Bijelo Polje Montenegro
Kaliningrad Russia Federation
Las Vegas, Nevada USA
Greetings from Pristina Kosovo,
Back in Peje buses leave for Pristina hourly so I grabbed the next one thinking I could catch a Belgrade bus here in this large bus transportation hub... or possibly find a train heading north into Serbia. The ticket seller in the Pristina bus station confirmed he had a Belgrade bound bus leaving that evening at 22:00 for a 16 Euro fare (per seat). I later learned the terminal ticket seller added one Euro to the bus company's 15 Euro fare when bought in the travel agency bus office nearby.
With at least ten hours to kill before that option, I decided to wander the capital city a bit and check out the railroad possibilities. Kosovo and Serbia are still having political problems and I wondered how that might affect cross border transportation issues. Old maps show a rail line out of Pristina heading north, so I hoped there might still be a rail connection. When I got into Pristina I walked toward the northeast direction where I'd been told the train station could be found, but well before I found it a travel agent I had checked for directions informed me all rail traffic between the two hostile neighbors had been discontinued a long time ago. The only ways north into Serbia would be by air or highway. So, now it looked like the overnight bus still might be my best bet. On the way back I spotted an American flag and a prominent statue of Bill Clinton, the president who facilitated America's recognition of the newly independent Republic of Kosovo. Everyone here knows and respects him for giving their nation legitimacy.
I'd seen a tall building not far from the bus terminal with a "HOTEL" sign boasting 4 stars and decided to check it out as a backup, or possibly a place to get some lunch. The Hotel Nartel is awkwardly located behind some construction projects on a narrow road obstructed by haphazardly parked cars and poorly marked. Just finding a way over to the entrance proved to be a challenge. Once inside it became clear the the effort was justified, especially after observing all the Croatian Airline uniforms coming and going. I have learned from long experience that airlines choose excellent hotels for their layover flight crews, even small regional airlines.
The newly constructed facility easily justifies the four stars, but the 74 Euro rack rate sent me into sticker shock and I nearly left without fully checking out the place. Instead, I took advantage of the staff's knowledge of the area and asked if they knew whether there might be a daytime bus up to Belgrade as I really didn't want to do the overnight bus thing and would much rather spend the night in a nice hotel like theirs, thus giving them a reason to entice me to stay with bus information. Yes, indeed they did know of a nearby travel company running daytime Belgrade buses and jotted the name down on a PostIt. Pretty much resigned to passing on this one and about to leave I engaged in jovial banter with the two young receptionists as I explained the necessity for sticking to a budget for such an extended expedition as mine and then, idly noting some hotels had room for rate negotiations, not really expecting any in this particular situation. To my surprise, the two lapsed into earnest murmuring with frequent references to a computer display. Finally, the young man announced: "We have a special rate of 54 Euros, but not lower. That is a 25% discount, the absolutely maximum discount we ever offer."
Indicating that rate might meet my budget constraints, I asked to see the room. What I saw made me want to hang around and when the receptionist noted complimentary bottles of designer water and Bodrumi i Vjelir Vranc wine plus a fruit plate all came with the offer, my hesitation crumbled and I eagerly left to check out the day bus option they had suggested. Five minutes walk away I found the travel agent and confirmed all the details: big deluxe bus leaves at 11:00 and arrives at 18:00 for a fare of 15 Euros... and I would have no problem taking my bag on the bus with me... without buying a second seat ticket! Bus companies in Kosovo are organized for a single destination, so there are many "travel agencies" with their own bus service. I saw nothing like a Greyhound bus company with fleets of buses going many places.
Back to the hotel I trotted to complete the registration and enjoy that free bottle of wine (It's a tiny bottle.). In the room I unpacked all my equipment verifying a strong, reliable WiFi connection and worked a while. The next morning I discovered another plus for this great hotel: the shower floors are made of milled and waterproofed grooved wood making it impossible to slip in the shower! The lavish breakfast buffet complete with brewed coffee added the crowning touch to an already enjoyable stay. In fact so enjoyable I decided to hang around another night just for the hell of it! The one dim spot in this bright episode has been the lack of decent nearby smoke free restaurants... or ones enforcing their posted "no smoking" signs. I guess the people of Kosovo have bigger problems to solve than protecting the health of the populace. As my bus for Belgrade leaves tomorrow morning at 11:00 I'll end this and finish packing.
Now that I'm leaving the Balkans, look for the next postcard from somewhere in Eastern Europe.
Fred L Bellomy
Pristina - Entrance to the four star 74 Euro Hotel Nartel near the bus station where I stayed on my way back up to Belgrade. after negotiating a 54 Euro rate.