Tim likes to travel. Follow his adventures as he explores the world.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Prizren and Pristina, Kosovo: The Balkans by Bus Road Trip Christmas 2016 pt. 4

This is a six-part blog. Here are the links to all of them:

Pretending I'm not cold along the river in Prizren, Kosovo
Pretending I'm not cold along the river in Prizren, Kosovo

Day 9:
We cross the Albanian border without stopping and continue straight through to the Kosovo border, but they don't let us through because the bus doesn't have paperwork saying it can take food and cigarettes across the border. So we have to go back to Albania and offload the food and cigarettes at a small shop, then pass the border control again, though they don't check our passports the second time, or even come on the bus to see if any new people joined. 


15 minutes after the border, I say goodbye to Edwin and switch to a smaller bus to go to Prizren. Catch a taxi from the drop off point to City Hostel Prizren. I meet Donnie (The Dong) and Thao, from Australia, and they offer me pizza and we chat for about an hour. Every time I meet Australians, I learn something new about Australia. I go out alone to see the city at night and it's freezing. Walk along the river and see all the monuments lit up. Walk around Shadervan, the center of the city. Head home after about an hour. No one in my room except me.

Day 10: Sleep in a bit to try to feel better and wake up around 9h30. Free coffee and bread with cheese, jam, sour cream, and hajvar (a red pepper salsa) at the hostel, before heading out into the city. No walking tour here. I briefly peruse wiki travel Prizren to see what there is. It's a nice sunny day. 

I start at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, which is being restored, and looks very plain and basic compared to Bulgarian and Greek churches. Next to Saint George Church (closed), which was set on fire 2004, but looks better now. Walk to Sofi Sinan Pasha Mosque as the guy is opening it, so I walk around alone and get some good shots. Head up to the Prizren Fortress, but first walk past Church of the Holy Savior, whose gates are closed. As I walk up the hill, frost is covering the ground. As I reach the top, the sun starts to show and it feels much better. Entrance is free. 

Looking out over the city you can see it sprinkled with minarets everywhere. Light haze over the city. Hardly anyone up here. Walk around entire fortress - on the walls, in secret tunnels. Some guys are doing a photoshoot at the top, the 3 musketeers but with selfie sticks instead of swords. It's noon and from the fortress I can hear every mosque in the city's call for prayer. It's like a chorus, one after the other saying something slightly different with different voices, but still sounding like they're singing in canon. 

I walk down from the fortress and go to other side of the river to see the Hammam of Gazi Mehmet Pasha (closed). A few people on the street talk to me and say hello. I walk  through the neighborhoods. Walk down Adem Jashari street and many shops sell wedding and cultural dresses. Find myself at a park with the NATO compass. 

Walk back down the street to the Emin Pasha Mosque and go in. Beautiful inside. No one else there. As I walk out I see there is a toilet so I head there but it's closed. A young guy from Macedonia sees me and offers to get the key and chats with me a bit. 

Continue through the neighborhoods until I get to the UNESCO Our Lady of Ljevis Church but it's closed, or I can't figure out how to get in. The mosques are signing again. It's 1 degree Celsius at 14h15, the high for today. Walk some more until I stumble upon the archeological museum and clock tower. Sali, born in Prizren, opens the museum just for me, takes me up to the clock tower shows me where he was born, explains how the museum used to be a hamman, then points out info about the archeological findings in the museum. Free admission. 

Prizren has a lock bridge for lovers. Start walking toward Monastery of the Holy Archangels, which is about 2km away, and stop at Prizren League Museum along the way. There I learn that Kosovo used to be part of Albania. Continue on and as I approach the backside of the mountain, once again greeted by frost. Trash and cotton plants are all along the river. Come across Rusem, from Kosovo, who is walking his dog Max. I ask him if I'm on the right path and he darn near takes me there. I finally see the monastery and I walk up to the gate, but it's closed. I decide to walk around to see if there is another entrance. There is, and it's guarded, as two guards come out and ask me for my ID and say they'll give it back to me once I come out. There must not be many visitors because the guards were very excited to see me and wanted to talk.

I walk in and and I'm met by two very large German shepherds, who are friendly and leave me be after saying hello. I walk along the ruins of the former monastery, but you are not allowed to enter the new monastery. I just look, as there are no information signs and I have no idea the significance of this place. I see a guy getting firewood and I ask him for the toilet. When I leave, the same guy gives me a bottle of water and an apple and says bye. The guards give me back my ID and I head back into town. 

Though I don't mind walking, the view along the river isn't so nice, I wish I would have rented a bike. Arrive back to the city as the sun is setting. Pass by a gigantic tree that happens to be the Plane Tree, a 400+ year old tree. Stop for a coffee and to warm up. As I'm leaving I ask the waiter for a recommendation for a restaurant. He recommends Muhammad, which he says is 100m away. I never find it. Maybe he just told me his name. I do, however, find the tourist office, which would have been nice this morning. 

I decide to go to the most touristic place I see, Beska where I order plesjavica and Kosovar wine. There are ducks scavenging around the restaurant and I drop a fry and they come flocking. They bring you orange slices for dessert. For second dessert, I try tullumba, a sugar soaked pastry, and slivovica, a plum brandy. I watch a basketball game from the Turkish League while I eat. Great ambience, for sure amazing in the summer, plus super cheap. Waiter is very nice and gives me pointers on what to try and do in Prizren. Too bad I leave tomorrow. On the way home, I drink from Shadervani fountain - they say if you drink from it you will surely return to Prizren. 

At the hostel, I hang out with the owner, G, for awhile and chat about traveling, Kosovo, his time in the US, and my life in Spain. G tells me the stones for the mosque in the center came from Holy Archangel Monastery. Info I wish I got while I was at the monastery. Call it a night. 

Thoughts: Though it's super cold here, Albania, and Bulgaria and Greece have the drinking water fountains still running - in Spain, they are already cut off, and it's warmer there. RKS on their licence plates, "Representin' Kosovo, Suckas"? Perpetual light haze all day turns out to be smoke from all the wood burning, a common way to heat houses in the winter. Apparently much clearer in summertime. Tourist info signs all around town that tell you where monuments are and how far from where you are. 2km to the monastery isn't far but everyone was shocked I didn't take a taxi. Kosovo same story as rest of Balkans, as far as smoking.

Even when working at NATO, I thought Kosovo had more turmoil and was dangerous, but the people here live and work and carry on with their lives like any normal country. Though it's taken me three days to say it correctly, the Kosovars have reacted well to my Albanian interpretation of thank you, "fell-men-DER-it". 


Hey burrito! This is the only non-dog/cat I saw in Kosovo
Hey burrito! This is the only non-dog/cat I saw in Kosovo

They really like basketball. Too bad I couldn't catch a game
They really like basketball. Too bad I couldn't catch a game

Today, I'm the first one in the Mosque of Sinan Pasha
Today, I'm the first one in the Mosque of Sinan Pasha

I'm looking for the sign that tells me how to get to the Kalaja
I'm looking for the sign that tells me how to get to the Kalaja

I can't see anything! Smog has taken over the city, despite it being a clear, sunny day
I can't see anything! Smog has taken over the city, despite it being a clear, sunny day

I'm trying to see under the smog
I'm trying to see under the smog

Memories from good times at NATO are coming back
Memories from good times at NATO are coming back

I've succumb to taking a scenery shot, it was just too picturesque not to
I've succumb to taking a scenery shot, it was just too picturesque not to

I've succumb to taking a scenery shot, it was just too picturesque not to
You can see Kosovo used to be part of Albania

I can't get in the Monastery of the Holy Archangels... Let's check around the other side
I can't get in the Monastery of the Holy Archangels... Let's check around the other side

A cool map of the city I found along the river
A cool map of the city I found along the river

Day 11: Have breakfast with Zuzka (Czech) and Jim (UK). They've been traveling by car for four months through Europe and have six more months to go as they head into Asia. 

I walk to the bus station and catch one of the buses that leave every 15 minutes to Pristina. You don't pay before you get on the bus, but rather en route a man walks down the aisle to collect money. The entire bus ride, Albanian pop music videos are playing on the bus and they're pretty much the same as Western pop...  but in Albanian. 

Arrive in Pristina an hour and 45 minutes later. Not sure why, but I thought it was going to be a 30 minute trip. Unfortunately the free walking tour guide is on vacation and they have no maps at the bus station. I store my backpack in a locker at the bus station, walk out of the bus station, and follow the crowd until the main street, which is Bill Clinton boulevard - and there is even a statue of him. 

In the Mother Teresa Cathedral everything looks brand new as they're still finishing it. Walk down main street toward center and find a Christmas market. Continue through Gjergj Kastrio II street with his statue and the Kosovar head of government building. Find myself at the Museum of Kosovo which either isn't open or hasn't been completed yet,  but I go in the art gallery, which is all mother Teresa. See a pretty cool mosaic by Saimir Strati done entirely with staples. 

Next to Fatih Mbretit Mosque and look around inside. There is never anyone in the mosques... I guess I don't go during the prayer times. I head toward center and kids are getting out of school. A group of six kids (about 12 years old) walk and talk with me for 5 minutes and we have a fun conversation. Shqipdona (sh-tip-doh-nah) walks by and hears I'm trying to go to center and offers to walk me there. She ends up giving me a mini tour of the city and I treat her to a macchiato, which are said to be second only to those in Italy. 

Afterward, we part ways and I head out to find sarma, for which Shqipdona and G from Prizren, recommend Nazi (yes, that's the name of the restaurant). Though I ask for sarma, they give me stuffed green peppers, instead of cabbage leaves, plus they give me a whole loaf of bread. 2,50€ for a full meal and it is delicious. 

Walk through the university of Kosovo and see the National Library which looks like a giant bee hive. I pass by an abandoned cathedral, whose significance I'll have to Google later. Walk around the city until I'm back on the main strip, as night falls, heading toward the very well lit Christmas market. Grab a hot chocolate and people watch for a bit. I've been in Europe eight and a half years and I still forget a hot chocolate is not the same as in America. Practically freezing, I head back to the bus station to catch my bus to Skopje. 

Thoughts: Kosovo is the first European country where I see American flags, as I pass through villages on the bus; Albania (70%), Kosovo (20%), USA (10%) of all flags. Pristina and other village have same perpetual smoke covering city. Roads also lined with trash. Pristina is way more city feel and westernized than prizren. Shqipdona mentions she can't travel to Spain; her visa says "- España". Qué pena.

I thought Spain had bad parking until I went to Thessaloniki, Greece. I thought Brussels, Belgium had the craziest drivers until I went to Naples, Italy. Kosovo has now bested both Greece in parking, and Italy in driving! I saw a guy backing onto a main road from a side road cuz he missed his turn. 

Pristina has the hardest to find postcards of any city I've ever been in. Spent a grand total 43,89€ in Kosovo. 


I'm surely the first person to do this in the new Mother Teresa Cathedral
I'm surely the first person to do this in the new Mother Teresa Cathedral



When you really don't care how you park
When you really don't care how you park 

Right side up it's in latin letters and upside down it's cyrillic
Right side up it's in latin letters and upside down it's cyrillic

Me and the first president of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova
Me and the first president of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova

Statues to Albanian heroes all over the place
Statues to Albanian heroes all over the place

American flag in front of the bee hive
American flag in front of the beehive

One of the biggest ladies' man of the century... with Bill Clinton behind him
One of the biggest ladies' man of the century... with Bill Clinton behind him
#modesty

Continue the journey with me to Macedonia



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Location: Kosovo

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