Jul 042012
 

Chisinau to Tiraspol, Transnistria map

Chisinau to Tiraspol

I decided not to hitchhike that day. A marshrutka was heading to Bender and I decided to take it. We drove for an hour or so through the flat central Moldova, thinking about not important things as I was looking through the window, when Nikolai showed some interest in me.

- Iedich na Priednistrovie, da?

- Da, I answered.

Well, my Russian was quite bad. Although when you are alone in a foreign country you improve fast, I had been only for three days in Moldova, and even Moldova isn’t a 100% Russian speaking country. I would say, maybe, 45% of the people I met spoke Russian. But this doesn’t matter. Nikolai was talking to me and I had to please him, I wanted to cause a good impression despite my broken trousers and my dirty bag, so I asked him questions like where was he from, if he had kids, wife, horse or dog.

And then I was there, applying for some sort of transit visa to the unknown Republic of Transnistria, an auto-proclaimed state, a de facto republic, the Russian area by the Dniester River that didn’t want to become a region of Moldova and gained their independence by the power of weapons. But being still a communist country, the new state was not recognized by any other state, and just got the sympathy and protection of Russia, giving a Russian passport to all Transnistrians. Now the Republic of Transnitria is still called a communist state, but the only thing left from that is the unique party regime, while the economic system is a fierce capitalism with Soviet symbols and Lenin statues here and there, extended corruption and Russian soldiers controlling the strategic points.

Mime and Alberich, Dniester River, Bendery, Transnistria

Mime and Alberich by the Dniester River in Bendery

In the border, they gave me a thin paper with some writings in it. It was my visa. As a non-recognized state, they cannot stamp the passport, so a paper is all they can do. It all ran without hassles and all the stories about corruption I heard about Transnistria vanished in the happy face of a kind policeman. I had a visa for stay in the country for several hours and I got into Bendery. You can hear many awful things about Transnistria, but there the market looked like a normal market, the streets were the same as in the neighboring countries and the people looked more or less like everywhere. I realized how many writers’ exaggerations about this land made us have a wrong image of it, because the corruption and criminal affairs may be true, but most of the people in the country have nothing to do with this; they are kind, well-dressed, polite and a little bit abject, more or less, like everywhere. I had read Nikolai Lilin’s book Siberian Education¸ with many criminal matters about this land, which made me expect another thing.

But maybe it wasn’t that normal, possibly Transnistria still had something unique and special.

Lenin statue in Tiraspol, Transnistria

Lenin statue in Tiraspol

Just when I got down the bus I saw a war tank turned to a monument that welcomes and warns everybody not to mess with this land. Bendery was a normal ex-communist city, wide alleys and short houses combined with huge concrete buildings, the market with the typical products and policemen with wide hats. But the things changed when I saw then Dniester River and the bridge. As a result of the war between Moldova and Transnitria in 1992, the Russian army took positions in the area, being the bridge linking the two sides of the Dniester River one of the places permanently controlled by the Russian Army.

The soldiers asked me for papers, information and so on. After a while, I stopped being a fun, and they left me go and put the attention to a couple of vans. I passed walking over the river remembering how far the Dniester seemed during the geography classes when I was in school. I was pleased to be in a mythical geographical feature like that. As pleased I was that I decided to take a trolleybus to Tiraspol and use my first Transnistrian rubles, getting down just when I had enough of it. The river made a long detour by the city, and I was again not far from it. There was a promenade and some aquatic attractions, just by a muddy beach where the people was swimming and sunbathing. I got there and extended my little travel towel, emulating them and laying over it. Some people’s attention turned to me. They came and we maintain a little conversation. They all decided I would have problems with police getting out of the country and wanted to help. They catch my notebook and wrote something in Russian I couldn’t understand.

- Show it to the police in the border – they said.

After a short bath and thanking them, I went to look for the station. I had only a couple of hours left to leave the country. I passed through Tiraspol center, with the opportunity of making some photos to those Lenin’s statues and war cars decorated with the Transnistrian flag and the inscription “Za Rodinu”.

Just there I found Andrei. I asked him how to go to the bus station, and he wanted to go with me. He was a mathematics student who became very excited when I told him I was from Catalonia. He knew a lot of things about my place, the willing to be independent, the political events of the past years, the differences with Spanish, the language, football and so on. I made him note that the realities here and there were somehow similar.

- Yes, the way to understand identity maybe it’s similar -he said-, but the situation is different. Very different. Here, the politics…

And he looked up at the sky and exhaled a deep sigh.

And I agreed.

Za Rodinu, War Car, Tank, Tiraspol, Transnistria

Za Rodinu! (For the motherland!) says a tank in Tiraspol

After a couple of typical Eastern-Europe-bus-station-drunkards, I got into a bus heading to Ukraine. It was a pity: my dreamed stay in Transnitria had been too short; a six hours visa was not a big thing. But it didn’t disturb me for a long time. After a while I would be again in Ukraine, one of the countries I’ve visited more times. And I’ll have never enough.

