If you’ve experienced the wonders of travelling the back-roads through any country (even home) you’ll have realised the fact that the countryside produces a significantly altered perspective on a few things. Altered perspectives are needed a lot of the time.
The joys of soaring through the countryside of a country you can’t recall ever hearing any of your friends visiting. The first-hand experience of the wildlife, sounds, visuals. It can’t quite compare. Certainly not to some images taken on a massive, cumbersome HD camera that took too many shots to ‘perfect’ and needed Photoshop to ‘correct’. The only photos needed are bad ones. Memories matter more than pixels. I digress. The backgroads have this joyous beauty to them, being so far from the industriality of cities and the loud atmosphere surrounding them. Though getting a lift is certainly a task in itself, the statistics of each drive (I reckon) are roughly about equal. Of course, availability of drivers matters significantly, with a lot more people coming from cities than out of them, but at least the scenery makes up for it.
The villages along the way resonate much more with me. Maybe due to the fact that I grew up in a village. People from cities may differ in opinion, so cities may resonate more with them. Who am I to judge? A tip we were given when hitching was ‘village-hopping,’ but if this is the proper term or not, I’m not entirely sure. When hitching long distances through less-developed areas, this is always a great idea, though it’s authenticity as a form of travel can be debated. We stuck one thumb out, and with signs quickly noticed that people started pointing downwards at their feet while driving. Of course, we took this up, learning that it basically meant an individual was staying local. We weren’t, but we would be glad of a lift to the next village. You’d be pleasantly surprised how quickly you can travel this way.
In another light, the countryside and landscapes that remain most vivid in my mind would have to be both Serbia and Romania. Perhaps circumstances endured in these lands led to this. In Romania we picked cherries for a few days; organic, sun-ripened, sweet cherries. Never before have I eaten so many delicious cherries. We weren’t the best workers but since it was friends that didn’t exactly matter, and the fact that only a couple of trees were ready helped as in the high season the workers are apparently ferocious. We probably ate the profit.
In Serbia, we got a slow lift from Zaječar (just inside the border with Bulgaria) all the way to Majdanpek (with an old Russian mine full of copper and gold). We even met a man, Pit, who sifted for gold. Rolling along at a snails pace drinking bottles with our driver and his German Shepard (he spoke German to the dog), we got to take in each and every single tree and plant we saw. The road wound its way through the valleys; at one point we peaked up the top of a hill and the valley literally swung open beneath us. It was a profound experience; we were just in awe. You can’t experience this feeling from a train or bus. It isn’t the same. Though the trip was long, it was worth it. Getting stuck in Majdanpek though wasn’t pleasant. The next morning we hitched for six hours unsuccessfully so the bus had to be taken. The woman in the hostel graciously asked us in Belgrade what the hell we had been doing in Majdanpek.
Of course, in comparison, cities offer a different kind of thrill. Most notably, as a solo traveller, they offer comfort in the shape of friends, some of which I still remain in contact with. Always pleasant to get to know other travellers. Cities give you beds, warm food, social aspects that differ when on the road. As a place to hole up and spend a couple of days in a coffee shops and bars, they’re perfect. Itchy feet sets in soon though.
Budapest, the fabulous city in two parts, has the most amazing architecture I’ve ever encountered (perhaps except for Amsterdam). I’m not usually one for buildings but these are something else. From the hostel I frequented to the river took, on average, 45 minutes walk. I refused public transport just to take in the life of the city, and walking it never felt long at all. It did take its toll on my legs though. Simply stunning scenery, but to counteract this, the noise level was so high it was sometimes intimidating. Certainly, others may not even notice it, but with my background and solitudinous nature, it got a bit intense at times. How and ever, it wasn’t exactly a big issue.
Bratislava was the opposite of practically every city I’ve seen. Virtually no tourism industry compared to other cities, this was the perfect escape. Definitely in my top three cities, as it just offered a space and time to relax and not have to deal with numerous tourists, over-culture in the form of shops and such, and plus the coffee over there is amazing. Expresso with a dash of milk; perfect.
Prague on the other hand countered Bratislava. The tourism there was, for me, way too intense. People falling out of the streets and many, many tourist shops deterred me from the place. Also, the amount of voices foreign to the country gave a sense that authenticity was non-existent. Without these tourists though there’s no industry, but I felt like culture was being missed out on. Beautiful bridge across the river, and a fabulous view from the castle. The buskers in Prague were awesome, too.
To summarize, countryside offers what I consider to be a true, authentic version of culture. There is very little personality in a lot of the cities visited. The nature, sounds, people, atmosphere in the villages and backroads through the countries were something else and leave a much deeper lasting impression than a building we saw somewhere. At the same time, the collective feeling in cities that friends are constantly abound is often the reassuring push you need to keep you on the trail. I don’t necessarily expect everyone to agree with this 100%, but sure look. Peace, love and unity.
I’m pretty against high quality images. Too much effort.