Tearing through the streets of Belgrade – we were delirious, dirty and in need of respite. The team slugged on. We were in the same boat as the night before. Luckily we found a backpacker hostel at 11am. There were only dorm rooms left, which we reluctantly accepted. We definitely should have declined. The stench of know-it-all, pseudo geo-politicians were cramping our style. Every guest in there made us want to throw dog shit right in there weaselly little eyes. They argued about the virtuous life of Che Guevara. Also pretending they knew the economic impact of the farva bean yield in Hungry that year. In reality, they were creeps that made the hostel so unbearable that Jeff set up his sleeping arrangements in the car so he didn’t have to listen to their shit throughout the night.
Before we called it a night, we paraded around town for the final hoorah! Kevin took the time to regroup while the rest of us went for some local cuisine. The final cobble stone street we found had exactly what we were looking for – hot, spicy, beef filled soup. Yes please.
The next day we showed and got ready for our push down the continent. This time though, we really had no idea where we were going to end up. Up until that point, the trip had been planned out. We had the date for the wedding and mapped out certain cities we really wanted to go. Now – in the middle of Serbia we were perplexed on which direction to go.
Jeff was the initial planning guru. Since no one else on the team gave a shit, or more accurately was willing to put forth the effort to plan a route, Jeff devised one. From Serbia, the crew was to head for the Transfăgărășan highway in Hungry. This is one of the most iconic drives in the world. The steep grades are passed by a road that makes Lombard St. in San Francisco look like an arrow. The pass closes during winter when the snow blocks the old Soviet mountain side tunnel/road. From there, we were to go to Bucharest – home of the underground tunnel dwellers. If you have some free time, check out the documentary about Bruce Lee and the tunnels of Bucharest. Our next stop was the black sea somewhere in Bulgaria, before heading to Istanbul.
The allure of the Albanian coast was too strong. The Albanians were mysterious to us and the beach was too tempting. We started heading south to Macedonia and stopped at a seaside town where we could unwind and relax. After winding through southern Serbia for a few hours, we stopped in a tiny little town for some lunch. At this point with the heat, the five people in the car on a hot summer day was becoming unbearable.
We ate sandwiches car side while filling up on fluids. On the way out of town we stopped and had our first run in with a local mechanic. One of our tires was bald so we engaged with the locals to negotiate a used tire and to fill up our other one that was low. After about an hour it was hustle time to get to Skopje, Macedonia. Our plan was to get as close to the Albanian coast as we could. We were lagging per usual. By the time we made it to Skopje from Belgrade, it was the late afternoon. From Skopje it was approximately another 12 hours to the Albanian coast. The distance isn’t that far, but the roads are notoriously bad. The mountains are steep and the weather was wet. Add to that the darkness.
Skopje is one of those cities that was never on our radar. Let’s be honest – none of you know anything about Skopje. To put it simply, it’s the capital of Macedonia. It’s situated in the center of the country with mountains to the south, hills to the north, and the most astonishing fountain collection on earth. At least per capita or GDP. I am not lying when I say these beasts are incredible. I think they were all of Alexander the Great, but who cares, they were gold guilted greatness. We had a beer in the town square, ate more of our sandwiches, and got out of there just as the sun was going down.
We drove and drove and drove. More accurately, Kevin drove since night time is his gig. We were scared with Kevin’s rapid, moist mountain driving. But before too long, it was over and we descended upon a magical lakeside paradise.