Impressions of the Balkans

Impressions of the Balkans

We have now truly exited the Balkans. We said goodbye to this wonderful part of the world, but not for forever cause im sure we will be back.

Not only did the many many beehives show me there is a lot to learn here, but also did the very very expensive cars in rural and poorer areas trigger my interest to dive into life in the Balkans a bit deeper. We met the kindest of people here, ate various types of börek and were offered and drank way to many types of raki.

The Balkans are usually characterized as comprising Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia—with all or part of each of those countries located within the peninsula. The word Balkan is Turkish and means “mountain,” and the peninsula is certainly dominated by this type of landform, especially in the west. The Balkan Mountains lie east-west across Bulgaria, the Rhodope Mountains extend along the Greek-Bulgarian border, and the Dinaric range extends down the Adriatic coast to Albania.

While driving around we saw not only many little shrines but also lots of memorial stones of people who passed. However, if we would place a memorial stone of every roadkill, especially hedgehogs and snakes, it would be a memorial guardrail. Luckily we also saw a lot of turtles on the road, alive still. Made us think of the impact we make with our roads and other manmade structures. Even in the Balkans where there is still more nature than tarmac luckily.

Another thing that didn’t escape our eyes were the many police checkpoints. We were only stopped two times, probably because we are foreigners and we cant drive that fast. Many police checkpoints and many different gasoline stations. Lots of different brands, even in tiny towns. Especially in Bayran Curri – North Albania one could choose from the many many gasoline stations.

Ethnic diversity is one of the Balkan region’s most characteristic social and political features. The most numerous of the groups is the South Slavs, who form the majority of the population in Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro. The Bulgarians, North Macedonians, and Slovenes speak their own Slavic languages, while the Slavs of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro all speak dialects of Serbo-Croatian.

As we are on the road to China, about 10.000kms further, we couldn’t stay for too long in every place. If we had the time we would and I’m sure we would taste every type of wine there is, cause there are many. We would explore more of the incredible mountains and tropical beaches, taste even more types of raki and submerge ourselves into the culture by visiting the smallest villages.

Of course we’ve also seen so much rubbish one can barely see the beauty of the place through it. It transforms nature into a huge ass bin and instead of protecting the last pieces of nature and cleaning it people add their rubbish to it as if it doesnt matter. “Its part of our culture, when we bbq we do not take our rubbish with us, it’s what we do” a girl from Serbia told is giggling. I didn’t find it laughable but that’s me, a privileged woman from Holland who’s parents taught her to pick up her rubbish and dispose of it in the appropriate waste bins.

After a one and a half month in the Balkans one doesn’t understand the Balkans, one hasn’t seen all of the Balkans but one gets an idea. The idea of certainly going back and exploring more of this gem.

We now travel to our last European country on this journey: Greece. A country with an inspired history. From the Gods of old mythology to legends like Alexander the Great (alright he’s Macedonian) and Leonidas. Oh and lets not forget the explorers like Homer (also famous poet) and Herodotos or the philosophers Socrates, Aristotles and Plato.

Lets dive into yet another interesting and beautiful part of the world. For a short while though because Turkey is giving us the (non sexual) glad eye 😉

Love, Milene & Yuri

Local border crossings

Local border crossings

The first time we experienced a local border crossing was from Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina. We always like to have the small crossings, not only is it convenient because it’s less busy but it’s also a lot easier to cross countries and not being stopped. Sometimes the officer is taking a break, like we had crossing from Switzerland into Italy. Other times they like our story so much that they give our passports back right away and instead start asking questions about the van.

But sometimes the border crossings are too small and we are actually stopped.

This happened to us three times at the border of Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina, and one time in Kosovo.

From Albania to Kosovo

From a beautiful weekend in Albania we decided to travel to my friend in Macedonia via Kosovo. Kosovo being such an interesting country. A country I say because even though Google and many countries do not recognise Kosovo as a country The Netherlands does. It still is quite an interesting and strange country, still being divided by religion, nationalities and languages. Names of places are translated into two, sometimes even three languages.

Anyway, we decided we would go to my friend via Kosovo. That means crossing two borders. From Albania into Kosovo was not a big problem. We told them we are in transit and we had to buy insurance. The car insurance for Kosovo costs 15 Euro’s. Not so expensive right? But, for the first time we got a transit paper on which was written we have between 3 – 5 hours to get out of Kosovo. Not only is 15 Euro’s car insurance expensive for 5 hours, but also we are driving an old van. We do not drive 120 on the highway and in the mountains we are happy to reach 50 or 60 km’s an hour.

One of the men speaks German and he told us it will be no problem, let’s hope so.

Welcome to Kosova!

We see names in three languages, flags from Albania and Kosovo and cars from all over Europe. Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany. Not sure whether everyone in Kosovo works abroad or these cars are imported. Gasoline is quite cheap here so we decide to give Alexine some V-power.

However, Alexine is an oldie, and she has her instructions. Normally we tank ourselves but this time the boy is kind so we let him. We shouldn’t. I don’t know why but he takes almost the whole pump out of the tank. Yes you can probably fit more gasoline in the tank but that doesn’t work for our car. So of course she starts leaking. I always warn people about this and prefer tanking myself. Next time we will do it ourselves again. It’s not a big problem luckily but spilling gasoline is never a good idea.

Afterwards we head to the border of Macedonia. One that makes us enter right in a NP. It takes a while and if we go straight without stopping too much we will be there within the 5 hours. So we climb and climb and climb. I see snow on top of the mountains, we drive through villages and oh my do we see a lot of rubbish in the stream. We enter the last village on the way to Macedonia. I get a strange feeling. The road is getting worse, people are looking at us in a strange way and all the cars are from Western Europe. While we leave the town behind we soon find ourselves surrounded by snow, a lot of snow. Half of the road is covered in snow… 

You can probably guess what happened next? Yes, the path is closed. Snow is blocking our way. And don’t think we are crazy, down below a long way back it is written that the path is cleared from 25/3. 

Shit!? This means we have to find another border crossing. I find one close by that goes into Albania. It’s a small one but worth the try. 

Locals only

We drive up a beautiful road commissioned by the United Nations which gives us hope. If the UN funds a road like this it sure must be a good border crossing. Lots of Albanian cars pass us (we go up so go slow) and we see a barrier with ‘stop’ on it. The customs officer tells us to stop and makes this very annoying ‘no’ head movements. I open my window and am ready to hand over our passports but he doesn’t want them. 

“This is a local border crossing, only for locals”. Not again!? I try to explain to him that the other border crossing is closed and that we only have 1.5 hours left. We will not make it cause we have an old car and are 2.5 hours away from the other border crossing according to Google. He calls his supervisor to see what he can do. He does not have the ability to let us through but maybe his supervisor can help out. After a short call we were disappointed. No way we could pass into Albania here. The problem? On the transit paper is a name of a town written where we have to exit. We had no idea. I had asked the customs officer at the other border crossing if we could enter into Macedonia from anywhere and he said yes, so who would check right? 

This means we will be late and we have to go all the way back. 

These local border crossings makes no sense to us, especially not when the United Nations is funding a wonderful road to it. 

We arrive 2 hours later at the Macedonian border crossing. Nothing happened. One customs officer just wanted to see inside the bus. Not to check what we have inside but just to see the interior. And we were in Macedonia, a new country! 

Love, Milene & Yuri