The journey has been a rollercoaster of adventure so far, and that pace couldn’t last. With the rain and cold the Balkan experience was a real disappointment.
Montenegro and Kosovo seemed pretty much the same. The only difference is that Montenegro is mountainous whereas Kosovo is flat pretty much as soon as you cross the border. In reality it’s hard to know for sure as the last 2 days had been grim and cloudy so it’s hard to get much of a sense of the geography.
Lots of wood piles, hand split with an axe and stockpiled under tarps for the winter. That’s a very good boifuel and processing method. I’ll bet it doesn’t travel far. Even in the capital, Podgorica, wood logs are piled up outside flats and homes.
There’s also a lot of construction going on in the rural areas of MNE, using a wooden log cabin technique and local wood. The buildings look like they are seasonal and being prepared for the winter. There’s construction in Podgorica too, but its concrete luxury apartments (some with solar thermal heating). I can’t fathom what the economy is based on. I think MNE is a tax haven or perhaps a money laundering mecca. There is lots of investment schemes based here, mainly property, and it’s a major resort for wealthy Russians, so presumably mafia money is what’s paying for all the construction in the capital. I missed my second chance to meet the British ambassador there so didn’t get to ask him.
The fuel there must be pretty bad, even in the capital you can smell the badly tuned carbs pumping out petrol fumes, and on the mountain roads, even the newest cars churn out black smoke on their overtaking accelerations.
I’ve noticed that the bus revs high when it’s hot, perhaps a self defence mechanism. The best way to cool these merc diesels is to rev them hard with no load, as the fan will suck a small Balkan country through the radiator when revving at 2000rpm. Still haven’t got a temp gauge on the bus, but I can figure out it’s getting hot from the fuel temp readout I fitted and from the oil pressure. None the less as soon as I find a breakers yard with a similar truck I’m having the temperature gauge.
We had a few 10% inclines to tackle, done in 3rd gear short of maximum revs, 20mph with a line of tetchy drivers vying to overtake on the blind corners. I want to put a sign on the back saying “Frustrated? I have to drive this slow all day long!”
From Podgorica to the Kosovo border near Pec is one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever done. It follows a deep cut river through some beautiful mountains. Dad gave me several lectures on stratified rock, and how to distinguish Sandstone from Limestone or shale. He was a geologist. I keep being surprised at how similarly dull our conversational contributions are.
The trees are just starting to change to autumn colours and there is a full range from green to yellow to bronze lining the rocky canyon, a pleasure to be amongst. Stunning except where the cliffs are used as a landfill launch pad.
Plenty of scrap yards (a testament to the number of accidents on the roads – bad driving and bad roads) and I spent the day obsessively looking out for 16 inch wheels on local Mercs to see if they are likely to be found in the local scrapers. I need a wheel for the spare tyre, but so far I’ve only been able to find the narrower ones fitted to the 508’s from the ‘70s. The ones fitted to the 709 in the ‘80s are a bit of an oddity, even in the UK.
After being refused entry into Serbia, because insurance was €250 and the policeman refused to let us pay this saying it was too much, we got into Kosovo where the insurance costs a fifth. They are the same country but separate, and the insurance for one is not valid in the other. Nuts. Now we’re in Kosovo and there is the beginning of a Muslim influence with a few mosques, but it’s a definitely a “mullah lite” Islam.
I spent the evening watching Millionaire in Albanian, which goes out to Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonain TV stations. The top prize is €50k, Perhaps that’s a million Dinars. Dispite not being in the EU all these countries use the Euro. I got a lot of answers right by understanding just one or two words, impressing my fellow watchers who expended much discussion over each question.
Pristina is a shit hole. Never has a name been so wrongly applied to a city. The people too busy to notice each other, perhaps while they try to ignore that they live in a massive building site, under massive banners of Bill Clinton, on Bill Clinton Avenue, while they get their groceries at the Bill Clinton minimarket, next to the Bill Clinton mobile phone shop.
From there I stiffed again for more worthless insurance in Macedonia, and by now we were both so cold we floored it along the motorway to Thessaliniki, where the law of no cloud shadow over Greek territory had been applied in readiness for our arrival.
It was reassuring to see so many Vulcanizers (tyre repair shops) and mechanics along the road in the Balkan states. The bus coped OK over the crappy roads, and seems to have a bit more ground clearance than it used to. It’s really grubby now and the rain has chipped off a lot of the paint on the front destination panel so it looks proper rugged. I still don’t really trust it, and on the cold start this morning (5C) it took 5 minutes of cranking to come to life.
Haven’t looked for oil since Croatia but now it’s time to fat find again.