Month: August 2007

The Bisto Train

Two more days and I’ll give up my life of leisure and retun to my desk at RM

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I’ve just re-discovered Picasa. It’s Iaku!

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Back home and then back home…

OK, I’m gonna do this one properly. I have time, free Internet, coffee and photo’s – all vital accessories for updating the mighty

I’m gonna start by jumping back to Montenegro as I somehow managed to skip over most of it despite being one of the coolest places we visited.

We arrived on bus from Podgorica (the capital of Monte) at about 8.30pm and quickly realised that we’d just arrived late, with no reservation in a tourist hot-spot in August. However, a little Bearder-luck and some smooth Slavic-talk from Ajada soon had us a bed, a shower and a kitchen complete with a Montenegrin grandmother to look after us.

As described by the tourist office she was a small lady with short hair and she soon had us settled, oriented and fully briefed on how to use the shower, the oven and the door key. Leaving lights on in empty rooms was a crime.

Now, I can’t remember the exact order of things but, whilst in Kotor we managed to relax on the beach, swim, walk until my legs hurt, take an 8 hour boat trip around the fjord, get up at 5am to watch the sunrise

…and climb to the top of the walled city to watch the sunset.

The trip on the ‘touristical boat’ was worth the 10 euros but came with loud Balkan folk music and funny balkan people sunning themselves in margarine! I kid you not.

All in all Kotor is a pretty special town and definitely one of coolest hideout I’ve found on the Adriatic.

Next up was the southern town of Ulcinj and it definitely shows a different side of Montenegro. With a mostly Albanian population the place is ‘livelier’ in a very Albania way. It’s still a cool place but the number of British, Austrian, Swedish and German BMW’s, Audi’s and Mercedes is mildly concerning and so is the amount of litter. Actually, Ulcinj’s ‘little beach’ is the unfortunate winner at the top of my list of ‘dirtiest beaches I’ve ever seen’. However, we enjoyed it, drank in a very Bohemian bar in the old town

(followed by the very un-Bohemian Irish ‘Rock Bar’) and explored the town with our new travelling buddy Jon – a Spanish guy on a solo tour of the coast.

Oh, and Ulcinj is also home to…

…and you may wonder how it got this reputation? Well, could this be the reason…??

We finally left for Albania on Saturday morning (see previous message) and you can see the photos here:

Even Albania – universally mocked by the rest of Europe (maybe the world) as a lawless and dangerous country turned out to be fine. Actually we got more help and hospitality in 2 days here than I’ve experienced in weeks in other countries. Tirane is also more lively and colourful (thanks to their Major) than many other ex-communist capitals.

Although only small, there is a small crowed of travellers who we’re prepared to include Albania on their itinerary. We spent the night with 3 Italians and a young American couple, slept on a sofa-bed outside and made straight for Durres in the morning.

Much shouting (in a friendly local Albanian way) later we had, lunch, souvenirs and ferry tickets home.

What we didn’t have was any Euros so we survived the 24 hour journey on

Ukrainian dried fish
Romanian biscuits
Albanian cheese sticks
Montenegrin milk
Russian tea
and 1.5 liters of Moldovan honey!

Not an appetising feast but almost a complete gastric-repeat of the previous 3 weeks.

We got home on Sunday and, I have to admit Slovenia is still (even after 7 months) winning hands-down as my favourite place to be in Europe.

Alas, it’ll have to wait as I leave this sunny republic early tomorrow and I’ll be back in Oxford before you know it!

Expect a sentimental update next week about how much I’m missing Slo.



Oh, and I also got one of my most long awaited holiday snaps – me on a pill box. There’s about 700,000 of these in Albania and finding a picture of one online 4 years ago was probably the start of my whole European mission …but that’s another story altogether…

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Quick update as I have nothing else to do….

We missed our 6am bus to Albania this morning (largely because we we’re told it left at 7am) and so we’re still in Montenegro. However, if all goes well, we’ll be on the 1pm bus to Skroder and then onto the costal town of Durres.

I’m not sure how to spell the name of the town we’re in but, it sounds like

There’s not much else to report as we’ve mostly been exploring ‘small beach’ (which should be called ‘worlds dirtiest beach’) and ‘large beach’ which is also called Miami Beach. Miami beach was much better. We’ve also been hanging out with Jon, a good lad from Spain and eating ‘kebaps’.

Oh, I also forgot to mention and thank Tim our Kosovan friend who took us for a beer in Pristina. Another HC member, he went out of his way to meet us, answer our onslaught of questions and show us what’s cool in Pristina. Cheers Tim – it was much appreciated.

I’ll try and write from Albania


Oh, and thanks to a little shitty Montenegran wasp, I have one very large, funny looking elephant foot.

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Our Tripe

Mother T watches over her street in Pristina, Kosovo.

From Istanbul to Kotor. The Black sea to the Adriatic.

OK, so we’ve been a little busy since I last wrote anything here and we’re now sat 550 miles south west of Istanbul, 4 countries on – in Montenegro. But more about that later, first I’ll fill in the gaps.

We partied Turkish style the night before we left Istanbul and thus, our last day in Turkey was hardly productive (we slept all day) but it was all good fun and acted as a mini-reunion for the 6 of us who met on the ship from Odessa.

We left Istanbul on the 10pm night train to Sophia but not before we were shafted for 3 Euros for two crappy coffees. My advice to anyone visiting this city is, get a price for EVERYTHING before you order. They have no hesitation in bending you over and there’s not much you can do once the coffee is already warming your tired, hungover belly.

