Day 121: The Swines!


What transpired to be an incredibly long day, started in Thessaloniki before dawn. It was raining hard and John and I took far too long getting off the train, so we found ourselves shunted into the goods yard and having to walk the five-hundred meters back to the station like a pair of divs.

I had a few hours to mooch about, say hello to the Aegean Sea and drink an overpriced coffee (I needed the toilet and McDonald’s was closed) before returning to the station to hop on the train to Skopje (pronounced Skopia, by the way). Incidentally, on the off-chance that the girl from Canada with the hotpants – whom I helped get the coach to Athens because no domestic trains were running – is reading this, when you ask for somebody’s help and they give it, try saying thank you next time, then people won’t think you’re a cow.

Skopje is the capital of Macedonia, or to give it it’s full crazy title, The Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (keeps the Greeks happy) and the train was supposed to be a two hour affair – just enough time to grab a coffee and attempt to watch Lost on YouTube.

HOWEVER, the Macedonian border guards had other ideas and soon I found myself waiting in a freezing cold doorway with a fellow unfortunate (an American called McClane who was also heading towards Kosovo) because we were Johnny Foreigners and they wanted a doctor to come and make sure we weren’t dying of the bubonic plague, or swine flu as they are now calling it.

The train left on it’s merry way to Skopje without me – the next one wasn’t for five hours – and so after a doctor came and asked me if I was dying (the answer was no), we had to go and get the bus to the capital. Which was annoying.

But what was good was the fact that there was a bus to Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo, pretty much ready to go as soon as we got into Skopje. I just had time to stuff a burger-and-fries-in-one-huge-bun into my mouth before jumping on the bus and getting Kosovo ticked off my list of countries that aren’t really nations, but I’m counting them as nations because I like nice round numbers.

Arriving into Prishtina, I was then dropped into a little bit of a quandary. I bought a ticket for the bus into Serbia, but the driver wouldn’t let me on. Luckily, an American K-For guy was on hand to translate the situation. Serbia doesn’t recognise Kosovo as an independent state and since I entered ‘Serbia’ (ie. Kosovo) from Macedonia, the guards on the Kosovo/Serbian border will want to know how on Earth I managed to enter ‘their’ country without getting a passport stamp and consequently not let me in.

Confusing I know, but the upshot of this was that there was no way I could get on the bus to Serbia.

Never fear though – as long as I’m not trapped on an island, there is always plan B. I got the bus to Montenegro instead.

Clever eh?

The bus dropped me off in a nowhere town in Montenegro called Rozaje in the middle of the night and I waited in the freezing cold (it was comparatively warm in the northern Europe) for the late bus over to Belgrade in Serbia. I got through the border control okay – the only funny thing was that the Serbians stamped “Annulled” in Cyrillic over my Kosovo stamp – kind of childish when you think about it, but there you go – you go around ethnically cleaning areas of your own country, you can’t really complain when they decide they don’t want to your mates any more.

Strangely enough, they also ‘annulled’ a stamp from Thailand that was put in my passport three years ago.

This event has obviously meant that Thai-Serb relations are at an all time low. Or maybe the guy with the stamp was just having a really groovy time STAMPING THINGS. WITH HIS STAMP.

I like stamping things too.

I got off at the first town over the border, Novi Padar, only to find they had not dropped me at the bus station. It was now 1am, there wasn’t a soul around and I didn’t really have a clue what to do. Luckily, a battered sign pointed the way to the bus station, so I started walking. It was a good kilometre away and when I got there, I was greeted by a nothing but sleeping tramp, who promptly farted so loudly that the walls shook.

Luckily, a bus soon pulled in – I asked the driver if there was going to be any more buses back to Montenegro tonight. He didn’t speak much English, but I got the impression that there were no more stopping at the bus station tonight, but if I went back to where the bus I was on had dropped me off, I could flag a passing coach down from the road. My gesticulation skills are currently at an all-time high.

I walked back, pursued by stray dogs, and waited in the dark beside a huge puddle on the main road. Would I be waiting here all night? Will it ever stop raining?

