Up: 4.1 No WHAT?!!?^&%$##!!
Left Up Right Right: 4.1.2 so far so good

4.1.1 prelude

To start off, I have just come back from Hungary where my girlfriend is working for the year teaching English. She left for Hungary approximately 7 months before I followed her. She had some very trying times with getting things settled for her to live and work in Debrecen. Corruption and inefficiency on her employer's part left her very unhappy for at least 3 and a half months after starting. Luckily for me, she worked all of that out via lawyers and friends in high enough places that when I arrived things were smooth sailing.

After a couple months I was familiar with the Eastern European lack of efficiency and my Hungarian although bad was reasonable so that when my mother came to visit me I was pretty confident in my ability to be a resourceful travelling companion and guide. Well the trouble started during a conversation with some Hungarian friends of mine who told us of their wonderful trip they had the previous summer. They went to Greece by bus. We asked if they had any problems going though Serbia and they said it was no problem at all the bad country to go though Croatia. Well in January I had been through Croatia sort of by accident on my way to Rome. So I figured if Croatia was supposed to be the bad place to be and I had no problem then, Serbia must be a walk through the park. My mom and I also wanted to visit Greece because my brother-in-law is Greek and it couldn't hurt to see some of his roots.

So the very next day we went out in search of a Bus company that would take us to Greece. After getting a good couple of leads we found a place called Collossal Travels who asked for $150-$120 American each to get to Athens. They also said that we should look into whether we need a visa or something to go through Serbia. Well the price was a lot higher than our friends had paid but this was the only the first place on our list of bus companies. So after a nice lunch we went to the Tourist Information place to find out about visas and see if they knew anything about bus companies or greek phrase books etc. OK, the greek phrase book was a bit of a stretch but who knows. Anyway the person at the Tourist place went to a terminal and punched in a few things and after about thirty seconds said we didn't need a visa. Well that was one down. Then she gave us a list of possible bus companies we could hunt down. It was a very helpful and informative place for us...or at least we thought.

Well after a day of phone calls and arranging etc. we had it all worked out this one company said that for 24000 forint they would take us to Athens which was better than the first place since it would have been a pain for us to get American cash and this was at least $50 Cdn cheaper anyway. Also many of the places we checked out confirmed that we didn't need a visa.

The next morning we were up early so that we could get some food and stuff for the 24 hour bus trip. We met Stavros at the bus and bought our tickets as prearranged by phone. Then we settled in. As bus rides go this one seemed to be going splendidly. A couple of good conversations with each other as well as this guy who sat behind us named Miki who was a guy from Belgrad who ran a bookstore. It was kind of fun talking to him since the easiest means of conversing was in French. He told us that the part of country we were going through was quite peaceful and a good place to visit. This was reassuring.

Four hours into the bus ride we got to the border. After a long while the border guard boarded the bus and started stamping passports. When he got to us we handed over our passports. He asked me a couple of questions in Hungarian while he flipped through the pages of my passport. When he got to the transit visas that I received from Croatia his attitude changed a bit. First he asked me why I went there and I said, "to travel to Rome". Then he seemed to ask me if I knew that Yugoslavia and Croatia was and war or least that's what I figured he said. My Hungarian is good enough to figure out simple things but was a bit involved and not slow--for this question I had to fill in some blanks but this is normal procedure for a beginner in a language. So answered tentatively, "yes". After that he left with our passports but seemed to give us the stay there signal. After two minutes the bus driver told us to go to the office. Well I guess that they wanted to ask us a couple of more questions. So we got off the bus and looked for the office. After 20 minutes of waiting a guard told us to get our stuff. I thought that maybe they wanted to see what we were bringing into the country. Well after we got our stuff the bus left. Back at the office they said go to Budapest and get a visa. So with all of our stuff on our backs we walked back to the Hungarian side of the border and after a 5 minute discussion of why we were walking to Hungary we were back in Hungary with a lot of questions swimming in our heads.

Our immediate concern was not why we were refused entry but how were we going to get back to Budapest. Well fortunately after an hour or so there was a bus coming from Yugoslavia and going to Budapest so we flagged it down and realized that we had very little Hungarian currency because it is illegal to take more than 5000 forint out of the country. Well after bartering the bus driver down to a price we could pay we got on and each found a seat. As soon as the bus was far enough away from the border the bus transformed from church ceremony to a bustling market place. People were passing bottles of hard liquor to us to give to someone else. The woman beside my mother pulled four cartons of cigarettes from her pants. I saw tracksuits in cellophane, boxes of packages of peanuts. An old woman from the front came back like the Santa Claus smuggling handing things right and left to all the deserving good little smugglers. There was just so much stuff being passed around. We couldn't help but think, "All of this criminal activities going on and for some reason the Canadian mother and son are the ones who are kicked off a bus?"

Well after the first stop there was plenty of room for my mom and I to sit together and discuss our experience. Well I wasn't a hundred percent sure exactly what I had answered yes to but if it was really crucial I'm sure they would have at least asked it again or wanted to know more or something. The only reasonable thing that I could think of was that the guard was asshole. But apparently we needed a visa which every other place seemed to able to get at the border. Even our original bus driver was completely shocked and made a bit of a scene wanting to know what was going on--of course his protest didn't last long but it sure gave us the impression that for some reason we were an exception to the rule.

We got back to Budapest late that night and got a reasonable place. We went to the 24 hour IBUSZ that changes money and arranges accommodation (of course it gets it's cut). After talking with the Canadian embassy and finding out that indeed we need a visa for Serbia. We decided that it must be my original conclusion that the guard was an asshole because he didn't want to be bothered with stamping the passports! Well presumably we could get a visa and try again but we thought all the guards will be most interested in why we were refused the first time and why I had been consorting with the enemy so potentially even with the visa there could still be trouble. Luckily there was no problem getting our money back from the company and they also reinforced our idea that Greece was not a good idea for us since there was a transportation strike and that we might not be able to come back once we were there. So seeing that my mom had limited time in Europe and that we already wasted so much we opted to go north to Vienna and put Greece out of our minds as well as one particular border guard.

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