Crossing Borders and Language Barriers

This was an entry from my journal that I kept on my 3.5 month backpacking trip through Europe. This entry is from August 27, 2011:

I’m currently on a train to Belgrade, Serbia and I’m riding in the first car of the train.  Rob and I woke up this morning and ate some breakfast quickly.  We bought a few things at the Spar grocery store to eat throughout the day and then we made our way down to the station in Budapest.  We got on our train to Belgrade and sat down for our seven and a half hour ride, which of course includes stopping at any number of small towns along the way.  We were riding in an old run-down car, the kind with little separate compartments that have 6 seats each.

I had my ticket ready and was waiting and waiting for the inspector to come and check it.  After about 45 minutes of waiting I was starting to fall asleep. Since it was just me and Rob in the compartment and since it was going to be a long ride I decided to try to get my collapsible pillow out of my bag.  My bag was on a rack above the seat and so I stood on the seat and was trying to get it out.  Of course standing on the seats is not allowed and of course that moment is when the inspector came to check our tickets.

I felt like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar and I imagined myself in some fantasy scenario getting caught by some big strict German “Frau” in a uniform with huge biceps and hairy arms who would pick me up by the scruff of my neck and the seat of my pants and then throw me off the moving train for potentially having damaged the seat.  I figured I would at least get told that I was not allowed to stand on the seat.

This inspector was a skinny older man, who didn’t seem angry and instead he checked our tickets and then began to talk to us at length, I assume in Hungarian, none of which Rob or I understood.  It didn’t seem that the inspector was reprimanding me for standing on the seat, but I wasn’t sure.  He tried again to explain something – Nope, I still didn’t understand anything.  He didn’t appear to be chastising me at all, but instead he seemed to be trying to explain something.  I contemplated just pretending I understood so that he would go away, but thought better of it because maybe what he had to say was important.  He seemed as though he really wanted us to understand whatever it was he was saying.  After a little while he seemed to give up trying and he said “Come” and motioned for me to follow him.  I hesitated for a moment and then he said, more emphatically, “Komm, bitte” (German for “Come, please”).  I put my sandals on and followed him.

He took me nearer to the front of the train a few compartments away and he opened the door on a compartment with three guys and one girl in it.  He pointed his finger at one of the guys and commanded: “Speak,” and then walked away. I remained at the door staring into the compartment at the guy who the inspector had just pointed to.

The guy in the car laughed at this situation for a second and then spoke to me in English with an American accent.  He told me that the entire train is not going to Belgrade, and that only the first 2 cars are going there. The rest of the cars of the train will be left behind somewhere in Hungary. Since we are presently riding in cars that will not go all the way to Serbia, we will have to move up to one of the first two cars within the next two hours.  He motioned to the girl next to him and said that she was helping to translate what the inspector was trying to relay. The girl timidly waved at me.  The guy said that the girl didn’t speak the best English, and she explained the best she could. He said that he wasn’t 100% sure that this explanation is exactly what the inspector was saying, but that was what he understood from it all.

I went back to my compartment with Rob and started to explain to him what I had learned.  As I was explaining the inspector returned. The inspector suddenly opened the door to our compartment. Standing next to him was a confused looking guy, presumably another passenger to Belgrade.  The inspector pointed his finger at me and said: “Speak.”Image


Hitching a ride in Wales

Hitchhiking in Pont-y-Pant, Wales

Dual perspectives during a backpacking tour.  In 2011 my boyfriend, Rob, and I went backpacking through Europe for three and a half months.  We both kept journals.  It was about 1-2 months into the trip that we discovered we liked reading our journal entries side by side.

Here is an example of our journal entries:  This is one day along our journey when we were in Wales.

Rob’s Journal Entry:

Sunday, June 26

Wow, it’s hard to believe we’ve been traveling for over a month now!

