A day off? Great, let’s visit some countries!
When: 09.02.2018 – 12.02.2018
Where: Switzerland (Zürich), Serbia (Belgrade), Macedonia (Skopje), Kosovo (Prizren & Pristina)
What: City sightseeing, hitting the pubs, indulging great balkan food
How: Plane & driver
Summary: Due to a change of flights, we ended up visiting three countries in three days – and it was a blast! Amazing food, pleasant people and many lessons in “the more you try to get how the Balkans work, the less you understand them and the more interesting they get”.
Day 1 – Airport Hotel Rampage
After attending a rather dull show by Steel Panther in Zürich and some more drinks in the Cactus Biker Bar , we honour the Mövenpick airport hotel with our presence. While waiting for a fast food delivery, it is impossible not to ride the red cow in the lobby. Eventually the cow breaks and the man in charge is not amused about us at all – not even when one of our bunch rides the cleaning machine through the lobby…in a nuthsell: Short night!
Day 2 – From bed to Belgrade
We reach Belgrade with a blurry view and an aching head. After checking in to the spacious room at the Holiday Inn Express Belgrade City, we walk directly to the city center and have a serbian Corba soup and a huge grill platter at the Dva Jelena restaurant. Also we get a recovery beer and a digestive Slivovitz. Then we head on to the huge city fortress Kalemegdan. Strolling past old tanks and cannons and taking in the great view over the city gets us thirsty again. We find a hidden little café embedded in the old walls and enjoy a beer.
After a huge load of chinese food at Terazije street we hit the Čorba Kafe. A very nice biker and rock place – only we are much to early. Though we use the time for some free billard and have a little chat with the band playing later. Since not much is going on we head back to the Skadarlija area, enjoy a pint or two and taste different kinds of Slivovitz at a market stall. Eventually we end up in the Red Bar and connect with many pleasant locals and some of the few tourists. Quite drunk and happy we stumble back to our hotel in the early morning hours.
Day 3 – Skopje or the Balkan Disneyland
The next day, two hungover bastards stumble around the breakfast corner. Surprising enough we make it to the airport on time and around two o’clock we arrive in Skopje. A private driver waits for us at the airport and about three cigarettes in the back of a white Mercedes later, we arrive at the unique Senigallia Hotel: A battle ship built out of concrete, right in the middle of the newly plastic-baroque refashioned ex brutalist Skopje city center, result of the controversial Skopje 2014 project. The hotel looks a bit like a sick joke and a great idea at the same time. On the inside, a mix of luxury and kitsch awaits and the very friendly staff shows us to a clean and cozy room. We hit the town immediately to see as much as possible. However, hungry as we are, we hit one of the first restaurants a few meters from our hotel (Bella Vista Lounge). Again, a very friendly staff welcomes us, serves us huge amounts of great food and we get plenty of good tips for drinking holes to visit in the evening.
We stroll around the ridiculously opulent pseudo-baroque buildings and the few remains of the brutalist face of the city before the makever. Then we cross a bridge to the albanian side of town, that reminds of the times when this area was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The massive fortress looks down on alleyways of the old bazar. By accident we enter the old Daut Pasha Hamam which now hosts the national art gallery. The guard was glad to give us a private tour with a lot of information about the history of the building and the city. After that, we sink some outstanding pints at the Pivnica Stari Grad, close to the recently built oversized monument of Alexander the Great.
Via a couch surfer app we get in touch with some other folks and meet at the Austrian Palace Restaurant, after crossing to the albanian side of town again. We enjoy some more great food and the company of backpackers from about twenty different countries. Many locals start gathering around the table as well and we have a nice chat and some beers. Around nine o’clock the meeting breaks up. We search for about two hours for a recommended rock bar that we can’t find. So we have another snack in a cozy little bakery on the way, where everyone tries their best to help us find our way. When we finally reach the place, that is located on the second floor of a residential building, it is closing already. Which isn’t too bad, because it only consists of a tiny bar and two tables anyway. So we head for the recommended Saloon Bar. It’s balkan rock hits night and the (very good) music contrasts heavily with the american atmosphere, including waiters in cowboy hats. Since not too much is going on, we decide to head back for a final nightcap close to the hotel and end up at a cuban place. Just as everyone starts to leave, we meet some very nice folks, have a chat and suddenly we sit in a taxi – back to the Saloon. Quite unexpected we find ourselves in the middle of the now huge crowd. Eventhough we are the only foreigners, everyone makes us feel at home and we learn a lot about the town, the country and the entire region. And sure: we are pretty drunk again. We quickly find a taxi and the quirky driver starts to rave about the Swiss psychedelic rock legend Krokodil . After stopping at several wrong adresses, we finally manage to guide him to our hotel, where we arrive around 4 o’clock in the morning.
Day 4 – Riding with the driver
We need about 10 alarm clocks to kick us out of bed and it hurts as hell. Our driver will be here at 09:00. So we crawl up the stairs to the breakfast lounge at around 08:45 and order an english breakfast and some cheese and bacon toast. Everything is prepared just for us and included in the hotel price. We feel a little bit better, but still far from fit. Fortunately the driver is about 15 minutes late and so we drag ourselves in the back of the black limousine around 09:30. Every bump is a challenge. And there are plenty of them until we reach the border of Kosovo and ever more on the other side. The views are dominated by newly built houses of homecomers and many, many gaz stations. After around two hours we arrive in Prizren. Obviously its the first visit for our driver as well and he acts quite reserved towards the place. We walk around for a bit, but realize soon, that there are mostly mosques, wedding shops and cafes. The latter fits our taste the most and after the muezzins call nearly blows our heads we seek shelter and relax over a cup of some real good coffee. On our way back to the car we meet two swiss soldiers serving the KFOR and have quite an interesting little chat about their tasks.
Then we drive for about 90 minutes to Pristina. We’re still not fully restored and as the black Benz slowly slides trough a crowd of people in front of a bank, curious eyes follow the two rockers tumbling out of the car, we handle the driver his well earned money and sway away. Pristina looks a bit like someone has put some communist buildings and a bazar in a cocktail shaker and poured them all out without aiming for the glass. We pass a fast food restaurant called Te Nazi that catches our attention. Everyone looks at us as if we are from a different planet as we enter. Yet still, everyone is very friendly. The waiter apologizes for the albanian only menu and is glad to translate for us. Shortly after another grillplatter with food for at least six people arrives at our table- for the price of two Euros. Then we walk down main street, where some event in relation to the olympic wintergames is held. Children are selling cigarettes, sweets or just beg for money. People offer goods like plastic machine guns, snacks and rides in tiny electric cars for toddlers. Besides that, the city looks as battered as we do – only cleaner and friendlier. We decide to have some more coffee to get us going and then take a taxi to the airport without even arguing about the fare first. It takes some time navigating through the chaotic pile of cars, but our driver manages to get us to our destination in one piece. The airport is brand new. Our flight leaves on time and even arrives twenty minutes earlier than scheduled in Basel. Around midnight, a dirty and tired adventurer falls into the arms of his girlfriend, then into the shower and finally sleeps like a baby.