A RemoteMore trip - COVID, pleskavitsa and two blocked engine valves

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Stefan Kanev

03 January 2021

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A RemoteMore trip - COVID, pleskavitsa and two blocked engine valves

Hello World! My name is Stefan. I help RemoteMore with the company’s blog. In this blog post, I’d like to share with you the story of an epic trip. We made it together with Boris Krastev, CEO of RemoteMore and a long time friend of mine, a couple of days before Christmas. What we planned for was a short business trip to Serbia and being epic wasn’t a part of the plan. But it turned out to be nevertheless.

Background

Meet Viktor: a skilled programmer, who found his dream job through our remote-hiring marketplace. Also, Viktor is not his real name, but we gotta comply with the GDPR directives. Our guy lives in Serbia. He needs a powerful enough laptop in order to start his remote employment ASAP. The prices of laptops in Serbia, weirdly enough, are almost equivalent to a kidney transplant. To combat this, we decided to get Viktor a new machine, which we were supposed to deliver to him in person. Since our CEO was in Bulgaria for the holidays, I received a call from him with the irresistible offer to get into my old Volkswagen, drive to Serbia and meet with Viktor. Needless to say, one morning we jumped in the car and went to an adventure.

From Sofia to Nis

Here we took the first wrong decision, which in turn led to an avalanche of other small and big events. In order to enter Serbia, you need a negative COVID test. But if you simply enter the country and exit it without staying too long, you don’t need a test. Or so we were told. In Bulgaria it costs money to test yourself. We didn’t want to spend an extra penny. So, we decided to enter Serbia from one border passing and exit from another, leaving all intelligent thought and reasoning behind.

From the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, to the border the trip was absolutely dull and uneventful. At the border, when they heard our story, they laughed at us and told us that the endeavor is likely doomed to fail. In case we enter the country, exiting back to Bulgaria won’t be possible. Did we listen to the customs officers’ advice? No, of course not. We had an important business trip and Viktor was relying on us. Just like Frodo and Sam, we knew we had to reach our Mount Doom. Again, just like them, we didn’t have even a vague idea how we were supposed to get back home. So, we thanked the customs for their invaluable advice, took our One Ring under the form of Viktor’s new laptop and continued.

The road from the border to Nis follows the South Morava river, cutting its way through the mountains. The highway itself is picturesque, with a variety of stunning and complex feats of engineering, fortifying the walls of the river ravine. Beyond them, a wild winter forest spreads and reaches the mountain peaks. Naked trees, dripping moisture from their branches patiently wait for the warmth of the spring. The discreet murmur of the river below blends with the brave humming of the engine of my small car. The traffic is nonexistent. Boris works from his phone while I’m driving. It all feels like the lonely calm before the storm, which we didn’t know was coming.

I’d assume that you have at least heard about Constantine the Great. If you haven’t, well, google it! Turns out this famous emperor was born in Nis. Yes, both Boris and I were surprised too. In Nis, we had agreed to meet Viktor in a certain restaurant, so we can combine the handing of the laptop with a traditional Serbian dinner. Meeting Viktor was a disappointment to me. I expected a classic glasses wielding nerd with zero social skills, babbling about the differences between various programming languages. What I got instead, was a handsome people’s person, who had interesting stories to tell and who loved to share a laugh. Under his masterful guidance we ordered our food.

The place was apparently specialized in meals with lamb.

Cold lamb, warm lamb, a little bit of cheese Picked lamb, grilled lamb purr, purr, purr…

And by “specialized” I really mean it. They had all imaginable types of products and by-products that can come from sheep. Cheeses, cream, a wild variety of cuts, whatever you can think of. All of that garnished with freshly home baked bread and a generous helping of sauerkraut. We had pleskavitsa. This is a traditional Serbian dish, in essence a giant meatball. The biggest they offered was 1.5kg. Boris was almost caught in that trap. After all, despite being hungry we opted for smaller ones. The waiter, with a mischievous spark in his eyes, asked how spicy we wanted our meals. I decided to show him the tough manly dough I was made of and ordered the spiciest possible variety. Sure enough, I was served a fiery volcano of a dish, compared to which the deadliest chili I’ve ever had before tasted like candy. The waiter gleefully asked what we thought about the food. I thanked him through tears. Now even my tears were spicy. All the food was very good. Just. Too. Damn. Spicy. But at least, I learned a lesson.

During the dinner Viktor gave us the most amazing idea: why don’t we “just” go to Romania, due to the border control and enter Bulgaria from the north, through the Danube river? As it was already mentioned, Boris and I have already left all intelligent thought behind. So, at the time, this truly seemed like a good thing to do. We took our farewells with Viktor, wished him luck in his new job and left Nis.

From Nis almost to the border and then to another border

When we got back in the car I noted that there was about a quarter of a tank of fuel left, but hey! There will surely be more petrol stations on the way. Surely. Ha-ha! We exited the city and it turned out that the ring road leading to the highway was closed. For non-locals, it seemed that trusting our navigation was the best option. The software kindly repaid our trust with choosing a route, which led us almost back to the Bulgarian border. What was the best about it? There were no petrol stations and the car had already started protesting that it was in a dire need of refueling. Luckily, we reached a small town. We were there at 6:55p.m. The only petrol station turned out to be closing at 7p.m. Of course we were late when we finally reached it. We had fuel for 50km more. The closest other petrol station was in the other nearby town, 20km away.

