MrFlibble's second Kosovan Adventure

This diary’s a bit shorter than the previous ones, and much lighter on pics (only about 35-40 this time). I didn’t think it was worth writing about and showing photos of all the same things, so if you want to know what the journey is like, read one of my other diaries… :wink:

It’ll take me a bit of time to post it all, so please be patient :wink:

Wed 28th March

Pack the car ready for the long slog down to Dagenham. I normally prefer to have the car loaded the night before, but I had a nasty cold over the weekend and on Monday night, which meant that I did very little because I just didn’t have the energy.

Anyway, I finally get going about 10:30 - quite a bit later than I would like, but acceptable nonetheless. After a quick stop at work to grab my chequebook and post off a cheque for my house insurance (I had suddenly realised that I hadn’t sent off the renewal premium, and the policy was due to lapse whilst I was away :open_mouth: ), and I set off down the M4. Fortunately, it was pretty much a clear run, with only a bit of 40 mph traffic on the M25 between the M4 and the M40, which meant that the next time I stopped was at Thurrock to fill up with petrol ready for the return journey.

Whilst I was there, I got a call from one of the other convoyers to see where I was, as I was the only one that wasn’t at Dagenham; I didn’t think I was that late, until I realised that I hadn’t put the car clock forwards to BST yet :blush:

As everyone else had already been in to Dagenham, I didn’t have any of the usual problems with Security (I’m often the first/only one there, and it normally takes a bit of time to explain why I’m not an employee or a contractor, but that they should still let me in anyway).

I arrived to find the other convoyers securing the load at the back of our trailer with a load net - they had added in a load of boxes of more aid as one of the 7.5t trucks had been allocated enough load to fill it twice over. I fitted the CB antennae and transceivers, and by that time it was time to go over to the jetty.

We boarded the boat as usual at about 5pm (last to load, reverse on), got served our evening meal, and went to bed about 9pm ready for the early start

Driving up to the boat for boarding:

Thursday 29th March

As usual, up before the crack of dawn ready for docking at 4am. We drove off the boat, and the convoy leader’s truck promptly broke down with a broken throttle return spring. Half an hour or so later and they’d bodged it to get it was working, so we were off and running.

My co-driver is a twin splitter virgin, so I take the first driving shift, running up to the full 4 1/2 hours covering 350 km to just North of Koblenz.

I then passed the reins over to my co-driver who did another 4 hour shift, giving him a good “baptism of fire” with the gearbox :wink: .

It was then my turn to take over again for another 4 hours, and he finished off the day with a 2-hour shift to take us to between Plzen and Prague in the Czech Republic.

On the way in to the Czech Republic, we are hit with the news that they’ve abandoned the old vignette sticker system for HGVs (which used to cost about EUR 20-25 per day from memory), replacing it with a toll tag which charges you per mile. And, the cost of the new tag system is now EUR 90 each way, plus an EUR 80 deposit for the tag. :open_mouth: Looks like we’re going to be investigating the Austrian toll for the next convoy…

(PS - I’ve now investigated the Austrian route, and it looks like it’s about EUR 10-20 cheaper.)

On arrival at the services, it’s rather crowded, so we park up on one of the non-motorway access roads. My co-driver asks me to reverse in (me being the more experienced at reversing? Never! :open_mouth: ), but it’s not too difficult, and it goes in quite easily.

969 km covered today.

Friday 30th March

Yesterday’s slog gives us a nice easy day today - we just have to get to our favourite hotel just the other side of the Slovakian/Hungarian border. We start off at 8am, and by 2:30pm we’re sat on the hotel terrace drinking beer :sunglasses:

There was a bit of a shock when we arrived at the hotel - since our last convoy, they’ve built a new RDC on the road opposite - a pretty big place (50+ bays). The last time we were there, it was a field. It was still under construction, but the main building structure was finished, and you could see all the holes where the loading bays were going to be. More significantly, they were doing major roadworks to widen the road across the front of the hotel - we always used to park here on the grass the other side of the little stub road right in front of the hotel, but they were busily digging it up, so we had to stay on the road a bit more. I don’t think the workmen were too happy with us parking there, but they all went home at 5pm anyway, and we were gone shortly after they started work the following morning.

