I’m 165 kilometers from Pristina today, listening to a smooth jazz version of New Order’s Tainted Love, in a 1960’s inspired dining area, the customer-facing part of Macedonia’s Stobi Winery. This is one of the ways to pass the smoggy winter in Kosovo, and a great way to pick up some decent wine at a great price.
The coal burning power plants on the western side of Pristina, combined with the wood and coal burning stoves in the residences of the over 200,000 people in the city have cast a palpable haze across the city, cleared briefly by a snow (the first of the year!) the day after thanksgiving, is back again. At night, the street lights and lights of passing cars cut through it, clearly showing the fine mist of ash coming down like a thick smoke.
The smooth jazz singer has now shifted to “Take On Me.” The drive down here was smoggy nearly the entire way, and even now the mountains in the distance are hazy. The road from Pristina is nice for a few kilometers, but quickly devolves into a bumpy two lane affair stuffed full of construction trucks, tractors, and sputtering 1990’s Mercedes passing the aforementioned on blind curves and poorly marked no-passing zones. All of this traffic can go as fast as 50mph (80kph), but more often is 20-30mph. About an hour outside of Pristina, I cross the sleepy border into Macedonia. My diplomatic plates give me no respite, and I wait in line with everyone else, a process that takes some 15 minutes in total.
Once into Macedonia, the roads don’t improve until I reach the ring road, whose interchange inexplicably is without an eastbound entrance, forcing me to track west a few kilometers before heading back west onto the smooth pavement of this four lane highway. The few tolls that there are don’t diminish the fact that I can travel 80mph and the remaining kilometers melt away.
I exit the highway, following the “historical marker” type brown signs with white text on that mark my approach to the winery. After cruising slowly through the town beside the winery, I pull into Stobi’s industrial warehouse gate entrance, and a guard tracks my car as I pull into a parking space out front. I enter a dining room filled with travelers seeking a bite to eat and a drink, and find myself where I now sit.
After a short meal of what is essentially a hamburger patty covered in cheese, with a side of grilled veggies and potatoes, accompanied by a glass of their Aminta, dry red blend, I head to the cellar area, and pull out my list. I’ve announced my trip to J and her colleagues, and various people have put in their orders.
My trunk filled to the brim, I head back home. The southern alps are barely visible through the haze, like the relief on a well worn coin. Cough.