This is a daily diary of a wacky trip Eastwards with destination Kazantip.
Update: Here goes a first trailer for the show!
Why did I have to meet these freaks?! Life could have been easier without them… I’m kinda liking it though.
We spent the last ten days buying the cheapest and crappiest cars we could find. It was an incredible hassle to get them fixed and registered. During these days we met quite a bunch of excptional people. You wouldn’t believe the things you experience when buying used cars… One car was hidden under boxes and bags of old and rotten bread. We helped the dude carry all the bread to another corner of his shady garage. Then we realized that this car would not actually make it to the Ukraine. The guy said the brakes work 75%. It was probably rather 25…
So what’s this all about?
I am working as the production manager for a TV series called ‘Party Chasers’. 15 people in 5 cars will drive, party and then drive and party again. We’re headed towards Ukraine, the mysterious beach party of Kazantip In the Ukraine is the place everyone wants to get to. However, we ain’t taking the direct way. First we head down to the Mediterranean Coast in Croatia through Czech Republic and Hungary, then we cut our way through Bosnia, Serbia, Romania and Moldowa all the way to the Black Sea. Well, that’s the plan at least.
Good for me: I can work and write at the same time!
Bad for me: That doesn’t really leave me with much sleep at all.
Stay tuned for an update, I plan on blogging about this trip on an almost daily basis.
Berlin-Cesky Krumlov (originally)
After a one-day delay, due to some of the junkyard cars neeeding repair, the cast longing to check out the party places of Berlin in all their splendour and the crew requiring a bit of sleep as well as some sort of general organisation, we finally took off for Cesky Krumlov in Czech Republic. Vienna had been taken off the itinerary early, now we had decided to also skip Prague. Probably I’m not ever gonna make it there…
I had already messed up my car Dora at the end of the farewell party, driving over an abandoned rail with too many people inside and ripping off the end of my exhaust pipe. So I definitely had a good sound going when our bunch of 21 people left Berlin Southwards.
Our convoi consisted of seven cars. Five of them looked pretty rad, having been decorated artistically by Berlin grafitti painters. With our two production vehicles in the front and in the back and the camera guys leaning out of the windows to get decent shots we were turning a lot of heads on our way out of the city.
While we were passing yellow fields and seamingly endless meadows, the tropical downpour began. It rained so much that I felt like in a boat, swerving around in my old Ford, the rain finding its way through the ragged roof. I couldn’t quite control the car, nor could I see anything anymore. It was only a matter of time that we all lost each other. After all, everyone was meant to get to the next destination by themselves anyway. So I put the Reggae/Dancehall CD into the radio and started cruising along as good as I could. Dora’s heating was definitely fucked, too. Whichever direction I turned the controllers to, there would always be hot air pumping out of the heating, leaving me with almost melted feet and a dry face.
Only a few kilometers down the highway I suddenly passed one of the cast cars, the Norwegian/Canadian team standing beside it with worried looks on their faces, white smoke coming out fom underneath the hood of their car. That was bad news. I took the next exit and, after a little search, found a toe rope in a tiny village.
Now the sun was out again and the countryside in Saxony was hilly and just beautiful. Some roads did not even have dividing lines and I counted more cows than people. The few people I did see and ask for directions were very friendly, sporting quite an interesting German dialect. After a few wrong turns I found the guys again, now together with another team in a colorful vehicle as well as the rest of the crew, standing on the shoulder of the highway next to a sewage pipe. Once again, I couldn’t believe that the police had not even noticed us at all so far.
We discussed what to do. The Daihatsu Move was definitely not gonna move anywhere soon, that was for sure. A towing truck was too expensive. So we finally decided to tow it ourselves, to the village where I had found the gas station selling the rope.
I had a good feeling about this place and it was gonna prove me right. The first person we hailed down in the middle of this remote place did not even want to talk to us. But the second one actually had a friend who owned a garage. Only half an hour later we knew that the Move was officially dead, that the friend was gonna depose of it for us for free and that the team could buy a new car from him for not so much money either. The new car would be bigger and in somewhat better condition, we could get it registered the next day and Franco, our new friend, would even take us out for a few drinks. So eight people decided to stay in Dresden for the night and the best hostel in town happened to have only two rooms with 4 beds left. Meant to happen.
After getting the papers for the new car, a Volvo in pretty good condition, we checked into Kangaroo hostel which had nice roooms, but was a bit too German for my taste. So many rules!
Dresden itself seemed rather East European in many regards already with its abandoned houses, shady car dealers and broken roads.
Franco, our saviour, even took us out after all he had already done for us. So soon we found ourselves in a Rockabilly place, gulping down cold ‘Feldschlösschen’ beers and having a laugh. Franco thought our idea was great and, after a few drinks, declared he was actually gonna join us the next morning in an old Passat. “I am driving around in shit cars all the time anyway”, he explained his decision.
Quite hungover, I had to get up early the next morning in order to get the new vehicle registered. The Turkish guy selling us the insurance chuckled and shook his head when he saw our faces and we told him what we were actually doing. I then used the remaining time to get the exhaust of Dora fixed by Franco’s friends who were going out of their way again and charging me close to nothing for what seemed quite a bit of work. Franco must have changed his mind, as we could never reach him again. It doesn’t take much to like the idea and think you’ll join the trip, many people had reacted the same way in the prep phase. Really going, after all, seems to be another thing.
It was about time we finally left Germany, but we had to deal with an empty tank in between. On the way out of the city, we drove through the old quarter of Dresden which is just stunning. Franco had told us that people had spent years putting the bricks back were they were after WW2’s bombings. Only an hour later, we had already crossed the Czech border, now cruising through lush hills and finally feeling that we were actually covering some ground. We stopped at a stand along the road to chat with the locals and buy very tasty fresh fruit. The further South we got, the more tropical the weather became. Everyone was in a good mood.
We agreed on a stop in Prague because many in our group hadn’t seen it, myself included. Entering the busy city in rush hour, we had hardly any hope of finding somewhere to park. But miraculously, three people left at the same time, opening up lots for our three funny cars just outside of the pedestrian area. Prague prooved to be an incredibly picturesque city with all its squares, tight alleyways, age-old buildings and bridges. The last 24 hours had really brought our little group closer together and we had a great time taking stupid pictures and drinking beer by the river. Of course, we did not really leave after an hour as planned. I really had to fight the tourguide in me, trying to make things more time-efficient. The guys bought absinthe and beer, a bit tipsy and in laugther mode, we watched the famous astrological clock go off. Then we hit the road again.