Whilst we were lounging around we heard that the other convoy had run into problems, with one of the 7.5t trucks having a clutch give up in Dover late in the afternoon. Just what you need :wink:

399 km covered today.

Saturday 31st March

Another easy day, just having to get to the other side of Hungary. Started just after 9am with me taking the first 3 hour shift, then my co-driver taking the other 2 1/2 hours to get us to our weekend break destination at Asotthalom, near Szeged. The other convoy were now moving, but about 12 hours behind schedule.

364 km covered today.

Sunday 1st April

As usual, the “holiday” day. Bus trip into Szeged, wander around town for a while, bus trip back to the hotel. Not much else to do. :frowning:

Monday 2nd April

Normally we would have started about 9am (depending on when the 7.5t convoy arrived the night before to get in their 8-hour break), but since they still hadn’t arrived, we were sat around waiting for them. They finally rolled in about midday so after a long, dull morning we suddenly had a frenzy of activity whilst we made sure that all the trucks were ready for the border crossing (i.e. had all the correct paperwork, etc.), then we made the short drive down to the Tompa border crossing.

On arrival at Tompa, we found out that all but one of the Hungarian border officials had gone home for the day, so the queue to get the paperwork done was massive.

During the wait, someone mentioned that it looked like there was someone official checking tachos, so I ensured mine were all in order (filled out the mileage covered field, etc) before checking some of the 7.5t drivers, some of whom had made basic mistakes. Looks like I’m going to have to do a “how to fill out a tacho” instruction sheet for next time… :unamused:

Anyway, we eventually got out into Serbia sometime around 7-8pm (fortunately, no-one actually checked any of the tachos), and started off down the motorway, but gave up at Srbobran, about 80 km into Serbia where we found a reasonable motel.

129 km covered today :frowning:

Tuesday 3rd April

8:30 start, and I take the first shift. Again, we get hit by delays at the border, but we make it all the way to the warehouse at Pristina by about 8pm. Again, my co-driver asks me to put the truck in the warehouse, as it looks like it might be a bit tricky. I jump out and have a look to see where they want me to put it, and it’s actually not too bad. I have to take a rather convoluted route around inside to avoid the support pillars, but I eventually end up with the truck parked up parallel with the end wall which is where they asked for it. The other HGV driver aims to do the same, but gives up because there isn’t enough room (because I’m now parked in the way of where he needs to manouevre), and parks next to me.

We’re all pretty knackered, so it’s off to the hotel for a good night’s sleep ready for the unloading tomorrow.

529 km covered today.

Parked up in the warehouse:

Wednesday 4th April

Spent the day in the warehouse unloading the 7.5t trucks, plus one side of each of the artics - we can’t get to the other sides because the trucks are parked too close together; the remaining load will be unloaded tomorrow when all the 7.5t trucks are out.

A couple of 7.5t trucks went out on local distribution during the afternoon, but I didn’t go with them.

The whole convoy parked in the warehouse ready to unload:

One of the artics starting to unload. How do you like my loading? Not much space for anything else, is there? We’ve already offloaded a few pallets, 19 PCs, plus a pallet carrying the six spare tyres that we take with us.

Thursday 5th April

First day of distribution.

Destination: Peje (pronounced “Pay-ah”) region, near the Montenegro border. Got to the first drop, only to discover that, despite it being only my second convoy where I’d done 7.5t distribution, I was “the experienced one”, and that people were looking to me to take charge and tell them how it was supposed to be done :open_mouth:

Anyway, it was only about 25 families, and it was all nice and calm, so we put out a big tarpaulin on the ground, and laid out lots of piles of stuff, which was then all distributed. All nicely kept under control; job done :slight_smile:

Onto the next drop - 42 families, and this time the location was rather more public, and there were lots of people hanging around who weren’t on our local contact’s list, and therefore weren’t supposed to get any aid (given the size of the operation, we can’t help the entire population of 2 million, so we use local charities to identify those most in need). It got a bit hectic at times, but eventually we got 42 piles of stuff organised. During the process, we realised that we’d been a bit conservative at the first drop and hadn’t given enough stuff out; the piles of aid were getting big enough, so we ended up taking some of the load back to the warehouse for distribution on another day.

