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Published: January 31st 2017
The Balkans experience continues with my first visit to Kosovo, a country that is 90% ethnic Albanian and after my recent experience a destination I was sure to enjoy visiting. The Ottoman Empire ruled the Balkans for 500 years, with the influence of the Ottomans evidenced by the religious affiliation of the Kosovars, including the beautiful mosques throughout the country. However, the locals are not strictly religious; it's rare to see a lady covered when strolling in the capital city Pristina or other cities in the country. As soon as I arrived, there was a relaxed welcome that's been reinforced through the duration of my visit to this lovely country. The hospitality in the Balkans is special, and something I’ll treasure long after this visit has drawn to a close.
The journal left off in Skopje, with a bus trip across the border to Pristina taking less than three hours. The cold winter continues, with Pristina experiencing extremely cold nights and lots of snow during my visit. I remain positive and enthusiastic as a matter of course when travelling, but the hostel I booked online in Pristina was just not up to standard. My Aussie travel friend recommended the hostel,
but a combination of factors meant I could not stay there, even though I booked five nights. As soon as I entered the hostel, I was overwhelmed with smoke. The staff explained they had run out of coal and the wood in the furnace was damp, leading to the excessive smoke. This was bad enough, but at the same time the kitchen was being renovated, the rooms were freezing, and the bed terrible. I have never done this before, but after an afternoon stroll and some time to process the situation I simply packed my bags and left. I walked through town to a new hostel I had scoped on the internet, and have been at this wonderful place for the last five nights.
I spent the first day exploring the capital Pristina, a city that's easy to navigate and a lot of fun to get around. The prices in Kosovo are remarkably cheap, a meal or a long bus ride only setting you back 3 or 4 euros. The locals are friendly and curious with that interesting feeling of being stared at a feature of strolling around. They sense that I’m a foreigner despite all the layers of
clothes needed to keep the cold at bay. On the second day in the city I paid a visit to the ethnological museum to gather information on the lives and traditions of the Kosovars. As mentioned Kosovo is predominantly an ethnic Albanian population, and the traditions of Albania are on display as visitors stroll through the traditional houses featuring a wealth of information about life in former times. The museum is a little bit off the main square, but easy to located with offline maps.
The next day I headed out to the bus station and caught a bus to Gracanica, a town famous for it’s beautiful monastery. There was virgin snow surrounding the monastery during my visit, which added to beauty of the grounds. The monastery hosts pilgrims from around the region, with the friendly staff member letting me know it can be overwhelming during the summer months. Although it is on a smaller scale, the monastery reminded me of visiting the gorgeous Rila monastery in Bulgaria. There is something magical about visiting a monastery in the middle of winter, and I was thrilled with the photographic opportunities on offer. Gracanica is a small town with not a
lot else for tourists, but definitely worth a trip out of Pristina to visit the monastery.
The following day I was up early, heading to the bus station to embark on a day trip to beautiful Prizren. It takes two hours on the bus at a cost of 4 euros, before rolling in to the bus station not far from the city centre. I strode out in the direction of the Old Town, finding Prizren an incredibly picturesque city by the river, enhanced by recent heavy snow. The Stone Bridge is in the centre of the Old Town, and the mosque dominates the views across the river. Prizren fortress is located on the hills overlooking the city, with wonderful panoramic views. I stopped off for lunch at a super trendy restaurant, at the conclusion of a wonderful day visit to this beautiful city in the south of the country. I returned to the hostel full of beans at the conclusion of an excellent day, but there was more to come.
I repeated the ritual next morning, up early for breakfast at the hostel and then walking two kilometres in the snow to the bus station. I took the
bus to Peja, a major city of Kosovo located 85 kilometres west of Pristina. The bus fairly rocketed out to our destination, arriving at our destination just 90 minutes after leaving Pristina bus station. Peja is famous for it’s scenic surroundings including Rugova canyon, one of the longest and deepest in Europe, and the mountains nearby. There was a heavy blanket of snow on the ground during my visit, providing a wonderful backdrop to the photos. Restaurant food is good in the city and the prices are even cheaper than Pristina.
I found Kosovo to be a revelation, not really knowing what to expect from the country prior to my arrival. The people are so warm, friendly, and relaxed; with plenty to see and do to keep visitors entertained for several days. The cities are clean and organised, with the bus system one of the most efficient I’ve experienced in my travels. When in Kosovo visitors will not even need to check the timetable, as the buses are so frequent I never found myself waiting for longer than fifteen minutes before heading to a chosen destination. There is beautiful countryside to enjoy, invigorating cities, and always a friendly welcome
from the locals. This small country with a complicated and difficult recent history punches well above it’s weight, basically all of you should be here now!
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." Martin Luther King Jr.
As I continue my travels, until next time it’s signing off for now
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