Anyway, we hoped on our train, we’re joined by two English school teachers and soon learned that one of them knows Emma, an English teacher we both know from Slovenia. Yes it is a small world.

The train was the most uncomfortable 12 hours of my life, so I won’t write about it hear as my typing may get a little colourful. However, we arrived safely, were helped by a kind guy at the bus station (he let us use his Internet and gave us directions) and soon found a real bed in cosy ‘the rooms’ hostel in Sophia – complete with astro-turf carpet. Naturally (well it’s natural if you’ve ever slept on that train) we slept for most of the day then ate at a funny restaurant called Dom Domatoes. The themed menu had dishes from all over the world. Obviously, London was represented by the classic English dish ‘Trout with walnuts’!? We spent the evening with Tedy, a kind, friendly and helpful couch-surfing member who agreed to meet us for a coffee. I’m glad she did too as we saw a side of Sophia that I missed last time and I’ve reviewed my opinion of Sophia – I like it now. Amongst other things we debated the important question ‘Is it possible to marry in a church if you have no hands, and thus nowhere to place a ring’? Iaku, is the Bulgarian word for super-cool.

Early the next morning (I’ve lost track of days now) we jumped on the bus to Skopje (Macedonia). I didn’t understand a word but, both the border guy and a friendly old woman took a shine to Ajda. The border guy used to live in Izola (Slovenia) a town close to Ajda, and the old woman was just happy to see someone who spoke her lingo. I’m glad she did, as she helpfully informed (and held, stroked and touched) Ajda about her entire life and more importantly about the current price of water melons in Macedonia. I guess this is similar to English weather-speak. Melons are cheap here too – 15 euros for 2 tons!

Skopje was as nice as I remembered and surprisingly I remembered a lot. I remembered where the hostel was, remembered the restaurant that sells a ‘girls burger’ and remembered that I like Skopsko beer.

Not wanting to waste time (I have a mission to complete after all) we were up early (too early) and after some frantic running around in flip-flops (I mean real running and it nearly killed me) we found a cash machine, cash and our bus to Pristina in Kosovo.

I suspected Kosovo would be nothing like I expected and it wasn’t, but not like I suspected (if that makes sense).

We were presently surprised on arrival at Pristina’s bus station as we had heard it was a shit hole – it wasn’t. The taxi driver took his turn at ripping us off and soon we were at the Grand Hotel on Mother Teresa (born in Macedonia of Albanian origin) street. I’ll almost forgive the taxi driver as he almost exploded with joy when I said I was from England and (for very different reasons to the Turks) also started shouting ‘Liverpool!’

We experienced far too many funny, interesting, odd and occasionally crap things in Kosovo to write a full report, but its enough to say that it’s not dangerous, it’s not a wore-torn shite hole, it’s incredibly friendly and (yes even in Kosovo) it has a fair selection of trendy bars, clubs and cool people.

Highlights included…

  • The best plate of meat and salad I’ve ever eaten for 1 euro 50 cents

  • 45 minutes of local TV which consisted entirely of a man spinning a pit-bull terrier around on a piece of cloth (I have a photo somewhere if you want to know more

  • Some unique Albanian fashion (purple tracksuit trousers with a turquoise shirt, a suit jacket and a white hat)

  • The nice Bruce Lee poster in the cafe we drank in

  • The strange Sunday spectacle of dressed-up cars, waiving large Albanian flags with very excitable Albanians bouncing up and down on the back seat to very bad music.

  • 1000’s of half finished houses. It is clearly unacceptable (maybe even frowned upon) to complete your house in Kosovo. Completing the shell is OK but god help you if you cover the breeze blocks with some kind of pleasant finishing.

  • Bill Clinton everything (streets, shops etc). Tony B, has a street too but we didn’t see it.

  • Stolen cars. Unless you believe that all UK, German and Swiss BMW drivers take their holidays in Kosovo – you have to conclude that they are all nicked and amusingly, they don’t even worry about changing the plates. KFOR obviously have other things to spend their millions on – not organised crime.

  • The local and good Peja beer.

  • ‘beckles margarine boilding’. Don’t ask me what it is but, this is the English translation of one of the menu dishes.

Interestingly, it seems (from a conversation in Serbian with our Albania taxi driver) that the Albanians still welcome the UN presence and see it as entirely necessary.

Oh, and yes, it’s true – electricity is the ubiquitous energy of choice for all of Europe – except Kosovo. Well, it does come on, but it goes off a lot too. There’s a complicated logic to this chaos but you’ll need to download the inyourpocket guide ( if you want to read it.

Oh, don’t expect to go on the ‘pull’ in Kosovo either – clubs are for men. Maybe the girls are all at home eating burgers.

OK, and that’s about it. We spent all Monday on a bus and now we’re in the stunning Adriatic town of Kotor in Montenegro (Black Mountain). Montenegro is Europe’s newest baby and home to the first fjord I’ve ever seen. I like it.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably as tired as I am now.

Laku Noc

Oh, I forgot to mention Prince, the funny Nigerian guy we met in Odessa (apparently, he’s not a real Prince) and the guy who walked into the bar with a girl …on a leash! Ukrainians, eh?

I’ll put some pictures up later, but you can see the best of them;

and here:

Oh, and we’ll be here for a few days before invading Albania – the last country on our list before we return home.

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