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Published: September 25th 2016
We are currently on a bus from Skopje, Macedonia to Lake Ohrid. Let’s recap our 4 days in Kosovo.
We took a mini bus from Vila Dini to Peja, Kosovo. Our first stop was Visoki Dečani monastery. A Serbian Orthodox monastery since 1327, as with other Serbian monasteries and communities in the country, it is heavily under guard by the KFOR (NATO-led Kosovo Force) another legacy of decades of tension and violence between the Serbs and ethnic Albanian community of Kosovo. This white-washed monastery is set amidst a large lush green lawn, and Orthodox frescoes decorated the walls of the church which was surprisingly in good condition after all these years. 25 monks live here in isolation and produce wine, cheese and honey. Some of us bought some for our trip! After the Monastery it was onward to Peja or Peć in Serbian. A pretty little town with remnants of its Ottoman pasts with bazaars and mosques. A few things I didn’t know about Kosovo: 90% of the country is ethnically Albanian, so Albanian is an official language along with Serbian. The breakaway from Serbia came with a cost – an ugly war between 1998-1999. I was young and didn’t
understand (or cared) what was happening at the time. But there was war crimes on both sides, with Kosovo committing ‘ethnic cleansing’ as well as the Serbs too under the ‘Balkan Butcher’ Sloberdan Milošević. Serbia still doesn’t recognise Kosovo as a country, along with many others such as Spain who are also worried about regions in its own country wanting independence (Basque and Catalonia). So it’s a bit complicated. Kosovo was never a republic within Yugoslavia like Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina etc so Serbia claims Kosovo is a part of Serbia which in a way is right, yet Kosovans claim that they are ethnically and religiously different to Serbia so they should be their own country which is right too. See it’s complicated and that is Kosovo the political side in a nutshell.
We did an orientation walk around Peja and the bazaar. Unfortunately it was still drizzly and wet. After we had a good walk around we went back to the hotel but I went out soon after to look for tights to wear hiking the next day! As I only had shorts and jeans, I had hiked in shorts the day before at Vila
Dini and froze! I ended up back down the bazaar and bought one of the many knock-off Adidas tracksuits! Fluro pink – 27 euros for the set. I’m Thai – bargain and knock-offs is my middle name! That night Bill was feeling unwell so I went with most of the group for dinner to a really nice restaurant for a great meal, laughs and eyerolling at a ‘cheesegate’ incident (fusspots in the group who don’t like white cheese and made a big fuss when given some to try!)
The next day, with the weather still terrible, more than half of us got ready for a hike in the Rugova mountains. Before that the whole group got in two vans to Patriarchate of Peć orthodox monastery. Again, another beautiful monastery, guarded this time by police not KFOR as there hasn’t been as many threats to this monastery I think. We went around the church with an audio guide and looked at the many many frescos and walked around the beautiful grounds. In the gift shop the nun offered us some holy raki. Some drank it, I didn’t. So it was onward for most of us up the mountain, while other
went back to town. It took awhile to get up as the old van’s radiator kept overheating so our driver kept stopping to top it up with water! So we finally got to our starting point, a house where we would later have a late lunch. Packed with sandwiches we were off for our 3.5 - 4 hour hike. It was really beautiful and our hiking guide was great. So many little farming communities in the mountains itself so we had to be careful not to step in cow poo (landmines as we called it – probably not a tasteful choice of words given the history!) And there was also bear poo so that was interesting and I was told to stop whistling as that attracts bears – woops! We were also about 3km from the Montenegran border we were told too! Back at the house we had a lovely late lunch and Turkish coffee! After relaxing at the hotel as few of us opened bottles of the blessed wine from the first monastery and a light dinner!
