the States in April. I think it feels strange leaving Osijek because until today, I had a plan about where I was going. Now the months are wide open. Complete freedom. The Croatian fields outside the train window are still covered in snow. Blank sheets of white paper. I’m going to miss the border patrol at Magyarboly, who always remembered me because of my Magyar surname, who waved to Rebecca and me as they checked our passports and the train pulled over the border into Beli Manastir. I’m going to miss Goran and his impeccable English. Ketchup flips, Riki bars, and even the cold walks to the Centre za mir, waiting at Gundilica for the traffic cop to wave pedestrians through blinking street lights. I’m going to miss Ivana, her seven brothers, and especially Andrija, who left me with a copy of his favorite childhood book on the train. When I opened it, dinar from the war fluttered into my lap, now worth nothing but to mark the place in my reading.

We just crossed the border into Slovenia, en route to the capital. My heart swelled at the sight of the Alps, houses built into the mountainside. Clouds hugging the peaks. The Soca River is running quick, snow melting from the mountains and into the river bed. There is hardly any snow in the valley, but the land is dry like hay. I imagine myself on the side of one of these roads that I’m watching from the train window, standing at the base of the mountain, staring up at its enormity, feeling small and alive in the face of it. I’m one step closer to home.

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