When I started my journey in July I had planned to live in Sofia Bulgaria for a while. Maybe even for a year. It is just a few days away from November and I have been in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Serbia. Ok, maybe things have not gone to plan.
What was wrong with Sofia? Not a lot but I knew quickly it would not be a place I would stay long term. I saw a lot of potential in Sofia but you can feel the negativity there also. My brief experiences in a fascist skinhead bar and a mafia bar also may have helped me move.
I then lived a month to Skopje Macedonia. Probably the strangest city I have seen. They have rebuilt the city centre to look like ancient Greece. I could not decide if it is nice or not. A few months away from Skopje I am beginning to think it is more Disneyland then ancient Greece.
Triana and Albania are great places and they were nice people but I always knew I was just passing through.
Podgorica the capital of Montenegro. What can I say about this very weird city? Let us just say the next time I am watching the qualifying draw for the next football world cup I will be hoping Ireland avoid the strong teams such as Spain, France and Germany. Also now I want them to avoid Montenegro so I don’t ever have to go back to Podgorica.
Belgrade Serbia. I have been here 1 month now. I must like it. When I am a month in a city I usually use it a base to see the country. My plan had to get to see other parts of Serbia by taking a few days away from the Capital. I have not left Belgarde. 4 weeks in I am finding it a very interesting city. The people here have been the friendliest I have met on this trip. Not just friendly but chatty also. I have had some great talks with people here.
The elusive balance
My late mother died a few years ago. She had Alzheimer’s. There is a blog post for that time alone but not yet. She was lucky to get some great care at Maryborough nursing home in Cork. Her last years were as comfortable as possible.
I once tried to get my head around this mindfulness thing. Living in the moment for the ultimate happiness. Not thinking about the past or the future but living in the moment. I found it difficult. My head needs to analyze everything for better or worse.
When I went to visit my mother in the nursing home I used to observe the people in care. I noticed 99% of the people staying there really lived in the moment. Most could not remember what they said a few minutes later. Most were happy at the moment. My head used to struggle with that. What was the difference between this and mindfulness? How we called one healthy living and another an illness.
I know Alzheimer’s is not a choice and it robs you of a lot of who you are. The clock also starts its final countdown when you get it. It is that living in the moment part of the Alzheimers. Maybe it is not the worse part of a horrible illness.
The 3rd way
As the business, I was involved in was finishing up I always knew there would be at least one more challenge in my life. I knew in my heart there would be another hurdle or two left to jump. Maybe the last two fences are the hardest to jump. Maybe not?
The compulsive gambling part of my life lasted about 20 years. I started gambling around age 16. Anyone that might think gambling every day is exciting I can tell you it is incredibly boring. It is also soul destroying and overtime takes every bit of your confidence and self-respect. I used to hate the last fence of a horse race. I felt every horse I have bet on fell at the last fence. Looking back not every horse I did fell at the last fence. Because I bet on almost every race every day if a horse did fall at the last fence, of course, I had bet on it. That’s why compulsive gamblers feel unlucky all the time and that is why they can never win. You have to be part of every race. Its all about the buzz.
After gambling came the recovery and payback years. I think the first year was the worse. Coming to terms with stuff. Loans were taken and needed to be paid back. It took time.
By the time I got to being involved with a business, the plan was this was my pension. This has not worked out. The last challenge. The last fences remain to be jumped. How they are jumped without falling is the challenge.
The imidate challenge is to try to get an income again until pension age. Not just an income but to do something that I will be happy doing. I suppose that is why I wanted to try a blog. No sign of an income yet but sometimes when you begin a journey another journey presents itself.
Last Friday I called the citizen’s advice bureau in Ireland. I had heard it might be possible to make a contribution to the state pension while you are not working. The person was very helpful. It is something we do well in Ireland that we don’t realise. Irish people still have the human element. It is not common in most countries to get the same personal service over the phone I have found.
I also put a question on a website that people ask similar questions. The first reply came from a frequent poster. I was not surprised. I have asked for and given advice on many a forum. I always noticed in most cases the first person to reply will be the most critical and will rarely answer the actual question you asked. Anyway, he replied that he did not think this was possible and it would not be fair on the taxpayer. I said if it was possible and if it was there it could be used and if not I would not be asking the Irish state to accommodate me personally. I also mentioned I am currently using my own savings and I would be making a contribution not taking one. I have learned that just because a person is a frequent poster on a forum it does not mean they know much. It probably means they have a lot of time on their hands.
I did get a lot of good advice from the other posters that replied to the actual questions I asked. The contributions would be based on the highest salaries that I had earned at a time I am not earning at all. Its a bit strange but those are the rules and that’s that.
So where am I now?
Here is what I have learned in the last few years and especially the last few months.
I don’t need a fancy car. I don’t need fancy jewellery. I don’t need fancy clothes. I don’t need pictures hanging on a wall or expensive things in a house.
I do need a coffee each day. I like beer a few times a week. I like to travel and see places.
I am sure it is possible to get an earning to afford a coffee and a beer. I also know it is possible to travel and stay in other counties longterm. People think staying in another country for more than a few weeks is difficult. It is only as difficult as you make it. For me, it was packing one bag. Doing a bit of research online and going there. If you want to take the fridge and TV then it will be a bit more difficult.
The costs of travelling? If you can be flexible there are so many interesting cheap places to go. I rarely pay more than 50 euro for a flight. I have had the best espresso coffee in Macedonia for 30 cents. A great meal with a beer in Kosovo for less than 5 euro. A return 400km train journey in Bulgaria for 4 euro. A beer in Sofia for 65 cents.
I did get one shock from my call to the Irish citizen’s advice bureau. I was told due to new changes coming in soon my pension age will be at 68 years of age. I thought it would be 66. I wonder if many people are aware of this. I am sure the politicians and the officials who are deciding this will make sure they will not be affected by this.
So the challenge is how to get to 68 with an income that will allow me to live as I would like. How do I jump the final fences without falling.
This week I met up with another Irish guy travelling in this region. Owen just packed a bag and not knowing where he would go. He has racked up a few countries in a short few months. As he is a youngman I am sure it will be just one of many trips for him. I enjoyed his company when he was here in Belgrade.
As I walked around the centre of Belgrade I noticed what I thought was just some city centre rundown buildings. I have since found out that it is the former HQ of the Yugoslavian army. The buildings were damaged during the NATO bombing of the city in 1999.
The buildings remain as they were after the bombing. They are beyond repair and the city does not seem keen on knocking them. They now remain a symbol of that time and the bombings.
Belgrade has been my favourite city on this trip but as much as I have liked it here it is time to go. I have booked my train ticket for tomorrow. A 7.5 hour trip to Budapest Hungary for 18 euro. I have never been to Hungary so that is another country off my list.
Join me on my journey.
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