Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Balkan Oddesy

I am back and rested from my brilliant Balkan adventure. As promised here are some photos from my journey in a mini van with seven of my friends from Dubrovnik to Skopje and back.

On Friday morning we arrived in Dubrovnik, picked up our van and began our journey. After 20 minutes on the road we crossed into Montenegro where I observed one of the most beautiful coastlines I have ever seen.

A ferry ride shortened the journey up the coast line which zig zaggs for much of the way. At 2am on the following Monday morning I would enjoy a lovely swim in that same Montenegrin bay as we were awaiting the return ferry journey.

A monument to Montenegro's war dead.

We followed this spectacular gorge for over an hour as we drove through Montenegro.

We left the Montenegrin coast and headed inland. Montenegro has a spectacular mountain range. Driving through it was the longest part of the journey. If you look closely at this picture you can see a bridge higher up the mountain.

While driving through these mountains I couldn't help think of Titos partisans who took to these mountains and fought so ferociously against the Nazis. I'm sure the Luftwaffe often flew through this particular mountain range in search of the resistance. Driving through this part of the former Yugoslavia also made me think of all those World War Two movies set in the Balkans like "Force Ten from Navarone" and how brutal the war must have been in such a rugged country.

As we finally broke through to a higher point with a more open view we came to the conclusion that as it was getting dark it would be safer to take the longer but better road though Serbia before entering Kosovo. The drive through Serbia and Kosovo on Friday night was uneventful. We reached Skopje around midnight, enough time to head out for a wild one.

Skopje, the Capital of Macedonia was a strange city that didn't appear to know what era it was in. Great nightlife though and a great match day atmosphere. Saturday in Skopje was a great day. Here me and some of the boys are chilling out. I'm the tall one.

We began our return journey at 10am on Sunday morning. The drive through Kosovo was much more enjoyable as we got to see it in daylight. As we got closer to the Serbian border the images I saw increasingly reminded me of the 1999 conflict and not just because of the many memorials to those Killed in the conflict. My sister who is a nurse worked with goal on the Albanian Kosovo border in 1999 and I have seen her pictures many times. The open green fields with patches of red tiled roofed houses dominates the landscapes.

Pristine, the capital of Kosovo. This picture is of, get this "Bill Clinton Avenue". The Americans who bombed the Serbs out of Kosovo in 1999 are adored in Kosovo. The former President's portrait can be seen on the top right of the picture. The street also has a Clinton statue.

A Mosque in the Kosovon country side. We sometimes forget that there are three countries in Europe with a Muslim majority, Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo. They are new but firm democracies, a fact that should encourage the Arab Spring.

In Kosovo the flag that dominates is not the kosovon, but the Albanian. This town is clearly marking itself as an ethnic Albanian town.

As we got closer to the Serbian border it became clear why the Serbs are so bitter at losing Kosovo. The newly independent nation obviously has a large Serbian minority as the entry road into this town illustrates.

French troops serving in the NATO mission guard the Kosovo Serbia border.

The Kosovo side of the border with Serbia is guarded by NATO and controlled by EU police. We were cleared to enter Serbia but upon arriving at the Serb controlled line of entry a cantankerous border guard turned us away because of the Kosovo stamp on our passports. It appears that whether or not a foreigner can enter Serbia from Kosovo depends on how nationalist the border guard is on that particular day. What should have been a ten hour journey became a 16 hour journey because of our detour.

We were supposed to arrive back into Dubrovnik at 10 pm on Sunday night where we hoped to enjoy a last bash. But thanks to Johnny Serb we didn't arrive until 4am. On seeing the beautiful location of our hotel the following morning I became particularly angry at what we had missed out on. Here's hoping that one day all the nations of the former Yugoslavia will be in the borderless EU. The EU has proved highly successful at eroding nationalism. After all, If you take away the borders, you take away the nationalism. The Serbs living in Kosovo are angry because they are separated from their Kin in Serbia proper. If both countries were to one day enter into a borderless free trade block with each other then nobody would care what side of the border they lived on. It has worked everywhere else in Europe, I don't see why it can't one day work in the Balkans.


Anonymous said...

brilliant Ted, i was looking forward to these for the past few days. Good work, and good result in Macedonia, I called it 2-0 with paddy power at 9-1, bagged myself a handy e40. Trapp seeming unstoppable at the moment. What a lovely part of the world...

Ted Leddy said...

Thanks Eoghan

It was a super cool journey thats for sure and seeing Robbie get another two was sweet aswell.

Not bad at 9-1. You must have been jumping around the place when they missed that peno.

Definitely a lovely part of the world. I would recommend it for anyone.