The next day we were off by bus to Prizren. Prizren is a postcard worthy city in Kosovo. Beautiful stone bridges
arc over a not so beautiful river, with mosques and an old town setting the scene for the beautiful restored Kalaja fortress upon the hill. Prizren has an even bigger Ottoman influence with Turkish being spoken amongst Albanian and Turkish official government buildings in town. After checking in we went for a walk to have a very expensive lunch of 1 euro! Byurek for 80c and Ayran for 20c!! The orientation walk was small – its only a small town. Nir showed us a large wall on what I think is city hall with all the names of the countries that recognise Kosovo’s independence, thanking them in the various languages. Australia was there of course, and other countries I was not aware that supported then such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait even! Then we went for a walk through the back streets up the steep hill to the fortress. Of course it has been restored, and restored well. Nir even said he was there 2 years ago and it was just like a building site! We got some amazing views of the city, even with cloud cover. As we were walking around poor Bill got stung on the inner
lip by a wasp! He said it came to him like a bullet! So he had botox upper lip for the rest of the afternoon. So before dinner I did a bit of shopping looking at the factory outlets across the river that sells some European clothing brands that I like. We went to a nice restaurant with not so nice food for dinner.
The next day was a free day so we took our time, sleeping in our HUGE room with a chandelier (yup you read right!) We had coffee by the river and walked around the backstreets and past shop after shop of formal gown and bridal stores. Its amazing, these stores are EVERYWHERE like in Peja but I think even more so in Prizren. We even heard lots of loud honking signaling weddings that were happening that day (Sunday). We had a shop, went to the Albanian League museum and visited the Sinan Pasha mosque. A beautiful mosque - not ornate or large like a lot of other mosques we have seen in Turkey and the Middle East but still very pretty. I tut-tutted the female tourists (in my head not outloud) who weren't wearing headscarves.
I did, it just feels right to do so! Then we had a rest at the hotel then happy hour with Strongbow ciders. We planned to go back up to the fortress as the weather starting clearing up but decided not to in the end. We kept bumping into our fellow Intrepid travellers and had lunch with Michael (a lovely fellow from NSW). At dinner time we ran into more people who told us Joe (another lovely guy from Ireland) was upstairs at a bar so we joined him for a pre-dinner beer. Us 3 then went to a fantastic restaurant a bit further down than the one we were at the night before and by the river. What a difference in food! Fantastic steaks and wine – Joe cooked his steak on a hot stone too!
The next day was bye bye Prizren, and hello Pristina, Kosovo’s capital. On the way we went to Kosovo Polje (field of Blackbirds) the site of the 1389 battle of Kosovo between the Serbs and the Ottomans. The Serbs went unto a short battle with the much much larger Ottoman army, and, of course the bigger force of the Ottomans won very
quickly. The result was Ottoman rule for a very long time and the introduction of Islam to the region. We attempted to climb the tower but Joe hurried down saying there were angry swarms of flying ants (I assumed he meant midgies!) A short drive away was the tomb of Sultan Murat, an Ottoman sultan killed, from what we learnt in the museum, by the despot Llazar a Serb. His organs are kept in a tomb mausoleum here in Kosovo, his body in Bursa, Turkey. Make sure you take off your shoes before you step on the carpet even at the front as a few people got harshly spoken to by an older Turkish lady, the keeper of the place. The museum next door was great too, all preserved by Turkey and a guide happily explaining the different rooms and history of the Ottoman empire and Ottomans in Kosovo. Lots of Turkish tourists as well.
After checking in at our hotel in Pristina we went for a walk through the market and briefly stopped by the big mosque. We had a kebab lunch and onwards for an orientation walk. There’s lots of monuments signifying unity and independence-
one painted in flags of countries that supported and recognised Kosovan independence , however the one I was looking forward to was the NEWBORN sign in big block letters, but was no longer painted in flags but that was ok, the significance was obviously still there. Afterwards 4 of us went to the Swiss Diamond hotel, the best in town, for drinks and a nice chat. Later we walked to Bill Klinton Boulevard to see the statue of Bill Clinton. He has a statue as he visited after Kosovo’s independence in 2008 (I think he visited in 2009). It was good to see and it wasn’t gold as described, more bronze but perhaps the gold wore off? That evening we had a lovely dinner of salad and stuffed grilled vegetables at a lovely restaurant near the hotel. The next day it was bye bye Kosovo and off to our next adventure Macedonia!!!
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