Saturday, October 27, 2001

Good morning everybody. How are you all? Wonderful. I'm in the exceptionally cold city of Prishtina right now. I think the best to way to proceed is to actually go to the handwritten travel diary I'm keeping and write, word for word, what I wrote at 2pm yesterday, in the depths of despair. It says everything that needed to be said then:

************(2pm yesterday)********

"I think we're getting quite a lot of stares right now," Simon says to me.
"Backpackers probably aren't terribly common in Prishtina," I reply.
"Then we're pioneers!" Simon says, determinedly.
"Or idiots."

So this is the Prishtina Fiasco.

I'm sitting in the bus station. Again. It's damn freezing. Still. There's a bus to Sofia. Hurray! It's 9am tomorrow. Odjebi. Prishtina has nowhere even remotely budget to stay. We have nowhere to go, nowhere sensible and cost effective. Except here. At the bus station, with our backpacks.

We have one vague hope. Simon knows some guy in some place called "Jgakova". He's checking his email now. If this guy has got back to him with even vaguely positive news, we're off there today. And we'll be alright. Somewhere to sleep. Somewhere with water. Somewhere warm.

Otherwise it's the night in the utterly bleak and cold bus station. Miserable and freezing cold. Unable to go anywhere because there's no left luggage. What a way to die.

Blame all of this on Simon. I don't care if that's harsh. He's the only reason we're here. To hand in some letter to the student union and then "hope" they'd give us somewhere to stay. Perhaps informing them of our arrival would have been helpful. Instead, after a trek to the old student union (now some UN building) and finally, after a search, locating the new one, we waited two damn freezing damn hours until hearing the president wasn't around (strangely, not anticipating the arrival to two Scottish backpackers, he was elsewhere doing stuff) so Simon just handed in the letter and we headed back to the bus station - via an overcomplicated route - to find there's nothing going anywhere remotely useful until tomorrow morning.

This is on top of a whole night without sleep anyway. After returning to our filthy, water-less, scabby hotel yesterday, getting soaked, we went to the bus to Prishtina. 6pm to 5am. Mostly on Albanian roads. The damn backwards Albanians are unable to have roads that do anything but crumble utterly, so the journey was - and I don't exaggerate - one continuous aeroplane landing simulator, crashing about violently. It didn't help that the driver had loud Arabic-Indian music blasting loudly the entire journey which became most irritating after the first half hour.

There was a Kosovan Albanian called something like Fahil on the bus who spoke tto us - or Simon - in German. He seemed ok. We thought he'd proved useful by informing us that approaching a KFOR British guy would likely get us a room for about 4DM, but this turned out to be bollocks.

Indeed, upon getting off the bus at the icy cold bus station at 5am, we could do nothing but sit and wait. Freezing. A cafe opened at 6am, which gave us an hour drinking two coffees, then I paid 50 pfennings not to have a crap at a filthy bus station toilet. Or hole in the ground rather. Dammit ass. Crap. I haven't done so properly in days and sometimes I feel like a desperately need to but obviously the horror of such hellhole toilets scare my body rigid.

We took a freezing cold 7.30am walk into town and I waited by a building while Simon did some futile searching for accommodation. In fact, other than the fact that Albanian exit customs didn't seem to bother with us thus saving us $10 each on exit, this turned out to be the saving grace as an American 50-something policeman/military guy at the adjacent cafe bought me a coffee and I was able to sit in relative warmth. He'd been in Kosovo for a year and a half, with 7 months left, and seemed totally terrified of Albania, especially the north with he regarded as highly dangerous.

Then the fruitless trek on this letter delivery mission. What a waste of time. All I've eaten today is some chocolate roll type things and a bag of sour cream and onion crisps. In quick succession which I'm sure my digestion won't like.

I need a piss now. Hurry up Simon. Hurry up. Man, another 18 hours of this. There is no God.

I'm in a bad mood, yes. Oh yes. I'm tired, hungry, filthy and freezing cold. Thank God for Alice and the gay Norweigan fisherman jumper. Without itt I cannot see how I'd have survived. Really. It's ultra-warm and even now I'm chilled.

What a way to die. Goodbye cruel world. Hope the Arabs extinguish the lot of you.


So yeah, not at top form there, but things changed upon Simon's (eventual) return. He went from sinner to saint. Well, perhaps not quite saint, but the hell I'd comdemned him to changed back into a limbo sort of state, where he'll likely remain for a while, until further judgement. He'd checked his email, but the guy in Jgakova hadn't come through, so he'd done some searching and after ages, by asking numerous military personel, he'd finally located rooms for 70DM. Working out at about 12 pounds each, which is just within our very upper limits we're willing to spend on accommodation, occasionally.

It's turned out to be excellent accommodation too. Private rooms with a hot shower, proper clean toilets, a TV, and comfortable beds. It would be warm and heated too, but (like Albania) the electricity supply is notoriously unreliable and so the power keeps cutting out and so the TV, heaters, and bathroom lights have proved useless. Fortunately the main room lights are on some sort of emergency supply.

So what have we done since get there? Well, I've done a Simon, you could say, and from 7pm to 7am I slept. More or less soundly. Simon managed 6pm to 7am. And then we ate breakfast, and now we're here.

Prishtina is bitterly cold right now, although it may warm a little as the day goes on. The American guy who bought me coffee reckoned it was winter, coming early. Because just a couple of days ago we were enjoying wonderful sunshine, and suddenly now I'm wearing a T-shirt, a gay Norweigan fisherman jumper and my crappy "cag in a bag" jacket, and I'm still cold.

We're going to spend the day in Prishtina, then piss off to Sofa for a couple of days, and then Istanbul. Head south from the coldness basically. Prishtina, for all it's ugly communist buildings and lack of obvious sights, does seem rather intriguing. It might be the very high military and police presence, and as a result, the vast ethnic diversity. I've seen the first black faces in almost two months, with American troops (and other countries too I believe). It feels completely safe as a result, and the lunatic driving of Albania isn't present. Likewise the horn-happy drivers. I do wonder how the place will cope when the military eventually pull out, as the economy seems prettyt dependent on the huge number of wealthy foreigners, and while the place is currently abound with pleasant new shops and buildings, somebody and some time is going to have to make sure the place doesn't crumble into the mess that is Albania once it loses all the troops.

So, from what looked to be disaster, we've managed to just get by. We've been winging it for quite a while now, and I think we were very lucky not to have had to spend that night at the bus station. Caution is going to have to observed for a while now, because I don't know long our luck can really hold out for. Nevila and Izet in Shkodra was a gigantic piece of fortune as they not only set us up for Shkodran accommodation, but also in Tirana, and Tirana appears to have nothing else obviously budget (and we'd never have found our filthy hotel without their help). Our luck failed in Prishtina, but hard work by Simon saved us. But I don't want to have to be in yesterday's situation again. Sofia looks to have good budget accommodation, and Istanbul is awash with hostels, so we should be alright.

But my advice to any travellers wanting to go to Albania or Kosovo is - don't. Not unless you're sure you can find somewhere to stay. Or you don't mind freezing cold damn bus stations.

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