Our first experience of hitch-hiking in Kosovo, drinking rakija with the locals and attending the Prizren film festival

Sinan Pasha Mosque and the Old Town, Prizren, Kosovo

Our first experience of hitch-hiking in Kosovo, drinking rakija with the locals and attending the Prizren film festival

Before we had even set off for the trip, our rough itinerary suggested visiting Macedonia, then Kosovo and then Serbia, as that order seemed the most logical looking at the map. However, the more we progressed towards the south of the Balkan Peninsula, the more different and contradictory stories we heard about the Kosovo-Serbia border crossings. Some suggested that the border was closed, some said that if you visit Kosovo first without having visited Serbia before, it would be viewed as an illegal trespass onto Serbia’s territory and you might be in trouble. Some people said there would be no problem at all and we should try to complete our original plan, but since we were running out of time and every day was worth its weight in gold, we decided we didn’t want to risk an unnecessary trip to the border or refuse the entry at all, so we chose the safe way: Macedonia to Kosovo, then back to Macedonia again and onwards to Serbia.

On the appointed day we said goodbye to our friend Mišo and headed to the outskirts of Skopje. The day started horribly as we got up late and by the time we tidied the flat, did some shopping to replace the food we had eaten, made some sandwiches and found the bus stop, it was already 2 a.m., a very late time to attempt a hitch-hike across a border. The bus to the edge of town didn’t show up either so we had to walk a long way in the baking Macedonian sun, with our heavy with souvenirs bags. The spot we chose wasn’t ideal, but we couldn’t go any further so we tried our luck.

Our first experience of hitch-hiking in Kosovo, drinking rakija with the locals and attending the Prizren film festival

The first person who stopped took us to the Skopje ring-road. There was absolutely nothing and the traffic was sparse so we were very happy when a car appeared on the horizon and decided to stop. It was an old man in a fancy car:

– Каде сакате да одите? (Kade sakate da odite? Where do you want to go?)

– Kosovo – said I – Prizren? Prishtina? – we didn’t really know which of these cities we wanted to visit more so we relied on the drivers to choose for us.

– Призрен, ОК (Prizren , OK) – said the man and by the time we managed to get in the car, added – дваесет евра (dvaeset evra, € 20)

We shook our heads and decided to wait a bit more. Some lorries passed and in the end a border official stopped and took us to the Kosovo border. As we were handing in our passports we very nicely asked the woman behind the glass window not to stamp them, as again we’d heard that a Kosovo stamp wouldn’t be welcome in Serbia.

We were in Kosovo, Europe’s newest state and we didn’t have a clue what to expect. The war ended 14 years ago and although there is still some unrest in the northern parts of the country, we hoped for no problems, given the friendly approach of the Albanians we met in Albania. We didn’t know how similar the Kosovan Albanians would be to the Albanian Albanians but there was only one way to find out. We walked on a bit so to avoid being hassled by the nearby taxies, stretched our thumbs and waited.

We didn’t even need to wait 10 minutes before a van pulled up and two friendly guys showed us a way in. They didn’t speak any English but they knew the roads well and soon dropped us off on the road to Prizren. Next we hitch-hiked with a guy in a luxurious car who spoke French and told us he lived in Geneva. Many Kosovars we later spoke to also told us that either themselves or their families lived and worked abroad; Switzerland and Austria being the two most popular countries. The man dropped us off in at a turning where three under-12 year olds stood and sold blackberries.

Another car soon stopped by and we saw an old man whose eyes emanated warmth and patience. He was driving a minivan with only one seat at the front so Jon being a gentleman offered to go at the back, but before he moved the driver said to me in Serbo-Croat:

– Не, ти иди! (Ne, ti idi! No, you go!)

– OK – and I obediently went to crouch at the back. When in Rome, as they said.

– Извињавам се због смрада (Izvinjavam se zbog smrada. I’m sorry for the stench) – said he when we started – Ја сам пастир (Ja sam pastir. I’m a shepherd).

