South for the winter
I never stay in one country for a long time. It gets boring.
I like to move on, see new places, meet different people.
It's a good life, most of the time. When I need money, I get a job. I can do most things — hotel and restaurant work, building work, picking fruit. In Europe you can pick fruit most of the year. You need to be in the right country at the right time, of course. It's not easy work, but the money's not bad.
I like to go south in the winter. Life is easier in the sun, and northern Europe can get very cold in the winter. Last year, 1989 it was, I was in Venice for October. I did some work in a hotel for three weeks, then I began slowly to move south. I always go by train when I can. I like trains.
You can walk about on a train, and you meet a lot of people.
I left Venice and went on to Trieste. There I got a cheap ticket for the slow train to Sofia, in Bulgaria. This train goes all down through Yugoslavia, and takes a long time — a day and a half. But that didn't matter to me.
The train left Trieste at nine o'clock on a Thursday morning. There weren't many people on it at first, but at Zagreb more people got on. Two girls went along the corridor, past my carriage. They looked through the door, but they didn't come in. Then an old woman came in, sat down and went to sleep. The two girls came back along the corridor and looked into the carriage again. The train left Zagreb and I looked out of the window for about ten minutes, then I went to sleep too.
When I opened my eyes again, the two girls were in the carriage. They looked friendly, so I said, 'Hullo.'
'Hi!' they said.
'You're American,' I said. 'Or Canadian. Right?'
'American,' the taller girl said. She smiled. 'And you're twenty-three, your name's Tom Walsh, you've got blue eyes, and your mum lives in Burnham-on-Sea, UK. Right?'
'How did you know all that?' I asked.
The second girl laughed. 'She looked at your passport.
It's in your coat pocket.'
'Oh. Right.' My coat was on the seat next to me. I took my passport out of my pocket and put it back in my bag.
'Who are you, then?' I asked.
They told me. Melanie and Carol from Los Angeles, USA. They liked Europe, they said. They knew a lot of places — Britain, Holland, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece . . .
'I'm going to Bulgaria now,' I said. Tor about a month.
Then I'm going south for the winter, Cyprus, or perhaps North Africa.'
'Oh yes?' they said. 'We love Bulgaria. Sofia's a great town. Wonderful.'
'What do you do about money?' I asked, 'Well, you know,' Carol smiled. 'Sometimes we get a little job. This and that. But what about you?'
'Yeah, come on,' Melanie said. 'Tell us about you — Tom Walsh with the blue eyes and the mum in Burnhamon- Sea. What are you doing with your life, hey?'
So I told them. They were nice girls. They were older than me, perhaps twenty-seven or twenty-eight, but I liked them. We talked and laughed for hours. I told them a lot of stories about my life. Some of the stories were true, some weren't. But the girls laughed, and said I was a great guy. I asked them about Bulgaria, because I didn't know the country. They knew Sofia well, they said.
'Hey, Carol,' Melanie said. 'We're staying in Bela Palanka for a day or two. But let's go over to Sofia this weekend and meet Tom there. We can meet him on Saturday night at the Hotel Marmara.'
'Yeah! It's a good hotel,' Carol told me. 'Cheap, but good. What do you think, Tom?'
'Great!' I said. 'Let's do that.'
The train was very slow.