Elfriede – The Beast of the BalkansI haven't often been asked to join a road trip just because I own a car that lends itself to it. Granted: Elfriede – a VW T5 – hasn't been my girl for too long, so there weren't that many options yet. Nevertheless, this is rather a dubious honor, if one thinks about it. But I do not. "Where to go?" I ask instead. "Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo" comes the answer. And because I am not the brightest candle on the cake, I also agree directly. I mean hey… Albania? Kosovo? Horny! Besides: What should happen??

The shower faucet is so wide open that an incessant trickle of ice-cold water flows into the square tub to keep the pipe from freezing over. The drain pipe comes out of the enclosure of the basin next to my right foot. Disappears directly afterwards in a clearly too large hole in the middle of the tiled floor. That's also where all the water flows in, spraying from the holey pipe of the half-open sink and giving the tiny bathroom its ubiquitous dampness. Conclusion: The hole must be a passage to another world. A world in which building mass does not mold, and in which the lifts run when it has snowed.

As I ponder this, the film of water on the floor sucks through my slippers and it's anything but pleasant. I push my outer space fantasies from me. Do my business on the cold and damp loo. Quickly now, the tiles are freezing cold! Uaaaaah!

Rudimentary knowledge of the area is recommended in heavy fog even below the tree line, so we move only in relatively small circles. The half day of lift operation we've had so far, however, has offered us a brief glimpse through clearing fog to beautiful forest slopes just outside the ski area. We can get there even without visibility.

The mixed forest and the abnormal amounts of snow, let a slight Japan feeling arise, while I follow Marius' track through the quite steep forest, and every few meters a branch or tree trunk as a safety reserve must use. I listen with one ear to Professor Brother-in-Law's referendum on the "Canadian Ascent Trail", and survey isolated rocks rising from the snow, conjuring abstract pillowlines in the densely overgrown forest. Arrived at the top, the visibility has briefly increased to 30m, which actually brings us exactly nothing at all. We roughly follow our ascent track through the backcountry of the Kosovar Niseko, and slash and spray what the pants hold, while in the area the lifts stand still. Could be worse, I think…

In the evening we sit in a small restaurant with an open fireplace and enjoy stew and cold drinks. All at prices that seem ridiculous to us, but are undoubtedly quite expensive here. The hotel costs 10 euros per person per night, breakfast included.

The people are super accommodating, interested why Western Europeans go to their homeland. The food, the coffee and the schnapps tasty great. If you can live with the leisurely pace that is set here, Kosovo is quite recommendable as a travel destination. If you have the constant urge to ski now, like Marius, you should probably prepare yourself for one or two disappointments, or at least be prepared to do without lifts. But that would be recommended anyway, because the really nice slopes are outside the lift range. By the way, we know this from photos and from TGR's Paradise Waits and not because we could have seen it ourselves. Out of four days in the ski resort we had four days of dense fog.

In the upper part, the beech forest is quite light, enough to allow for medium-fast swinging. The deeper you get, the narrower it gets and you have more to do with keeping branches out of your face than looking for a halay rideable track.

Snowwise we have probably hit the jackpot. What to expect from lift. The view cannot claim. The only reason we know what the area looks like as a whole is the model that stands in the hotel where we always charge our cell phones, tap the Internet and dry ski boots before getting back on the bus for the night's rest. I think with clear conditions, one could occupy oneself here already quite a while, three days fog driving in the forest and hanging out with Slovaks is however also quite pleasantly. If you are not averse to eating meat, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the local cuisine to the bursting point. Brutally good by the way. Highly recommended!

Anyway, the police station is worth seeing. Sifted by the hail of bullets in the Yugoslavian war in the 90s. Until today not even slightly better off. A rather sad sight, which is visible in the whole country and also in the people.

Since my complete travel bag and wallet are gone, Marius buys me three pairs of shorts and three pairs of socks, which will be my luggage for the next 9 days. Ski clothes are fortunately still there, skins, backpack (incl. Shovel and probe), lenses, radios, laptop and other, have unfortunately passed into unknown possession. After 12 hours of hatred (for myself and my stupidity, for the police, for the world), a familiar "fuck you" attitude sets in, and we continue towards Kosovo.

