Road Trip!!!

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We rented the car and got out of the city of some million with no trouble. Paige is a tough but fair navigator…..very tolerant of pilot error (you believe that)?

The toll road to the Serbian border was a piece of cake…….divided and well-maintained. It seems that most of these countries have a capital city with about 25% of the total population, maybe an industrial/business city, and the rest composed of villages, agriculture and a hundred year old lifestyle.

This certainly continued into Serbia, where the roads deteriorated and the evidence of more recents war is evident. The landscape was flat as a pancake to Belgrade, which has small hills aside the Danube.

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Among some bombed and still un-repaired buildings we found the Orient Express Balkan Hotel…..build in grand style in 1936, about three years before Hitler’s war. I don’t think it has had much done since…..a real poor old grande dame, but if you squint your eyes in the restaurant and listen carefully…..the grand times can still be imagined.

People are happy and try, but even the 20 something desk clerk apologized for not being able to offer great “tourist sites” like other countries. However, the old quarter, castle and hundreds of outdoor restaurants were plenty for us. We also met an Australian tennis coach who was either teaching or poaching the next “Rafat”.

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The countryside to Kosovo and Macedonia looked like great bird and duck hunting country. It just gets more pastoral and tranquil, even at harvest time. But the towns are unfortunately cheap new unimaginative stuff thrown up after the war, which may have been over in 1999 but I guess post-peace bombings continued for a few years, like in Iraq presently .

I recall Clint talking about going to Greece from Germany when he was there more than 40 years ago. I don’t know if Joe ever did. At any rate, half of Germany passed us speeding to Greece and the other half of Germany and Austria flew by us to Macedonia. At least that many Italians are driving to Croatia and Albania. The people, the immigration workers, and truckers are all frustrated.

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Our zigging and zagging has taken us through four borders one day…and one was a three hour ordeal. Add to this a Cyrillic map and road signs, half a dozen currencies and the local wines really begin to go down well.

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All of the ex-Yugoslav countries seem to have one foot in the Eu…but not both. Some take multiple currencies, some only their by law……authorities are fighting the grey economy in order to increase tax collections and reduce their debt. One guy told us every cash register in the country is connected to the capital, and if he doesn’t balance to a dinar they will close him down.

From Macedonia we went back through Kosovo and over the mountains to Albania. The teeny road passed lots of good trout fishing streams and rivers, and was adjoined by a number of war memorial/cemetery locations. We got through verdant forests to summit the tree line and head down to dry coastal Albania where it was 37.5 degrees and looked like central California with no water, except for the grape orchards.

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