Sublime to Ridiculous again! Kotor and Kosovo.

Trip Start Jun 03, 2010
Trip End May 28, 2011

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Motel Danini

Flag of International  , Komuna e Mitrovicës,
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 20

We are in Kotor, Montenegro this evening. We wouldn't even have known where Montenegro was a couple of months ago, much less be enjoying one of the prettiest little camping spots (and cheapest) alongside one of the prettiest little towns we have seen.

Montenegro is a smallish republic on the southern coast of what was once Yugoslavia, just south of Croatia, with Serbia and Albania to the east.

The border crossings were a breeze. They use Euros here, so that is easy. It is somewhat noticeably less "European" with a few more decrepit trucks on the road, pokey traffic mixed with crazy passing and horn honking, and some decrepit old communist era buildings mixed with modern, and with old deserted hotel buildings perched above a yacht harbour with huge and glitzy boats along the quay.

Kotor is an old walled town at the south end of a big bay or fjord carved into the coast…like a big triangle with the hypotenuse inland, and the opening to the sea a very narrow inlet at the opposite point.

As we arrived, we spied a parking lot just about half a km short of the entrance to the old town saying 24 hr parking… so we asked the attendant if we could camp here…he said “no problem”. It might cost us 10 Euro at the most….and this is right at the foot of the hillside fortress, and right smack on the beautiful waterfront. Who could ask for more!

We had a good wander around the old town…mostly 15th and 16th C, including a couple of ancient Orthodox churches.

Then one of us, you’ll have to guess which, took a hike up the 1500 steps (700 ft ascent) of the crenellated walls which ascend from the town, while the other retreated to the van for a cup of tea. See the pictures…really incredible views!

We head east tomorrow, into the unknown territories of Kosovo and Macedonia toward Turkey. We have virtually no guidebooks for this inland area, and we don’t expect to find convenient campsites, nor internet nor electrical plug-ins for at least a week… so who knows when you will get this entry!

September 21

From the sublime to the ridiculous, reprise.

Well, we were vaguely aware that we were going to have to travel through Serbia today , and a day or two ago we realized that we would be traveling through the hotspot of Kosovo, but we really were not prepared for the gauntlet of checkpoints, armoured cars and innumerable polizia that we encountered today!

We started the day in the sublime Montnegran port of Kotor that we camped in last night. The weather is still good. We had a pastry and coffee in the old town before checking out of the parking lot campground (10 Euro), and we rode our bikes past the half dozen multi-million dollar yachts. But by the evening we had passed through some of the most tense borderlands of the world, and through some real third world scratch-out-a-living villages.

The road from Kotor to inland Kosovo was a dramatic climb of almost 5,000 feet, up and down and twisting through switchbacks, passing and being passed by various beaten up old trucks, tractors and cars, through innumerable tunnels and patched up bridges.

There were also beautiful farmland valleys, vistas of the coastal Riviera lands, mountains as dramatic as the Columbia range in BC, and strange semi-third world cities such as Podgoricja, the capital of Montenegro.

We did try to venture in to Podgoricja, but were defeated by heavy traffic, no parking places, and no really clear central part of the city to stop and see.

The most interesting part of this most interesting day was the checkpoints into the Kosovo region of Serbia. It was very high, mountainous country when we came to the border. We had already passed through some obviously Muslim towns…very poor, with beaten up old cars and trucks and tractors, decrepit buildings, dusty shops and markets, but with the inevitable minarets pointing skyward. Indeed, there were multitudes of old VW type 2 vans, as old as ours!

We first came to the exit point from Montenegro… nothing special, a friendly agent stamping us out. Then we came to the entry point to Serbia. We passed through a couple of small towns between the two points which was a surprise. I guess they are in no-man’s-land. The first Serbian point wasn’t a big deal… a bit of a wait and delay, but a friendly agent who stamped us through.

The next checkpoint (the third) was a surprise, and was much more interesting. It was a good 4 or 5 kms from the second one, so we did not expect it. The first thing we saw was a sign in our lane saying  “Stop, polizia”, and we noticed all the other vehicles both ways were stopped…not that there were that many… a couple of cars our way, and a couple of trucks the other way. We were stopped about 100 metres short of the checkpoint, and had to wait a good 15 minutes before being called forward.. As we moved forward we passed a couple of armoured personnel carriers painted the blue of UN peacekeepers, and with a few blue beret soldiers milling about. At the actual checkpoint there were a couple of jeeps, one of which had a machine gun mounted, and a couple of Land Rovers with EU markings on them. They were clearly only dealing with one vehicle at a time.

This checkpoint, and the previous one, seemed to be mobile…that is, the booths were trailer things, and were run by diesel generators. The stop signs were moveable ones, just propped up in the roadway. At this stop, there was also a water filled trough to drive through, though no one did, we were directed around it. I am guessing this was to disable possible explosives???

The agent, who looked and dressed just like the first Serbian checkpoint, was friendly enough with us, and apologetic, but it took about 15 minutes while we were pulled over, for us to get the proper credentials.

Shortly after leaving this checkpoint, a couple of armoured personnel carriers with Italian Caribinieri insignia came the other way. We passed 2 or 3 further roadblocks over the next 10 kms or so, but were not stopped.

What this is all about is the fact that the Kosovo region of Serbia, which is the area we chose to pass through, is trying to assert its independence from Serbia. I think what happened is that we were first checked into Serbia, and then we came to the tense border where we were checked into Kosovo. Obviously the EU and UN are watching that border carefully, because Kosovo has not been given independence yet. Some countries, including the US, are recognizing Kosovo independence, but countries which have other independence disputes, such as Russia and Spain, .. and Canada (Quebec) do not wish to recognize the independence. It is all very hot right now, and we were caught in the squeeze. Just a few weeks ago Serbia withdrew its objections to the independence at the UN, so it is still very much in progress. We were given separate little papers at the third checkpoint, granting us transit status within Kosovo, which would not be necessary really because Kosovo is not yet a separate nation from Serbia. Maybe these will be historic documents!

The other issue of the afternoon was where we were going to stay for the night. There aren’t a heck of a lot of campgrounds in this mountainous third world area, and we were nervous about free camping, given the armed vehicles running around. As we drove into Kosovska Mitrovice, the first city east of the border, we watched for a hotel, and, on the way out the far side, we did indeed find this little Travelodge kind of place Motel Danini. As per the photos, it is modern and clean enough, but pretty darned basic. But for 20 Euro for the night, it is as cheap as a campsite.

We still had the dilemma of what to do about dinner, which we had in our refrigerator, so we cooked up a lovely shishkebob and stir fry dinner in the van in the garage of the hotel!

Tomorrow we head further east into Macedonia and Bulgaria…
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