Traveling as a woman alone in the Balkans was an interesting experience. If there's one thing I've learned from travel adventures over the years, it's that if you're on your own, you have to trust people. You'll never find everything on your own, and you'll miss out on seeing amazing things if you don't take people up on offers to help out.
That said, I'm pretty independent when it comes to travel, and I don't like to be told what to do. The Balkans are interesting in that regard, because it's definitely still a male-dominated culture. Very few women travel alone, and those that do are "looked after" by the men in their bus/taxi/city. In Kosova and northern Albania, part of this may have to do with the fact that it's a predominantely Muslim culture, albeit a very liberal Muslim culture (they drink, and you don't have to cover your head anywhere but a mosque).
I got several tastes of this, um, cultural value on my trip, but none was funnier than the incident that happened on the morning I left Prizren for Montenegro. The trip to the coast is long - it took about 12 hours going and 9 coming back - and it winds through the mountains on hairpin turns for hours on end.
I took my seat about midway back on the early morning bus, but when the general manager came to collect my ticket and discovered I don't speak Albanian, he asked where I was from. He was (naturally) very pleased to learn that I'm American, and as he passed by on his way back up front, he snapped his fingers at me and said, "You! Sit in seat #1."
It wasn't a choice. I was promptly moved to the front row where the drivers could keep an eye on me and make sure I got off at the right place.
Now. I really appreciate kindness and concern. Really. But I have a rule about bus travel in foreign countries, and that rule says that only under the most desparate of circumstances will I sit in the front of the bus. Because I DON'T WANT TO SEE what is ahead. Nine times out of ten, it's too scary, or the bus driver is smoking with one hand and talking on his phone with the other, or children are running across the road while the bus slows down not a bit.
But I didn't have a choice on the road to Montenegro. And you can see that the view from my seat was fine as long as we were in Kosova proper. It got a lot scarier when we started to climb those mountains. Oy.