Previously on World Wide Ricks: Kit and Kyle had risked life and limb by venturing into the interior of the Balkan peninsula, and had just crossed Bosnia after several days enjoying the Sarajevo area. It was time now to further explore the parts of the Balkans that still held much of their Turkish influence.
The main reason why the Ricks were facing freezing cold weather, was to take up an offer that became available while Kyle was sailing across the Adriatic on a ferry. Kyle had just happened to put his sleeping pad down next to two guys from Kosovo. Striking up a conversation with them, one of the two, a man named Mergim (nearly identical in age as Kyle) inquired where Kyle was planning on visiting in the Balkans. As is the Rick way, little planning or foresight was available to draw from, so it was easy to simply say “Why not Kosovo, see you in a week or so!”
Issues with Serbia
Crossing from Bosnia into Serbia, there are exit controls completed on the Bosnian side, and then 70 yards or so of no mans land over a bridge, and then Serbian entry controls begin. After crossing this no mans land, Kit and Kyle were dismayed to learn that Serbian border insurance was to cost 100 Euro for each motorcycle. It was clear that this was a “European/American Tax” after the issues in the Balkan conflicts in the 90s between NATO and Serbia. Typically, border insurance costs between 15-20 Euro in all the other countries we had visited. Feeling slightly rejected, Kit told the border guards “Thanks, but we will go back to Bosnia instead”
Crossing no mans land once again the Bosnian Border Guard asked for Bosnian vehicle insurance. If you have been an avid reader of this blog you might remember that the Ricks did not have Bosnian vehicle insurance, after paying a bribe at a remote Bosnian border post. The point being, Bosnia wanted 25 Euro to return to their country. The Ricks took a long time to think about our plan forward while onlookers from both countries wondered what the hell these strange people were doing. At this point, being a major spectacle was par for the course for these two, so little concern entered their mind.
Eventually it was concluded that by skipping over Serbia, the Ricks would 1. Have to cut back into the incoming cold front, 2. Ride over very high mountains to make to the coast as soon as possible and 3. miss the opportunity to see Kosovo and take up the offer from Mergim. Based on these circumstances, the Ricks awkwardly gave the Bosnian officials the same “Thanks, but no thanks” and rode back over the border to Serbia.
As the Serbian border guard saw us once again he chuckled and in an extremely Slavic accent joked “Is like movie, with Tom Hanks, Terminal”. We sheepishly laughed and forked over our cash and the next thing we knew we were in Serbia. With an interest in moving as fast as possible we did not stop for any photos, but they all would have been dismal grey cold scenes with lots of sheep. While riding over a mountain pass we actually had ice stuck to our riding gear, but luckily not the road. It was truly the last .2mi of a marathon as the (slightly) warmer valley that makes up the majority of Kosovo approached.
The ricks crossed the border into Kosovo with a warm welcome and a handshake. The border guards were blown away that two Americans had ridden their motorcycles all the way to their tiny little border post. It warmed Kyle’s heart that someone out there appreciated our policies of military intervention. Some people, obviously, did not at all.
A border town we passed through still had Serbian flags flying everywhere, even though technically this land was part of “Kosovo”. It reminded Kyle a lot about how certain neighborhoods in Belfast would fly either the Irish flag, or the UK flag depending on their political leanings.
Arriving at Mergims house, apprehensions were slightly elevated. What would it be like? Would it be awkward? Kyle did not know much about him or his family, only sitting next to him on a ferry for several hours. It turned out to be a cozy, hospitable rest stop in a sea of cold and wet weather.
Mergim spent over 2/3rds of the year working in Switzerland, away from home. Finding work in Kosovo is very difficult, but by doing this he had managed to make an extremely comfortable home for his entire family. It truly instilled a sense of appreciation for what they had. Kit and Kyle had just barged into their lives, so they did not have anything special planned, but a long itinerary was the last thing on Kit and Kyle’s mind. The next day Mergim and his wife headed into Prishtina (the capitol of Kosovo) to go clothes shopping, and Kit and Kyle took this opportunity to see the sights without a wet motorcycle ride.
It was great spending time with Mergim and his family, and both Kit and Kyle were very glad they had braved the nasty weather to visit.
Running back to the Coast
One thing that was not left unnoticed by the Ricks was how many mosques there were in Bosnia and Kosovo/Albania. It was back to calls to prayer at sunrise (as well as many other hours of the day). Each mosque however, unlike in Morocco, were smaller versions of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, built in the classic Turkish architecture of that time.
Skipping over a large part of the Balkan Adriatic Coastline, it was interesting to see how the mad craze of vacation developments had not made it quite this far south. Ex soviet apartment buildings dotted the coastline, and again, all were starkly empty. The temperature was back up to the mid 60s once again however, and that was all the Ricks could ask for.
Stark reminders of World War II, as well as Turkish influence dotted the roadside, until finally we made it to the country who has of late, made every single effort to remove all signs of once being part of the Ottoman empire.