9 Learnings from Travels through Budapest, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofia, and Athens in 2015’s Refugee Crisis

Gobi Dasu's Travel's through Eastern Europe
Gobi Dasu’s Travel’s through Eastern Europe

I had the exciting pleasure of traveling through Eastern Europe during the 2015 refugee crisis. Reflecting five years later, I feel this adventure proved to be one of the craziest trips of my life. The trip included fun, discomfort, learning, and appreciation. – Gobi Dasu

1. Hungarian Hospitality is a Thing

Bed in the excellent Zen Hostel in Budapest Hungary
Bed in the excellent Zen Hostel in Budapest Hungary

Emi was the receptionist at the Zen Hostel in Hungary. He was exceptionally kind to us travelers, and that is saying something since I had stayed at wonderful hostels across Europe by the time I had come to Hungary. First thing when I arrived, he offered me tea. I never put lemon in tea. However, he put lemon and honey in the tea, in a way that I very much enjoyed. It was a pleasant tea after a long train voyage into Budapest.

Emi, the Zen Hostel Budapest receptionist, greeted me with tea with honey
Emi, the Zen Hostel Budapest receptionist, greeted me with tea with honey

2. Hungarian Architecture is Underrated

Gobi Dasu at the Hungarian Operaház
Gobi Dasu at the Hungarian Operaház
Gobi Dasu inside the Hungarian Operaház
Gobi Dasu inside the Hungarian Operaház
Gobi with statue of Liszt Ferenc - known to us as Franz Liszt, the great Hungarian composer
Gobi with statue of Liszt Ferenc – known to us as Franz Liszt, the great Hungarian composer
Gobi at St. Stephen's Basilica in Hungary
Gobi at St. Stephen’s Basilica in Hungary, named in honor of King Stephen, first king of Hungary, whose hand is stored in the reliquary
Gobi enjoyed learning about the way Catholics put candles inside the Basilica
Gobi enjoyed learning about the way Catholics put candles inside the Basilica
Gobi Dasu by the Danube River in Hungary
Gobi Dasu by the Danube River in Hungary
Gobi Dasu with a working Hungarian holding his hat
Gobi Dasu with a working Hungarian holding his hat
Gobi Dasu at the Chain Bridge in Budapest - see how the people are dressed in a way that is between European and Turkish
Gobi Dasu at the Chain Bridge in Budapest – see how the people are dressed in a way that is between European and Turkish
Gobi at Hungarian Parliament in Budapest
Gobi at Hungarian Parliament in Budapest

3. Hungarians of Oriental Origin

This is where Gobi Dasu learned about Hungarian Turanism - the idea that Huns from Central Asia are the ancestors of Hungarians
This is where Gobi Dasu learned about Hungarian Turanism – the idea that Huns from Central Asia are the ancestors of Hungarians

Hungarians are like the Turkish – they have a little bit of that Eastern Oriental blood.

Gobi Dasu at the Buda Castle - what a work of Hungarian architecture
Gobi Dasu at the Buda Castle – what a work of Hungarian architecture

4. Pain to get to Slovenia in the Refugee Crisis

Because of the refugee crisis, so many trains were cancelled. And, it turned out to be a huge pain to get to Slovenia. I had to go way out of the way, to Salzburg and lost a night of sleep. But that is nothing compared to what the refugees and staff helping them were going through! Instead of going straight from Budapest to Ljubljana, which is a fairly straightforward route, I had to go from Budapest to Graz, Graz to Salzburg, and Salzburg to Ljubljana. So many trains were getting cancelled because of the refugees from Syria and Iraq (their stories were very sad as I learned from my stay with them in Finland). By the time I reached Ljubljana, it was morning. When I entered the hostel I asked if I could sleep a little and check out, and the Slovenian receptionist was exceptionally kind. He didn’t charge me for another night. He let me sleep into the afternoon given my situation. I really appreciated this.

Gobi Dasu at the Slovenian Stock Exchange Bull in Ljubljana
Gobi Dasu at the Slovenian Stock Exchange Bull in Ljubljana

When I finally got around to walking around the city of Ljubljana, I had that weird groggy feeling that you get when you have slept late into the afternoon. Still, I was able to admire some important sites of the city. Slovenia has become quite the capitalist country! And, that’s probably why it’s GDP per capita is growing so nicely. It’s shed that USSR influence.

Gobi Dasu at the Triple Bridge (Tromostovje) in Ljubljana - can you see all 3 bridges?
Gobi Dasu at the Triple Bridge (Tromostovje) in Ljubljana – can you see all 3 bridges?
Chestnuts in Slovenia - my aunt commented on this photo saying they had a hard time finding vegetarian food when they were in Portoroz and Piran but that these chestnuts look good!
Chestnuts in Slovenia – my aunt commented on this photo saying they had a hard time finding vegetarian food when they were in Portoroz and Piran but that these chestnuts look good!

5. Warm sunset on Ljubljana Castle, Grotesque Man

Gobi climbed up to the top of the hill where he found the Ljubljana Castle
Gobi climbed up to the top of the hill where he found the Ljubljana Castle
Gobi on the Ljubljana Castle Bridge
Gobi on the Ljubljana Castle Bridge
Gobi looking over Ljubljana, Slovenia and snowy mountains in the distance
Gobi looking over Ljubljana, Slovenia and snowy mountains in the distance
Gobi found a bridge full of locks in Ljubljana!
Gobi found a bridge full of locks in Ljubljana!
Bridge of locks Ljubljana - close up, taken by Gobi Dasu
Bridge of locks Ljubljana – close up, taken by Gobi Dasu
Gobi found a statue of a Grotesque Zombie in Ljubljana - how eclectic, quaint, and strange this town is!
Gobi found a statue of a Grotesque Zombie in Ljubljana – how eclectic, quaint, and strange this town is!