The navigation’s manufacturers haven’t visited this small town for quite a while. So, of course, we circled around for another couple of kilometers until we get on the right route. We had fuel for 40km more. Finally we reached Pirot - a town in Serbia, so close to the border, that we could almost see Bulgaria. The gods of gasoline were obviously pleased with us because we found a working petrol station before the last fumes left in the tank were gone. So far so good. However, we still decided to abide by the plan and to reach Romania.

We found a secondary road, leading directly north through the mountains and towards the Danube. It was dark and foggy. The road, which by the way was in a pristine condition, was snaking up and down around the peaks. We could barely see even the hood of the car. There were signs, signalling either the danger of landslides or the possibility of your car simply flying off the road into the chasm below due to a sharp turn. Finally, we left the fog below us and continued climbing up the slopes. We passed deserted houses in the middle of nowhere. Ghostly villages were precariously perched on the cliffs, seemingly hanging over the valley by a thread. The only living people we passed by were standing in front of a house in one of those villages. With grim faces they were exchanging a bottle of moonshine and stared at us like deers caught in the headlights of the car.

At the very top of the mountain, the German engineering genius, who had built my Volkswagen took a break and left the room. The engine solemnly farted a couple of times, the RPM dropped and the whole car started to tremble. Huston, we had a problem! One of the engine’s cylinder was obviously not working any more. Despite being mortally wounded, the old German veteran kept limping forward, true to its duty of taking Boris and me back home.

Finally we reached the Danube. The Serbian customs checked our papers and warned us that since we don’t have negative COVID tests, we can’t enter the country again. They wished us luck in Romania and reentered their building. The vast river was lazily flowing before us and it seemed that the last strip of the road to Bulgaria was lying ahead. A lie, as it turned out a couple of minutes later.

From the Iron Gate to our beds

The bridge over the Danube is built over a huge dam, bearing the pompous name “The Iron Gate”, not very different from a certain bridge spanning the bay of San Francisco. On the other side of the river we woke the Romanian customs and explained that we wanted to enter the country and exit again at the Bulgarian border. The officer told us that we probably plan some devious shenanigans and if we so desire to go back home, we should cross the Serbian territory again. We explained the situation. He yawned and denied us passage. We explained again with hints of begging. He refused to let us through. We sighed and turned the crippled old car back to the Serbian border.

The Serbian customs¬ were visibly perplexed by our second visit. We explained. They got even more perplexed. They went inside their office and started a seemingly endless series of phone calls. Midnight was long gone. It was cold and damp by the river. We had a couple of stray dogs and an abandoned van with broken windows to keep us company. It all felt surreal.

At last, the officers came back. They told us that we can cross the twenty-something kilometers of Serbian territory and go to Bulgaria. I wanted to hug them. I wanted to tell them that I loved them. In this very moment, these helpful souls in the middle of the freakin nowhere gave us hope. The thing is, they made us a favour. They could have also denied us passage. But they took a decision to help a couple of strangers in need. I was slowly gaining trust in humanity again.

The car crawled with effort to the Serbian-Bulgarian border. The officers inspected everything, except our bodily orifices. They were warned about the situation but we were still extremely suspicious, due to the same exact situation we were in. Every single item in our possession was taken out and examined. The car was too. There was a small black pregnant dog jumping around us while the customs were checking our papers. I gave it the last sandwich, which my wife had made for me, before what felt like a century. The dog was happy. And just like that we were through. It started raining. We had a mountain to climb in order to get back to Sofia. We re dog-tired. The hand of the odometer was now refusing to creep past the number 80, no matter what promises of luxurious mechanics and pristine engine oil I was making over the steering wheel to the car. The old Volkswagen was tired too.

I left Boris in Sofia and in a sleepy haze continued in the highway to the central part of the country where we live with our family. I came home almost 24h after my departure, just in time to say “Good morning” to our son, kiss my wife and pass out in the warm bed.

The End

Now, it seems funny. Both Boris and I crack a joke from time to time about this trip. We’ll probably remember it at least for a long while.

However, this is what RemoteMore is all about: the passion for remote work and the troubles through which we go, in order to make the best company-developer matches work.

Will we do something similar again? I’d like to say “no”, but I’m sure we will. Maybe not exactly like this. But something else. Something that will again the world even a smaller place.

For those who wonder, my Volkswagen still lives. It turned out that two of the valves in the 4th cylinder of the car malfunctioned. Just like the good boy he is, he got cared for and nearly spoiled by one of the best mechanics in town. Now he’s absolutely ready for a new adventure.

Do you want to be a part of the adventure that RemoteMore is? You can browse the almost 5000 profiles of developers just like Viktor. Or would you like to be in his place? Then simply register with RemoteMore.