Thursday, 24 November 2011

94 The Balkans....

We hit Thessolonika at about 3pm and drove aroung looking for a suitable hotel. We found a few and Karen stated that she did not want to stay in the Chinese red light district. I of course had no problem with this (actually I did really, it was a mess). We drove out of town slightly and found a large hotel which although very nice was expensive but we thought "what the heck", we had been down market for some time so we decided to spoil ourselves. It was The Makedonia Palace and in the UK would have cost us over £200 but we paid only around £100. We had a sea view and watched the sunset and parrots in the trees opposite. It was very nice. 
View of Thessolonika from our hotel

Our sunset

We walked into town and walked about 6kms all together and stopped for a meal in what looked to be an up market restaurant. We were disapointed. The food was dry and hard to palate. We walked back to our hotel and called it a night.
Monday 21st Nov.
We left Thessolonika and headed North for Macedonia. WE were heading for Skopje (pronounced Skopie) and Karen successfully found a Greek flag sticker in a petrol station near the border. We entered Macedonia with very little fuss except that we needed to buy insurance for Gromit. 50 Euros. Ouch, we only wanted 2 days cover, they gave us 50.  Macedonia is a very pretty place, albeit very dry as is most of the region. The drivers however appear to have passed some sort of test. Unfortunately Skopje was very high and as we approached it we entered cloud (fog by any other name) and could not really get a good idea of the place. We found a hotel, the Hotel Continental. They were very accomodating with Leon. He was not officially allowed in but the girl behind the desk said to keep him out of sight on the way in and out. We ate in the Hotel and had an early night as we were knackered.
Tuesday 22nd Nov.

We went to breakfast at the hotel and were surrounded by the national football team, none of whom we recognised !
We drove into the centre of Skopje and found a parking spot near the centre. We then went on out usual sticky flag and fridge magnet hunt and net some friendly musicians on the way. Whilst I was practicing my banjo, Karen was swapping shopping tips with the locals.
I'm the one on the right.

So where exactly are the best she shops?

The centre of town

On our return to Gromit, it appeared that she had been blinged up too. She was sporting a new yellow bangle on her drivers side front wheel. On top of that some kind person had place some stickes of their own on her windows...nice.
Wew struggled to phone the number on the ticket as we speak zilch Albanian and had te recruit the assistanc eof a bank  security guard who made the necessary phone call for us and 15 minutes later and 1300 Macedonian Dinars later (about £18 - in the UK that would have been £210) we were free to go on our way.
I considered replacing the wheel till I discoveed thatthe fine was only £18. Better to pay than spend the night in jail.

Skopje seems to be in the middle of refurbishment, there are building works going on all around but you can see the potential from all the statues and the buildings.
Refurbishment of a pretty city

We then headed North for Kosovo.
The border controls were very friendly and this time we had to pay only 30 euros for our 50 day insurance. The funny thing was that we had spent our last 50 euros on the Macedonian insurance and had none left. I negociated to be allowed to drive into the adjacent town to get some Euros while they held onto ours and Gromits passports. I then bought the insurance and on production of the certificte I was given our passports back and allowed to go. I have to say the whole affair was very cordial and the officials were extremely helpful, jovial and polite. We had a good feeling about Kosovo.
Kosovo is a politically unstable counrty which broke away from Serbia in 2001 and is currently seeking world recognition as an independant sovereign state with success from western countries but not eastern (i.e. Russia) and as such still has a large contingent of NATO troops in the area to assist in peace keeping duties due to the difficult split from Serbia . There are small makeshift barracks all over the place. We saw Germans, Portugese, Greek and others inidentified in the town of Pristina, the capital.
Pristina itself was a sad but lively place. 
Antrance to the Portugese barracks.

The place had obviously been through a long war and has very little in the way of a national identity. By this I mean that it lacked any formal centre and statues that most capital cities have. It was more like a large town recently thrown together and then ravaged by war. On the other hand, the people were extremely up beat and happy. They were extremely friendly and when we asked if somone spoke English (i.e when shopping) they would go out of their way to find someone who did. 
A typical house. Half finished.

All the Serbian spellings on the road signs have been obliterated. They are not liked apparently.

We found a reasonable Hotel just outside town, the Hotel De-Lux. We later found out that it was the local bonking hotel. I will not go into that any further. 
House of love.

The room however was nice aside from the leaking shower and we decided to stay a couple of days in order to get some washing done. The weather was still awful and the fog had started to turn to rain when we drove back into town but we found a Pizza restaurant and made the mistake of asking for it to be spicy. The chef obviously though "I will teach those Limeys" and the Pizza was covered in chilli powder. Still it kept us warm when we left. 
We then had a wander around in the wet fog and when back to the hotel to listen to the funny noises coming through the walls. 
Wednesday 23rd Nov.
We popped back into town and found a launderette. We managed to get 2 piles of washing/drying done using sign language only. Whilst this was being done we strolled around town again, visited lots of shoe shops and went for some grub. One thing we did find funny was that in all the bars we went in, we were the only ones drinking beer. All the locals drink is coffee and water. We stood out just by the beer bottles!
Not bad for £8 all in.

Sad, wet and happy.

Bill with his willy hidden from sight.

This was wierd. Individual TVs per table.

The estate where we found the launderette.

Then it was back to the love hotel to chill out, read our books and listen to the screams from the neighbouring rooms.

Thursday 24th Nov.
We set off for Albania.
Soldiers invertigating one of their own accidents.

We arrived at the border and on seeing the outside of our passports, we were waved through the exit gate and only a cursory look at them was made at the Albanian side. We were through in about a minute. Albania was also covered in low cloud and we did not get to see much of the scenery which was obviously present. 
Albanian mountains. Shame about the haze but it was clearing.

We arrived in Tirana, the capital, and were treated to the usual chaos of a city where a driving licence was not mandatory (apparently). 
A book stall in Tirana

Bad photo, but today is Albanian National day.

We found a cheap but new hotel and settled in. We had to negociate the room for Leon though. When they saw how cute he was they let him in.

1 comment:

  1. According to Google Earth, your only 2,678km away lol Love you both lol