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Ex-YU Travel
This community looks like a goldmine for me. I'm planning a trip with… 
22nd-May-2005 07:36 pm
This community looks like a goldmine for me. I'm planning a trip with a couple of friends to the FYU part of the world this summer, flying to budapest and covering a little bit of Romania and Bulgaria before going back to Belgrade. From there on in, though, things are starting to go a little bit pear-shaped. Here are the reasons why/questions I have...

1. What's the train transport like in Serbia/Kosovo/Montenegro? We were going to get an Interrail pass that covers Romania and Bulgaria as well as the FYU countries, but it seems from our lonely planet that the rail network in this part of the world is not as comprehensive or as developed as the buses. Do you guys think it wiser to stick to buses? Even for long haul?

2. We know that we are starting our tour of the area in Belgrade, and our initial idea was to go Belgrade-Prishtina-Lake Ohrid-Tirana-Kotor-Dubrovnik-Sarejovo-Budapest (to fly home :(). What do you think of this itinerary? We are pretty outdoors-y people and would like to see as much of the 'countryside' as is possible and accesible- can anyone recommend anywhere specific? Especially in Kosovo, we are concerned that Prishtina itself may not be a good idea- unless anyone knows a good hostel, the travel guide seems to suggest that accomodation there is not that easy to find.

Is anything difficult going to happen with visa and passports in this area? We are British, so it seems that we don't need visas per se (entrance visas?) but it seems from research thus far that something odd is going on at borders with Kosovo and (I know this isn't quite on topic) Macedonia/Albania. On a similar (OT) note, anyone have any advice on how safe northern Albania is these days?

Thanks in advance, everyone. I'm really, really looking forward to this trip :)

edit:- I forgot to ask- I'm really keen to read some novels from/about this area, can anyone recommend anything good? Novels and/or films :)
25th-May-2005 06:24 pm (UTC)

I'll try to answer your questions the best I can.

1. Serbia seems to have decent train transport, at least around the main towns of Beograd and Novi Sad. They also have decent bus transportation. Kosovo is a bit more iffy, because I was told you sometimes would have to change buses in Mitrovica, which is divided in to Serbian and Kosovar parts, and that wouldn't be very safe. I am not sure about trains there. I think most of Montenegro has no trains, since it's very mountainous. Still, I assume it has a decent bus network to compensate for it. Still, the main highway of Montenegro is basically one lane each way, and often with a big cliffy abyss on one side with one crappy guard rail... Overall, buses are a better way to travel there. Still, be prepared for music to blast in the middle of the night...

2. I can't really comment until Kotor, since I have not been to either Albania or Macedonia, but once again, check out the Mitrovica issue. I am sure that there is some bus from Kotor to Dubrovnik. In Kotor, check out the church on the man-made island. Be sure to check out Mount Lovchen, which is apparently the Black Mountain itself if I can remember correctly, which has a beautiful view on Montenegro and Albania. Near Dubrovnik, there are also some great places to see, like the Trsteno Arboretum, just 7 kilometers north, I think. You can also go to the island of Lopud, where we once spent an adventurous night on the beach. (Rakija, small beach chair for two people, cold air and mosquitoes. Unforgettable...) Also, check out Mljet. There is an overnight bus to Sarajevo from Dubrovnik bus station (the link to it is in the comm info). When I took it in 2003, it left about 10:30 and arrived into Sarajevo about 3:30 am. I can recommend a hostel-y place in Sarajevo where I stayed and that was centrally located, which is at Halac'i br.3, right off Bašcaršija. I think I have their number somewhere. There is also apparently a youth hostel there. Be careful in BiH and Kosovo countryside (as well as anywhere in Croatia that was part of a war zone), as there can still be landmines, and follow the common sense rule of not stepping off the paved road unless you are absolutely sure there are no mines. Several of my friends have wondered into minefields by accident while in ex-YU, but have thankfully been okay. Still, it is better to be safe then sorry. I think I know of at least one hotel in Prishtina... I have their number somewhere on my floor.. :-)

3. Re: passports/visas, I can't be sure of everything, since I am an American, but I did not need a visa for Croatia/Bosnia/Serbia/Kosovo. In Kosovo, you shouldn't have problems, although sometimes KFOR holds onto your passport if you go into a Serbian enclave such as an Orhtodox monastery.

4. Hmm... I am not really the right person to be asked about this, since I have weird tastes. But for books I'd recommend anything by Ivo Andric, and for more contemporary stuff, Dubravka Ugresic. For movies, I'd recommend "Tito and Me", and some Kusturica movies.

5. Other random advice - have a long skirt/pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a scarf with you if you want to go to churches/mosques. Bring insect repellent - mosquitoes there are fierce. Remember that Montengro and Kosovo operate on Euros only and have virtually no ATMs. Have some Euros or country-appropriate currency in case of an emergency when going to HR/BiH/S, which do have ATMs in all the big towns. Invest in a money belt to be worn under your clothes.

Hope this helps!
25th-May-2005 09:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks for all your advice :). I can't think of any more specific questions right now (tired brain) but I will be sure to ask if I do, and possibly also for the numbers of those hostels/hotels. Oh! I remember one thing- I don't have long, but if you were to recommend learning snippets of a language, which would be the most useful? I know French, English and German at the minute.
26th-May-2005 02:15 am (UTC)
You're welcome!

Languagewise, you'll be fine with these three. Most people know at least some English, and young people are often the most fluent. The other two won't hurt either. The most useful language to learn for the area is former Serbo-Croatian/BCS. Everyone in the four republics where it is still spoken understands it, as well as in most of Kosovo. People there usually know "Serbian" well, and if they mention they know it to you, it is probably safe to speak it with them. People in Macedonia might probably also still remember their BCS. I'd recommend knowing some BCS, such as numbers, food words, and questions relevant to travel. Also it's useful to know a couple of Albanian phrases when traveling in Kosovo.
26th-May-2005 02:20 am (UTC)
Also, for travel to/from Budapest, check out the MAV (Hungarian Railways) website.
27th-May-2005 05:14 pm (UTC) - Trains and buses
My experience from northern Serbia/Vojvodina is that trains and buses are of fine quality and travel on schedule. Public transport in Belgrade is a different story indeed, although the numerous private/pirate buses make up for this fine.

When it comes to novels, check out "The bridge over Drina" by Ivo Andric and "Donau" by Claude Magris.

Do not hesitate to contact me if you want information/advise.
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