How the hell do you get out of Kosovo?

Trip Start Mar 01, 2009
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Trip End Nov 01, 2010


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Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Monday, July 13, 2009

Ok so after 3 weeks of easy, trouble free, travel through eastern Europe things started getting complicated when I got to Kosovo.

Everywhere else I'd been in Europe had been a snap, it was easy to make travel plans, no visa issues etc.

After Belgrade Serbia I had a hankering to go somewhere less traveled... so I booked a bus to Pristina, Kosovo.

A couple I'd met at EXIT in Serbia, Scot and Tash, decided to join me on the trip too.

When our bus rolled up in Belgrade it had cardboard and plastic garbage bags covering a window.

Turns out that when the bus had been driving through Serbia some kids through a rock
at the window and smashed it. One interesting 6 hour bus ride coming right up.

The cardboard window held up fine as we drove through town, but when we hit the highway it lasted less than 5 min. After that most of the cardboard and plastic blew into the back of the coach while a couple of guys tried to hold what remained in place.

After about 30min the coach slowed down to a crawl and we stopped at the nearest service station where the bus driver got out to make a new window.

Another 30min later, with more cardboard and 2 rolls of packing tape we had a new and improved window that held together for the rest of the trip.

When we got to Pristina, we realised there are no backpackers or hostels, just a couple of cheap
guesthouses. Over the next 3 days in town we saw 2 other backpackers,
that's it!

We headed out into town, found the main pedestrian area with cafes and bars, had a beer or 2 and called it a night, it was 11:30 on Monday but people were still out.

This is a place where unemployment is over 50% and the average age is 25. I found out later that many people get by by having money sent in from relatives working in other countries.

From Kosovo, I needed to get to Croatia and Scot and Tash needed to get to Bulgaria so the next morning we all got got online and started looking for bus or train info. Annoyingly, we couldnt find any info anywhere on getting out of Kosovo...

We checked some travel forums, they had nada. There were some articles talking about buses once or twice a week to Croatia but no details on times or places to get them.

Was getting frustrated at this point. This was the first time that I'd not been able to figure out my travel plans online.

I gave up after about an hour and went to see the man who ran the guest house - an old university professor who was completely eccentric.

I asked him about buses to Croatia and he shook his head, chuckled and said that it would be very hard to do. Not good!

I started feeling like I'd made a one way trip into a country I wasn't allowed to leave. Then it got worse...

I asked the Professor if it would be best for me to just head back to Belgrade and take a bus from there and he said that that was not possible because once you come to Kosovo they rarely let you back into Serbia if they see your passport has been stamped in Kosovo.

My only response to him, "You have to be shitting me!". He didn't understand...

He advised that we head straight to Skopje, Macedonia, a few hours south (croatia was north) and make further travel plans from there.

This sounded crazy so I went back up to the Internet to check more info, I found nothing.

I tried the "throw money at it" solution. I started looking for flights from Pristina to Dubrovnik. $890 for flights the next day. It was an option but I was trying to avoid the Trickett Premium so I put that solution on the backburner.

Then the Internet connection dropped out. Perfect.

The next to steps for me were the only options I could take.

1. Outsource - I called my brother Neil in London and asked him to figure out how I can get out of Kosovo, and

2. Eat - I went to have a big fry up breakfast, a coffee or 2, and a good think.

We got to the cafe, ordered breakfast and then this American guy sitting on the table next to us said "hey, where r u guys from?"

We started talking and told him our little situation. Of being totally stumped on how to leave the country and he assured us that it wouldn't be that hard.

Before we even started eating breakfast he called a friend of his who was a local and got some more information. He said his friend would meet us in a couple of hours and he would help us organise bus tickets and what ever else we need.

The American guy we met was called Spencer and he was an outright legend. Spencer told us  that his friend, Kushe, could meet us at the cafe he owns at 2pm. And since we had 2-3hours to kill Spencer said if we wanted to get a tour around town he'd happily show us around...

This was great, on the way down to breakfast we saying how it was tough that there was no tourist office or guide maps around. Tash had said that it'd be great if we could just give some local guy 20euro to show us around town.... uncanny.

So for the next couple of hours Spencer, Scott, Tash and I went touring around town, saw some
local markets, an old Albanian Museum and to top it all off we saw "Bill Clinton Blvd" complete with a 3 story portrait of Bill on the side of a building :)

We got to Kushe's cafe at 2pm and met Kushe. He was one of those well connected, knows everyone, naturally very charismatic guys. He talked to us 3 and said that he the buses wouldn't be a problem and gave us a list of 3 travel agents and we'd get everything sorted out that afternoon.

We hung around for a coffee at the cafe then headed off to the travel agents.

We went to the first travel agent on the list. The lady said behind the desk said there were no buses, no tickets but it looked to me like she didn't want to sell anything or do anything that required work.

Spencer called Kushe. Kushe told us to abandon that travel agency immediately and come meet him 5 min walk up the street at another travel agent.

When we got there Kushe was already there with his car. He'd talked to the agent about the buses we needed and found out that they had no tickets here either.

Kushe then asked us to jump in his car and he drove us to another travel agency on the other side of town.

He then came in with us, did all the tranlating and organized tickets for all of us. After that he checked that we were all happy with times, destinations etc and then offered to drive us back to our guest house.

Then at the guesthouse he asked us to come and meet him at his cafe again at 6:30pm and come to dinner with himself and his friends.

We went to dinner and had a huge banquet where Kushe did all the ordering and we just ate and drank. After that we went back to Kushe's cafe again and had a few more drinks and one of his mates bought along his accordian that we all had a go on.

I dont know if this note does the day justice but the next morning Scot, Tash and I were talking at brekky and we couldn't believe everything that had happened in one day.

As usual, its always a bit of a story when travel plans cock up.

But it wasn't over yet.........

Spencer had just finished work at his internship and decided to join me on the trip to Dubrovnik. We both got tickets and met at the bus station for the 11hour bus ride at 7pm.

The bus was only going as far as Montenegro and we were told we'd have to catch another bus from there to Croatia. No big deal.

We bought a few beers to help us settle in for the bus ride. We got on the bus and I was immediately shocked - there was no toilet on the bus!!!!!!!

I walked the aisle of the bus twice to make sure I'd not missed it somewhere, I couldn't believe there was no throne on a 11hour bus ride.

The driver told us that we stopped every few hours for a break and there would be WC's there.

That was good, but I held back on having any beers because I had to avoid any unpredicatable bladder 'situations'.

Aside from no toilet and the bus ride being 11hours to a town not in Croatia, there was a monster of a man in the seat behind me who'd never used deodorant in his life and to cap it off they played these shitty Albanian folk song videos non stop through out the night.

We eventually got to Montenegro. We looked into tickets for Dubrovnik and got told we could catch one bus at 7am to the border of Croatia and then catch an afternoon bus at 3pm to Dubrovnik that would get in at 5pm...

It was Trickett Premium time. I went out to the taxi rank and asked how far, long and much it was to get to Dubrovnik. It was 160km of windy road and would take 4hours.

I asked the first taxi, a nice new Mercedes how much, he said 120eur.
I asked the second, a nice new BMW, he said 110eur.
I asked the third, he said 100eur. I said deal, went to grab my car and saw that it his car was a 1985 VW passat.... I thought screw it, I'm going to sleep the whole way anyway and got in the shitbox.

Spencer and I got into Dubrovnik at 10:30am. Problem solved.
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