Travel in the Balkans is harder than it should be.

Consider these three all-day travel segments:

Train from Athens to Plati, 0650-1155
Train from Platí to Florina, 1550-1810
Taxi from Florina-Bitola, 1813-1920
taxi from Bitola-Ohrid, 1925-2020

Bus from Ohrid-Skopje, 0730-1030
Bus from Skopje-Sofia, 1500-2130 including one hour time change

Train from Skopje-Vidin 0705-1230 about
Taxi to ferry and waiting for ferry at Vidin about two hours
FINALLY meeting up with Dan and Laura in Calafat at what, 3 PM?
And then the drive to Craiova.

The distances are small. From Ohrid to Sofia is maybe 400 km and none of it is terrible and some of it is freeway.

If it were possible to rent a car that could cross borders — but it isn’t — it would be 5 hours, not 15. If there were any buses leaving Skopje for Sofia between 0830 and 1500 — but there aren’t.

Or any trains from Platí to Florina between 1139 and 1537, which is particularly frustrating since the Athens train is scheduled to arrive at Plati at 1134 but it was late, and I suspect it is often late. There is a 0530 bus from Ohrid to Skopje but that would arrive just as the Sofia bus is pulling away, even if it were on time, an abstract concept since the schedules don’t mention arrival times.

I could imagine a world in which the Greek trains scheduled a connection in Thessaloniki and allowed a certain amount of time to accomplish it. They used to run a train all the way to Bitola until the Macedonia domain name tiff.

Another thing you need to know about Greek trains which I haven’t seen stated in so many words: you can only buy a ticket for days other than today at the downtown office of the rail system on Sina 6 (37.98002,23.73466), about 100 meters from the Panepistimio metro station. If there is an Internet way, I haven’t seen it. At the Larissa station you can only buy tickets for travel the same day.

I had to buy a first class ticket since they were sold out of second class, so it wasn’t cheap the way Greek trains have a reputation for being; it was 58 Euros to Florina and then 40 to Bitola and then 30 to Ohrid, driving through a forest fire on the way. We really did. I have a snapshot of a fire truck parked on the road directing a stream of water at fire. There are a lot of things to worry about in the Ex-Yugoslavian Republics, and as long as the flames are not so large as to ignite your gas tank, a mere forest fire isn’t one of them. I think that liability insurance companies in California would suggest that the road be closed in that situation.

Maybe it’s just that Ohrid is hard to get to. I just got a letter from a fellow I met in Belgrade in 2005, describing how he had walked across the border from Albania.

But when Ohrid airport can handle Airbus 380’s, maybe it won’t be such a nice little town. Right now, it’s lovely. It’s packed with tourists, but not more than it can hold since virtually every building with walls has a sign out front offering rooms. August is a high period for Ohrid though not the highest; they have festivals for that. Its attraction is a pretty lake, Lake Ohrid, which the brochures group with Lake Baikal and Lake Tanganyika as being ancient Rift Valley lakes. Local people and tourists fish and swim in the lake. In addition, there is a large collection of medieval churches and monasteries — 365, say the tourist brochures but they count at least one ruin that would be called a vacant lot in most towns. There are restaurants and bars and souvenir shops and an entire street of bounce houses and bungee trampolines.

I’m sorry Dave’s camera broke because I saw a great movie at the bungee trampoline. The — what is it, a ride? a toy? It isn’t powered. Imagine 4 big poles in the ground, about 5 meters high. Between each pair of poles is a child’s seat with belts and straps, fastened by two bungee cords to the poles, and on the ground a trampoline. Maybe they have these in America. Liability insurance companies might have words about that, too. Trampolines disappeared from America for a while. There was a big fad in the 1960’s. Trampoline centers were popping up like miniature golf courses. Then they all disappeared at once. I heard it was the insurance companies that did it.

After the Assumption of Risk doctrine became more widespread they started creeping back into the culture.

I don’t like that you can’t do anything in Nanny States, but I don’t like the Assumption of Risk decisions either. Did you ever read the case by which it arrived in California? If you have ever been in a gym, you have signed a release. You probably think that you are agreeing not to hold them responsible if you give yourself a hernia on some machine. Without this, you can certainly imagine that Nautilus and Gold’s would not be able to exist. But the case in which the clause was upheld (it had previously been held a contract against public policy, to agree to hold someone harmless if they injured you), a television set that had been negligently installed by the gym fell on a customer and injured him. This negligence is, since the 1990’s, okey-dokey.

Anyway, back outside the purview of Anglo Saxon Common Law, a lot of boys who are at the maximum stage in life of enjoying acceleration, are launching themselves off trampolines at the point of greatest stretching of the bungee cords, and being propelled way the heck up in the air and then slammed back into the trampoline by the cords.

There is an age limit imposed not by the laws of man but the laws of God. If you’re too small, the bungee cords pretty much won’t let you touch the trampoline, and the funny thing I saw was a baby strapped into the seat, whose resting position was about 4 feet off the ground, and his parents, in order to get their money’s worth, were dribbling him like a basketball to the hilarity of all. Actually it was a lot like the scene in The Absent Minded Professor, now that I think about being 9 years old again.

But I am not 9 years old, and I came to this Macedonian version of Clear Lake where a UNESCO World Heritage Site substitutes for Wave Runners to stare at more pretty things I don’t understand.