Czech Republic seems to be one dark country. Not far from the city it was literally pitch black when there were no other cars around. That, combined with roads which go straight forever only to make one sudden turn every now and then, made for quite a challenge. Dora’s windscreen was so scratched that the lights of the oncoming traffic posed another issue. In spite of that I spotted a sign saying ‘restauracje’ and pulled over for a little pitstop. This place in the middle of nowhere really had all one could ask for: Good food, a humorous waiter, kittens and a minigolf court! During dinner we discovered that Bruno, the camera guy, had actually forgotten his bag in Dresden. Bummer. But there was nothing we could do about it at this point.
After everyone else had left the restaurant, the waiter put on some Drum’n’Bass music and started smoking weed. Only minutes later he rolled one for some people in our group which made the whole laughter madness grow even worse.
A stop at a gas station might as well have been the funniest moment in the last months. All eight of us could not stop laughing. Even the staff of the place couldn’t help smiling.
Fighting severe tiredness, we then covered the last 1.5 hours to Cesky Krumlov where we were welcomed by some of the others who displayed various states of fucked-up-ness due to a river booze cruise they had entertained themselves with during the afternoon. We had some beers in a bar called Apoteka (pharmacy) where some Czech people were dancing while others had already passed out on their stools. I then slept like a log in the bridge tower which Hostel 99 had provided us. Busy day, but so much fun!
Waking up early with way too little sleep, I used the spare time to at least explore this weird little city for a bit. Cesky Krumlov looks like a place out of a medieval movie – cobblestone roads, age-old buildings and bridges making for a very beautiful ambience. Our hostel was located in the old city wall and the crew actually got to sleep in the tower of the city gate. In the morning I talked to the English people who run Hostel 99. Marc has been around the world on a motorbike several times, so he had no problem associating with what we do. Brennan on the other hand told me some spooky stories about the building which seems to be haunted by ghosts. This could be due to the fact that it was used as a hospital when the Plague killed thousands of people.
After taking care of some organisational things we left towards Budapest, all the cars taking off on their own. We were hoping that noone was gonna break down on that day. With our three camera people inside the cast cars, it was only the rest of the crew staying together in the two production vehicles. Now the sky had cleared up, so I was driving with an open roof. We crossed into Austria and cruised through stunning mountain scenery. The farmers were bringing in their hay and the air was heavy with the sweet scent of freshly cut grass. On the way, a female hitchhiker turned down my offer to take her along which I blame on Dora and the music that was blarring out of my rear speakers. My buddies, however, couldn’t stop laughing, eventhough they had almost run into me when I had slammed on the breaks.
The way to Budapest stretched for quite a bit and after the 100 km on the country roads it was down to only highway, so there wasn’t much to see. We only stopped for some Austrian sausage and cheese sandwiches somewhere in a little town. The locals prooved to be very friendly and I have to admit that I always forget how pretty Austria actually is.
Not long after crossing the border to Hungary we passed an old copper town with a giant statue of an eagle on the top of the hill and some really ugly communist concrete buildings. The difference in the look of both countries was quite stark. Also, it seemed like even the light was different in Hungary.
We pulled into Budapest when the sun was about to set which made for a nice arrival. Like several times before, the random on my mp3-CD-player happened to play the best tunes just in the right moment. Coming into the city through the tunnel and entering the chain bridge, the first bridge to ever have been built over the Danube, was just as impressive as the last time I had been to Budapest. The buildings in this city were nothing like the concrete towers along the way. Worn-down and scarred by a century of exhaust smokes, yes, but built in beautiful architecture. The strong and wide Danube winding through the city, the gigantic palace on the hill – it’s hard not to like that place.
We tried to check in at the hostel, but the police had locked down the whole place, letting noone in or out. Apparently there had just been a big robbery. It wasn’t surprising that the 15+ cops were confused when they saw a bunch of very dirty people with walkie-talkies show up.
With the cars getting their at different times and having reserved for 4 people less than we actually were meant quite a bit of organizing for me in order to make sure everybody had a bed. It took me a good hour to figure out where to put everyone, my brain felt like it was fried from 8 hours in the sun. So after a few beers and a shower I lay down to rest for a bit and, unfortunately, passed out straight away.
Day off in Budapest
I was woken up by almost the whole group returning to our room at around 8 in the morning, tipsily chatting and giggling. Realising that I was one of only two people who had missed the great night out in the Hungarian capital, I felt older than I had ever before. Me missing the party? That seriously had never happened before. Like seriously. Ever. But then again, I was the only one who made it to breakfast when there was still cheese, and for the first time in days I did not feel tired. Damn nevertheless!
I explored the city together with my fellow crew members Joanne and Tony. We walked along the mighty Danube in this incredible heat, Budapest offering us the best views of the impressive castle on the other side of the river. We cooled off in the gigantic market hall, buying a few souvenirs and sampling some Hungarian food. We ended our visit with a nice lunch of Langos, a greasy, yet tasty bread type of dish with sour cream. Passing a random thrift store on the way back, Joanne happened to find the exact picture which stood model for the tattoo on her back. The people working there were friendly, too, and I felt the city growing on me even more.
On our return we found that the other people had also finally gotten themselves together and were ready to see something. Budapest is blessed with plenty of mineral springs. During the long Turkish rule many baths have been built and most of them are still intact nowadays. We chose the most famous one inside the park, Szechenyi, and the place proved to be very impressive. Surrounded by beautiful architecture, we floated in water of various temperatures and tried to sweat all the recent drinks out in the attached saunas. Old Hungarian men were playing chess in the water and there was a very pleasant overall atmosphere. Several people in our group acknowledged the high quality of life in Budapest. We followed our bath experience with a dinner in the center of this city which really seemed to have too much to offer for such a short amount of time.
Then we met back in the hostel to talk about the rest of the trip and how we would be going about it. After all, we hadn’t even covered one fifth of the distance to Kazantip yet, the driving had, in fact, not even really begun. Everyone was surprised to hear that one team was already giving up and would be flying back to Berlin the next day. Another girl had slipped and injured her knee the night before, so she was also not gonna come. I thought by myself that if we kept losing people in that tempo, we were gonna be left with only the crew by the time we hit Serbia.
