10 Days in Kosovo – Prizren and around

17 Apr

How I decided to go to Prizren? Actually, I intended to go back to Tirana to check my car in a Dacia service because some red lights blinked on my car’s dashboard. The car’s manual only said „urgently go to a service” – something I had procrastinated to do for the past ten days. As I was leaving Shkodër, Linda (the owner of the Ledgenda Camping) talked with her husband, Franz, and sent me to Service Auto Ellite. At the car service, they scanned my car on a computer and then we took a road test. Eventually, they inflated my tires at 2.4bar – the recommended value. Suddenly, the red lights blinking on the dashboard disappeared.

I quickly reconfigured the road route and headed to Kosovo. I was so happy my car hadn’t had something serious that I stopped for the last Albanian cafe-frappe at a terrace near the road and booked a whole apartment in Prizren.

The first day in Prizren

Short Description. I left Shkodër and crossed the border between Albania and Kosovo after passing Kukës. Then I drove straight to Prizren, where Erdis waited for me at the apartment.

Long Description

After I passed Lezze, I missed the road to Kosovo and unwillingly headed toward Tirana. When I realized that, I had to turn back 10 km and found the right highway passing through the mountains toward Kosovo. The highway crossed the mountains and was the only true highway in Albania. After I passed Kukës, I reached the border with Kosovo and sat down to eat a goulash at a local restaurant. At the border crossing, the customs officer sent me to buy a new car insurance available in Kosovo. Compared to Albania, roads in Kosovo seemed perfect. I quickly reached Prizren, where Erdis was waiting for me at his apartment. He gave a lot of information to me and invited me to visit their hostel, Hostel Driza’s House, in the evening.

Pleskavice sharri (stuffed with cheese inside) and cappuccino

Pleskavice sharri (stuffed with cheese inside) and cappuccino

I had a late lunch on the river bank – a delicious pleskavica shari (minced meat stuffed with cheese). After that, I went to Erdis’s hostel set up inside an old house in the historic center. Vicky, Erdis’s wife, told me a lot of things about the war in Kosovo. She said that Kosovo had always been a free province of Yugoslavia. Their status under Tito had been very good. The Yugoslavian passport had been strong everywhere in the world, and they even had had paid holidays.

Miloshevich could no longer rein all the territories in former Yugoslavia, though. The war started in 1996. They could no longer study in the Albanian language. Vicky’s father lost his job because he was Albanian. At the moment of my visit, Kosovars could travel without a visa to only a few countries: Albania, Turkey (only by plain, they couldn’t transit Bulgaria), Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Erdis was very sad because he couldn’t travel as much as he wanted. The visitors staying in his hostel were his only way to see more of this world.

The second day in Prizren

Short Description. I walked down the pedestrian street and headed to Schardinvan square (with a mosque and an Orthodox cathedral next to it). Then, I strolled the street underneath the fortress and crossed the stone bridge toward the Bajrakli quarter (with many mosques and former Turkish baths).

Long Description

My apartment was situated at only five-minute walking distance from Prizren’s center. I passed a Catholic church, then went down along the pedestrian street Shashi i Shadervanit. Gold and perfume shops lined the pedestrian street all the way to Schadirvan Square. The square had a big central fountain and was animated with lots of people. The Sinan Pasha Mosque sat on one side of the square.

Prizren - the Sinan Pasha Mosque

Prizren – the Sinan Pasha Mosque

On the other side of the square, just across the mosque, there was the Serbian Cathedral St. George Runovic – entirely demolished in 2004, well guarded by KFOR (Kosovo Forces – NATO soldiers of all nationalities, including Romanians). Hidden between the houses, I discovered a tiny Orthodox church with well-preserved frescoes inside. Most of the women covered their hairs with a Muslim hijab. At noon, locals (especially men) enjoyed a coffee at the pavement terraces, a typical Oriental habit.

