Now the concept, understandably, sounds a bit ludicrous as you're getting into a car with a total stranger you've never met, hoping they'll take you to the destination you've asked for, and then at the end of it all you pay them a small monetary fee. Usually the driver is already heading in your direction of travel so for them it's really not any inconvenience. Just a way for them to make a few bucks and help pay for gas during their trip. Simple really, but after my first and only experience with BBC, I must say that while I made it to Budapest in one piece (clearly as I'm writing this piece now), I nearly lost everything on my back (save my passport), missed my ride, and attempted to understand four different languages all within the span of five hours.
How you ask? Read on.
I began setting up my BBC the night before I needed to leave by searching for people on the app driving from Ljubljana to Budapest. I found a ride with a woman named Silvia whom while messaging her I believed to be German. I messaged her back and forth, with all of her responses coming back in a mix of German and English, and all of my messages to her being sent in English before I finally gave up and used Google translate to send a message in German to her hoping that would make communication easier. After scheduling the departure time and pickup location we agreed to a price of €15 (~$18USD) for the journey (a bus would cost €25 for comparison). My ride was set.
The next day I arrived at the bus station and looked for Sylvia, a woman I believed to be German, whom I knew nothing about. After locating her car and hopping in, I soon realized this journey would be anything but an easy process...and also that Silvia would not be my only driver.
It turns out Silvia speaks Russian (originally from Ukraine), Slovenian (her husband is from here and we'll meet him soon, just wait), and German (the language barrier was enough that I never really figured out that background). She told me in broken English that we would also be picking up another man and woman, whom 5 minutes later I met, and who were also from Ukraine and going there on the ride with us. No problem. The more the merrier, and at least one of the Ukrainians spoke a little English.
Once the Ukrainians were loaded into the car we were on our way and head to...a suburb of Ljubljana. I actually thought we were just stopping at Silvia's house for a quick coffee/tea break as she'd asked me if I liked coffee or tea during the drive (coffee, obviously). Here was where the first confusion took place.
Upon arrival the Ukrainians exited the car and took out their bags, being helped by another Ukrainian man and Silvia's husband, leading me to believe they were just riding to Ukraine in a separate car with them. I assumed I'd continue with Silvia to Budapest together so I left my bags in the car while they loaded theirs into another van. Ten minutes passed, we sipped our coffee and tea prepared by Silvia's husband and then began to get ready to leave. I initially got in the car I had been in (why wouldn't I) and was quickly ushered out into the other van heading to Ukraine. Confused, I attempted to grab my bags and get them out of the car, before finally someone from within the house (who I hadn't seen yet) told me that Silvia would not actually be my driver and that I'd be riding with her husband. Still confused (as I believed he was going to Ukraine) and without bags in hand I attempted to figure out exactly what was going on and ultimately realized that he was stopping in Budapest on the way. Thankfully Silvia did not drive off with my bags in her car unknowingly, and we resolved the first issue of the day quickly. Phew. That was close.
After loading my bags in the new van, we left and were back on track for Hungary...for another fifteen minutes. Just as we left the Ljubljana area we stopped again and another Slovenian guy entered the vehicle. There was no mention from anyone of who he was before, during, or after he entered the car, but people seemed content, and our total number of passengers now sat at six (myself, Silvia's husband, the driver, two Ukrainians, and the random Slovenian guy).
Another hour passed and I hoped that we could stop again soon as I needed to pee. Not ten minutes after this thought entered my head did I realIze we were exiting the freeway and heading into a town in rural, eastern Slovenia. Silvia's husband (I never got his name) leaned back and told me we were stopping for five minutes to pick up two more women, then drive to the train station, and then continue on. Ok. At least I'm in the know on this one.
We stopped and as he said, two additional women entered the car after the required five minute smoke break from everyone else in the vehicle. It turned out they also didn't speak English (yay). Again, I'm not sure exactly who they were at that moment when they first entered the car, but I believed they were speaking Russian so I'm assuming they're friends with Silvia and her husband (and possibly the other Ukrainians in the vehicle...).
Not three minutes later we stopped again at the train station in this random town and picked up our ninth (and hopefully final) passenger as at this point the van was completely full and I felt like I was somehow getting myself wrapped up in the middle of what the Hungarian border patrol may assume is an immigrant smuggling van. She seemed to be Slovenian and also said she was going to Budapest so I assumed she was possibly partaking in a ride share through BBC like me.
Another hour passed and we got to the Hungary-Slovenia border. CNN has been doing a much better job recently than they were when I first arrived in Europe about covering the Syrian refugee crisis, but in recent weeks the crisis has ramped up again, mainly on the borders between Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia. As we approached this border with nine seemingly unrelated individuals in an overcrowded van I began to worry a bit that we'd get pulled over and searched. The border actually had a road diversion to a single lane area where Hungarian police were waving people through in the attempt to stop any undocumented refugees from passing through. As we approached I saw many other vehicles pulled over with their trunks popped and passengers on the side of the road. Nervous, I quickly clutched my passport from my pocket, ready to be searched and questioned about why exactly an American was traveling with five Ukranians, two Slovenians, and a Serbian (I later found out the other BBC girl was a student from there studying in Budapest).
We drove past, though, and the border police shockingly waved us through without any hesitation. Once again, phew. That was close.
Another two uneventful hours passed and we finally made it to Budapest, my end destination. The van dropped me near my hostel and I successfully made it in, happy to be out of the van I somehow found myself in with eight other people, with a great story to tell in the end.
All-in-all, my first BlaBlaCar experience was stressful, but very fun. I couldn't speak to hardly anyone on the bus, but the events that transpired during this five-ish hour drive were absolutely something I never would have imagined happening yesterday morning. It was hilarious, ironic, worrying, and all around fun. I will definitely make an attempt to use BlaBlaCar again in the future, hopefully with a bit less confusion and a bit more English being spoken in the car.