After our meeting, people were actually going out again. This time I did definitely not want to miss out. We all met up at Szimpla, a squat like building, run down and decorated with a lot of random stuff. No dresscode, no bouncers, everything improvised – Szimpla was exactly my thing, eventhough it seemed to be more for drinking than dancing. We had a few drinks and I realized that there were actually many fun people in our group. After a while we called it a day, knowing we had a long drive ahead of us. This whole concept of partying all night and driving all day, suddenly seemed not to make so much sense anymore.
The reduced number of people meant that we had to leave one car behind. The guys from Philadelphia decided to swap their car for the old Ford Fiesta, they thought the Daihatsu Move wouldn’t make it to Kazantip and probably they were right. The other Move had only survived 200 km before it died, and it seemed these cars were actually not designed for travelling outside of a city. However, the Fiesta also looked like it had seen better times.
We started relatively early in the morning and the night before we had decided to travel in a convoi from now on. Several people had gotten lost on the way to Budapest. Apparently they had had lots of fun in Slovenia and Austria, but they arrived at the hostel about 6 hours after us. So travelling together was definitely a sensible decision, eventhough it could imply all of us getting lost… But more important, it turned out to be a lot more fun than driving with only one or two cars. You could tell that the two days in Budapest had definitely brought the group closer together. We were in good spirit and headed towards the Croatian border on a highway, the heat now even tougher than the day before. If you could say one thing about our eclectic bunch of Americans, Canadians, Australians, Norwegians and me, the random German, it was that everyone enjoyed a laugh. And that always helped!
Just after the border to Croatia I ended up driving around in circles, looking for one of the cast cars whose team had radioed me for help and then broken off. The toll road people must have thought I’m retarded, as I paid to get off the highway, then got straight back on in the opposite direction several times. After more than an hour I gave up hope of finding the rest of the team, and wished we had actually gotten a few cheap phones with international sim cards. Once you were out of radio distance, there was nothing you could do to get in touch with the others. Adventurous, yes, but also kind of stupid. When I had just decided to move on at a moderate speed and watch the countryside change, I suddenly spotted the colorful cars at a gas station. Now John and Tony had just left in order to find me, but luckily someone someone could reach them on the radio still. We bought coffee and water and got back on the road all together.
The sun burnt down so intensely that I actually ended up closing the roof of Dora so not to get fried alive. Through my little windows I curiously watched the old Yugoslav houses which were different from ours back home. They had been built narrower and many of them had not been painted, but there was something else I couldn’t really put my finger on.
When we finally reached the Adriatic coastline, I couldn’t believe how stunning it actually looked, with the land rising steeply into some scarce mountains right from the beach and the water blue and green. The setting sun added to the beauty. Tiny villages were built into the narrow bays and impressive bridges connected the cliffs. Everyone seemed really happy that the whole group was still together and we almost forgot that we had just driven for 10 hours. We cracked open some beers and kept on driving into the sunset. It took us some time to get just South of Split, after all we wanted to produce a TV series and the Adriatic in the red sunlight was just too nice not to film it from every angle.
We finally checked into our makeshift hostel very late and some of us got a little grumpy because everyone was starving and getting food didn’t seem to be the easiest thing at this hour. But the Croatian staff was very nice and organised some pizza, seafood pasta and even some fresh salads for us. After everyone had eaten, we just pretended not to feel the exhaustion and went to a tiny little beach nearby in order to start a party. It turned out that, apart from myself, three other guys knew how to play the guitar as well. People bought booze, we passed around the guitar and jammed on wood and trash. Everyone sang along and we kept the tourists on the other side of the road awake until the early morning.
Day off in Jesenice
When we woke up we realised how beautiful the place actually was. Luckily, our schedule left us with a whole day in this little paradise. Several houses shared a big concrete promenade and there were diving boards and ledders straight into the turquoise water. As our hosts did not have enough space for so many people, a few of us were actually staying with their neighbours. And these turned out to be the most hospitable people around. When I first came out, some old dudes were already sitting around a table, drinking homemade wine and eating freshly boiled mussels from a pot. The windows to the cosy house were open and the guys watched the Olympics on a small TV screen. Some of us were already hanging with them, but they kept inviting everyone they saw. The mussels were delicious and the wine cured my hangover instantly. We joked around and commented on the Olympic results. The old men wore a constant grin on their faces and explained to us in fairly good English that their table was the centre of the world. ‚We drink here every day’, one of them said and encouraged me to gulp down my glass. Some of our group already considered staying in Jesenice for good instead of driving any further. It was just too nice.
We swam, played around and then filmed some interviews with our cast. I was made boom operator and the sound of the talking cast together with the small waves of the Adriatic made me fall asleep with the boom resting on my nose.
Tony had organised a boat for us and we boarded the pretty thing along with many cans of beer in the late afternoon. The captain was drinking beer, too, and him and his son seemed just about as happy as ourselves, cruising along the picturesque Dalmatian coastline. In between watching little villages with churches looking like paintings, we jumped off the boat and enjoyed ourselves. The sunset was spectacular and so was the moon appearing behind the dramatic mountain scenery a little later. Some of us were lacking words for describing how great that day had been when we got off the boat again and shook hands with the captain.
We followed that experience with a Croatian meal in a nearby restaurant, the local version of fish soup was very tasty. In spite of being quite tired, we decided to go into Split for a bit, as everyone in this funny group seemed to suffer from FOMO (Fear of missing out). ‘What, you haven’t been to Split yet? Then we have to go check it out!’
However, the nightclubs in Split, all located along the water, are of the big and shiny type with muscular bouncers, dolled up girls and shitty music. Somehow we still managed to have some fun. We realised that you could pretty much drop us anywhere and we would have a good time.
The group was quite tensed due to some people who had not been able to find a way back from Split and, thus, had ended up with only a few hours of sleep. Even us, who had been home a lot earlier, were tired. The sun was burning down again and we were meant to go all the way to Sarajevo on that day. But a few things had to be organised and even some interviews still had to be shot. I drove into a big mall in Split in order to find some cheap phones with international sim cards, as the issue of not being able to reach one another seemed to be a repeating one. However, they did not have what I wanted and, among all the showered and well-dressed people in the mall, I noticed how dirty I actually was and started to feel like a bum…
On my way back, I saw a German dude on a traktor, pulling a neatly designed trailer behind him. He must have driven all the way from Göttingen down there, at 25 km/h. Respect!