Prizren - the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. George

Prizren – the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. George

From the central mosque, I climbed up narrow cobbled streets toward the hilltop fortress and the Saviour’s Church. Among trees, I could spot the belfry of the tiny church of Sveti Nedelea (St. Domenica). To arrive at the church, I had to find my way on steep winding streets with newly-built houses, which had an Ottoman style. The church was guarded, and in the front courtyard, a group of Serbs celebrated St. Domenica. They invited me to join the feast and indulged me with all sorts of tasty things (Sarajevo byrek with meat, small kebabs, steak, little loaves of bread specially baked for that religious feast, and a lot of coca cola).

Prizren - Serbian celebration in the courtyard of Church of Saint Domenica

Prizren – Serbian celebration in the courtyard of Church of Saint Domenica

A lady from the Serbian group was assiduously chatting with me in Italian while blowing all the cigarette smoke directly into my face. They told me there had been 355 churches in the neighborhood but they were set on fire and vandalized in 2004. The Serbian population from the region had been forced to leave for Serbia in 2000, but they came back in 2011 and rebuilt their houses from scratch. For the St. Domenica celebration, they sang and transmitted their joy live on Skype to their relatives from Serbia. They seemed pretty glad I am a Romanian Orthodox and gifted to me a small icon of St. Martyr Akakie and a bracelet.

Prizren - Church of Saint Domenica

Prizren – Church of Saint Domenica

I went downhill through the Serbian neighborhood to the central square. In the city center, I bought a rather expensive internet SIM card, then went across the stone bridge over the Prizren Bistrica. I reached the destroyed mosque of Namazgah, a place where Ottomans prayed when they entered the town. Then, I went to the nearby Archaeological Museum, set up inside a former hammam, subsequently a covered bazaar. In front of the museum, several little girls were playing, dancing, and giggling. They even whispered a „where are you from” and a „how are you”. However, they didn’t dare to address me directly.

Prizren - the Archaeological Museum refurbished in a former hamam

Prizren – the Archaeological Museum refurbished in a former hamam

The neighborhood featured complicated buildings, with a lot of construction works going on around the area. It was true chaos, with countless paid parking lots set up ad-hoc in places of demolished historic buildings. Everywhere in the streets, people sold something, especially fruits and vegetables. The typical bazaar trade dominated, even though they used euros as a currency.

The church of the Holy Virgin Levisa, a UNESCO monument, was well guarded by two soldiers and barbed wire. It was part of the medieval religious monuments which represented the Byzantine Orthodox ecclesiastical culture harmoniously interwoven with the Western Romanic one. The church presented a peculiar style of the interior frescoes, which reached its heyday in the Balkans during the 13-17th Centuries. Later, I reached the former Turkish baths of Gazi Mehmed Pasha – which were under restoration. Then I passed the mosques of Emin Pasha and Mehmet Pasha in the Bajrakli neighborhood. Eventually, I stopped at the Ethnographic Museum which displayed Albanian folk costumes (traditional peasants’ shoesopinci, woolen socks with different motifs, wool trousers, fur caps, woolen decorative belts, and aprons for women).

Prizren - ablution zone at the Mehmet Pasha Mosque in Bajrakli

Prizren – ablution zone at the Mehmet Pasha Mosque in Bajrakli

When the sky got cloudy, I went home where I dozed for about half an hour. At nine o’clock in the evening, the call to prayer started and all the minarets in town could be heard from everywhere.

The third day in Prizren

Short Description. In the morning, I went toward Prevalla mountain resort. I hiked a small mountaintop in the Mali Sharr mountains. Back in Prizren, I went up to the fortress on the back longer route.

Long Description

In the morning, I enjoyed a delicious coffee in my spacious apartment, which I liked very much. Therefore, I left to Prevalla mountain resort (Erdis’s recommendation) pretty late. After I exited the city, I drove along a deep valley flanked by high cliffs. I passed through some gorges and then the road started to snake up abruptly. From a parking lot a few kilometers before Prevalla, one could see the Mali Sharr Mountains which sat on the border between Kosovo and Macedonia. Prevalla was a small tourist resort, with newly-built villas, a camping ground with tiny bungalows, and nearby one could see people with their tents as well. Along the roadside, one could buy cheese, honey, baked corn on the cob as well as plastic balls, kites, and various colored toys.

Prevalla mountain resort, near Prizren - cheese, honey, and syrup stalls

Prevalla mountain resort, near Prizren – cheese, honey, and syrup stalls

I climbed a meadow where people sunbathed and chose an intermediary peak from where I wanted to see the panoramic view. I quickly improvised two wooden sticks to defeat in case the sheepfold’s dogs attacked me. A bit nervous, I hiked up a forestry road to the left, then I quickly turned to the right and reached an alpine pasture. I climbed straight ahead and only wanted to go to the nearest peak to take a picture. However, I saw another intermediary peak that seemed so close from where I was standing.

I continued to hike further while a dog from the sheepfold in the valley saw me and started to bark. After a while, it stopped barking and I continued to climb steeply, without any trace of a trail. I hiked from peak to peak and after the last peak, there was another nearby peak I could go to. My ears hurt from wind and altitude. Eventually, I reached a flat peak and from there, I had a great panoramic view of the main ridge of the Mali Sharr Mountains.

Hiking in the Mali Sharr Mountains, from Prevalla mountain resort (near Prizren)

Hiking in the Mali Sharr Mountains, from Prevalla mountain resort (near Prizren)

From the lookout point where I stood, I could see and hear everything. Sheep bleated in the backdrop valley. Water flew far away down in the abrupt valley. Beetles buzzed happily in the grass. Last but not least, thyme smelled amazing. The mountains seemed pretty deserted and I was the only hiker. When I hiked down to Prevalla, I heard the noon call to prayer which resounded through the whole mountain. When I reached back Prevalla, I had pleskavicha shari at the family restaurant Te Syla relax.

In the afternoon, I returned to Prizren, parked the car at home, then went for a walk along the back route to the fortress. The trail ran along a water stream for a while, then exited the city and passed a few terraces and a small mosque. It continued along the water stream and then turned into a simple footpath through the forest lined with a few lanterns and paved with gravel (pretty off the beat – the contrary of what Erdis had told me). When the road turned right, a man overtook me. Further on, when the road turned 180 degrees toward the fortress, again saw the man drinking water from a spring. I talked to him first. He spoke good English and he wondered what I was doing there. I urgently made up some friends who were waiting for me at the fortress.

Walking up to the Prizren's Fortress

Walking up to the Prizren’s Fortress

Florim told me he worked in Germany from ’96 until ’99 in January when he returned to Kosovo and fought in the war until June. He was part of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army). They fought on foot, almost empty-handed, against the Serbs who had tanks and military equipment. In the end, NATO supported them from the air. Kosovo was still interspersed by KFOR soldiers at the time of my visit there. In Kosovo, the salary in a private company was 300-400 euros while the salary from the state was at least 500 euros. I explained to him that in Romania it was exactly the opposite. He complained it was hard to get a visa anywhere and corruption was the same everywhere in the Balkans. We parted when we reached the fortress – a bit ruined, but full of teenagers.

Prizren's Fortress - the view of the town (left side is the Sinan Pasha Mosque)

Prizren’s Fortress – the view of the town (left side is the Sinan Pasha Mosque)

The fortress once had the role to guard and protect Prizren. From the fortress, one could see the whole town interspersed with mosques’ minarets, which rose among communist blocs. The Serb Orthodox churches distinguished more difficult because they had smaller towers. A pigeon gradually approached me when I threw bread crumbs toward it. However, it didn’t have the courage to eat from my hand. The sun set and I went directly to the city center and on my way down, I stopped at the Savior’s Church. In the courtyard of the former monastery, they played a piece of gentle religious music.

Prizren - the old bell tower of the Church of the Savior

Prizren – the old bell tower of the Church of the Savior

10 Days in Kosovo – Prizren and around is the first diary from a 10-day road trip to Kosovo. Its continuation, my second post from Kosovo can be found at From Prizren to Pristina – through Peja and the Rugova Valley. And here are all my Travel Diaries from Kosovo, the Balkan Countries (x3).

Have you been to Kosovo or plan to go there? Leave a comment below this post and tell me what you liked about Kosovo or what you’re interested to see there.

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