I don’t speak Serbo-Croat but being Polish and having travelled around I’ve learnt some words in other Slavic languages, so if somebody is trying hard, I have a good chance of understanding them. He was trying hard, so we managed to hold a basic conversation and soon he decided to invite us for coffee. It was very late already, but what the hell, we were not participating in any race and speaking to locals was something we had come there for.

We stopped by a roadside café run by his friends. He was a Kosovar Albanian but he explained that we were in a Kosovar Serbs village at the time and many of his friends were of Serbian origin. As we went in, he ordered some coffees and soon we were joined by another man who was a Serb.

Our first experience of hitch-hiking in Kosovo, drinking rakija with the locals and attending the Prizren film festival

– Ја сам Србин и он је Албанац (Ja sam Srb i on je Albanac. I am a Serb and he is an Albanian) – said our driver’s friend as soon as he sat down – Упознали смо се у рововима. Бум Бум Бум (Upoznali smo se u rovovima . Bum Bum Bum. We met in trenches. Boom Boom Boom) – said he pointing an imaginary gun at us and laughing.

The next thing we know is that shots rakija is being brought to our table. Our Muslim driver doesn’t drink so it’s just us and his Serbian trench-friend. Then he spotted our bottle of water which we ahd brough all the way from Albania.

– бљак (bljak! yuck!) – said the Serbian-trench friend with disgust pointing at our bottle – Албанска вода (Albanska voda, Albanian water). Дајте јој добру српску воду! (Dajte joj dobru srpsku vodu! Give her good Serbian water!) – order he while our Kosovar-Albanian good-eyed shepherd was only laughing.

Our first experience of hitch-hiking in Kosovo, drinking rakija with the locals and attending the Prizren film festival

The waiter came up and replaced our water by the local tap speciality. Then shots of rakija came again and, as the Serbian tradition dictates, we drank it bruderschaft with our arms interlocked.

After a couple more shots, we were all pretty merry and the Serbian guy started naming all the things that are better in Serbia and worse in Albania, chanting that Serbia is the best of all countries. I though his insults pretty harsh but our driver didn’t seem to care in the slightest, which only strengthen my belief that Albanian people are generally good-natured.

Our first experience of hitch-hiking in Kosovo, drinking rakija with the locals and attending the Prizren film festival

Our Serbian rakija host, who had initially agreed to drive us all the way to Prizren, now was too drunk to fulfil his promise and instead delegated another man who was packing his belongings with the intention of leaving the bar.

– Узми их у Призрену! Они су моји пријатељи! (Uzmi ih u Prizrenu! Oni su moji prijatelji! Take them to Prizren! They are my friends!)

– Јебем ti матер! (Jebem ti mater! Fuck your mother!) – swore the other guy but soon beckoned us to approach the car.

We said goodbye to the Albanian-Serbian friends we’d just made and drove off with a 60 year old, balding fatty. As we stopped by a spring to refill our water and Jon jumped out of the car, the man turned to the back seat and asked me if we were a couple. For some reason it has happened to us more than once, as though they expect me to say ‘no’ and drive off with them leaving Jon on the side of the road. A couple of kilometres further down the road he stops his car again, gets out and comes back with an ice-cream. Just for me, as he is little interested in Jon. We continue our ride to be dropped off a few kilometres away from Prizren.

We arrive into town at sunset, driven by a friendly couple of young guys who invite us for coffee in the centre and then decide to drive around in order to find us a hotel.

Our first experience of hitch-hiking in Kosovo, drinking rakija with the locals and attending the Prizren film festival

Prizren, being the old capital of the Serbian Empire, is stunning! Its cobbled stone streets and stone houses, beautifully set on the river bank between the hills are simply charming. No wonder it’s been chosen as the location for the DokuFest film festival, which we attended the night of our arrival. The films weren’t great but we were happy to be in Kosovo, surrounded by lovely people, in the country that 14 years after the war was on its best way to recovery.

Our first experience of hitch-hiking in Kosovo, drinking rakija with the locals and attending the Prizren film festival

written by: Ania

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