When I came back, people had sorted things out and everyone was OK again. You can’t avoid conflicts in a group that size, especially with the circumstances we travelled under. We had a stop at a gas station and then took off. Funny enough, our painted cars always seemed to cause trouble at gas stations. In the villages and on the countryroads we always made people smile, at gas stations we usually seemed to make them yell.
Driving down the coast offered us new stunning perspectives in almost every bend. The Croatians drove like idiots and you really had to keep your eyes on the road if you didn’t want to drop down a cliff. But we finally managed to stay together in a convoi. The walkie talkies, sponsored generoulsy by my friends from ‘The UNIT’, saved our asses several times. They were also good for cracking a few jokes and keeping everyone in good spirit. We passed a lot of picturesque fruit stalls along the road, but we didn’t want to lose more time. The curvy mountain roads were nice to drive on and led us all the way to the Bosnian border. We had expected the border patrol to cause us trouble, as this was the first non-EU country, but the crossing was easy and fast. After that, we drove through long valleys, meeting an untamed river several times. The locals had built little cottages and piers on the riverbank and I imagined what it would be like to live in that country.
When we crossed a forest, I saw a sign warning of bears. That did not even surprise me, as the nature around us seemed very pristine. The last time I was in Bosnia, there were still destroyed tanks at the side of the road and signs warning of minefields. I still don’t know if that was a completely different area back then or if they have cleaned up everything by now, but we did see neither of those.
It was already quite late when we drove into Mostar, but we had to stop and see the famous bridge. So we drove around the little town and asked people. Almost every time we stopped, there were little kids begging at our windows. Many of the buildings were still destroyed or covered with bullet holes, reminding us that there had been a very cruel war not even 20 years ago.
We walked into the old town and the image we got from Mostar changed 100%. The stone houses in the small alleys, the people smiling at us, the smells of Bosnian food. This was actually quite a beautiful place. Stari Most, the UNESCO World Heritage bridge, was very impressive, too. Even more so when you thought about the war and people shooting each other on both sides for more than two years. The bridge itself had been bombed away early in the conflict and we could still see the rubble in the clear river underneath. Mostar had almost been wiped out during that war. The war itself is so hard to see through. I re-read the history several times, but the different parties fighting each other seeemed to have changed constantly, making it hard for people from another country to understand who actually fought who.
We had dinner in a place next to the bridge. Every now and then, Gypsy kids would come and beg. You could hear Eurodance music from the other side of the valley. There was a bridge divers’ club and their members jumped from the top of the bridge after having collecting money from the tourists. All in all, this was a very random place. But all of us seemed to like it there. So after a bit of talking we decided that we had driven enough for the day and we should actually be staying in Mostar instead of Sarajevo. As I was finished earlier with my dinner than the rest, because once again I could only eat side dishes as a Vegetarian, I went into the village in order to find accommodation for us. Only minutes later, I found myself surrounded by a group of 17-year old Bosnian girls who wanted to know everything about our trip and about myself. However, they hooked me up with a very friendly older woman who said she wanted to adopt me and that we could all sleep at her house. She called her husband who, after some waiting and more chatting with the locals, picked us all up.
When we arrived at the place we realised that we were actually really sleeping in a private house, some of us staying in the attic, some in the rooms of the daughters, some in what seemed to be the master bedroom. I couldn’t stop smiling about this, but for some people in our group that was a little too much and they decided to look for a hotel. I can’t blame them, as not all of the crazy rooms had air condition and, eventhough it was now around 10, it was still way over 30 degrees. I wasn’t even sure if I had ever felt so hot even in Asia.
After settling in, people were ready to check out the nightlife of Mostar. The girls I had talked to had given me some good advise and, after all, it was a Saturday. But my decision had been made. I needed a full night of sleep, otherwise I would either go crazy or die. I always needed to organise this and that and, unlike the team drivers, I had to drive all the way myself. There was no way I could sleep only 3 or 4 hours again. So I hid in my room when everyone left for the party, so that I wouldn’t get seduced.
I probably fell asleep 2.5 seconds after lying down on a bed which was a little too short for me.
This time I didn’t feel bad I had missed out. At all.
At around 7 in the morning the people next door started to tear down their house with axes and chainsaws. That seemed like a good time to get up. However, I was the only one who felt like that and I had to climb over all the others, passed out in every corner of the house like dead people. I walked around Mostar, this time seeing the bridge from the other side of the river. There were hardly any people and there was still a bit of morning mist floating over this pretty place. I went to a small cafe and had a strong espresso. I noticed that the Bosnians were drinking their coffee almost like the Turkish, strong and sweet. Then I stumbled into a little market with very friendly vendors where I bought grapes, figs and peaches for close to no money at all.
When I came back to the house, people were still struggling to get up. We needed to leave if we wanted to make it to Belgrade by night. But I found out that almost everyone had been out until the morning. They had gone to a wild club inside a cave, then to another one which had an Olympic pool inside. Jesse, one of the cast, found out the hard way that people were not supposed to enter the pool. He jumped in and the huge bouncers were on him immediately. They kicked him in the face and wouldn’t let him get out of the pool. Apparently, the whole group had been in panic for a while. No wonder in a country were pretty much everyone over 30 has witnessed a brutal war recently and more than a few had actually been involved themselves. But after a while, the Bosnians let Jesse out of of the water and everyone decided to leave that place.
When I had finally succeeded in getting all my people out of the house, we still had to wait for a few others to return from the hotel. I spent about an hour figuring out the final bill with our hosts and making sure they didn’t hate our guts. It was a mess.
Then we took off. Again, we had some really scenic driving with canyons and rivers at the side of the curvy road. It even seemed like we were passing through a few ski resort towns. I was glad to be awake enough to actually appreciate. I was a little worried about our cast. Most of them were tired and hungover, and some of them weren’t even such good drivers when they were sober. Several of the Americans had never driven stickshift before. However, everyone seemed to manage.
I had Bruno, the DP, in my car and we were joking around while he tried to film all he could. He must be the funniest person I have met in years, cracking me up every two minutes. We picked up a Polish hitchhiker couple and they were quite amazed that they would be part of a TV show now. The sun burnt down and we used all clothes we could find to wrap them around our heads.
