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In this challenge, Teams Hanoi and Saigon will have to work together to cross the Balkans.  Sounds easy?  Ha!  SWMBO learns that all roads lead to Rome but none lead to Greece.

danica path2

Gorgeous views on foot path, Petrovac

Gorgeous views on foot path, Petrovac

Starting point: Petrovac Na Moru, Montenegro (about 1/2 way along the Montenegrin coast)

Destination: Leptokarya, Greece (about 100 km south of Thessaloniki)

Between the two lie some of the world’s newest countries.  FYROM – still not named.  Kosovo – so new that no one is really sure if it is a country.  Albania – only opened for about 20 years.

Time to say good-bye (or ciao as they say here) to Montenegro.  But first one last incredible thing we saw.

Look at this picture closely.

Look at this picture closely.

It is hard to see but this mother/art teacher has left the path and taken her little girl/student past the broken protective fence to do some sketching right at the edge of a cliff.  Even Fahbio was shocked and declared the teacher a “nutbar”.

nutbar art class

Nutbar art class. The photo doesn’t do justice to how dangerous this is but trust me, nutbar is an apt description.

Route #1 (about 650 km):

  • Montenegro – Albania – Greece
  • OR VARIATION Montenegro – Albania – FYROM – Greece

Albania is the only country in Europe in which we have no insurance to drive.  Albania seems like a fascinating country with beautiful beaches and mountains but going with route #1 we would want to get in and out as quickly as possible.  Since Greece is a Schengen country and we can’t enter until July 27, route #1 variation would allow us to spend more time out of the Schengen but not in Albania.  We’ve heard that you can buy insurance at the border but there are conflicting reports about costs and practicality.

Country we drove through today...

Country we drove through today…

Route #2 (about 800 km):

  • Montenegro – Kosovo – Greece
  • OR VARIATION Montenegro – Serbia – Kosovo – Serbia – Greece

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and since then, over 100 UN countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state.  Unfortunately, Serbia isn’t one of them.  There is no problem going in and out of Kosovo from Serbia (because Serbia considers this an internal border like crossing provinces in Canada).  But coming into Serbia from another country, you will get an entry stamp and leaving Serbia, an exit stamp.  If you leave via Kosovo, you will not get your exit stamp because Serbia does not control the borders between Kosovo and other countries.  If you ever try to re-enter Serbia, you won’t be allowed in because you will have previously left the country illegally.  So if you want to go back to Serbia (we do), then you cannot leave (or enter for that matter) Kosovo from any country other than Serbia.  Border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia are full of delays and can take up to 5 hours.  And we would have to do that twice in three days.  Also, we would have to drive the Moraca Canyon – the second largest in the world.

Another street scene from our route today...

Another street scene from our route today…

Route #3 (about 1000 km):

  • Montenegro – Serbia – FYROM – Greece

So bloody far!  Talk about taking a circuitous route…  Kosovo, Albania and FYROM are all countries I want to spend time in, so driving in a big arc to avoid them seems dumb.  Really dumb.

Route #4 (impossible):

  • Ferry from Montenegro to Greece via Bari, Italy.

Expensive (probably at least $800).  Booked (no availability).  Time consuming (would take us days to get there).  Involves an entry into Schengen (Italy) which we can’t afford right now.  Ferry would bring us to wrong side of Greece so we would still have a lot of driving to do.

Route #5 (Distance infinite):

  • Montenegro – Mongolia – Outer Hebrides – Moon – Jupiter – Tanzania – Greece (Just kidding)
Hint: Flag of the country we drove through

Hint: Flag of the country we drove through

Other interesting facts:

Kilometres often don’t mean that much around here because there are almost no international standard highways.  Roads tend to be narrow and twisty.

Greece borders on Turkey and these two countries aren’t the best of friends.  A Greek island may be right next to a Turkish island but ferry service to each island will be from its respective mainland.

Don’t get Greece started on FYROM.  What is FYROM?  Well, it used to be part of Yugoslavia but when that country broke apart FYROM picked “Republic of Macedonia” as its name.  Macedonia is a province in Greece and when Greece found out about the new country name, it had a fit.  The issue has gone to the highest international levels to be sorted out but until an agreement is reached, the country goes by – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).  Sexy. Or Republic of Macedonia.  It depends on whom you ask.  In Greece, they generally don’t even use this.  The mostly say, Skopje (the capital city) to refer to the whole country.

Albania was a strict Communist country for almost 50 years.  During this period, it was one of the hardest countries in the world to visit or to travel from.  Main national policies stressed self-sufficiency and nationalism.  Religion was strictly banned.  When it opened about 20 years ago, it developed into a vibrant, quirky country that adventurous travellers love to visit.

Which route will our Canadian family choose?  Tune in next time to find out…. Or sleuth it out from the photos of our route (above) and where we ended for the night (below).

PS – Favourite thing I saw today was a man riding a motorbike (single-handed) with three preschoolers (no helmets).  One kid was sitting in front of him, one was behind, and one little girl was tucked in the armpit of his non-driving arm.  Haven’t seen anything like that since Vietnam!

 

A very restful place to stop for the evening - an a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot!

A very restful place to stop for the evening – an a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot!