August 2022

In the Heat of Travel | Claudine Jones | Scene4 Magazine -August 2022 | www.scene4.com

Claudine Jones

Way out

On a side street in Santorini, I'm putting my tired feet in a fish tank. That's what I'm doing. My choir buddies look at me like I'm kind of nuts. They're disgusted.

Back from Budapest

Skipped outta Sofia

Away from Athens

And I don't know what to say.

Everybody is always happy when you come home safe and sound. They wanna see pictures and they wanna hear about the exotic adventures.


I'm jet lagged of course. I don't want to overdo it, I just want to sleep. That's not what you're supposed to do: you're supposed to stay up all day and then try to readjust your clock blah blah blah.

But I did so much walking my thighs are like rocks. I lost a couple pounds, which is saying something considering how much food was offered. To me it feels dishonorable to do a postmortem—it just doesn't do it justice. And yet that's what is expected.

Highlights in no particular order:

Hole-in-the-wall store off a shopping plaza in Athens, featuring handmade items mostly from jute. The old guy far in the back, behind his work table; wife up front wrapping purchases. He's half asleep, she's desultory. On display: a small size welcome mat which proclaims Ωχ! ΕΣΎ ΠΆΛΙ roughly translated as Ouch! You again.

Stuck up top of an ancient hill in Turkey with a mass of tourists. The last bit is declaimed as a view to die for; I take a look at the vertical stone steps and think no fuckin way. The alternative is a donkey ride back down. Now, this has been described as wonderful if you like smelling like a mule however it is the thing I did that I am almost proudest of (that in a second). What you have to take most seriously is a) getting on and b) getting off. In between, I recommend the stirrups.


Back in Transylvania though, there was a moment when I went toe to toe with our beloved local Guide, the one who shepherded us through 3 weeks of craziness and stayed with us off the clock for the denouement of a Cruise. She is indeed a lovely woman, but we didn't know each other yet. She has a habit of announcing various exciting bits along the way with advisories. This one was an old church with a bell tower, many steps and great view. At my move towards the entrance she countered as though to block me. I don't think for you…probably not good. I immediately replied Nah, I'm fine. This set the bar for the entire trip: her worrying about me; me challenging myself. Towards the end of the trip she let herself glower at me and I smiled back. Yes, the climb up those steps was a beast; reminded me of when I went all the way up the circular stairs of Notre Dame with my mom when I was 10 years old. And sure, I'm not a youngster, but I was mindful. And I loved the view. Got up to the top seconds before the big ole bell below me chimed the hour.


Asian guy from L.A. in line to go back down on the tramway at Santorini. We had a lovely chat. He was there by himself in line as was I, but as it turns out that was only because his wife and kids were delayed.

I don't even remember what we talked about. Maybe the fish tank? What I do remember is how comfortable I felt in a way that I hadn't in a while.

Why is that, you ask.

Well for one thing I tested positive a bit more than a week into the trip. And of course I immediately lost my roommate and had to be transferred to another hotel in Bulgaria. That right there is the problem.

I am trying to describe to you what it felt like to be even temporarily estranged from my choir. To see them all out in the parking lot next to the bus that was taking them to our venue in Gabrovo where they would that afternoon perform our little set and win the silver! Without me. Sure, they all waved goodbye as soon as they discovered that I was standing in the window of my hotel room waving at them. Tap tap tapping on the window is anybody waving back at me? (No they didn't sing that).

Never quite got that back.

It was damn hard. Especially since this was the end of tour A and the beginning of tour B and so there were some people that were exiting at that point with no goodbye. To me anyway.

They're off the next day by noon, south to Plovdiv; I'm in an ambulance, west to Sofia. I won't even go into all the exquisite machinations to get to this point. The number of times overall that we skated through so many regulations. Times we thought for sure we're all gonna miss XY and Z. Nobody knew who would be next in the covid lottery.


Four hours in an ambulance careening through traffic—sometimes with a siren—to our next hotel that suddenly won't take me, but they'll let me use the bathroom if I'm masked and if I hurry. A mysterious side trip is arranged with exasperated phone calls. My driver finally says we go now. You, sit, we go now. I'm sure I'm being taken to stay in some hospital, even though I emphatically tell him no hospital! Yes? He says we go now. Past industrial/commercial/hospital. Every turn I think is this it?  Finally he pulls the ambulance into a driveway on a tree-lined street. An older woman comes out and introduces herself as Toni, while my long-suffering driver puts my luggage in the back of her car. We arrive and she smiles at me conspiratorially.