By the time we hit Sarajevo, everyone felt OK again, but very hungry. So we decided to stop for a quick lunch which, of course, turned into quite a long lunch. I made my Polish co-driver the navigator, but unfortunately he didn’t seem to be too good at it. Unfortunately, all the other cars followed me.
After some driving in circles we decided to just park in a garage and walk the rest of the way. We passed the bridge where Franz Ferdinand was shot causing WW1, but that seemed about the only thing worth mentioning. Sarajevo, just like Mostar, almost entirely destroyed in the 90ies, seemed like an alright city, but nothing more. However, it was quite impressive to see how fast the city had been built up again. The other thing I noticed were the many mosks which came as a surprise and looked quite pretty.
We had lunch in a big patio which resembled a Mexican hazienda. There was only one waiter for all 17 of us but he managed just fine. Most of the folks decided to have the Bosnian specialty, a platter with different types of barbecued meat. But there were also tasty things for me on the menu, grilled peppers and breaded cheese to name a few. The Bosnian bread was so good that we kept ordering new baskets the whole time.
By the time we were back in our cars, almost three hours had passed. It was incredibly hot still and we needed to make a move. Unfortunately, I had not found a T-Shirt depicting Vučko, the funny dog of the 84 Olympics yowling Sarajewo. The few people I asked shook their heads quite firmly, so I decided to look for it on ebay instead.
We spent a long afternoon just driving. The roads were mostly good and there was a lot to see at the sides. We passed several construction sites, it seemed they were working on all roads at the same time. What surprised me was that they let people drive onto the fresh tarmac just after they had flattened it. That could not have been sensible. But maybe that was just the German in me.
We hit the Serbian border when it started to get dark. We had to pass over a bridge to get to yet another country and we made sure the walkies were hidden and we looked as decent as possible under the circumstances. Surprisingly, the Serbs let us all in without any trouble. We had a little pitstop after the border where some of us got spat at by Serbian kids, then kept driving towards Belgrade. We were dirty, exhausted and our heads were buzzing from the constant sound of the car engines. But you could tell that everyone felt like being on a mission. Dora had come up with a new surprise for me. She wouldn’t turn off anymore, even with the keys out. So every time we stopped I had to kill the engine with a gear.
Serbia appeared to be a country with a lot of different smells from the start, most of them not being pleasant though. It seemed like every little village was burning something else, this was one smoky country. Visually it was nice though, the smoke lingering beautifully on the fields in the sunset.
We got lost several times – the iphones, my old GPS and the map all suggesting different routes. But after some more hours we finally rolled over the Danube into the Serbian capital just before midnight.
We found the hostel in a pedestrian area in a pretty quarter of the city and got chased by a pack of street dogs straight away. The hostel was run by some very sweet and funny guys, taking all the stress off of us immediately and making us smile again.
After having dropped our stuff and cleaned the most important body parts, we went down to the Danube to check out the infamous boat clubs lined up there. But after all it was a Monday and already after midnight, so there wasn’t much going on at all. I wasn’t too sad about it as I was knackered. We had a few drinks, then I had to give in to my exhaustion and slept in the car until the others woke me up by playing ‚All that she wants’, the old 90ies classic, on the cranky speakers of Dora. I have no idea how that song ever actually made it onto one of my CDs, but there it was, so I better started dancing. Someone had coined the sentence ‘I hear the beat, I make a move’ for me and I did not want to disappoint anyone.
Everyone was completely exhausted which was no big surprise. The tiredness reached new levels every day. We decided that we were gonna stay in Belgrade for another night before moving on. That decision meant that we would have three driving days in a row after our day off, but at that time noone really cared about anything but some rest. So we slept comparatively long and then hung out in the living room of the pretty hostel. Dragon and his friend had simply turned a big appartment into a hostel, so it was easy to feel at home. Some people decided to explore Belgrade, others just wanted to chill out.
The production crew decided to use the opportunity in order to film interviews again. A lot of stuff had happened recently and our folks had a lot to say about the trip, about the other people and about life in general. It was my job to shuttle all the cast from our hostel to the boats along the river, a nice 10-minute drive through Belgrade. After getting lost during the first trip, I figured out the way and then really enjoyed riding back and forth over the river bridge. I picked up Burek for everyone, a greasy dish with cheese or meat, eaten with yoghurt, a Serbian specialty. Later on I picked up bottles of water, then bottles of beer. Bruno decided to film the interviews next to a run-down building underneath the Danube bridge. It had an apocalypse feel to it and we were the only people around.
The heat was almost unbearable, I couldn’t stop sweating even when I stood still. I couldn’t believe the newspaper which said it was ‘only’ 39 degrees. But then one of the hostel people illuminated me: If temperatures go above 39, Serbia has to declare a state of emergency. That’s why it is officially never warmer than that. ‘If they say 39, you can be sure the real temperature is between 40 and 50’, they told me. It turned out that it was 47 on that day, making it the hottest day of the year in Belgrade.
When all the interviews were shot, we all returned to the cosy hostel in order to get showered and prepared. Another party was due. It was Joanne’s birthday.
Due to new regulations which are supposed to get Serbia into the EU at some point, most of the clubs had to move out of the city centre in recent years. They were now all located on boats floating on the Sava, Belgrade’s second river, which definitely made the Belgrade nightlife quite special. We headed down to one of the fancier boats. I wasn’t a big fan in the beginning as everything was really slick and it seemed like people were mainly there to show off how much money they had. They had a DJ playing, but all his tunes were crappy remixes of very crappy originals. I prepared for a boring, if not annoying night.
Surprisingly, we soon started having such a good time that we even forgot to order dinner. The DJ now spinned really funky stuff and the drinks were good and affordable. We danced and chatted the hours away. By the time our sushi came, it was already 1 AM. I had always voted for eating traditional Serbian food rather than Sushi, but this club definitely gained a place in my memory of that trip. The sand under our feet, the view of Belgrade at night on the other side of the river and the awesome music made it really worthwhile. Long after midnight the friendly staff finally brought the birthday cake for Joanne which made for a nice climax of the night. Very surprisingly, we all headed home before 3. Everyone seemed to have a feeling that we had long days ahead of us. They would be so right.
Belgrade – Bucharest
Everyone managed to be in the lobby at the agreed time which was something new and almost hard to believe. We said our goodbyes to our Serbian hosts and got on the road. John and Tony stayed behind with one production vehicle as there were some things to fix. Joanne had coughed so badly the night before that she decided to stay with them and go see a doctor.
I lead the pack out of Belgrade, then let one of the cast teams navigate when everyone had invested their last Serbian Dinars in junk food and huge bottles of water at a gas station. Letting the cast lead might have been a bad decision as, after a few hours of driving, I started seeing signs announcing Bulgaria. In spite of being linked to that country a lot due to my girlfriend being from Sofia, we had actually had no intentions to go there on this trip. Romania was the country we had originally aimed for.
It seemed they were building streets everywhere. In spite of most of the constructions being run by a German company, the signs and blockades were all improvised and built out of old bottles and tree branches. It was almost a miracle that people did not run into the ditch all the time. You definitely had to stay focused, as every bend could bring a new surprise. At one point the substitute route even led us through a dried out riverbed, probably a path more suitable for a Jeep. I realised why we hadn’t seen any sports cars recently when my exhaust pipe noisily scraped the dusty ground.
We passed a few horsecarts along the way. Some of the drivers were standing upright, swinging their whips. They looked almost like Roman charioteers. The sight of these was even stranger inside the villages which came with a full-blown Communist architecture backdrop.
After driving through smaller and smaller villages we finally hit the border and it was indeed the border to Bulgaria. Eventhough everyone seemed to blame me for it then, I still believe it was the fault of the cast. But it wasn’t such a big deal anyway, a few kilometers extra wouldn’t kill us after all that we had experienced in the last 10 days. Noone seemed to particularly mind, some people actually appreciated having one more stamp in their passports.
The Serbs at the border proved to be real wankers, the typical type of people who shoud never be given any position with power. They let us sit there forever, then yelled at us and there was no way we could make them smile. The people on the Bulgarian side, on the other hand, were very friendly and interested. They were especially nice to me, being a fellow EU citizen. With a smile and some pride, the guy said to me: ‚This is European Union.’ I knew that before, but it made me smile, too.
We only drove through Northern, rural Bulgaria for an hour or so. Then we had to take a boat in order to crosss into Romania. The bridge crossing the Danube, which marked the border between the two countries, was not finished yet. The next and momentarily only other one was 350 km further East. Funny enough, I knew my way around the border town quite well, as I had been here last year when I hitchhiked to Bulgaria from Berlin. As nobody had stopped for me back then, I had walked all the way from the border into the town.
We hurried onto the old ferry, our car was the last one to board. Bruno was standing on the co-driver seat, filming as usual. When I hit the ramp a little too fast he bumped into the window and it violently exploded into our faces. We were very lucky that this happened then and not at faster speed on some mountain road, but we still looked at each other in disbelief. I spent most of the time on the boat collecting little pieces of glass from the car. Luckily, we weren’t injured except a few cuts on Bruno’s legs.
On the Romanian side, the people were very welcoming. Most of the soldiers were way too busy playing dice to even deal with us, but the two who checked our passports wanted to know everything about our project and gave us a lot of advise for country number 9 on this trip, Romania. We realised that we still had a long way to go until Bucharest. It was already around 6. Time to hit the gas.
Romania seemed very rural and the roads weren’t in too good a condition. We desperately looked for a restaurant, but couldn’t really find anything. Just before people started going mad with hunger, we pulled over in a tiny village with many wild dogs, a few grumpy people and a lot of horseshit on the road. All of us entered the only supermarket and bought what we could get our hands on. The locals looked at us as if a bunch of Martians had just landed.
Standing outside in the sunset and making sandwiches, everyone realised once again how far we were from home. We also realised how special this trip was and we all smiled at each other.
The road then never seemed to end which might also be due to several wrong turns. We also had to stop a few times because of minor technical problems. The electric system of Dora had decided to play some more tricks on me. The brake pedal now triggered the highbeams instead of the breaklights which was weirdly funny, but also very unsafe. The others took me in the middle so no Romanian car would bump into me from behind.
We crossed a few smaller cities where people were still out in the street and life was pumping. I wished we could stop and have a drink in some cafe on that beautiful summer night. But we needed to reach Bucharest at some point.
After we had left these bustling places behind and were slowly making our way through the very dark Romanian countryside, all of a sudden my clutch broke. Everyone pulled over at the side of the road. There was a lot of nothingness around us and it was pitch-black. Somewhere in the distance we could hear Balkan music blarring, but that was about it. It could have been the end of the world, too.
The few cars which passed did so at mad speeds, so we made sure that all our people stayed on the small stretch of grass on the side of the road. For the next two hours Adam, Jesse and Guillaume tried to fix the clutch cable which had snapped. They used all kinds of improvised tools but the problem seemed to be hard to solve. Meanwhile, the Californian girls used the time to get drunk and dance next to their car, using their blinking hazard lights as a clavilux. I for my part took a little nap. It was funny how the exhaustion hits you as soon as the tension is gone.
After having tried everything, we finally decided to drive Dora without the clutch and the convoi started moving again slowly. Adam was impressively good at finding the sweet spot at which you can actually change gears without a clutch, but only half an hour later one of the cast teams radioed that now their car wasn’t moving anymore at all. So everyone stopped again. It was now almost 4 o’clock and you could feel the exhaustion and stress in many of our people. The Twingo was officially dead, the clutch had burnt completely. We had no other option but ditch it. It was sad to leave it there at the side of the road, as it was definitely the prettiest car with its Alice-in-Wonderland-themed paintings. But some local could have a good car for free, he just had to get the clutch fixed. We left the key in the ignition.
We cuddled up in the remaining four cars and kept going. After some people had temporarily lost their poise due to all the stress of the last hours, everyone seemed OK again, now that we helped each other out. We were on a mission and we had to work together if we wanted to succeed. Once again I realised that our group was just awesome.
Driving through the countryside without the clutch was no problem and Adam got better at it by the minute. But when we finally hit Bucharest, it was a whole different story. Stopping at the traffic lights meant that I had to jump out over and over again to pushstart the car. I was working on my last power reserve, but I had to smile every time I did it. After a few times, I had developped a nice choreography: Jump out, push the car with all my power, climb onto the trunk, and then balance over the whole car into the co-driver’s seat while Adam was already accelarating. That made for some good laughs and the people in the other cars were suddenly wide awake again, filming me from every angle. But after some time we figured out an even better way of getting started at the lights: The boys from Philadelphia pushed us with their Fiesta. Now imagine them doing that on a deserted street next to a police car, with the bumpers grinding on each other and no other car around. All six people in both our cars played very serious, only to burst out in laughter as soon as we were out of reach. The cops, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care at all. It was hilarious.