6. Croatia’s Museum of Broken Relationships has Breakups from all over the world.

Gobi Dasu at the Croatian Museum of Broken Relationships
Gobi Dasu at the Croatian Museum of Broken Relationships

The museum featured broken relationships from all over the world. I distinctly remember one particularly unique broken relationship of a Telugu boy with a girl from the Northeast of India (who have more Asian looking phenotypes). It ended in heartbreak for the Telugu boy as his girlfriend left him, moved back home, forgot entirely about him, and married someone else almost immediately. It was a fascinating story, especially for the eclectic traveler.

I went on to walk to a fancy restaurant where I dined alone. I ordered some pasta and with it came some bread and butter that looked like ricotta cheese. I really appreciated and even marveled at the ambience of that restaurant. I walked up a hill to reach it. As you can tell from the first picture, it had a rustic and yet elite style. Its porch overlooked the whole city. It really made me appreciate how underrated Eastern Europe is. This restaurant would have been just as romantic for any tourist couples as any fancy restaurant in Paris.

I proceeded to walk the Zagreb streets. I’m not sure if it was the same night but I have a feeling like I might have still been hungry. Even after that huge pasta meal with a beer in that fancy restaurant. Such are travels. But, perhaps it was the next night and I just don’t remember or am not giving myself enough credit in moderation. Anyway, the next day I went to a pizza shop and found this pizza. It’s an interesting story why I ordered that pizza below.

Sour Cream on Pizza was really just Ricotta
Here the lady told me that that’s a pizza with sour cream. It turned out that her translation was not correct. It was actually ricotta cheese which is more believable.

7. Sometimes in Belgrade, Serbia you can get Liquid Chocolate instead of Hot Chocolate

I proceeded to take a train ride to Serbia. In the train, I enjoyed a breakfast in the train compartment as featured below. Interestingly, I remember the train authorities gave a Japanese tourist a hard time because he couldn’t communicate in English regarding his passport and visa.

I met a Pakistani chap from the UK, a super nice guy. His mom was worried about where he was. She messaged me on whatsapp. Super kind family.

Despite the wonderful inventions and lifestyle of Tesla (as described in the caption above), I have to say the most surprising part of Belgrade for me was this pleasant surprise. I ordered hot chocolate in the waiting room for the train station and I got liquid chocolate instead. Good that they gave some water with it. It was incredible:

Belgrade Train Station Liquid Chocolate instead of Hot Chocolate
Belgrade Train Station Liquid Chocolate instead of Hot Chocolate
Belgrade Fort - River Sava and Danube Confluence -- where Attila the Hun apparently died
Belgrade Fort – River Sava and Danube Confluence — where Attila the Hun apparently died

8. Old Men play Chess on the street in Sofia, Bulgaria

Old Bulgarian Men Playing Chess, one looking at Gobi, as Gobi takes their photo
Old Bulgarian Men Playing Chess, one looking at Gobi, as Gobi takes their photo

My stay in Bulgaria was too short. Later when I would converse with developers from Bulgaria in slack, I would fondly remember my time in Bulgaria. I had some omelettes in the hostel I stayed in Bulgaria. It was an average hostel but the company there was very jolly. And, the Breakfast was excellent, though I didn’t have the famous Bulgarian Buttermilk we are used to from Berkeley Farms in California (Berkeley Farms Majiga Buttermilk).

9. The Greek rarity is pre-Christian architecture.

Gobi at the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Gobi at the Temple of Olympian Zeus

In Greece, I had a very interesting time. It was a breath of relief to see many pre-Christian structures.

Gobi at Parthenon, temple of Athena
Gobi at Parthenon, temple of Athena
Gobi at Erechtheion, temple of Athena
Gobi at Erechtheion, temple of Athena
Church of Metamorphoses
Church of Metamorphoses

Athens was also splendidly warm compared with the colder central Europe I was coming from. I also saw the Church of Metamorphoses. I still never forget Metamorphoses since that was the first play I was in and we missed our cue! But it was an incredible play because it was set in water.

Gobi with Herodotus, the first historian
Gobi with Herodotus, the first historian – recalling lessons from my wonderful high school history teacher, Dr. Ruth Meyer

The gypsy girl in pink and red (the middle picture) asked me for 1 euro. I asked for change when I gave her a 5, but all she could give was 1 euro back, so I let it go. I asked for my rose though. Lots of child beggars, mostly gypsies, in Greece — was quite surprised since it’s HDI is in the highest bracket.

The Baklava was so exquisite in Greece – the soft buttery flakes melting in my mouth with those damn tasty pistachio nuts. It was a dream come true.

I had read the Iliad and Odyssey in high school so it was a pleasant experience to see those busts.

In Greece I had a crazy time, explored some surreal architecture, walked some fascinating streets, did some crazy things only a young boy on travels could do, and appreciated the melange of modernity with the ancients. To travel when you are young, reckless, passionate, curious, excited, and in health is one of the greatest gifts of the Gods.

One thought on “9 Learnings from Travels through Budapest, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofia, and Athens in 2015’s Refugee Crisis

  1. Also not to forget for my memories — This is also the trip where I met an incredible cop from NZ who would later become a friend I’d meet in the Bay Area!

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