Bendery Fortress by the Dniester, Bendery, Transnistria

Bendery Fortress by the Dniester

Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen

 

Shaft 12 Winding Tower, Zollverein, Essen, Germany

Shaft 12 Winding Tower in Zollverein

It’s not made by baroque rock carving, nor it’s decorated with amazing paintings, neither it’s part of a stunning landscape, but we wanted to include the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in this site because it’s an example to all the tourism industry and the institutions that work for the memory preservation. After the mining complex of Zollverein closed down, the authorities didn’t leave it to rust and fall to the weather inclemency, nor sold the terrains to build new apartment buildings. Instead, the German authorities’ chose to redesign and restore it to a huge memorial complex containing art, historic museums, conventions centers and housing some of the world leading companies in the field of design, without ignore good recreational, sportive and teaching activities. And this approach is what made it to become part of the UNESCO World Heritage List in the year 2001 and one of the neuralgic points of the European Route of Industrial Heritage.

Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex (or Zeche Zollverien Koolhas) is located in the city of Essen, in North Rhine-Westphalia Lander in Western Germany, right in the Ruhr Valley, which is characterized for the huge coal deposits and the mining and steel development during the boom of the industrial revolution in Germany. The first mine began to be drilled and explored in 1847, with the first extraction made in 1851. The last rock that was extracted came out from the underground in 1986, being in 1993 the definitive closing of the mines. From 1950 to the final closing, the two main parts of the site, Zollverein Coal Mine and Zollverein Coking Plant, were ranked among the largest mines in Europe and one of the largest of their kind in the world. And Shaft 12 (Schacht 12 in German), opened in 1932, is considered an architectural and technical masterpiece, often called to be the “most beautiful coal mine in the world”.

But let’s look closer to the history of the place.

Pact - Zollverein Dance and Choreography Centre, Zollverein, Esse, Germany

PACT Zollverein is now a dance and choreography centre

History

The Zollverein Coal Mine was founded by Franz Haniel, an industrial entrepreneur who needed coke in order to satisfy the needs of his steel production. Named after the German Customs Union (Zollverein), the coal deposits around Essen were found to be very rich, and their exploitation began soon after the research in Shaft 1, where a big layer was discovered in 1847 some 130 m under the surface. The first rocks were extracted in 1851 and Shaft 2 was opened in 1952, sharing the machine house with Shaft 1. In 1857, the ovens began to produce coke and by 1890, Shaft 3 was already working, rising the Zollverein production to 1 million tons per year, consolidating it as one of the biggest German mines.

Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex View Map, Essen, Germany

Zollverein View

The ending of the 19th century brought the boom of the German industry, specially around the iron and steel industries of the Ruhr Valley, which made the coal demands to grow. The mine was extended and modernized, and by 1914 it had 10 shafts extracting 2.5 tons per year, providing Germany a big part of the power needed to start the World War I.

As some shafts were closing down and coking plants were replaced by modernized ones, other structures were built. Shaft 11 opened in 1927 and Shaft 12 in 1932. Built in Bauhaus style, it was projected by the architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer, for whom both functionality and aesthetic qualities mattered. Now, Shaft 12 is considered a huge technical innovation for the time and an architectural masterpiece which showed how an industrial equipment could also look good. Its characteristic Doppelbock winding tower became a symbol of the industrial legacy in the Ruhr area, and by extension of the whole German industry.

Shaft 12, Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, Essen, Germany

Shaft 12 in Zollverein

In 1937, the Zollverein mines had an output of 3.6 milion tones and 6900 workers were employed there. Naturally, it became a key industry during the World War II, overpassing it with only minor damages, and succeed to maintain its leading position after the war. 11 shafts were closed in 1967, leaving Shaft 12 as the only open one, but its expansion and mechanization in the 70s, placed it again among the most productive coking plants in the world.

The last exploited layer was opened in 1980, but in 1983 Zollverein direction decided to completely close the mining complex. Being the last coal industry to close down around Essen, it extracted its last raw material in 1986, while the coking plant closed its doors in June 30, 1993.

A bright idea

Like most of the industrial complexes that close down, Zollverein was supposed to become a wasteland of rust, dirt and dangerous unstable structures until somebody would decide to build over it, making the old mines get forgotten under a new residential district. But just as the center was closed down, the Lander of North Rhine-Westphalia bought the entire complex and took the compromise of providing a good maintenance until some solution was found.

After some failed negotiations with a Chinese company in order to sell the factory, the complex was threatened with demolition, but another project of the North Rhine – Westphalia State emerged. With the aim of making the old mines an official Memorial of the Ruhr industry, an exhibition centre and a recreational area, the project began to take form and remodelings were done.

Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, Essen, Germany

Illuminated stairs in Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex

Enjoying the Masterplan

When Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex was postulated to become an UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Masterplan was projected. Firstly under the direction of Rem Koolhaas, the Masterplan attempted to foster cultural heritage into the site by housing a number of museums, new business corporations and activities generally based on design. But there’s much more.

Red Dot Design Museum and Design Center, Zollverein, Essen, Germany

Red Dot Design Museum and Design Center, built in Bauhaus style

The more characteristic buildings are maintained to be visited as they were before, with museums explaining the times of the mines and their impact on the territory and people’s life. And apart of it –and what makes this a different place-, a big number of exhibition spaces can be found. Modern design shows are often on display, as well as some buildings allow world leading industrial design studios, artistic studios, cinematography studios and even the Folkang University of Arts, the Institute for Magnetic Resonance Imaging and a solar power plant. Most have been placed in the old buildings, respecting their original architecture and giving a new usage to them. A good example is the Red Dot Museum and Design Center, one of the world’s most influent design exposition centres and a meeting point for industrial designers placed in one of the biggest buildings in Shaft 12.

But Zollverein turned also to a recreation area. The Coal Washing plant is transformed into a leisure area with cafes and restaurants. The former water channel of the Coking Plant has been adapted for ice-skating in wintertime, while in summer it allows swimming facilities. Jogging paths have been marked along the complex and bicycles can be hired to visit it, or if you prefer a cooler mean of transport, the conveyor belts that once were transporting the coal now have been adapted to allow visitors to walk inside them.

You can find a good plan (or map) of the whole complex in its official website.

Skating in Zollverein water canal, Essen, germany

Skating in Zollverein water canal

Getting there

Located in one of the most populous zones of Germany, getting to Zollverein Coal Mine Complex is not a big challenge. The big cities of Düsseldorf and Köln (Cologne) are well connected by road and railway to Essen.

From Essen, you can take the bus or tram from Essen Main Station to the mines. In the map showed above, you can see the connections to the complex.

Around

If you don’t have enough of monuments about the industrial legacy, in the Ruhr area you have plenty of them. Landschaftspark is a public park located in Duisburg, very close to Essen, that will please your taste with their iron and steel factories. Zollern II/IV Colliery is also a good attraction in Dortmund. And, truly, along the Rhine you can find many more.

If you want something more artistic, Köln (Cologne) is your place. Located some 60 km South from Essen, it houses the Cathedral of Cologne, one of the most impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site that was for a lot of time the highest cathedral of the world. Düsseldorf, with its impressive new era buildings, is not too far, as well as cities like Dortmund, Monchengladbach, Leverkussen or even Bonn. And the city of Brühl, with the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust at Brühl, is not so difficult to reach.

And what we want to do now is to desire you good luck. Enjoy Germany!

Submit to StumbleUpon Share
Jun 102012
 

Hincesti - Chisinau map moldova

Hincesti - Chisinau. Click to enlarge

Those who say Chisinau is a beautiful city are basically lying. Or maybe they have a very strange taste. A central neglected park called Parcul Catedralei, with a couple of churches forming the Nasterea Domnului complex and the City Hall in front of them are the main attractions of the city, followed by the monument to the Memory of the Word War II and the “Doors of Chisinau”, two huge soviet apartment buildings, one in each side of the main entrance of the city that remind an open door. But no one can say it’s not an interesting city. The people are open and talkative, not done to see many foreigners, so they easily come to see what’s happening when they see any of them.

This was what happened when I was in the central park lying calmed after an easy hitchhiking from Hincesti, carried inside a minibus that was taking students to Chisinau city centre. Irina was the most talkative in the bus, a Russian-speaking girl, blonde good-looking and that Russian shabby dressing taste, she had learned Spanish by looking Mexican and Venezuelan telenovelas and wanted to practice a little bit with me. She showed me the place to get down of the bus, and I stayed lying down in Parcul Catedralei waiting for something to happen.

Nasterea Domnului Cathedral complex, Chisinau, Moldova

Posing in front of Nasterea Domnului Cathedral complex

After chatting a little bit with some curious, I left the Parcul Catedralei and I began to walk along the Stefan Cel Mare Avenue, former Lenin Avenue and central axis of the city. I had a paper in my pocket containing the address of my first couchsurfing experience. Before, I tried Hospitality Club with nice results, so I supposed this was not to be different. I headed to a damaged suburb of Chisinau, and stopped in a bar. There were some people looking at a football match of the 2010 World Cup, Spain against somebody else. They got quite surprised when I told them I wanted Spain to lose.

