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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Or was it Albania?

Friday, 28 May, 2010: According to the stamps in our passports and the license plates on the cars we followed, and/or passed along the way, our Grosser General Atlas 2008/2009 has misdrawn borders for the former Yugoslavian states.  Podgorica (Pod-gor-reet'-sa) is definitely in Montenegro, and from there we were over four hours going only 200 KM (average speed, 30 MPH) to the border with what we'd thought would be Albania.  The road is one of the finest mountain highways I have driven, and the rugged beauty of Montenegro belongs on every Terra-lover's bucket list.  There are many unlined and unlighted tunnels (drilled though bedrock with no sign of concrete reinforcement), and in the longer ones, my eyes took so long to adjust that I was temporarily blinded by the transition from bright sunshine to the tunnel's black walls, with only Klaus' headlights to show the way.  And these tunnels curved.  Some had s-curves.  And full-sized semi-trailers (TIRs) were coming the other way.  Lots of fun!  There was often no light at the far end for far too long to suit my oft-lasered old eyes, which may test 20/20, but which behave in changing light far differently than they once did.

Once past the rugged and snow-capped mountains, we drove a couple hours east across what our map said was Albania.  But the car plates were predominately MNE-prefix plates, so I doubted the map.  Then, at the east end of Montenegro, the border guard's sleeve read "Politija Kosovo."  We certainly did not trust that map, which did not even show a country called Kosovo.  Yet, our GPS promised it was taking us toward Skopje, FYROM, which was our planned mid-day stopping point.  Kosovo, was it, that we were entering?  So be it.

After she saw our blue passports, the border guard called over a UN (or NATO) peacekeeper (who told us he was not from Kosovo, but was "International").  This short but heavy-set, mustachioed fellow in a weird-looking uniform informed us that our green card (European car insurtance certificate) was invalid in Kosovo, and that we should buy one at the customs house just down the road a piece, "or you might have trouble in southern Kosovo.  They cost 45 Euro.  That is the minimum, good for two weeks."  Then he waved us through.

Happily, the customs station must have only wanted to check trucks, for they waved us through without even stopping us.  We kept our money.

Skopje turned out to be a bustling, modernizing city with a great deal of construction in progress.  Unfortunately, our niece who lives here with her husband is presently working in Kabul, and her husband, David is also away on business.  So, we missed seeing them, as we had hoped to do.  

Saturday, 29 May:  So, yesterday we crossed Montevideo, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and finally arrived here in this charming, old, yet modern city at the north end of the Aegean Sea, Kavala, Greece.  We have spent Saturday with PSU alumni Christos and Georgia Kelemenis, and their lovely daughters Olga (9) and Sofia (6).  It has been a full and fun day.  We have seen much of Kavala, eaten a huge afternoon meal at a seaside restaurant, and have visited Philippi, now only an archeological site, but once, some 23 centuries ago, the capital of the Known World (aka, the Empire of Macedonia), under Alexander the Great. Now, we will rest till morning.  Except that, when the sun is low, I plan to give Klaus a good polishing and waxing.  He deserves it.  He has been a real workhorse this past week.

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