We slept and didn’t start moving until 1045 this morning, it was worth it, we were really tired.  After a couple quick showers, some breakfast, and some tunes in the background, we head for the town of Pont-Y-Pant.  We stop at a small pub for a purple Moose Ale, some soup, and a sandwich, while we watch a little formula one racing on TV. The food was decent and the beer was OK. We then wander over to the little grocery store: SPAR.  With a meager selection of groceries and no dental floss, we scrounge up enough for dinner and lunches, along with a few breakfast items as well. It’s only ¾ mile or so back to our hostel: The Llader House.  The views alongside of the road are pleasant as its mostly sheep grazing along nice rolling hills that are lush and deep green in color. There are a ton of motorcycles whizzing by, as they should be, it is an unusually beautiful day, sunny and warm. We drop the groceries off  and decide to take a walk to Betws-Y-Coed ( pronounced Bettis E Coed), which is about 6-8 miles away. So after walking for a bit I suggest we try to hitch a ride into town. It’s the first time ever for the two of us to try this and after a mile or so of walking with our thumbs out, (and Melissa walking so she’s seen first) someone pulls over! It’s a man, maybe early 40’s with his young son in a car seat in the back. We jump in and he gladly takes us into town which is only a few miles up the road by now. He informs us about some of the local places to see and drops us off at a store where we can buy stamps. Wow, we both thought, that was really cool and nice of him to give us a ride! So off we go to do a little bit of sightseeing, then stop by the market to pick up some salami and mushrooms and then start walking back. So we walk back along a wooded side road and all along not one car passes so we stop for a quick pee break. Then when we hear a car coming we think to ourselves, fuck it, and we both put our thumbs out to hitch a ride. I take one good look at the car and I can’t believe it, it’s the same guy! Whoa! He gives us a lift back as he was on his way home from dropping his son off. So were driving along talking and he asks us if we’d be interested in coming back to his place for a cup of coffee. I’m thinking ahhh not really the soundest plan, and suggest we need to get back and cook dinner. Right about then, Melissa belts out, mmm ok! Hahaha! I think to myself, fuck it, its just a walk down the hill to our hostel, at the same time I’m also thinking this could be a bit sketchy.  So we drive up this narrow two track dirt road high up on the hill side above the railroad tracks and pass a few houses along the way and then pull into Adrian’s driveway. He said it was a pig sty but we hadn’t the slightest idea what we were in for. The place was all cluttered with shit everywhere! Just a bunch of random old useless junk, mostly old furnishings and decomposed wood…etc. He tells us he inherited the place from his father and that its over 300 years old!! While inside among the clutter we sit down and Adrian offers us some coffee. It’s a dark very old lonely place with random things scattered about, some drawings from his 7 year old little boy hanging from the wall catch my eye. The conversation is scattered talking about the schooling in Wales, Politics, and various legal battles he’s had with the state and his ex-wife.    After a while we’re thinking, ok, time to get going. Sensing this he offered to show us the garden (yard).  Much to our amazement, albeit a bit overgrown, it’s fucking amazing! The potential this place has to be as nice as it once was is incredible. His father had connections through the local quarry years ago and there were beautiful black stone spiraling staircases that led down to a pool which was also made out of the same smooth black stone. There was a little seating area, or cabana that was falling apart and it was in a state of disrepair, but I could really appreciate the beauty and all the amazing craftsmanship it once took to transform that place.  There were multiple tiers of the garden which led deep down into the lower wooded area by the train tracks. We say our goodbye’s out on the road by a youth camp of some sort and part ways. Melissa and I are thankful things went down peacefully and he wasn’t a crazy serial killer guy, hahaha! On the walk back to our hostel we talk about our thoughts when we were inside Adrian’s house and our tactical escape plans. We’re surprised that we shared similar thoughts!


Melissa’s Journal Entry: 

Sunday 26.6.11  (Europe writes dates with the day first, then the month, then the year)

We are in Pont-y-Pant, Wales in Snowdonia National Park.  It’s sorta the middle of nowhere.  It took a long time to get here by train.  We had three connections and of course one train was late and we missed connections.  Pont-y-Pant is not even a normal train stop, it’s a “request stop” which meant that we had to ask the conductor to stop at it.  We were the only ones who got off at that stop.  We arrived and had a little bit of an issue finding the hostel.  The issue mostly involved that we got off the train and there is NOTHING nearby.  Only a small stream and sheep.  We had to walk several minutes to even find a building.  We ended up calling the place on the cell phone that our friend Laura gave us when we visited her in Bradford.   The hostel is called Lledr Bunk House and Rob and I are the only people staying here.  It’s run by a young couple with at least one small child living in an attached house.  The hostel part is upstairs and on the side of the couple’s house.  It’s huge and old and since Rob and I are the only people here, it makes it creepy.


Last night we made some food in the kitchen that we had packed with us, we played on the internet (a computer and WiFi is available) and we watched T.V. (one of the few hostels with a T.V.)  We slept in this morning and it was really nice.  We walked to a small town father down the train track that starts with a “D”, I can’t remember.  Words here are funny.  Welsh appears to be a strange language.  It resembles English not at all.  Signs here are posted in Welsh and English and the Welsh looks as though a one-year-old child banged his hand on a keyboard.  Welsh seems to put together letters I wouldn’t even know how to pronounce.  Anyway I just looked up the town and it’s called Dolwyddelan.  There wasn’t a whole lot there.  We ate at a pub where the lady working seemed very flustered that she had more than two people to serve at the same time.  Lunch was ok, we had sandwiches and soup.  We had some local Welsh ales, which I didn’t like (too bitter).  We bought some groceries and carried them back to our hostel.

We later decided to walk up to the city in the other direction – which is 4 miles.  We walked a short distance and then decided to try hitchhiking.  Neither one of us have ever done it before.  It seems to be somewhat popular in Europe.  Our friend Simon from Bern who we couchsurfed with last month said he hosts people who hitchhike and that he also picks up hitchhikers himself.  So anyway we gave it a whirl.  We thumbed as we were walking and many cars went by.  Eventually a middle aged man with a small child in the backseat stopped and gave us a ride to the town (called Betws-y-Coed).  The man seemed really nice.  He said he lived in Wales for the past 25 years but didn’t speak Welsh well, but his son, Alex (sitting in the backseat) was learning Welsh and actually being taught largely in Welsh.  We told him we were from Arizona and he thought that was interesting.  The ride and conversation was pleasant.  We walked around Betws-y-Coed and got a few more groceries.  The store in this town was better stocked than in Dolwyddelan.  We looked here for dental floss, which we were quickly running out of, and they didn’t have at the last store.  Well, there was no dental floss there either.  They had toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash and dental cleaner – but no dental floss.  I began to wonder if Welsh people even floss their teeth.  In town we also hiked, I mean walked, (they call hiking “walking” around here,) around a park near the river and it was nice.

After spending some time in town we started walking back to Pont-y-Pant.  The first car we stuck our thumb up for looked very familiar.  Rob said “is that the same guy?” and I said “no way,” but sure as shit it was.  He stopped for us and he was laughing.  The kid wasn’t in the car and he said he was dropping his son off at his mother’s.  We laughed about the timing and talked a bit about where we came from, about his son and the Welsh education system.   He asked us if we’d like to come over for a cup of coffee.  He seemed genuinely amused about the timing of our trips and seemed nice and he did pick us up with his kid in the car earlier and that made me think he was a trusting and trustworthy person.  Rob said something about going to the hostel to make dinner, but I asked him where he lived and he said he lives near the train station in Pont-y-Pant and I replied that I thought we could come and have a cup of coffee.  The guy said his place was a pig sty.  We agreed to join him for some coffee.  He drove up near Pont-y-Pant’s train station and up a winding, pot-holed narrow lane and to a very very old giant house that appeared dark and spooky and looked entirely like it was haunted.

