In theory, I should have arrived to Bar, Montenegro from Belgrade, Serbia around 8:30 p.m. Which, in theory, would have given me plenty of time to catch the bus from Bar to Budva and check-in to Hippo Hostel.
In theory …
Unfortunately, that was not the case.
As I sat in the train at the Belgrade station I was reminded of what my friend, Frances, had said to me when she booked me in to Hippo, the hostel she worked at.
“It’s the Balkans, the trains are always at least two hours late.”
Not mine, I thought.
But, as the clock ticked, her words began to sink it.
We were only 20 minutes late leaving the station, but during the course of the next five hours, we stopped and started and crawled along at a snails speed in the hot summer sun, making us really late when my couchette got its first guests, a French couple.
“How late are we?” I asked.
“Two hours,” the guy replied.
Well, we’re on track.
Then, the train stopped. And, then it went. And, then it stopped again. Each time the wind would begin to cool the cars, the train would stop. People would get off, buy ice creams, and then get back on 30 minutes later.
But the time we arrived in Podgorica, we were five hours late. And, I had missed the last bus to Budva from Bar.
Of course, we were stopped here, too.
I got off the train and started talking to someone who spoke English.
“There’s a protest on the tracks down a bit, 500 people,” he explained.
“Oh my god,” I sighed. “Any idea how late we be?”
“Nope, but if you can get the bus, I would.”
He pointed to the bus station, a quick two-minute walk from where we were standing outside out idle train.
I grabbed my belongings off the train and booked it to the bus.
I ended up on the midnight bus to Budva.
After 12 hours on the hot train, the bus was a welcome relief. Air-con.
Comfortable seats. Darkness.
I didn’t want to fall asleep. I knew if I did, there would be a chance I would miss my stop since the night before my sleep was negligible.
So, I kept my eyes open as we drove towards the Adriatic.
I looked up and the view was incredible. Breathtaking. Stars twinkling in nearly every inch of the sky.
Then, one streaked across.
I wanted to tell someone, but there was no one to tell, so I smiled to myself, happy with my decision to head to Budva instead of sit on the train.
Then, another! And another! And one more!
I knew there had been a meteor shower a few nights earlier, but this was my own special show, my reward for enduring the hell train journey for the past two days.
As the bus wound down the mountain, I could make out the sea below, black and blending in with the sky, but I knew as soon as I would wake up the next day, my favorite sea in the world would be staring back at me, welcoming me to where I had been less than a year before.
I didn’t get in to Hippo until 2 a.m. and when I did, crawling into that dorm bed was pure bliss. The pillow was soft. The bed was perfect.
I still felt like I was in transit, but as soon as I closed my eyes, I was out.