Back to the warehouse and reload for the following day; our load had already been piled up ready to go by the warehouse team, so it was a relatively quick operation. The artics had also been emptied during the day.

One of the main roads in Pristina is called “Bill Clinton Boulevard”. Yes, really. Although sometimes it’s written “Bill Klinton Boulevard”:

War damage:

Montenegro’s, erm, “Black Mountains”:

The last few piles of aid being given out at our first drop:

Approaching our second drop:

Aid all prepared to be allocated to families:

Teddy time:

Weather looks a bit nasty, so we’d better get moving…

Oversize loads Kosovo-style:

Friday 6th April

Second day of distribution.

Destination: Shterpca region (no idea how it’s pronounced, as I’ve heard various versions :laughing: )

Only one drop today, somewhere in the region of 50-60 families. This time I’m riding with another experienced convoyer, so I let him take the lead. He prefers to distribute straight off the tailgate, so that’s what we do. Again, it’s all pretty calm, and there’s no major issues, apart from the fact that the (2006-reg) truck has what we think is a dead battery, and can’t be relied on to start, so we have to leave the engine running. We use the local charity’s 4x4 and park it right up against the drivers’ door (since we can’t lock it with the keys in the ignition) to stop anyone getting in the cab.

All very busy - spent the distribution time up near the bulkhead of the truck picking clothes and toys, so didn’t get to see much outside.

On the way back, we stop off in Ferizaj (“Fair-az-aye”) at a community living in rusty old shipping containers. One of the other convoyers is trying to set up a project here with chicken runs and chickens, to give them a sustainable source of food, and we turn up to provide some extra manpower to help out. However, politics and other issues are getting in the way, with some of the locals causing problems. Eventually the police are called and turn up, blocking one of the trucks in. With the help of the local council official, we explain what is happening, and they see that the problems are being caused by one particular local who is, erm, “a little bit worse for wear”. The blocked-in truck is let out, and we drive it out.

The access route requires you to take a sharp turn across a railway line, and the truck almost got stuck trying to turn the corner. A couple of minutes later, a large freight train comes down the line at about 50 mph, with very little warning. If he’d got stuck on the line, or crossed a couple of minutes later, he’d have been completely wiped out :open_mouth:

Anyway, after jump-starting our truck, we get out of there, as it’s getting dark, and we’d been been advised to make sure we were always back at the warehouse before dark, just as a precaution.

More war damage:

Mountains near the border with Macedonia:

Near our first drop - the bridge got bombed out during the war:

so the locals built a temporary one:

Fortunately, EU money has now paid for a new bridge:

Chicken runs waiting for their new residents:

Although the children seem happy to use them as climbing frames in the meantime:

The “houses” the people are living in - rusty old shipping containers. Must get absolutely baking hot in the summer - they’re at about the same latitude as Rome and Barcelona:

Saturday 7th April

Spent the day in the warehouse, rearranging stuff and generally tidying up ready for the last distribution on Sunday. The warehouse had a couple of nice new diesel forklifts, so I got lots of FLT practice in :slight_smile:

The other convoyers nicknamed me “Demon” because I wasn’t afraid to put my foot down when faced with driving an unloaded forklift across an empty, open warehouse :laughing:

Also loaded up a truck for the local charity we work with, giving them all the aid left over that we couldn’t distribute ourselves. It had a tilt body, and it was my first time using a tilt.

Sunday 8th April

“Special Projects” day today. However, there were still the odd bits of distribution left to do, so I went off and did a very quick drop at a community living in shipping containers about 10 minutes down the road. I was then offered the opportunity to go off and do some distribution in Skenderaj (“Scan-der-aye”), but I gave up my place to someone else who really wanted to go, and stayed to do a bit more warehouse work instead.

