This is the end of the Spring 2013 Balkans trip.
I spent the previous days with friends in Belgrade and Pančevo. Amongst other things, we went to see the finals of the Serbian Water Polo (aka water ball) League A between BVK Crvena Zvezda (Red Stars) and Radnički Kragujevac. Of course Crvena Zvezda won! ;) Quite emotional and great fun to watch!
This morning was a little stressful. I had to leave at 5:15am to cycle the 21km to Belgrade and catch the train to Budapest. Of course I slept too long and left too late, so that I arrived just a few minutes before the train’s departure.
I had no ticket for the bike but the conductors said it’s ok to buy one on the train. Later, somehow, I forgot and fell asleep. The Hungarian conductors were not so relaxed. They kept the bike compartment locked shut. “No bike ticket? Problem!” I had the choice between ticket with receipt or “special offer”. I made it clear that I had just a few Serbian Dinars left, no Hungarian Forints, no Euros. Had I bought the ticket in Serbia it would have cost me around 500 Dinars. Eventually they were happy with the 1200 Dinars I had (approx. 10 Euros) which was still much cheaper for me than the 40 Euros they had quoted before (ticket + fine with receipt). And I had just paid the first bribe in my life…
Tomorrow I’ll head back home.
This trip was a tad different compared to all the previous ones. Not only did I not travel ‘on my todd’, we also cycled less kilometers per day than expected. Baby steps, we called it. Something I had to get used to, but it was definitely worth it.
The Balkans are amazingly beautiful. Sometimes I wished we’d had more time to stay in some places. Melnik, Lake Prespa and Srebrenica are just a few examples.
There were few places were war-inflicted damage was still obviously visible. Many houses in the villages were abandoned and rotting away, but in most cases, and to the untrained eye, it was not obvious whether they were left because of the conflict, or what had caused the damages in the first place. After all, rural depopulation is a common phenomenon not just here. I’m pretty sure, though, that the war is responsible for much of the depopulation.
We saw mined areas in Kosovo near the border to Albania, near Srebrenica, along the Croatian/Serbian border, as well as near the Greek/Bulgarian border (unrelated to the war).
The societal issues between the ex-Yugoslavian ethnicities are very well present. Political statements printed on shirts or sprayed on walls are not uncommon, e.g. pro or contra an independent Kosovo, depending on the region. I haven’t come across open hatred, like e.g. between Azerbaijanis and Armenians.
My worries regarding entering Serbia with the Kosovar stamps in our passports were unfounded. We had no problems at all.
We cycled a little more than 1800km in total.