Planes, trains and autobuses

The bus ride from Skopje to Pristina saw us ride over some mountains to leave one conurbation on a plain surrounded by hills/mountains for another – so that’s why the border was in the mountains. As JTO said the countryside was memorable from the TV stories of 1999 and people leaving Kosova for Macedonia. We arrived at the Pristina bus station to get a cab to our hotel, Begolli, found through the wonderful ‘in your pocket‘ guides, passing a big picture of Bill Clinton on the boulevard sharing his name. Bags unpacked and for only the second consecutive day, and time in my life, I heard the 13:00 call to prayer from a nearby mosque. We walked from the busy narrow streets teeming with people selling things to wider car thronged streets into the centre of Pristina before finding Qamil Hoxha street where there is “Arguably the best restaurant in Pristina”, Pishat and the food and service were excellent. On the way back to the hotel we looked around a big statue of the Albanian hero Skanderberg, the Parliament and a number of mosques. In the evening we spent time on the bustling Fehmi Agani where you would not know you were in one of Europe’s Muslim countries. We ate at Basilico and then had a drink at Home, in both cases the sound of ex pat voices was probably explained by the closeness of both to the headquarters of the OSCE. The next day we wandered through town past the ugly Grand Hotel and the UN compound to Bill Clinton Boulevard. Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting at the same time so there were posters up welcoming him and Kosovan and American flags on lampposts. The staff at the hotel organised lunch and then a taxi to the bus station where we got the bus back to Skopje. The bus seemed to do the journey much faster but was fuller and we spent longer getting through the border.

On getting off the bus at Skopje a man followed us through to the train station where we left our bags in left luggage, he was trying to get us to ride in his taxi either in the city or down to Thesalonika, would get us a room anything. In the end we said OK and followed him out to his car which was parked in a car park rather than at the rank and he had to ask two friends to help him identify the place we wanted to go to. We set off and he didn’t put the meter on as all previous drivers had and took us a longer route before stopping at the foot of the fortress in a not very busy area.  By now I had a good idea of what was happening so was not surprised when he asked for 1,000 Denari for a journey which is not even 100. We tried to say he was wrong but his English was not good enough which helped JTO get out of the car when I said just get out. He tried to stop it but couldn’t and then I was out too but had left my coat and jacket. Somehow I managed to get them out, I think offering him two 50 Denari notes diverted him a bit and despite him coming towards me like he was going to hit me I managed to get him to take the money and we got away. Throughout the meal I was concerned he knew where our bags were and when we would be back at the station but thankfully he was not and some time after the advertised time we found our bunk and left for Belgrade on the sleeper train. Close to midnight we got to the border and the Macedonian guards came onto the train and took our passports and then brought them back stamped. A short journey and the Serbain guards cam for our passports. The guards looked at the then handed them to a third more senior officer pointing out our Kosova stamps. They asked why we had been to Kosova, we asked why not and they took the passports away. When the brought them back we had the Serbian stamp in the passport but they had stamped all over the Kosova one to try and cover it up. It was just like children scribbling over something they didn’t like.

The rest of the journey was fine , we arrived into a bright sunny Belgrade, had breakfast at a hotel near the station, we had eaten at before in February when the weather was a lot worse, and then caught the bus to the airport where we got a flight to Stuttgart then a train back to Strasbourg. We arrived back early enough to go out for chicken and chips Alsacian style.

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