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Just Take in the People

4:00 pm

Belgrade, Serbia

This morning I said goodbye to Sofia. I left Ivo’s apartment at 6:40 am, a hair later than I would have liked to. For some reason, in much of Europe, it’s a challenge booking any kind of transportation online that doesn’t involve being 30,000 feet in the air.

Aside from my suitcase ejecting my towel, shirt, and several pairs of boxers in the middle of a quiet street, I began the first leg of my trip without any real hiccups.

The first bus ride was quiet. About 30 minutes into our journey we stopped at the Bulgarian-Serbian border. The caravan would idle, move a few yards, and stop. This little number repeated itself for nearly an hour as Bulgarian customs officers inspected our passports before Serbian authorities followed their lead.

I watched as the driver smoked cigarette after cigarette exchanging words with officers he clearly knew well. He was all smiles and didn’t seem to be in any rush, which strangely offered me a sense of ease as a humorless pair of officers inspected bags at random.

I befriended an Australian girl en route to Belgrade after transferring buses in Nis. She looked at me quizzically as an attendant informed her she owed 50 Dinar for storing her luggage. A kind American agreed to pay her share and I some how wiggled my way out of it by saying I only had Bulgarian currency, which was in fact the truth.

Once on board we traded travel stories and notes on which places were worth exploring. Her name was Nicole and she looked to be in her early 20s and was heading to Sweden to study international relations in the fall. I must say she had quite an ambitious itinerary mapped out for herself. She planned stints in Croatia, London for a wedding, and Iceland before hitting the books in Scandinavia.

As the journey came to a close I began speaking with a Serbian girl who was seated to my right. Communication offered its share of obstacles, but I was able to gather that she was heading to Croatia to visit her mom who worked there. I told her I was heading to Croatia as well and we agreed to stay in contact, and possibly meet up if the timing worked in our favor.

Once in Belgrade I hailed a cab and somehow managed to get the world’s kindest cab driver. Jon was a 47 year-old Belgrade native with two kids, 13, and 9. He told me he learned English by watching American films, a response endearing and predictable.

“If you ever come to New York I’ll take care of you,” I said before handing him my email address and waving goodbye.

This evening I met a very nice woman named, Milicia, a pharmacist in her 30s, originally from Belgrade. When I asked her what she suggested I see during my stay in the city she said, “Just take in the people. It’s the best part.” It struck me as good advice for just about anywhere.

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