We finally reached the hostel in bright daylight, our faces still wet from tears of laughter and our hands oily and dusty. Tony was still awake and welcomed us. We settled in at Funky Chicken Hostel as quiet as possible, the staff was incredibly nice in spite of our arrival time. Some of us sat down in the yard and recounted all the stories of the day in whispering voices. It’s funny how in situations like these, one single beer can get you really drunk. At around 7 I finally passed out.
I woke up very unrested and with a big headache. I had only slept around four hours, but the heat in the dorm had woken me up. Adam and I set out for our mission to find a new clutch cable. We walked around looking for a mechanic in the worst heat of the day. I drank a bottle of orange juice in one single sip while we were passing a strange museum displaying tanks and rockets in their front yard. The centre of Bucharest seemed mostly torn apart, we were making our way through a desert of dust. We saw some street children and also a guy high on glue, stumbling around along one of the streets lined with ugly Communist concrete towers. Adam said he had seen a documentary about that, apparently this cheapest drug of all is a big problem in Romania.
After some failed attempts at garages and even a Ford dealership we met Laurents, probably the smartest and most resourceful cab driver in town. The next hours we spent in his taxi, driving to garages and junkyards. After all, we found a place which had the exact cable we were looking for.
Not only was Laurents very helpful, but also good for understanding Romanian history. We passed the huge palace of Ceausescu, looking almost surreal in its size. Laurents told us that back in the late 80ies Ceausescu had exported everything Romania produced and had used all the money for building this palace, the second largest building in the world, as well as the big and shiny street leading towards it. The Romanians themselves had close to nothing to eat and live on during that time. The government gave them food stamps, but those were barely enough. Half a kilo of sugar, a liter of cooking oil and 10 liters of gasoline per month, it was hard to survive. Laurents said that the four years before the fall of the Iron Curtain were really tough. That partly explains why the Romanians chose the most drastic way to say goodby to this era, shooting Ceausescu and his wife in front of a camera in 89. But Laurents said that he did not approve of this action, in spite of having hated the government by heart.
When we came back to the hostel, I thought that we could finally get some rest. But I was wrong. Two cars had already started their journey towards the Moldovan border and we were gonna follow them straight away. We organized a few things, quickly built in the new clutch cable and then got ready to leave. Unfortunately, our two Australians had not been succesful in getting their transit visas for Moldova, the ambassador had apparently had a day off. From what they told us, he might have a day off every day. We figured we’d just give it a shot without, we had no other choice anyway.
The trip to the border was intense. It was very dark and the roads had lots of surprises to offer. At one point the road simply ended. Without any sign of warning I jumped onto a dirttrack at 100 km/h, struggling not to slide into the trees. The guys in the car behind me laughed through the radio and told me that I had offered them a firework of sparks when my exhaust had hit the ground. I found all of that slightly less funny and had to get out of the car for a few minutes. The adrenaline was pumping all the way into my fingertips.
Only minutes later, I had to hold on to my steering wheel once again. John, driving in front of me, had hit a fox which now flew towards my car. I missed it by a few centimeters. Lucky us, poor fox.
We stopped at a strange mall in oder to get wifi, as we needed to get in touch with the others. It turned out that they had chosen a border crossing further North, but the Moldovans had not let them in. The mall was deserted but hundreds of lights were blinking. It felt like we had taken something.
We finally all met up at the Southern border and got ready to face the Moldovan border patrols. A lot was at stake. If they let us in, we would only have to drive through their country for 3 kilometers before hitting the Ukranian border. 3 kilometers, hardly worth mentioning. If they didn’t, we would have to drive North and around the whole country of Moldova, adding another 800+ kilometers to our trip. On roads like these that easily meant an additional day and a half.
The start was bad. The soldiers yelled at us that we should turn around straight away. They seemed to be very serious about this and I even sensed some aggression. But we didn’t give up. John had so much experience with situations like these that he was just waiting, smiling and asking them to let us through over an over again, a strategy of attrition. Everyone else waited in their cars and desperately smiled at the soldiers whenever they passed by.
The situation was surreal. There were about 10 soldiers and there were our 5 cars. Apart from that, there was noone else. We sat there for hours. In the afternoon, I had found a broken leg of a mannequin in Bucharest and Joanne had donated a shoe which I had put on its foot. My strategy worked. When the border guards saw the leg sticking out from underneath the luggage on the back seat, it cracked them up instantly and they had trouble staying serious. The ice seemed to be broken. So some of us got out of the cars, offering the guards cigarettes and trying to involve them in our story as much as possible. After all, these guys really didn’t seem to have so much to do otherwise. Our stubbornness paid off. At some point they had finally decided to let us through, eventhough our temporary number plates were simply illegal in their country. They had called their boss who showed up in casual and rather elegant clothes and seemed to be a pleasant guy. He could have been a brutal killer, too. Sometimes the line is thin. Either way, it was him who collected our bribes. That at least explained his Italian shoes.
But when they found out that we had two Australians with us, for a moment it seemed like everything was going down the drain once again. Some more convincing was needed.
In the end, they grudgingly let us through. But our Aussie friends Jesse and Bruno had no chance. They needed the transit visa or they had to find another way, not even bribes could change that. So we re-packed all the cars and sadly sent those two back to Bucharest in the other Twingo were they would have to get rid of the car, take a flight and meet us on the Crimean peninsula.
After about 5 hours in that one place, the Moldovan boss personally accompanied us to the border with Ukraine. Probably he needed to tell the other soldiers that we had already paid. Maybe someone else needed new shoes.
So far, so good. But after these two borders there was yet another one, the one between Moldova and Ukraine. And as these people usually didn’t get to see the number plates we had, they simply didn’t know what to do with us. It was 4 in the morning. In a fairly nice way the guards told us that they could not do anything for us before 9 in the morning. So we parked the cars in the no-man’s land between the two countries and set up camp. There were abandoned cars all over the place and some old shacks which weren’t in use anymore. We found ourselves in the next surreal situation already, trapped inbetween two dubious countries. As Bruno had stolen all my food when they had left us, I now stole his bottle of champagne and let the cork fly over the fence. All of us had a few sips and we all appreciated the weirdness of our situation. Then we crashed for a few hours, some in the cars, some on the sidewalk. The sun was just coming up and the sense of adventure was stronger than ever.