Not without problems, I could find the apartment of my guest in one of those Soviet buildings. It’s quite difficult to find addresses in such system, at least if you are not done to it. Alexandra received me with interest and generosity, and even with a delicious traditional meal consisting in some yellow mass made from (I suppose) corn, with smetana and scrambled egg. She was a 25 years old girl with Russian or Ukrainian origins. She was living with her sister Tatiana, a young eastern beauty, and Tolik, the little nephew, running up and down without stop. That was a very pleasant time there, easy and full of new things, and I could even chat with the cheerful mother, who wanted to made a toast to desire me good luck.

Garlic in the Central Market of Chisinau

Garlic in the Central Market of Chisinau

Next morning, his little sister Tatiana made me a tour through the city. She didn’t spoke many English and my Russian was not a big thing, but we manage to understand each other. She was so happy that the day before she got a new boyfriend, so I could only congratulate her. We went to an old wheel at the top of a nearby hill. Rusty iron and a strange sound transmitting instability made me feel quite uncomfortable, but that was it. We ended the day with the “amazing” sight of the so-called doors of Chisinau.

After a delicious dinner cooked by Alexandra’s mother, consisting in fried zucchini with garlic, two French last-minute couchsurfers came. Some exchange of opinions and the bed. As I was laying down, some strange feeling came to me. What was I doing there? Why? I could be wandering the roads of that amazing country, I could be meeting new picturesque drivers everyday! I should enjoy Moldova a little bit more! I was supposed to stay one more night in the house, but the road was calling me. And the road is my Lord. And nobody can betray his god.

I told Alexandra I was going next day. She put a strange smile, but I calmed her down telling that it was not her fault, that her generosity and kindness had been splendid and I was very thankful to her. Yeah! She was a wonderful guest. But it was the fault of the road.

Next morning, I was in a van heading to the unknown and mysterious lands of the Republic of Transnistria…

The Doors of Chisinau or Chisinau Gates, Chisinau, Moldova

The Doors of Chisinau or Chisinau Gates

Festa Major de Vilafranca

 

Vilafranca Location Map

Vilafranca Location, 35 km from Barcelona

Today I want to present one of the most complete festivities of Catalonia, and one of the best places to see the human towers. Many people come every year to Barcelona to pass some tourist days, but not that many know what they can find around it. The possibilities are numerous, and one of the best if you are there on the right time, is the Vilafranca’s Main Festivity.

It takes place in the village of Vilafranca del Penedès (famous for its wine) from 29th August until 2nd September. Its origins date back to the 17th century, and it was declared patrimonial festivity of national interest on 1991, consolidating itself as one of the biggest parties’ in Catalonia.

Castellers de Vilafranca

Vilafranca

With some popular dances and folkloric acts dating from 1600, the popular participation is key to the development of the party, and during 5 days the streets get filled with people who want to accompany the traditional dances, to live the best Castells performance or see the entrance of the Saint in the Church of the town.

Although the town festivity begins on 22nd with low intensity acts, the main days of the festivity are from 29th to 31st, finishing with fire performances and other acts on 1st and 2nd of September.

August 29th starts with the Bell Ringing and Firecrackers, emotional moments which indicate that the party has started one more time. The folkloric groups walk in a procession dressed up with their traditional clothes while showing their abilities. Giants, devils, dwarfs, dragons, human towers and the eagle, among others, can be seen in the procession, that ends in the Council Square (Plaça de la Vila) where the human towers are built.

On the evening takes place the Saint Felix Procession, where the image of the Saint is taken from the Administrator’s house to the St. Maria’ basilica, accompanied by all the folkloric dances seen in the morning, followed by a fireworks display. In the night of Empalmada (literally meaning “connected”), music bands plays around the village until morning, helping those who, following the tradition, don’t go to sleep.

Drac de Vilafranca

Vilafranca

30th August is Saint Felix Day, the main day of the festivity. St. Felix Relics are on display in order to venerate them. Early morning the grallers start playing the Matinades walking around the town in order to wake up everybody.

After some more dances, begins one of the central performances of the festivity: the DISPLAY OF HUMAN TOWERS, known in the local language as Castells (Castles), showing the best formations and performances in the world in this field. Well, in not many places people play this kind of sport, and as Vilafranca has maybe the best Castells group, we can say it’s the best place to see it. I can recommend you to see it, it’s spectacular!

Entrada de Sant Felix

Burning Santa Maria

In the evening, the procession is formed again to take the Saint for the last time to the Church, moment known as Entrance of Saint Felix, deep and intense moment accompanied with fireworks, dances and the sound of the gralles all over the square. And after dinner the bands and concerts come again until the next morning.

Resuming, if you come from abroad, it’s clear that 30th is the best day to visit the festivity.