The nightly collision with the only other car coming towards us costs us Elfriede's left wing mirror, which we put back on the car in the best McGuyver manner. "If we come, this is 50. – Euro" says the policeman on the other end of the phone line. Wouldn't we like, wouldn't our accident opponent like. Shake hands, ride on. And Elfriede looks like new again. The silver tape suits her well.

We spend the night near the Albanian border, and the next day cross into Kosovo, where we have an appointment with Charles, a friend who works as an English teacher in Gjakovë. You can see in every corner of the town that there is actually no tourism here, which we find quite refreshing. Short chat, strong and meaty food and self-distilled liquor. Next.

We drive towards Brezovica through presumably beautiful mountain passes, of which we can unfortunately see almost nothing in the dark and rain. As altitude rises, rain turns to snow. The snow plow must have run out of steam in the middle of the pass road. Suddenly there are 30cm of snow on the road for some kilometers. We help a family to put on their snow chains, which are much too small, widen the road with our avalanche shovels by 50%, squeeze through snow drifts, slide past trucks, and actually work our way to Brezovica. After all the effort, Elfriede has earned the next four days of rest in the parking lot.

Rustic brickwork, lifts and cable cars at a standstill, snowed-in skidoos and other equipment in almost complete silence and light snowfall in a constant fog. Can be something… The beautiful Elfriede is dug out again after four days of snowfall and after hardly any work to get out of the not cleared parking lot through another 30cm of set snow, it's easy on to the Valbona valley in Albania.

The Valbona valley is again a completely different world and is undoubtedly the highlight of our trip mountain-wise, even though we couldn't see quite as much of the mountains in Bosnia and Kosovo, of course (did someone say fog here?). It goes up sau steep practically everywhere, and no matter where you look, a line catches your eye that somehow just might be doable, maybe. Wild.

Some of Professor Schwager's friends kindly left a backpack with shovel, probe and skins with our hosts (Balkan was popular this season…), because nothing works here without them. No lift. No other skiers. We move into our surprisingly well-equipped domicile and fill our bellies with great food until we can't fit any more in. Alfred, original local, landowner and hotel operator and a pretty cool guy, and Catherine, his American-born wife, definitely know how to wield the wooden spoon. I have rarely eaten so much.

We see beautiful terrain, super wild faces and couloirs. Except for the wolf tracks and the lack of any civilizing interventions, it looks like Switzerland here.

Since we are not prepared for all eventualities (maps leave a lot to be desired, no rope with us) and because I almost make myself in the sockets when I look past the huge cornice into the 55° couloir, we keep it comparatively easy and follow the ascent route. Phew!

The next day leads us to the other side of the valley, where we experience a very similar situation as the day before: long climb through dense forest, follow the wolf track, then steeper, more open terrain, through a repeatedly thawed and refrozen French track. In the departure then only Bruchharsch. Further down Sulz rising depth. But the panorama is still breathtaking, and the surrounding terrain just crazy awesome. Marius then lives up to his reputation as a material destroyer when he destroys the rear jaw of his binding in a short steep section halay down the descent and is allowed to cover the rest of the way as half a telemarker. Looks to me as if it would be a lot of fun.

Our way home leads us back to Kosovo as planned, to celebrate one night with Charles and friends and to buy three bottles of homebrew from his colleague. From there we want to return to Austria and Germany via Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.

Unfortunately Kosovo does not exist for Serbia. Consequently, you can't enter Serbia from Kosovo either, because you would come from the defined nothing. Funnily enough, it would work with an identity card, but not with a stamp in the passport. My passport was stolen in Sarajevo. So this means for us a ridiculous 5 hours detour via Macedonia. Yay! Because for Macedonia Kosovo is an independent country. Not for Serbia. You have to understand that first.

Macedonian border guards take their task seriously. Once, please, full border program: Completely clean out the car and search, sniff, probe and x-ray Elfriede for a whole hour. We are suspected of being big fish in European heroin smuggling. Maybe I shouldn't have laughed when the first officer asked me in deadly earnest if we were carrying drugs. Well..

The border crossing to Serbia, on the other hand, is harmless. The official makes a little Hitler joke with us, and can't really understand why we smile so timidly. Hitler and Germany in general seem to be quite popular topics for chatter at the Balkan borders.

Like this post? Please share to your friends:
Leave a Reply

;-) :| :x :twisted: :smile: :shock: :sad: :roll: :razz: :oops: :o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :grin: :evil: :cry: :cool: :arrow: :???: :?: :!: