Cycling through Kosovo & Serbia has been amazing, the people in both of these fascinating countries are so friendly and hospitable. Welcoming smiles, picturesque mountain towns, and incredible nature. It's perfectly safe to travel here now, but despite this, Kosovo remains one of the last truly off-the-beaten-path destinations in Europe.
Closed Roads in Kosovo
Going into Kosovo, felt a little bit like an adventure for us. We didn’t know what to expect from the country. We only heard about it on the news about the conflicts with Serbia. But it was very different from what we expected. The people in Kosovo are friendly, really friendly, similar like the Albanians, which they call their family. Many people stopped by on the road asking about our trip, honking and putting thumbs up. The main road to Pristina was closed. We talked with the engineers on the road and they made a call for us, to see if it was possible to pass with the bike. Unfortunately, it was also closed for bicycles since they were busy with drilling in the tunnel. Because of this, we had to make a 30-kilometer detour over a very steep mountain-pass with over 1200 altitude meters. A problem was that in Balkan-countries there is a different currency, as we just crossed the border we didn't have any money to buy some food. The mountain route was off the grid, no towns or anything could be found. This day we were very hungry and cycled around 85 kilometers without eating anything. We could almost eat the dog food, but then the dogs didn’t have any left. Finally, we found a bank to exchange some money and we ate our bellies full with some delicious local foods. Best food we ever had, due to the hunger. After we ate our meal, we continued to our last 45 kilometers to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
That night we heard from our host, that is was impossible to cross the border from Kosovo into Serbia. This was because of the political problems, which still occur between the two nations. The Government of Serbia isn’t acknowledging Kosovo as a country. Because of the Kosovo-entry stamp and that they say it is still part of Serbia, you entered Serbia-territory illegally and you could get arrested. So the only legal way for us to enter Serbia was to cycle back to Macedonia, get our Kosovo exit stamp and enter Serbia from Macedonia again. This political issue caused us to make a 300-kilometer detour. Unfortunately, there wasn’t another way back, so we had to cycle the exact same route as we did the day before back to Macedonia. That day we stepped on the bicycles with some disappointment because we didn’t like to cycle the same route again. A major part of the road was very dangerous with lots of traffic. That day we also survived our first dog attack, out of nowhere five big, very big aggressive dogs attacked us. Due to their element of surprise, we couldn’t get out our sticks and spray. We had to cycle away very fast and Annebeth was very close to being bitten in the leg by one.
The sad story of stray dogs
Before entering Serbia, we stayed over a night in Macedonia. We met a guy, who was the sports-advisor of the mayor of Skopje. He helped us, gave us food and we could sleep in the community-house because it was raining very hard.
Although the stunning nature and very friendly people all over the Balkans, we also saw some very disappointing and sad things on our route. Everywhere in the Balkans, there are many stray dogs, most of them are friendly and just want food and some love and affection. The saddest moment of our trip was close to the border from Macedonia into Serbia. We cycled in the mountains, where we found in the middle of nature, a gigantic garbage dump. But this garbage wasn’t the worst part. Once we approached the dump, we saw one of the most horrible things we’ve seen in our whole life. Almost 50-60 dogs, covered with scabies, dirt, and wounds were living here. Most of them sick and starved to death, left behind by their owners to die alone on a garbage dump. It was horrible to see and we couldn’t do anything about it. It is really a disgrace to humanity, that people can do such thing to animals.
In the Balkans, we had people saying and laughing about that in Western-Europe, people treat animals almost like a child or as a family member. At first, we felt somewhat embarrassed about this. We asked ourselves many times some questions. Are we too much attached to our dogs? And aren’t we a little crazy bringing them on our trip?
But after seeing so many abandoned dogs and such cruelty, we think it is the other way around. They can laugh at us taking up an animal as part of the family, but if you take a pet you should take responsibility and treat it the best you can. Many of these countries want to enter the EU in the coming years. We think that if they want, the first thing to do is to clean the carbage and treat animals better then they do now. Of course, there are also people who try to help the animals in the Balkans with the best they can. We heard lots of stories from restaurant-owners, that cars stopped in front of the restaurant, kicked out their dog and drove away fast. Many restaurants feel bad for the dogs and give them left-over foods trying to help them. But that isn’t enough, the problem is caused by many people owning a pet, don’t have the time for it and try to get rid of it. They leave it somewhere behind and without the animal being sterilized it reproduce more puppies, causing more and more stray dogs. We hope for the sake of those poor dogs, that there will come some change in the future.
The first day in Serbia wasn’t a very good one, we ate some bad food and both got a severe food poisoning. Luckily, we were invited by a very warm family to stay over for the night and they took care of us. Since we did lots of cycling the past few weeks and we were very sick of the food poisoning, we decided to book an Airbnb in the city of Vranje. There we could get some good sleep and rest for a few days. After a tough 20 kilometers of cycling with both of us, puking synchronously. We finally arrived at the house and slept for many hours. The Airbnb host was very friendly and made some vegetable soup for us to regain our strengths. The dogs also enjoyed the house, as they could run around, sleep and eat all day long.
After we felt better, our plan was to head to Romania, to our host there it was around 400 kilometers. We decided that it would take us around 4 days and our first stop would be Nis. We had to cycle around 100 kilometers over the highway and when arriving at the tolbooth, we had to pay toll with our bicycles to enter it. This is the first time in our lives, that we had to pay to cycle on a road. That night we were invited by a family to put up our tent in the garden and we ate some delicious local foods and of course some Rakia in the morning.
The last day in Serbia, we stayed near the border of Bulgaria, we slept at a very nice Warmshower-host, who has his own fruit farm and a company in roller-skis. Since he works a lot in Norway, he might help us out with our plans to work in Norway for the winter.
After a breakfast with some delicious ''Burek'', which we are really going to miss. It was time to leave Serbia and with that also ending our time in the Balkans. Our next big adventure will take place in Romania where we are planning to cycle the Transfagarasan.
Until next time!
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