16th March 2017
I ate breakfast in the hostel cafe with Nils, the young German student. Nils was telling me about his plans to find and visit a local squat, run by far-left activists. Nils was a strong believer in communist ideals, and wanted to meet his Greek counterparts. We sat for an hour, discussing the merits and flaws of Marxism, collectivism, and anarchism, with me arguing on the behalf of socialist-capitalism. Neither of us managed to change the other’s mind on their political philosophy, but did give each other food for thought. He was persuasive in asserting how idyllic a properly functioning democratic-communist society would be; where everyone works to the best of their ability, and is rewarded equally. I managed to convince him of some of the fundamental obstacles to such a utopia; how humans are inherently lazy, and will minimise their efforts in a workplace where greater effort doesn’t yield greater payoff.
In the early afternoon I left Thessaloniki, and took a bus north across the Bulgarian border to Sofia. The quality of the road we followed decreased immediately as we crossed the border. The wide, smooth highways, that ran through the mountains rather than around them, became narrower, windier, as I’d become used to in Albania. As we neared Sofia, grubby concrete apartment complexes began to dominate the skyline. These enormous, grey blocks gave way to shinier, glass high-rises as we drove from the outskirts towards the centre.
I got off the bus at the main station, several kilometers to the north of the city centre, just as the sun was setting. A young man with a heavy backpack disembarked with me. Recognising one of my own, I introduced myself. Alexis, a Frenchman on a world tour similar to mine, was heading towards the same hostel as me, so we took the metro to the centre together. As we sat on the underground tram, Alexis told me he had also just began on overland backpacking adventure from Europe to Southeast Asia. He is taking the northern route, though, through Russia, Mongolia and China, whereas I’m looking to head south, through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and India. We realised we may bump into each other again in Thailand; each with very different stories to tell.
We checked into Hostel Mostel; a laid-back travellers haven, with a common room full of young backpackers from all across the world. The hostel included breakfast and dinner with the room price, the latter of which we arrived just in time for. After dinner, I joined a pub crawl the hostel was organising, while Alexis, who was tired after a heavy night in Thessaloniki, stayed behind to relax on the cushioned platform in the common room.
The pub crawl saw us at three different venues. The first had a live band playing jazz-rock fusion, with a microphone being passed around for patrons to sing to requested songs. At one point, an English guy from our crawl took the mic, and began rapping. I listened to his lyrics; they were about Bulgaria, Sofia, Hostel Mostel, and the crawl we were on. I realised he was freestyling. He would point to his friends in the crowd, and dedicate verses to them. One of them was for me.
“We’ve got a man on a mission
Here’s his condition:
In Barcelona he started,
Going places uncharted.
Singapore is the goal,
Then his trip will be whole.
He doesn’t know how,
He’s just here-and-now.
He doesn’t know why,
Just something to try.”
Considering I’d only met the man an hour beforehand, I thought he summed up my travels very well.
The second bar was a three-story, candlelit, wooden cabin, hidden away down an alley from the main streets. There were no electric lights to guide patrons up the steep, timber steps to the balcony overlooking the ground floor, or to the top level, which I’m pretty sure I wasn’t meant to go exploring. There seemed to be no electricity in the place at all; the bar served room-temperature bottles from a shelf, with the barmen using small boxes of coins and notes in the place of a usual cashier’s till. We stayed there for a while, before moving on to a the third bar; a small room below ground level, with loud music and expensive beers. Soon after we arrived, a political discussion broke out, very similar to that I had with Nils in Greece in the morning. This time, however, the participants were more drunk, and less willing to compromise. Not wanting to take part, I soon left, arriving back to the hostel in the early morning..