The Matinades come again next morning for those who still have some energy left, and the day continues similar to those before. During the day, you’ll see the folkloric dances, human towers (littler), and the Saint is finally taken from the Church to the Administrator’s house. And the music follows the whole night…

On 1st September takes place one of the most outstanding and participative shows: the Correfoc (fire-run), where groups of devils from all over Catalonia are happy to burn with fireworks all the brave people who defies them, while people on the balconies help a little by throwing water to the young courageous ones.

Finally, the 2nd is mostly devoted to the children, who do more or less the same as has been done two days ago.

Resuming

Right in the month of August, when Barcelona and Catalan shores get crowded by tourists, you have one of the most amazing festivities in Europe right some kilometers away. Three days of non stop party in the city of wine.

It’s important to take a look at these things when we go somewhere: most festivities are in summer and we are mostly traveling in summer. It’s not difficult to make things match. But if we plan only to go to capitals, we are missing many things. So I would recommend leaving the tourist guide for a while, and make some little research about the places we are going in order to find some local event. And, of course, Vilafranca’s Main Festivity can be the next.

Here you have some photos:

Castellers de Vilafranca

Vilafranca

Submit to StumbleUpon Share
Mar 162012
 

Laza - Hincesti

Laza – Hincesti. Click to enlarge

Getting up in Laza was an easy thing. Pack up the tent, a couple of vagabond dogs and thumb on the road. A father with his child appeared and took me to the next town (Vaslui), where I could ride a van that left me in a crossroad to the village of Crasna.

There I met Constantinu, a man who was working and living in Spain and was temporally in Romania because his mother was ill in the hospital. He was with his two children, picking some plums from a nearby tree. He had the double nationality, and showed me a crumpled paper that truly proved it.  He was working in Oviedo’s El Corte Ingles as furniture fitter, but had lived in Valencia, Tarragona and, as many other Romanians, in Alcalá de Henares. He was a man worn out by work, with tired honey eyes, with plenty of stories about the ages he had been working.

I stayed with him and his children one hour or so, until their bus came and we said goodbye. I kept hitching in the same place without much luck, until it came a lightly dressed beautiful girl, asked me if the bus was gone and, as I answered affirmatively, began to hitchhike by my side. I knew that was going to be fast, and I was right. The first car that passed in front of us stopped.

The girl sat in the front seat. Nobody was saying anything. Until the girl got down.

“Can I stay in the car?”, I asked.

“Oh! I thought you were together with the girl”, answered the driver, “of course, you can”

And then it turned to be some familiar thing. His wife was living in Barcelona and knew Spanish, and he had been many times there. He had made money in the timber business with wood from those Carpathian forests, selling it to the growing Chinese market. He knew some words in Spanish and said:

Ven a mi casa, this must be celebrated”

Cart crossing the Romanian lands

Carts crossing the Romanian lands

His house made me remember a typical Mediterranean house, a big pitcher, a giant decorative mortar and a grapevine covering with shadow the front of the façade. Further, apple and lemon trees, and a couple of dogs wandering or sleeping around. And three women talking bla bla bla under the shadow.

One of them was the wife of Laurian. She knew Spanish very good; she was a designer living in Barcelona, now on Romania for vacations. Their newborn baby was there, so I congratulated the family. At her side, her sister was a little bit shy, beautiful 25 years and dark brilliant hair falling down the neck. She demonstrated her good English as we were making a small talk, but the sister insisted to put me inside the car and drove right to the border of Moldova, with Laurian speeding up a big motorcycle at our side.

Romania - Moldova border

Romania – Moldova border

I stayed a long time on the border. Picking up a foreigner can be a funny thing when you are driving alone and you are a little bit bored, but nobody sees it so clear when it’s the time to cross the border. There, it wasn’t an exception. Golden dry grass was covering a flat zone without any shadow in the deep hours of the midday and my head was starting to burn. My hat was lost in a lonely Bosnian road, so I had nothing to cover, but suddenly a van stopped.

It had many seats and some exhausted people. They were Moldovans living in London, and came all the way by bus for the summer holidays. The bus was half empty, so half of the people were Romanians who already went down. A couple of them talked a little with me, but they were so tired, so the conversation was not fluid. A woman who only spoke Russian was repeating “Samaliot, samaliot” and the customs guards let us go without many hassle. Then happened something strange. There was some misunderstanding when they were talking about me. There was a discussion about how I got there. Some said I came by plane, another said by train… I told them I came hitchhiking, but nobody wanted to listen. They were very happy with the discussion, and I was having a funny time. But it didn’t last quite long. They were tired.

The green and yellow beautiful Moldovan rolling hills passed upon my eyes as the car was making kilometres until half the way between the border and the capital, where I decided to get down in the harmed town of Hincesti.

