Waking up in the morning was hard, with the prospect of hitchhiking across 3 countries and 2 border crossings that day not making things easier. The border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia, is complicated and had caused us enough problems already, so it was with a heavy heart that we acknowledged that we would have to go back to Macedonia in order to continue our journey north to Belgrade.
The journey started well enough, however, as our Couchsurfing host Bujar gave us a lift to the main road heading south back to Skopje, where after a slight issue with a man who kept muscling in on our hitchhike by talking to the drivers that we had stopped, we were picked up by a Macedonian man who drove us to the ring road surrounding the Macedonian capital. Our next ride was with a very nice Macedonian truck driver who had three daughters and bought us food, drink and cigarettes just out of kindness. He was really impressed by our trip and kept showing off the postcard that we gave him to all the border guards and other truck drivers we encountered. Our friendly driver drove us to the Serbian border, where we waited for a couple of hours for administrative things and then onwards to the turning for Niš, the largest city in southern Serbia.
From here we thought we’d be fine. We were no more than 15 km from the city centre so all it would take was a single lift. So we waited, and waited, watching the sun slowly fall behind the distant hills. 30 minutes later and we were starting to get nervous. The light had nearly faded and cars flew by, with drivers and their grim expressionless faces showing not a flicker of recognition at our plight. Eventually two men in their work van stopped, and took us a little further down the road to a bus stop that would lead us directly to the city and we were saved.
We found accommodation at Sweet Hostel for a reasonable 10€ each, a short walk from the central square. The hostel was simple but functional, with a handy little smoking room, meaning I didn’t have to traipse out and down every time I wanted to smoke. In the hostel we had a nice chat, over some cheap Serbian beers, with Mladen a fresh-faced security guard whose experience at work with Gypsies trying to steal things had left him a bit prejudiced. He was nice, if a bit young, but did have the strange believe that Europe had sent all the Gypsies to Serbia as some form of punishment for all the bad things that Serbia had done in the past.
Niš itself is like much of what we had seen of Serbia, industrial and grimy. Historically the town had been of great importance due to its position along the Roman Via Militaris, but its decaying castle perhaps best stands as an embodiment of its current grandeur. We explored it on a rainy grey day, taking in the castle turned park and then the former Nazi Crveni Krst concentration camp from the outside as it was shut. We splashed down to the old town to find it was neither old nor pretty, found the one road with restaurants on and called it quits, deciding instead on Serbian watching. Serbians are a lot more stern than their Balkan cousins and we speculated that it was because they had been left with the ugliest part of the former Yugoslavia.
Time was slipping through our fingers and our stay in Serbia would have to be brief. Our next stop Belgrade had a real end of the line feel as it would be the last destination we would be hitch-hiking to on our trip. Let’s hope that it makes a better impression than the grey concrete mass that is Niš.
written by: Jon
Follow our 2 month hitch-hiking trip across the north of Italy and the Balkan Peninsula:‘The Balkan Peninsula by Thumb 2013′. It’s happening now!
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