So here I am in quarantine. They're gone. I'm up on a hill, checked into a tiny hotel above the city of Sofia. I can see a bit of smog and the sunset as well. I never visit the restaurant but I'm not gonna stay in my room. That would be ridiculous and pointless; keeping a log of symptoms that never reach a level beyond annoyance. I walk straight through the lobby and out into the parking lot. Chuffed to see an EV charger!


The neighborhood is pretty chewed up. Maybe it's the new destination for Bulgarians wanting getaways but there appears to be a lot of money going into construction, for the most part clean unadorned architectural style.


As I'm strolling along, dogs are barking furiously at me. One big guy hit his chain link fence so hard I thought he was going to push it over and I would basically be history. Never went past that spot again.

All I am really trying to do is keep the momentum going because I have my Fitbit on my wrist and I've been averaging 4, 5 even 6 miles a day. So yeah. I walked that neighborhood for four days. Got to know it pretty well. And when I say walked I mean navigated. There's always something to trip over , always a car coming maybe or a truck. For the most part pretty peaceful other than the dogs of course. New house, rubble, old house with half -finished brick wall, new house, empty lot, pile of debris. Very few people.


Every morning I would ask for breakfast brought to my room please and every day it would be enough so that I could divide it up into three mini -meals and that would be my day food-wise. Every day I would open the door to my little flower-festooned balcony, sometimes sit on the little plastic chair and relax. Leave the door open and maybe work on the sweater that I brought that needs finishing. Somewhat of a joke since the average ambient temperature is at least 80 throughout the trip. That's not counting Athens of course, so who's gonna wear a sweater? Just something to do to pass the time.

Last day I took off in a different direction South to satisfy my curiosity about something that I couldn't quite make out on the main road. An unusually vigorous profile. Walking uphill in the early heat. Avoiding hazards, keeping as far away from the road as possible. Often without sidewalks. But I had a goal goddamnit. And I reached it.


Now, I don't speak Bulgarian nor do I read it and so I have no way of confirming anything about this. I simply assume that it has something to do with children and sadly is no longer in operation. In order to get a really good shot though, I have to go across the street. This was not something I take lightly. That's a long story that I will not get into but our entire group was severely schooled almost immediately by personal experience what to do and what not to do about crossing streets. Nuff said.

So I waited. I saw a guy and he started across, looked back at me—I must have looked really scared and he just shrugged and stood there and motioned towards him like come on I'll protect you don't worry. So I crossed, took my photo. Of course now he's disappeared. Maybe I had been given a bit of a dose of courage from him so I made my way back across the street and lived to tell the tale.

This was going to be it. On my way back to the hotel I determined to go to the little grocery store next to the parking lot. I had been wanting to but again I don't speak Bulgarian. And this is not a tourist destination. Truly. So it was a bit of a struggle to get out of the parking lot and avoid traffic but there was no other way except on foot to get to the entrance.

Супермаркет  says the sign. Think 7-11. I picked up a basket, nodded to the lady behind the register, started looking for fruit or something snacky. Although I really didn't want any over-packaged stuff. Ultimately I decided on an apple, a banana and a couple of apricots. And some yogurt. I turned to her and approached and was met with outstretched STOP hand. She grabbed a roll of plastic bags and a flood of recriminations ensued. Clearly me trying to save plastic by just putting my naked fruit in the basket was not going to happen. No no no no no. I smiled apologetically, took the bags and inserted my produce. Did I get a smile back from her? Negatory. Not happening. She took my money, that was it.

Even so, a couple of hours later I was in a taxi to the airport at Sofia, heading for Athens. Full of fruit and yogurt and appreciation for mysterious homegrown decency from a couple of tour stalwarts and a bunch of strangers, getting me where I needed to be.


Turned out that was Toni's hotel and my driver was her cousin.


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Claudine Jones | Scene4 Magazin

Claudine Jones has had a long, full career as an Actor/Singer/Dancer. She writes a monthly column
and is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2022 Claudine Jones
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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