We were told the train ride from Belgrade to Kotor was beautiful and worth going during the day to see. I’ve heard this before. I take this kind of advice with a grain of salt. Vladimir hoped out loud that we would get our own cabin on the train for the journey. We explained that we have come to expect the absolute worst when it comes to a plane/train/bus ride between countries, and then become remarkably happy when it’s better than expected. Not only did the ride turn out to be just as beautiful as described, but we DID get our own cabin and the ride was peaceful and pleasant. I even made a friend in the hallway. Some would say stranger – stranger on a train – I say friend.
He asked me where I was from, talking and blowing smoke into my face simultaneously.
“Holland? England?” He asked.
“No, USA.” I replied, trying to dodge the smoke in the small hallway.
“Sorry, my English, no good.” he smiled, exhaling another cloud of smoke into my face.
“That’s ok!” I smiled, and started back towards our cabin for some fresh air.
Later, he peeked his head into our cabin to ask for a lighter. Andrew put his hands on his pockets and pulled empty hands up to his face, suggesting he didn’t have one. The man asked again, like maybe we misunderstood what he was asking for. Andrew nodded, trying to convey that he did understand what he was looking for, we just didn’t have one. The man looked at us like we were crazy, as if he were wondering how we were going to smoke without a lighter.
As I stood outside of our cabin looking at the view from the other side of the train, he ambled down the hallway towards me, cigarette in hand.
“You are from America, but why you sound English?” He asked, confused by my accent. I smiled, not at all offended by his curiosity. (Usually this is my least favorite question. Because, usually it’s presented quite differently. Like I must not be from Kentucky if I don’t sound like it… Or I might be lying about where I am from because I don’t fit into someone else’s stereotype.)
I shrugged with my smile and admitted I wasn’t quite sure. He told me about Montenegro, our conversation sometimes difficult to follow as we were standing next to an open window on a train going fairly fast. We would pause our conversation every time we went into a tunnel and start back up again coming out. We talked about the monastery we passed on the train. He told me about the different religions getting along in his town. He asked me if I have read some Dostoevsky and I felt bad admitting that I haven’t. I joked with Andrew later, that I should have said, “No, but I have read “50 Shades of Grey”, have you?
Then he pointed out his house on the hillside of the town we were getting ready to pull into. I asked him if I could take his picture before he left, and he obliged before grabbing his bags and then stepping into our cabin one last time to say goodbye and wish us luck on our travels. Exchanges like these make my heart so big on this trip. In Korea, I would get really excited when the convenient store clerk near our apartment would remember me and ask how I was doing. It made me feel like I was home. Not in the literal sense of Korea being like Kentucky, but just that someone knew my face. Even if it’s a few conversations within the span of one day, or striking up one conversation with a stranger, someone opening up their world to me, just for a moment is one of the biggest reasons to travel, and for me, personally, to continue to travel.