After twenty minutes, a bus came by. The sign in the front said ‘Podgorica’, the capital of Montenegro. I practically threw myself in front of it just to make sure it stopped – and it did. I’ve haven’t been this relieved since I found out that everybody else on the planet finds bananas as hilarious as I do.

Day 122: Top Of The Balkans


We got into Podgorica so early, my legs were shaking. I immediately hopped a taxi to the nearby border with Albania. My driver, Ratko, was top – he didn’t speak much English, but he got the gist of what I was doing and was happy to take me into Albania for a couple of minutes to stomp around and get some footage and GPS readings to prove that I had broken in.

But like when I went to Albania with Stan a couple of years ago, we soon turned around and headed back to civilisation. Interesting fact – everyone with a car in Albania owns an old Mercedes. Everyone. Weird.

Tell you what though – last time I came along this road, it was the middle of the night and we though that we were in the middle of farmland or something because there wasn’t a SINGLE light on in the distance.

Well, I guess if we had waited until light, we might have discovered that the land south of Podgorica is a national park. It looked like the lake district (in the north-west of England), only bigger. Beautiful.

Talking of beautiful – Montenegro – what a gem! Croatia will always have a special place in my heart but I’m seriously considering doing the dirty on the old girl. Montenegro! The mountain fortress! Wow!

…And tonight on ‘Top of the Balkans’, we may have a brand new number one…

Then it was onto the bus to Herceg Novi near the border with Croatia, some good Montenegrin nosh stuffed into my pie-hole and then the old border drop into Croatia. Soon enough, I was on a bus heading north from Dubrovnik to Spilt. On the bus, I got chatting to Tom, a recently-graduated civil engineer and fellow loather of all things concrete-and-glass-curtains. STONES and CLAY and WOOD, please. Thanks. Good chap – he was inter-railing around like your favourite ginger scouser here, only not as maniacally – he was taking a good three months to go about it, not three weeks.

Hadn’t been to Spilt before – wow! – it’s just as bloomin’ marvellous as Dubrovnik. Roman ruins! Statues! Crumbling old stuff! Yeah! Oh, I’m torn now… Can’t I love Croatia and Montenegro evenly? Like your children, no favourites? We could all convert to Mormonism and live together in a big house and… well… er…

I’ll shut up now shall I?

There were no trains north until about 10pm, so we marched off to the pub, drank more than was possibly reasonable and I polished off a big plate of fish like an big yellow, cartoon alleycat. YUM!

The guys who ran the pub were several shades of excellent, and when it turned out the owner was an Evertonian, well, it was free drinks all round. A tiny Japanese guy was so excited that he had just eaten shark that we all arranged to climb Mt Kilimanjaro together next year.

Tom and I somehow staggered back to the station in time to get onto the night train to Zagreb. It would be getting in at silly o’clock in the morning, but tomorrow, I would be heading back to Budapest… tomorrow, I’ll be getting my bag back.

VIDEO: Last Exit To Serbia! (2007)

In the summer of 2007, myself and Stanley “Stan” Stanrydt, two grown men with the mentality of 13 year olds, set out on an epic journey across the heart of Europe in search of music, beer, broads and a decent sausage.

In a Mazda sportscar we christened ‘Traci Lords’ (she was underage but could still squeeze us both in), we shot through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Croatia in order to arrive in Novi Sad, Serbia, for the rather epic Exit Music Festival, held in an ancient fort on the Danube river. There we watched the likes of the Beastie Boys and many other bands that I vaguely don’t remember.

After four days of drunken debauchery, we sobered up and decided to take the long way round back to the UK. So we went to Sarajevo and Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dubrovnik in Croatia, rattled through Montenegro, got scared by the scary road in Albania, opted to take Traci out for a spin around the streets of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, before dripping our toes in Macedonia, skirting the city of Sofia in Bulgaria and crossed back over the Danube into Romania.

After a spooky trip around Bran castle in Transylvania (where Dracula was supposed to have lived), we thundered hell for leather back to Liverpool via Hungary, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France. A music festival and about twenty countries visited for no good reason other than we could? Now that’s MY idea of a holiday!!