Monday, March 19, 2007

Eastern Europe

I had been driving myself crazy trying to figure out how to get from Athens to Prague. I spend a couple of weeks on Santorini with John ann and Marion, hanging out at a house JA has rented. Then go with Marion to Naufplio in the Peloponnese. On the 7th of May or thereabouts I start north. Should I fly, take the train, go by boat to Brindisi and up the Italian coast. I considered a cruise up the Danube from Bucharest to Vienna which sounded properly exotic until I clicked on the pictures of the rotund and grey headed tourists, all three hundred of them, who live on the cruise ship for 16 days and are entertained at night by drinking and watching people dressed like peasants dance folk dances and sing ethnic songs.. I felt tentative and slightly nervous about going to Eastern Europe. Who ever heard of Montenegro fercrissakes or Slovenia and Slovakia. What happened to good old Yugoslavia and friendly dictator Tito?

We went through Yugoslavia in 1964 hitchhiking with a Greek who was driving a Mercedes back from Germany where he had been working. He spent a lot of the drive trying to hit squirrels on the road, stopping to give one of his kills to peasant boys by the roadside. I was wearing a bag of weed under my bathing suit which was under my clothes and was getting a rash. At one point for inexplicable reasons, we turned left in a tunnel so that my door was facing the light at the end. He wasn't a very good driver, but we made it. Stopping in Belgrade for the night, the soldiers on the streets kept pinching my butt and although I clung to Allan, they were relentless. The Greek got us a hotel room which we all shared. The one beautiful memory I have is seeing in the lush fields in the countryside, a hay wagon, pulled by a team of horses, piled high with cut grass, three or four women sitting on top in bright colored head scarves. It was something out of the 18th century. So that was the sum total of my Eastern Europe experience. To add to my confusion about how to travel there again, I remembered they use that crazy cyrillic alphabet with letters that are unfamiliar and ones that are familiar, have a different sound. I looked it up in hopes to makes sense of it, but gave up. A backwards N is I, H is N, P is R. No hope of faking it like in the Romance languages--restaurante or pension.

So I fretted on for days about what to do. Then it came to me. I didn't have to have a fantastic time, or take side trips where all the young hip people were heading, or even enjoy myself. All I had to do was be a witness to my experience.

I relaxed.

I called the EuroRail people and got Maria to map out an itinerary for me. Athens to Belgrade overnight, rushing through Serbia and Kosovo where the guide book mentions avoiding places with landmines. Then day tripping the rest of the way. Staying in Budapest three nights and Vienna three nights and on to Prague where I can spend a week and take some time to see the surrounding country, maybe go to a spa, find the internet cafe to send out my travelogue--what the witness saw.

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