We got up at 9 and the place didn’t look too bad in bright daylight. We could see valleys and endless, uninhabited fields as well as a very beautiful river in the distance.
We rolled over to the checkpoint and the people were on us immediately. There were armed soldiers, there was police, there were sniffer dogs. And there was the German who saved our asses. Just when it seemed that they simply wouldn’t le us through, this guy showed up and a little name tag on his shirt identified him as an ‘expert’. It didn’t say what kind of an expert he was, but he was working for the EU and the Ukranians closely listened to every word he had to say. We were very lucky that he thought it was cool what we were doing. He shook his head in disbelief and laughed a lot when I told him the key facts. He even wanted to now all the details about the cars and what had happened so far. After that he explained to the Ukranians that our plates were perfectly fine and they should please let us continue on our journey East.
And that’s what they did. When – after a very thorough check for drugs, money, weapons and who knows what else – we finally rolled into the Ukraine, we realised that all the fuss with the soldiers and the dogs had actually only been there for us. Everyone drove by us and waved their goodbyes. What a weird border crossing that had been!
We exchanged our money with a shady insurance guy and used it straight away to buy coffees. Life was good again.
Then we hit the road, we wanted to make it to Odessa by the end of the day.
The roads were incredibly bad. They weren’t even roads really. Potholes, whole stretches of tarmac missing entirely, rocks in the middle of the road… Everything was there to slow you down to almost walking speed. Several times we couldn’t avoid hitting deep holes and the suspensions went all the way through, producing a very scary sound. It was a miracle that the four remaining cars could actually handle these challenges and we didn’t even catch a flat tire.
The roads had no signs either, so unintentionally we first took the wrong route and ended up at yet another border to Moldova. None of us wanted to go back there, that was for sure. We therefore decided to ask someone for directions in every little village we passed. We only shouted ‘Odessa’ and people waved us in the right direction. Life in these villages seemed like 50 years ago and everything was rather poor. But the people were nice and the stretches between the villages offered pristine nature.
The villages then got bigger and bigger and, at some time in the afternoon, we stopped at a restaurant for some potatoes and borsch, the local stew made from red beets. The group talked and we decided to just skip Odessa, as we still had such a long way to Kazantip. I was sad to hear that we were gonna miss that city I had been looking forward to the most, but it definitely made sense to keep driving if the roads stayed like that.
After lunch, Adam and I took the Passat to a mechanic we had seen along the road and had the brakes fixed. They guys were very friendly and did the work on the car for very little money. We didn’t really have a common language, so we just communicated with hands and feet. Behind the garage there was a huge yard with old Soviet cars and trucks, all in various states of decay. A spooky, yet fascinating place.
After that, the roads luckily got a little better. But you still had to be alert at all times, as some stretches were bad beyond description.
When it got dark, we crossed the little stretch North of Odessa, with some big lakes on our left and the first view of the Black Sea to our right. We had to stop at an abandoned gas station because one of the cars had completely ripped off its muffler on the bumpy roads. The Volvo sounded like a tank now, but that wasn’t the problem in Ukraine. Guillaume and Dan just made sure they wouldn’t lose the pipe altogether, so they could get it fixed later.
After two hours of driving in the darkness, there was a tendency to stay somewhere along the road and drive the remaining stretch on the next day. But some of us were determined to finally reach our goal without any more stops. I was very tired and so quite a big fan of stopping. But after a final stop at a gas station where they sold CDs with ‘Dance Hits 2002’, John and Bramley took over my car and I made myself comfortable on the backseat with all the extra luggage. Now that we only had four cars left, there was luggage pretty much everywhere and noone really knew anymore which was whose.
We stopped at a gas station and I had some dried fish and some crab-flavored bread sticks, both not the most delicious choice. Then I tried to mix my team some ice coffee. But my clumsiness combined with my tiredness resulted in the big bottle exploding in my face and sprinkling coffee over everything I was wearing. By that time I couldn’t care less, noone really cared anymore about how they looked. We hadn’t washed for almost 48 hours and our skin was covered with dust and exhaust. We looked like a group of hobos. It added to the freedom.
Then we hit the so-called highway which was actually good in some parts. But several times, the two lanes would turn into just one all of a sudden and without any warning sign. One time we struggled hard to pass a big truck in the last second, one other time I saw the Phillie boys behind us almost get killed. I decided to go to sleep, that was too much excitement for my nerves.
It got rather chilly in my Ford Escort, but when you closed Dora’s roof it got so hot that it made you tired very fast. So I grabbed a lot of extra clothes and a sleeping bag from the trunk and built myself a little nest. And miraculously, I really did fall asleep, eventhough my head rested right next to one of the speakers which blarred one of my four CDs on full volume for the fifth time that day.
I was violently woken up by a huge pothole which sent me flying. I was instantly convinced that we were all gonna die and had a feeling that I’d rather be awake for that. But after a few minutes of getting my head sorted, I could actually appreciate where we were. We were driving on the Crimea. The road was flat and straight and there was nothing around us but fields. Our four cars still had their headlights on, but to our right there was the most beautiful sunrise I had seen in a while. Stray dogs followed us for a little bit. Bus stops in Communist architecture and Soviet monuments flew by. We passed little Ladas and huge Soviet trucks. It was just amazing.
Looking at the other cars I realised that all of us were awake now, their faces gleaming with excitement and expectation. We were dirty, exhausted and our heads were dizzy from 22 hours on the road, yes. But we had actually made it to Crimea, something I would have never put a bet on. We felt like pioneers discovering a new continent.
With this feeling we finally drove into Popvka, the little village where Kazantip is being held. Four dirty cars, one of them painted with grafitti, 15 dirty people with goggles on and things wrapped around their heads – we were quite a sight. But so were the Kazantipians. It was 7 in the morning and people were just returning from the party. We got greeted, yelled at, hugged and helped by Ukranians and Russians in various stages of drunken- and highness. It was beautiful.
We bought good, cold Ukranian beer for all of us in one of the 24-hour-shops and checked into our weird hostel which a Russian friend of Guillaume had arranged for us.
Then it was time to sleep before the biggest party of the trip would start!
“How was Kazantip?”, I hear you ask.
Find answers here:
The Truth about 10 festival top dogs
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