Overlanding Europe and meeting the Balkan Mafia

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After my February travels from Brussels to Cologne, Bergamo and Milan I ended up a bit traumatized with flying. It’s been many years since flying gave me a pleasing sensation in the belly, filled me with excitement and bubbles and the past year I just generally try to avoid it. Last year I went from Singapore, up through Malaysia, around Thailand, Myanmar and back overland and I must say, on the road is where the magic happens. Random hitch hiking experiences, local tiny buses and shared taxis, bumping train rides for days on end. Arriving too late or too early in the morning to find food or accommodation. Lack of sleep with unbrushed teeth. People always looking at you funny thinking you’re lost. This time I applied it to much shorter distances, one of the privileges of travelling in Europe. The countries are smaller, border crossings more smooth and there’s a huge amount of transportation to choose from. Booking trains in advance saves you quite a lot of money, but BlaBlaCar is cheaper and more convenient. Flixbus is a last resort if nothing else is available. From Gothenburg, all the way down to Zagreb I enjoyed trains with the most breath taking views. I made stops in Bonn, Zurich, Lichtenstein and Innsbruck on my way, each a different country and a different culture. Trains through the Alps is where the road becomes the goal and every passenger puts away their books and computer screens, draw a deep breath and looks wide eyed out the clean washed windows along Europe’s most spectacular hours of train tracks. Water falls, green fields, alpine cabins, snow covered peaks, steep falls of rock formations. And it goes on and on. Besides all this nature, Central Europe has always been in the middle of our civilisations cultural development. The old parts of these cities commemorates all the stages of Europe, from Romans, Ottomans, Habsburgs, Medicis, through the Black death, revolutions, two world wars, post colonisation, arriving in the modern day political unrest where old walls are being restored. Each and every country has their own traces of history visible in their pulverized faces, falling apart of old age and straining worries.
Arriving in Zagreb I changed to bus and made my way through the similar but very different Bosnia with my goal set on the couch surfing meet up with the Balkan Mafia. A stranger in a culture, country and a group of friends I had never met, it still comes quite natural to me going these places. To me, it starts to become easier meeting new people than picking up the phone and calling someone I used to call a friend. A consequence of my restless life style and not by a conscious practice of thinking. Though when arriving in a spectacular environment like the Zelenkovac Eco Zone, it’s easy to live in the present moment. Forgetting about who I usually am, what I actually need to figure out, which plans I need to make. These things doesn’t matter. There’s too many strangers around, being in this moment and this moment only. Without focusing too much on the ECO point of the place, it still is a very quaint little artistic village of cabins, isolated in the mountains in northern Bosnia. Together with 30 complete strangers I had decided to go on a party/adventure weekend to this inaccessible but exciting place. Not your average group of people, they go by the name the Balkan Mafia. It is not as terrifying as it sounds. And thought there’s a lot of Balkan in the Balkan Mafia, it’s not a very lot of Mafia in the Balkan Mafia. They chose to focus on the family side of mafia organisation and less on the crimes, thankfully. It turned out to be just as friendly or even more so, as a regular couch surfing meet up. Even in the mafia there’s room for random people of all genders, ages, nationalities and reasons to be there. And as usual, it took about five minutes and ten more shots to break the ice with these mad people, opening up to a world of strangers. I can’t seem to get rid of this addiction I have to travellers of all kinds; Couch surfers, hitch hikers, sailors, campers, wanderers. These people all know the art of going places solo without ever being alone. Maybe they feel at home with mother nature, maybe they instantly feel at home with locals, maybe they take to another traveller from a western country or maybe they just enjoy the silence, the easy access to their own mind. To be led astray by their own feet, physically rather than emotionally is the blessing of a nomad. To be on a constant walk is to be constantly clearing the mind. I don’t know if it’s been a couple of years with too much travelling or what’s the problem but I never feel as peaceful as I do when on the road to somewhere new. Getting on a bus or a train, in a taxi down a road to places I never been. It’s time for a change. Again.

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