I thought that in that decrepit place I would be able to find something cheap to sleep. But cheap or expensive, I couldn’t find anything, so I followed the road without any hurry, sitting in a bank, and eating some smashed berries I had in my bag. Those berries really looked bad, but they seemed to calm the need of asking for something of two gipsy woman. But they were two nice fat old gypsy woman and I sat with them and laughed and made some tricks and I kept following the road, stop at a couple of bars and at the end of the town there was a beautiful road pub near a forest in the foot of a hill, and I decided to take a couple of beers and plant my tent near the pub because I was still afraid of bears and wolves and all the fucking beasts in the world.

And that was all. And goodnight.

Flower

Feb 222012
 

Beograd Petrosani

Click to enlarge

If we would make a list with the best countries for hitchhike, Romania would be clearly rounding the top. The waiting times decrease to an average around five minutes and the fun is assured. I could happen through many different situations with the people who gave me a lift: going to sell telephone cards to lost villages through mountain unasphaulted paths, help a man to repair his bathroom, bring a (heavy) pump from one house to the other, and more earthly activities like giving food to the chicken or keeping a car (with the keys in my hands) while the driver went inside the bank to attend some business.

To get out of Beograd, I took a train to Vrsac, and there, near the Romanian border, I began to hitchhike. An old car took me to the customs control. When hitchhiking, it’s very rare that a woman let you inside her car. They are afraid of an aggression or a pervert. But when I saw the first lonely woman of the trip stopped for me, I understood why. She was extremely ugly. Over her lips, there was a mole flooded by hair, and the face was rounded with fallen greasy skin. Her body was huge, exceptionally fat. She was from Kosovo, but escaped to Serbia after the political events that everybody know.

- Everything is ruled by mafia in Kosovo! – she said.

She took me to a road bar near the border. Then I crossed the line and it began the fun.

Entering from the Serbian border in Vrsac, the Romanian lands appear as a flat thing covered by sunflower and corn fields, and it’s not until Reşita that it becomes undulated like the sea surface, and keeps like this till we arrive in Petroşani. There the real Carpaty Range starts and the roads become abrupt climbs to beautiful mountains. And the beauty is an important point in Romania. The mountains are specially photogenic. Although they are not so high as in other places like the Alps,  the wet climate give an intense green to the valleys and the grass fields mixes constantly with dense forests to give it a very characteristic landscape.

My first lift in  Romania was an empty bus that  was going to pick up people in Timişoara. I went down in the road cross with Reşita, where a truck driver saw me. His name was Ovidiu, and he had been living in Catalonia. We talked lengthily about the towns he had been to,Tarragona, Lleida, and some more, and talked again and again about a disco he went to in Lleida and he was offered cocaine.

Jiet

Road outside Jiet

After some misunderstanding with him, I was dropped down in Reşita. I walked till the end of the town, where a policeman found it funny to ask for my passport. I was retained one hour there while the police was trying to figure out who I am and why I was there.

A car with a young boy who once was working in Napoli bring me to Caravansebeş through a road that was going wavy more and more. I asked the way to Hateg to a guy that was walking, and he said:

- You go hitchhiking, right? Come with me, I’ll take you!

He left me in a nearby town right in the road to Hateg, a fantastic spot to hitch the next car, a refrigerator van. The driver was very proud of his van, because he could keep his water and dinner cold. He explained me he went everyday to different cities to bring some meat, and today it was the turn for Hateg.

Outside Jiet

Sleeping place outside Jiet

After an easy way to Petroşani, I decided to go deep in the mountains. I wanted to arrive to the Vidra Lake and sleep there, but I didn’t know the road. Just out of Jiet it became just a path that made its way between the walls of the mountain. The cars completely disappeared, and the gorge didn’t leave any empty gap to place the tend. But after a long walk I could find a place to sleep near the river. It was a long day and I was tired; I deserved a bath.

Feb 122012
 

Doboj - Beograd

The rain wasn’t stopping. All over the Bosnian valleys, through the happy character of its people and their Balcanic enthusiasm, the rain satisfied the thirst of those green trees and bushes, and filled the rivers to its limit. But I didn’t give up. I kept hitching the road, thumb by thumb, from one car to the other, from a mechanic who went to buy tools to a wedding car all covered by shabby ribbons and bows of doubtful elegance. One Imam, orthodox Serbs, returned emigrants who made money in Italy or Switzerland and now where living an easy and wealthy life in their hometown… resuming, many singular people, all of them with their peculiarities, different and original, genuine as the country itself, talking about a better future or a sad past, and absolutely, all of them, funny and talkative and kind.

One of them was Stefano, a 64 years old man who lived in Switzerland for 35 years. Now he was back in Bosnia for the rest of his life. He spoke Italian very well and, encouraged by my Spanish origin, was saying all the time:

“Si, si, si! Si señor!”

It was a good time with Stefano. He talked to me about the war (which he had not lived), about his sons, one working in Italy, the other in Beograd. Happy for the meeting, he drove me 35 km further than he should, dropped me in Bijelina and I began to walk.

Bijelina, Bosnia

Bijelina, Republika Srpska, Bosnia

Bijenlina is right in the bordering region with Serbia. It seemed a richer place, full of colorful little houses with gardens all over kilometers of road, and I had nowhere to place my tent. Finally I found an abandoned house, and I slept on its backyard. Next morning the house was full of people. In the garden, inside the house… and around my tent. As I discovered, it was some sort of communal house that was burned some time ago, and the neighbours where repairing it. All of them looked at me as I was packing my things, and they didn’t say anything, as if I was a strange apparition. I said goodbye and hit the road with the feeling that something was wrong.

Although I had to wait a long time for a car, I crossed the border and arrived to Beograd in the early evening of a long day of June. That was fine enough. A new place to discover through the slope.

Beograd Caslte

Beograd Castle

Beograd caused me a good impression. Although it’s lack of some great monument (the castle is less impressing than the ones you can find in many places of Italy, France or Spain), and although the smallness of it’s center, it gave me good vibes. The Serbians are kind people, and the girls are really attractive. On the castle walls, groups of young people drank beer and stronger things inside the warm June nights. I could talk a little about basketball, Partizan and Bodiroga and so on, but I came back early to the hostel to wash my clothes. Something that was really needed.

Beograd market

Beograd market

Feb 042012
 

Bosnia is one of the last really genuine countries in Europe. There’s a great mix, but the difference between every of their cultures remains strong. A massive amount of mountains allows tiny roads that follows green valleys between the diversity of its people. And there are also the memories of the war, which are not funny, but interesting enough. Traveling is something we do mostly for fun, but there’s nothing bad in put a little bit of interest in the history, the circumstances, and the possibilities of the place we are visiting. And Bosnia have plenty of circumstances which can be interesting to know. Since the romans settlements to the slavicisation of the country and the Turks invasions, the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria –the spark that set off World War I-, the other war and the communist times. And then happened what we already know. Me, I don’t like involving too much in the politics of each place. I mean I like to know, but I don’t like to discuss. I better let people talk and talk to me, and expose their visions. It’s by listening that we learn more; the more you listen, the more you’ll have an exact vision of the problems on locals eyes, that can be so different from the visions we get in our houses. And this is important. The less we discuss about politics, the more we’ll learn and more friends we’ll have. Politic talks are discussions if we give our opinion, but are interviews if we ask the people to explain their point of view to us. So my recommendation is to make more interviews than anything else. Everywhere, but specially in a country with a past like Bosnia.

I had some special rides in Bosnia. One of them was Mustafa and his friend. They gave me a lift one day, and next day I found them again on the road and took me for second time. But more amazing was to find myself inside a school bus with a teenagers’ classroom on a three-day trip, where I felt abused with questions about my girlfriends, spanish football and sex.

Banja Luka orthodox church

Banja Luka orthodox church

From Italy I had rain in all my days. Not all time, but all days some rain at all. I was hitchhiking with my waterproof when Namir and Goran stopped and took me to Banja Luka. I have a great memory of them. Namir was the driver. He was a tall ex-basketball player who went to play in Poland, but had to go back to his country for the war. At his side, Goran enjoyed to play blues on the tape. They invited me to drink a coffee on a road bar, and then I went with them to buy things for their house, to pay the electricity bill in the National Electric Company, and to the bank to pay the bill for the water. Then, we went to their house (and mysteriously some slivovica shots came to our hands), and finally we went to a bar. They made me a present, a Bosnian t-shirt which I promised to take into China – and I did. Then, their friends (Zoran, Goran and Zoran) came and the fun increased. They began to explain stories of the war, joking about it and made toasts as the beer was accidentally falling into my stomach. And I limited to listen to them, admire the male ex-soldiers party and drink and drink and drink.

I was drunk when I met Senka at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. She was my host I found on Hospitality Club. We stayed in the same house as her father, a man who passed all the time looking at the wall. I didn’t see him making anything else. Jokes apart, he seemed a tired man, a man who had lived enough to understand things. But I’m saying this judging only his eyes (dark profound eyes), ‘cause I didn’t exchange any word with him.

Krupa na Vrbasu, Banja Luka

Krupa na Vrbasu, Banja Luka, Bosnia

We went to the center, and Senka showed me an exposition made by her in the center of the city. There were many photo compositions, and some conceptual disposition of elements and furniture. It all made me feel her need to do new things, in opposition of his father. And made me think a little about the differences between two generations, one who had to carry a heavy load and now finds relief in the flippancy of the new times, and a young generation who wants to fulfill their empty bag with something not coming from their complex past.

I left Banja Luka with the feeling that I could have tried something with her. She was a beautiful girl and I was a free traveler, so there was nothing to fear. Maybe her father in the next room. But there, under the rain, I was a little bit tired for hitchhike. I went to the station and I got into a bus to Doboj.

Jan 172012
 

I left Catalonia with many doubts, but I had a plane ticket and I had no choice. Slowly, the flippancy of the travel invaded me. The plane took me to visit my cousin in the beautiful city of Bologna and then it came the night. It was fine in the young Bolognan nights, full of spanish students. The alcohol stopped in our hands for a while, and some music passed by. I didn’t get any girl those nights. But it’s fine. After 5 days I was on a train that took me to Bentivoglio and it was the beggining of it all.

Outside Bentivoglio there’s a hidden entrance to the highway, a hole in a fence that lets you get inside. I found it, and slept on the service area near the motorway. Next morning I began to hitchhike. Italia is not a good country for hitchhike, but a crowded highway heading to populated areas is always fine. It was early morning when the first car stopped. It was a Russian man, he let me into his car and we crossed the lowlands of the Po Basin until Venice. He was a tourist guide operator and he disliked his job, all the time bringing tourists to see the same monuments and all the time making the same jokes. Yes, the first ride was a nice ride, fast, funny and long, and my spirit was growing high.

After a couple of rides, in Udine, I met Giorgio, a gravedigger who was going on holiday to Croatia, up to my way. It was the first time I was inside a hearse. “Probably, next time I won’t be able to appreciate how it is”, I thought.

Despite his work, Giorgio was a funny and cheerful man. He talked about reggae music, about some joints he used to smoke when he was in Spain, and some other things I quickly forgot. I couldn’t stop looking at the hearse. It was real and I was inside there. There were two rails and a couple of lockers to keep the coffins fixed. Some green hills scattered by the road, but the fun was not there. The car, the leather seats, the curly haired man full of happiness and his heavy guffaws inside that sad envirointment completly impressed me.

Croatia shore in Senj

Croatian shore in Senj

We crossed the border to Slovenia and then we made it to Croatia. I got down the car in Rijeka, and kindly gave thanks to Giorgio. It was a small win: it was still lunch-time and I had already covered almost 400 km.

I was walking through the town when it began to rain. That ugly rain… it followed me everyday until reach the Romanian lands. That’s why the 400km didn’t seem that much after some hours waiting for the sun, that made himself visible atop of the sky in the early evening.

The next car to give me a lift was a good one. While the father was shouting loud the names of some football players and talking by cellar phone,  his son was changing the gears. They were understanding each other perfectly: the father was taking the wheel and accelerating, and as soon as the car was starting to make sound, he pushed the clutch and the son changed the gear. It had a good result, the son enjoyed his job and the father could talk by mobile phone for a long time.

Hitchhiking to Bosnia near Prijeboj, Croatia

Mime and Alberich hitchhiking near the Bosnian border.

The shore in Croatia is a thin and steep thing, and there are not wide places to plant a tend, so I just extended my sleepnig bag between some bushes. There, looking alone at the sunset I could feel the satisfaction of the things well done. The experience of the first day just confirmed me something I already knew before: the variety of people I can meet in the cars is awesome. In the next few days followed deep christians, funny grannies with their grandsons, dirty bear hunters, bosnian muslims, old communist nostalgics, heavy metal fans and responsible people going to work. Everyone with their own history, everyone with a story to tell. And they got rougher when I got deep into Bosnia.

Jan 122012
 

I always had the sensation that going to the east was something special. Probably this is caused for my location: Spain is in the very West of the Eurasian continent. My first idea – cross the land from Spain to Magadan – is one of the longest straight ways that can be made without crossing any sea, and this had something that made me dream. The same piece of land should be all the same, but it is not. Everything, the landscape, the people, the nature, the food… everything changes little by little, and in the end you look backward and nothing is like it began. Being an observer of this film was my fantasy for a long time and finally I decided to do it.

Whatever it was, I decided to go straight to the East, always stepping forward with the Sun lighting upon my forehead.

Crossing the Eurasian continent

The Sun in my Forehead and other recent route

As I look back, the route is quite different as I planned before. But this is something that easily happens in long travels like this. Europe is easy to hitchhike, and arriving to Ukraine was an easy task. Then I had to cross the Black Sea by boat for made it to the crazy Caucasus lands. From there, I passed through Central Asia – probably the most interesting part of the trip – until the Chinese border, and by several means of transport I arrived to Southeast Asia. There I stayed for six months, a one-moth scape to India included. And still smarting from that Russian disappointment, I flew to the north of the country and crossed down until Ukraine.

After all, I came back home, with my backpack full of stories, tips and photographs to share with all of you.