He parked his car in the driveway and introduced himself as Adrian.  He led us into his house.  Immediately I became uncomfortable as he opened the door into what looked like essentially an abandoned, old, dark, dusty barn with tons of old crap in it.  We walked in near darkness and followed Adrian around and through old washers and dryers, other appliances, old kid’s toys and other rubbish – through a door on the left into a living room absolutely bursting with old crappy furniture and junk.  There was a small dining room area with ancient cushioned chairs around a table that was cluttered with papers and orange juice boxes.  A small kitchen was nearby and was partitioned from the dining area by a ratty towel hanging in a small doorway.  Children’s board games and books were laying on every flat surface in the area.  A birthday card with a giraffe on it and a big number “7” and the word “Alex” across it was hanging from the wall.  Adrain was talking while making coffee, small talk, asking us what we did, talking about Arizona, etc.  Then he asked us if we have seen the movie “U-turn.”  We told him we hadn’t.  He said it was set in Arizona and starred Jennifer Lopez and Sean Penn and that it was one of his favorite movies and that he was thinking about it after he had given us a ride into Betws-y-Coed.  I asked him what it was about and his reply was “it’s about psycho killers,” then he grabbed a copy of the DVD and handed it to me.  Rob and I shared a nervous look as if we both were thinking the same thing….  “oh shit, this guy intends to kill us.”  Adrian set a pot of coffee on the table and handed me two cups.  I filled them both only half full and handed one to Rob.  I tried to appear relaxed and comfortable and sat on one of the ancient chairs and felt a spring in the cushion pop under my ass.

I looked over to my backpack which I had set on a different chair when we entered the room.  I thought about how quickly I may be able to reach Laura’s cell phone and reminded myself that in Britain people dial “999,” and not “911.”  Adrain, Rob and I discussed music, the public education system in Wales and the U.S. and reducing carbon footprints.  As we were talking a fly started buzzing and we all looked over at the window and saw a fly desperately trying to escape a spider’s web.   I tried to appear to be enjoying conversation, but was really wondering at what point Adrian was going to try to trap us in his old and creepy house and lock us up.  After our coffee was finished Adrian invited us to tour his garden (british version of the yard) and he reported that he could walk us down to the road from his back garden.  I was just happy to be led back out of the house.

The yard was green and large and lush.  He told us that the house was his fathers and that it was built 300 years ago with some add-ons and improvements done in the 1900’s.  There was a “pool” in the backyard which was overgrown with weeds and had plants growing in it – it looked more like a pond.  He walked us down a hill along super ancient and overgrown stone steps, down a trail that was long and steep moving away from his house into thick woods, the trail started as unkempt and unmaintained to almost non-existent.  The trail was quite slippery in regions and very steep and thick underbrush that I had to move aside while walking.  I tried to remember exactly the directions we came from and keep track of the way we were headed, in case I needed to try to run away quickly.  Visions from the movie “Hostel” filled my head.  Adrian seemed nice, still, but I was eyeing him up and convincing myself that Rob and I could take him down if we needed to.  Finally I was able to at least see train tracks and I felt a little better.  The “trail” led to a tunnel under the train tracks and I was very edgy and alert as Adrian led us into the tunnel.  We managed to make it through the tunnel uneventfully.  The tunnel came out and near a hotel and up a small path and finally I recognized that we were near the main road right near our hostel.  I said “oh” in a very surprised and relieved voice.  I turned to Adrain and shook his hand and said “thanks for the rides and for the coffee, it was nice meeting you – have a nice night”  Rob also did similar.  I wanted to say “thanks for not killing us.”  Rob and I walked over the bridge on the river to the main road and when out earshot Rob said “well, we are alive.”  We began to discuss how creepy it was.  Rob said that while we were in the house he was coming up with plans to defend himself and he had spotted a tire iron and was making exit strategies.  I felt really creeped out, but also guilty, because in my mind I believe that Adrian was probably just fine and a lonely guy and not a threat, he just happened to have one of the creepiest houses in the country.  However it also dawned on me that things can have potential to become dangerous quickly and I felt dumb for being naive and potentially getting us into a dangerous situation.  Rob and I talked about it and we decided that we should never go to a strangers house again (except couchsurfing).

We made a nice dinner of cooked vegetables and are getting ready for bed now.  So, we are alone again tonight in this creepy hostel and will probably sleep all cuddled up.