— aleatory

Sleeping Rough in the Balkans

That night was spent in a field on the outskirts of Plav. The town itself was pretty friendly and I was surprised to see all major Former Yugoslav football teams colours on sale in one of the local kiosks in this Muslim town. In fact in the Balkans the naive happiness you get with not living in a perceived war zone any longer was tangible and shared I think with our situation back in NI. I bought a Red Star scarf, the Belgrade team historically so popular with Serb nationalists. Early doors the next morning I caught a bus over the border to Peje for €7.

If Montenegro echoes Bosnia with its endless undulations of steep green hillside, Kosovo clones the relatively flat arable lands of Serbia. Peje is the main rallying point to climb Serbia/Kosovo’s highest peak Deravica and also brews Kosovar beer. The bus to the capital cost 4 euros. Pristina itself seems a lot busier than sleepy Podgorica. I guess that’s what international goodwill – cash – gets you. Kosovar beer at the bus station cost about a euro.

Travel wise I was now on a roll and decided to keep up the pace heading to Skopje, Macedonia again for another 4 euros. Macedonia like Slovenia had largely escaped the ethnic strife associated with the Yugoslav breakup and alcohol prices were quite expensive – 3 odd euros – although the riverside bars were very nice and I stopped off at the Trinity due to the presence of those water vapour spurting sun umbrellas last spotted in downtown Podgorica.

Back to the bus station for the night and it had morphed into the set of a zombie b-movie without the zombies. Yet. The experience was topped off with the discovery of an all-night web cafe in the centre of the building. I caught an hour or so sleep on the station seats.

When the time came to board the Thessaloniki bus I had mastered the art of sleeping on board. Hug the rollmat in the foetal position in order to leverage another angle to rest yourself against besides the shitty plain old flat seats. Works.

By the time the €18 trip got into Thessaloniki and dropped us off on literally a random street (a bit like this) I hadn’t washed in a 6 days. I was gopping and the Thessalonian sea was reputedly in worse state. Had to submit and check in at a hostel.

Two days down the line I awoke in Summit Zero, a beach side hostel at the foot of Mount Olympus. If Thessaloniki is anything to go by the Greek cities are ugly grimey affairs so I’d definitely recommend the rural coast. Miles of beaches dotted with gloriously chilled white bars overlooking a refreshing green tinted sea.

Waking up in the Summit Zero beach side hostel I had by now firmly ditched the sleeping rough part of the trip unless we include the night in a tent on the Plateau of Muses on the slopes of Mytikas itself. It was my first experience at a European mountain refuge and I wouldn’t mind doing one of those refuge-to-refuge circuits next time out. There’s a certain camaraderie up in the mountains. Mytikas was a rewarding summit as climbing from the plateau end we had to scramble the last 100 or so metres to the top, making it feel pretty rewarding when we slinked out over the peak.

On the way back down from Olympus myself and a Canadian hiking partner encountered a Czech couple who had successfully hitchhiked their way south to this point inside 5 days. Must try that in future…

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