After landing in Greece I went straight to meet my friends Ian and Byul at the apartment in Athens. The next days were carefree affairs, filled with beer, ouzo and too much gyros. In fact, alcohol was sorely needed to deal with the major disappointment that was the Greek capital.
Athens was deserted and it felt like the apocalypse had struck. The streets were empty, yet there was somehow trash everywhere. Taxis menacingly prowled the roads, while sex-shops outnumbered people. It said a lot that the Acropolis was one of the better maintained buildings in the city. Even then it still looked more like an abandoned construction site than one of the wonders of the world.
I was therefore grateful to leave this graffiti-smeared city, watching the mainland disappear from a ferry’s stern. Mykonos beckoned, an island of superyachts, megaclubs and whitewashed buildings. Heaving with people, it was the opposite of Athens.
We partied for three nights straight, lurching through the picturesque alleys by day. The meltemi wind was relentless, from the clifftop pool I watched it stirring the sea into a raging broth while Mykonos’s famous windmills roared.
But all good things must end, and my time in Mykonos did so with savage effect. The train trip from Athens to Bulgaria made me wonder how Greece ever became a European Union member. Forced to switch trains four times, I arrived in Sofia eight hours later than scheduled. People had slept on the floor while the toilets overflowed. Was I really in Europe?
My day got worse in Sofia when I was hit by an overwhelming yearning that almost broke me down. A year ago I’d wandered these same streets with my cousin, one of the happiest times of my travels. To be back again, but this time alone and depressed, was too much. I left ten minutes later, on the next train to Plovdiv.
Riding the fifth train of the day, the only other passenger in the Soviet-era carriage was a sleeping drunk. He sprung to life when the ticket-checker appeared, angry abuse was hurled in Bulgarian before a furious melee broke out. A broken watch flew across the carriage, joined seconds later by an empty vodka bottle and an explosion of coins. The drunk was jettisoned at the next station while the ticket-checker cracked his knuckles.
Plovdiv unfortunately held less excitement, an ancient city with ruins to rival Athens. I was bored, so I escaped to the Black Sea town of Varna the next day. The highlight was sunrise at the beach, a beautiful spectacle marred only by a weird soldier who asked me to come back to his hotel room. Despite his poor English, I managed to communicate that I was more interested in sleeping in the sewer that was pumping into the bay beside us.
I decided not to linger. Like one year ago, I abandoned my other plans in Bulgaria and went straight to Romania. With no buses heading north, I resorted to hitch-hiking. Five cars and two trucks later, I was back in Romania, a country that meant so much to me for all the wrong reasons. And just like last time, what happened is best not written about online.