The casual observer walking around Pristina could easily conclude that this is a place no different to any other bustling European capital. In many ways it isn't. Look a little closer though and you might see signs things are a little different here, that maybe all is not as untroubled as it first appeared. There are the memorials in Ibrahim Rugova Square to those who died in 1999/2000; the toy UN tank and peacekeepers for sale in the supermarket; references to EULEX around the city; the police booth guarding the Kosovo Museum; and the white UN vehicle that drove past my bus as I left the city bound for Ulcinj in Montenegro.
It takes just under 7 hours to reach Ulcinj, travelling via Prizren (Kosovo) and then passing through Albania. This way is faster, making use of new highways in Albania rather than taking the weaving mountain roads that lead to Podgorica, Montenegro's capital. Incidentally this is the only country whose capital I won't be visiting; there isn't really any reason to.
We stop fairly regularly, first at Prizren, then the Albanian border, a rest stop in Albania, the Albanian border again, and then we pull into Ulcinj. I have two seats to myself and lie down to sleep in between the stops; it seems to make my travel sickness less severe than sitting up and staying awake. I still feel pretty rough by the time I walk into Ulcinj bus station to buy a ticket on to Budva though.
You might have noticed I didn't refer to either the Kosovan or Montenegrin borders just now. Unless I was for some reason allowed to sleep through those controls, and only roused for the Albanian portions, we didn't encounter any checks on exiting Kosovo or entering Montenegro.
To me that is very odd, but maybe I'm looking at it through the lens of my experiences in South America? Every border crossing dutifully stamped in and out by both sides, every time without fail. My favourite stamp in my old passport was from Los Libertadores, the crossing into Chile high up in the Andes. My old passport told a story, plotted my journey through Patagonia as I travelled north zig-zagging back and forth between Argentina and Chile.
So far on this trip I have an exit stamp from Bosnia; entry stamps from Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania; and nothing from Macedonia and Montenegro. I'm not sure what purpose it serves to only stamp half the journey? Other than to annoy me, obviously.
Anyway, I arrived in Montenegro - technically country number 7 now, having had my sneak preview visit to Albania along the way - and resumed my ongoing game of spot the difference on the bus ride from Ulcinj to Budva.
Leaving Ulcinj also gives me my first sight of the ocean since I left Split, which feels like a lifetime ago. The setting here is jaw droppingly stunning, and as we drive along I realise I'm running out of superlatives and adequate adjectives.
Being by the sea always makes me think of my mum. Not because we spent an inordinate amount of time on the beach together, but simply because when she was ill that was where she wanted to go. I think she would have liked Montenegro. I know I do.
All the tourists though, not so much. In one sense, arriving in Budva from frenzied Pristina was almost like dropping into a sleepy little fishing village by comparison. It's most definitely not though - the place is swarming with tourists, and it's not even the height of the season.
So I have arrived back on the tourist trail with a definite thump this evening. Having become so used to having places largely to myself, it feels a little odd. And frustrating, to be stuck behind people walking four abreast at a snail's pace. In flip flops. With skin scarily similar in shade to a lobster's.
Budva's old town is fairly cute, but not a patch on Split. It didn't take very long to explore - in fact it took me all of half an hour - so I'm glad I'm only here for an evening. Its coastline and mountainous setting are gorgeous, but the beaches and the sea are polluted with rubbish. In all honesty I wouldn't want to swim here. It was however as nice a place as any to while away an evening after 10 hours of travelling to get here. Tomorrow: Kotor.