-A word on Fleas
-Drove to Serbia
-Lunch with Jessica!
-Belgrade in an hour
-Drove to Budapest
-A word on Hospitality
Do you know what those are?
Those are flea bites.
Do you want to know how many there are total on me now?
We were SO close to making it through this trip without fleas! SO close to victory! I think I'm being punished for my pessimistic attitude about those buggers. I was convinced it would happen. Self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose. The sad part is that it's not just me this time. Every time I got fleas in the mission, somehow my companions miraculously never got a single bite. But this time Rob is suffering right along with me. Except he doesn't scratch his. And he has to repeatedly keep telling me not to scratch mine too, like the way you would tell a 2-year old not to pick their nose. I understand that it's bad, but sometimes I just can't help myself!
So fleas aside, today was pretty great! We got to cover a lot of ground (like a LOT). Our plan was to leave Arad, Romania and hit Belgrade, Serbia AND Budapest, Hungary. And we did it, and it was crazy. We got to meet another of Gabi's super generous friends, Costa. He had a car and drove us that whole distance just because Gabi asked him to. What?! These people are so great! He was seriously hilarious and loved chatting the whole car ride. When we first met in the morning, I coughed and the first thing he said to me was, "Who on earth gets a cold in the SUMMER?!" (We were obviously meant to be friends). And then the whole car ride, he could not stop talking about how people were going to freak out on our flight home in a few days when they heard me cough and sneeze and they would try to jump out of the plane or throw me out so they don't get sick too. Yikes. Speaking of, I'm feeling a little bit better! Throat less hurty, mostly just the stuffy nose and the cough still (and some occasional sneezing).
So we drove and drove and finally made it to Belgrade, Serbia around lunchtime. The main reason we went to Belgrade is to see a good friend of mine, Jessica, who works for the American Embassy there. Our original plan was to be dropped off by the boys (who also wanted to see Belgrade) and stay with her for at least that night, maybe two nights, and have a nice relaxing couple days of catching up and taking it easy with her while seeing this cool new place we knew nothing about. However, plans changed when Gabi found out that Robbie's passport has that expiration issue (remember how he almost couldn't get on the flight from Greece to Romania). We never understood why that was the only time it was a problem, but Gabi offered us an explanation. I'll try to make it quick but it's kind of complicated. Apparently, there is a union of countries within the European Union (like a club within a club) that travelers can move back and forth from without ever having to use their passports (almost like there are no borders between them). All the countries we have hit so far have been in that elite club. All except for Romania (hence the airport issue when we left Greece) and Serbia. Unfortunately, our flight back home is out of Frankfurt, Germany, which means that since we left the boundaries of that elite club, we have to get back into it before we can get home. Since Hungary is also in the club, if we could get across the border from Serbia to Hungary, then we would have no trouble getting from Hungary to Germany (no borders). Whew! Long, complicated explanation.
So Gabi was sure we would have problems getting into Hungary because of Rob's passport expiration date (again, learn from us. Renew your passports if they are even close to expiring!) Since Gabi works for the government, he wanted to be with us when we crossed that border so he could schmooze and use his connections to help us get across. Unfortunately, he could only do it today. Which means we didn't really have a choice. We couldn't stay in Belgrade. The way he was talking about it, we couldn't risk not getting across the border because worst case scenario who knows? We might have to order Rob a new passport and it might not come before our flight home and we might be stuck here begging on the streets for weeks until we could buy a new plane ticket home, digging through garbages for Fornetti remnants and we just didn't want to worry about it all.
So since we only had a couple hours to spend in Serbia, we met Jess for lunch at the embassy and it was SO great to see her. She was totally understanding of our situation, but we were both way bummed that we couldn't stay the night. We'll try to make it back Jess!
This was my first time going into an embassy and it was intense! I guess it has to be though, since entrance to an embassy is basically like crossing a border. And we basically walked in with a huge posse. Once we got in, sweet Jess bought us all lunch and we just chatted away. She is the greatest.
Once we left the embassy, we found a place to park for one hour, which means we were going to see all we could of this brand new city of Belgrade in one hour. ONE HOUR! Let me tell you, I wouldn't recommend speed-sight-seeing. We ran (literally) from place to place, not really having a ton of time to understand what we were looking at, and then running to the next thing before we could dwell on it. It was crazy! And as if that wasn't crazy enough, in the midst of it all, we lost Costa! It felt like losing a child. We searched all around for him before we finally found him. Oh Costa, always wandering off :)
Here are some of the sights we saw and things we learned in that quick hour:
Apparently, some Serbians don't really love Americans. It might have something to do with these buildings we bombed a few years back (I think in 2006 or 2007). It was over a really controversial issue, the US believed they were commiting genocide. They believed they were not. (There's more to it than that, but it's hard to explain briefly, so I will let you look it up). Anyway, because of that, there are some who still have a lot of beef with America. So much that as a precaution, Gabi told us to speak only in Romanian on the streets. I'm sure nothing would have happened, but just in case there was a crazy out there who felt like settling the score, we followed his advice.
We also went this fortress that overlooked the city, and all over it were tanks and cannons from various wars they have fought over the years. It was crazy cool.
And BNOTD (Best News Of The Day), Robbie found Fanta Shokata, his favorite soda drink from the mission that he has been looking for ever since we got to Europe! This alone will make him look back on our time in Serbia with love and tenderness.
Back to the car! This is when we made the LONG drive from Belgrade to Budapest. These guys were seriously so amazing. Not only did they take us across the border, but then when we insisted we could take a train the rest of the way to Budapest, they threw us back in the car and drove us all the way there themselves! We didn't even make it to Budapest until around 11:00pm and then they still had to drive all the way back to Arad, Romania that night! They are the stinkin best, most generous people in the world. Even when we got to our hotel, Gabi marched right up to our room with a worker while we were checking in just to personally see to it that the room met his standards. Are you kidding me?! What a great guy. I don't know if he will ever read this but we seriously need to dedicate some space just to Gabi and how good he has been to us over the last few days. He always made sure we were taken care of (even when it was clearly not his job), he gave us food, beds, rides, fun, new friends, and so much more. He's a busy guy and hardly knew us, but he went above and beyond in showing us a part of Romania (and other counties) that we had never experienced before. This trip has totally changed the way we view hospitality and making visitors feel at home in your house. When we told him how grateful we have been for all he's done for us, he just said that he has had an awesome life because of the goodness of others, and that he has received way more than he has given. I don't know if I believe that, but I do believe that people here are raised to be good and kind and generous to everyone they meet. They see service as this amazing opportunity to show someone as much love as possible rather than act annoyed or put off or even indifferent. When we grow up, we want to be like Gabi. And the Matei's. And Sora Gorzo. And Rosie. And all these other amazing people we have met.