The road to Kosovo isn’t some sort of complex metaphor to define years of animosity and outright war, it is, in fact, a rather bumpy, pothole death track through the middle of a mountain range, full of bandits, criminals and little old ladies selling tea…
I believe my hatred for bus stations has already been well documented and trust me Skopje bus station did very little to change those opinions. Buying my ticket was both a simple and complicated process. Let me explain. After doing some research online. I figured I wanted to get the 10:30 bus, so headed to the bus station and found the companies ticket office.
I headed inside and asked to buy a ticket. To my surprise the woman declined to sell me a ticket, saying it would be cheaper for me to buy one from the bus stations main ticket desks. Her reasoning was, they couldn’t sell me the fee you usually have to pay to actually use the bus station (this is normal in most of Eastern Europe.)
I retell this short story because, at times when you travel a lot in foreign countries, it feels like you spend a fair of time trying to avoid people scamming you. Whether it is taxi drivers or foreign currency exchanges, at times it can feel like the whole world is conspiring to separate you from your cash. Here though this nice lady had gone out of her way to save me some cash, out of the kindness of her heart. Maybe Skopje bus station wasn’t so bad after all.
After buying a ticket and using the loos, I changed my mind again and Skopje bus station is as bad as the rest. I quickly then spent the last of my Macedonian denar. I really enjoy doing stuff like that, as you try and spend the last bits of currency, in my case I just buy countless treats, so with a bag full of chocolate and sweets, I found the right bus stand, and waited for my ride to Kosovo.
Shortly after a small minivan pulled up into the stand where my bus to Kosovo was supposed to leave from. A rather large man, looking on the brink of a mild heart attack got out, lit a cigarette and wandered into the terminal. This left me idly wondering when this man would move this heap of junk so my nice bus to Kosovo could park up. After a couple of minutes, it slowly dawned on me, in horror, that this could be the bus to Kosovo. No way, I assured myself, it was tiny, only had around twelve seats. Surely more than twelve people would be travelling from Skopje to Kosovo. It then dawned on me, as I walked to the front of the bus and saw the word ‘Pristina’ in big letters; this would, in fact, be my ride up the road to Kosovo.
I was joined by a couple of other travellers, who also seemed to be confused by the minibus. One of them, in fact, asked me if they had the right stand. The look on her face when I said yes, was one for the history books. She went through nearly every emotion that I knew. From panic, to fear, to confusion, to laughter and finally into outright anger. She demanded to know who was driving, and when I pointed to the overweight man, covered in tattoos smoking a cigarette. Her face repeated the exact same emotions and she headed off to have a word with someone!
Finally, it was time to board, this was indicated by the driver saying some words in Macedonian and throwing a coughing fit as he signaled for us to jump on-board. I quickly grabbed a window seat and the bus filled up. Soon he slammed it into reverse and we shot out of the Bus Station like a gang of robbers who’s just raided a bank. Off we were heading, onto the road to Kosovo.
I don’t honestly think he drove any worse than any of the other bus drivers I have experienced; I think it was just exasperated by the small size of the bus. Every turn, every pothole, and there were a lot them, trust me, ricocheted through my body. I tried to do some work on my laptop, but after the sixth or seventh-speed bump decided that I didn’t want my laptop doing somersaults off my lap. Instead, I just sat back and enjoyed the scenery…
And what a brilliant decision that was, once we had left Skopje, we climbed high up into the mountains, on a twisty fast road. Seriously, our bus driver drove this thing like he was in Top Gear or something, dropping it down gears and taking corners so fast, at times you felt like you were going to go over the edge. He also continued chain smoking the whole way and shouting down the telephone, not exactly sure how he managed that with a manual gearbox, but hey ho.
We quickly descended down into a stunning valley as the traffic on the road started to thin out. It was the sort of places that remind me of those old bandit movies. I was half expecting to find an overturned lorry around the corner, with a couple of bandits holding guns waiting to rob us of our wears. We continued along, with the scenery just getting better and better, I’d got used to our driver by now, and sort of trusted him. He’d probably driven this road so many times he could do it with his eyes closed.
Suddenly he flung on the breaks, and we came to a screeching stop, I looked up expecting to find a couple of bandits, but in fact, it was customs. So yeah, bandits. I couldn’t believe we were finally at the Kosovo border, according to Google maps it should have taken half an hour, but we seemed to have done the road to Kosovo in less than twenty.
But here we were, at a deserted border post about to enter a country that has a rather turbulent history, it was then I realized I had a Serbia stamp on my passport… Oops…