I did a quick trip out in the unit (first time since arriving in the warehouse earlier in the week) to fill up with diesel ready for the return journey, then we all went back to the hotel for the final night.

My only drop of the day to this container community - at least these people have managed to get their containers painted white:

Monday 9th April

We’re going home!

7am start, but a bit of a delay whilst the driver of the truck with the dead battery tries to work out what’s going on with Iveco support - it’s a bit of a problem trying to get them to come and meet a moving target. Eventually we get underway, and we’re off up to the border.

A mile or so from the border, we hit the queue. :frowning: After nearly 4 hours in the queue, our local charity contact negotiated for us to come straight through. Frankly, I would have rather have stayed in the queue, as we were getting near the front anyway, and it certainly didn’t make us the most popular people around :blush: Still, we were on our way again, and made our way to a stopping point North of Belgrade just before 11pm.

505 km covered.

Border queues:

Look at the almost perfect mirror caused by the heat rising up the curtain:

Yes, these are for Ben:

Traffic jam coming into Belgrade:

It seems that it’s normal practice here for the hard shoulder to become an impromptu traffic lane when there’s a traffic jam:

Tuesday 10th April

8am start, and heading for Hungary. Reasonable queue at the border, but get through in a couple of hours, and head up the road aiming for our favourite hotel at Hegyeshalom.

Have a rather awkward moment at a Shell petrol station - there are two pumps available, so we fill up both artics simultaneously, and I then go in to pay only to find that they won’t take my credit cards - “satellite down” apparently. Fortunately, they take Euros, and even more fortunately, I’ve got enough left to pay the EUR 615 bill :open_mouth:

Pull into the Hegyeshalom hotel at about 7pm to discover that all the rubber surrounds have been fitted to the loading bays on the RDC opposite. These Hungarian builders don’t hang around…

I take the job of parking the convoy (most of the 7.5t drivers don’t drive anything bigger than a car except on convoy, so they need help to get them parked properly if it’s tight), and get everyone nice and neatly parked in the hotel car park :sunglasses: then it’s off down the road to the restaurant for a nice meal.

452 km covered.

Mandatory weighing station which was open on the way up - I’ve never seen it open before:

We all got waved straight through. Phew.

Wednesday 11th April

8am start, and this time we’re going for a long-distance run. There’s no more difficult borders to cross, so it should be nice and easy.

As usual, we split off from the main convoy in the Czech Republic just before Plzen where we stop for our last fuel stop, but they seem to remain relatively close to us for most of the rest of the day, as we occasionally pick them up on the CB.

We aim to stop somewhere in the Wurzburg area, but keep finding the MSAs full, and eventually end up at Montabaur again, except that this time it was packed (last time it was half-empty), and we only just squeeze in just after midnight.

982 km covered.

Is it a MAN or a DAF? Is it coming or going?

Thursday 12th April

Last day of driving. Start just after 9am (now under new EC rules, so have to have 9 hours rest), and head up the road towards Vlissingen. Whilst booking the ferries, we find out that we can only put two trucks on the 6pm sailing, and one has to go on the 2am. Myself and one of the other HGV drivers volunteer to stay around for the 2am ferry.

Arrive at Vlissingen at 4pm, so it’s a long wait until our sailing. My truck is the one that’s booked on the earlier ferry, so I have to get all my stuff out of the cab and trailer and transfer it to the other one, which takes an hour or so, then it’s settle down to a meal and a few drinks, before the long wait until 2am.

The other HGV driver had a few beers whilst waiting, so it was down to me to reverse onto the boat. I had to get it in between a couple of trailers, and there was another trailer behind making it even narrower, so I didn’t have much room to spare, but I got it in with only a few shunts.

After all that, it was straight to bed.

386 km covered.

Friday 23th April

Get into dock about 11am (must have got a good tide up the Thames), drive off, park the trailer, empty the cabs, and go home :slight_smile:

My parking on the boat - notice that I had to park so close that I needed to fold the wing mirror in :sunglasses: :sunglasses: :sunglasses:

Great read and pictures as always Mr F, thanks for the time and effort.

[zb] me, you read quickly! :open_mouth: