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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Kosovo-Albanian Flag KOSOVO


November 19.PRISHTINE "Daytrip to Peja"  The professor called a taxi for us in the morning.  The taxi company was also named Valeria so we suspected a connection.  He assured us they would give us a fair price to the bus station.  The man in the information booth at the bus station didn't speak much English but he gestured towards the next bus leaving for Peja.  We grabbed some coffee and bananas at a station snack shop before loading the bus. 

Peja was on the western side of Kosovo, not far from the Montenegran border.  Prishtine stood on the eastern side of the territory but they weren't really that far apart, Kosovo is a pretty small palce.  Peja had been badly damaged by Serbian forces but was home to the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church and was in a scenic part of the country so we decided to make it our first day trip.  The bus only took about an hour and a half to reach Peja.  The landscape was sparsely populated but we noticed several memorials to those who had died in the war, marble monuments covered in red flowers, and the crumbling remains of a bombed Serbian Orthodox church.  The bus station in Peja was busy and the town was chaotic and disheveled.  

Across from the station there was a UNMIK office set up in a small portable building.  We stopped in to see if they had any maps of the local area.  The man who helped us was very nice and went out of his way to look for a map but wasn't able to turn up anything.  Instead he directed us to the mosque at the center of town and told us how to walk to the monastery on the outskirts of Peja.  Further up the street we stopped in a ice cream shop to have some coffees.  The owner and customers looked amused to see tourists but were very friendly.  From the cafe we continued straight up the street and at the Italian run police headquarters we turned left towards the center of town. 

The large Bajraki mosque (orig. 15th century) stood in the middle of town, back away from the busier main streets, surrounded by small alleys of shops and a stalls selling all sorts of things.  It had suffered badly during the war but looked restored and in active use.  A small cemetery with typical white marble pillar head stones stood at the south side.  Directly across from the mosque was a small jewelry shop selling handmade items of silver filigree.  Most of the other jewelry shops were selling modern styles.  It looked like the more ornate styles, showing the Islamic heritage, were losing popularity.  It was a real shame because the traditional jewelry was much more interesting and attractive.

Lesley went off to explore on her own while we wandered around the market streets.  It wasn't a big market but very lively and we were the only tourists around.  Nobody took much notice so we were able to just explore without interruption.  All kinds of goods were sold from the stalls, including shoes, clothes, spices, and vegetables. One stall selling animal intestines had their product cleverly displayed.  The intestines had been inflated and stuck up straight out of the stall, like the long balloons that clowns use to make animals shapes.  In a nearby alley we found a row of tailors set in simple wooden shops with plain wooden facades, where people were toiling away on old fashioned sewing machines.  Among them was a hat maker and from the sidewalk we could see him through the window carefully trimming the edges of his felt hats.  Rob pointed to his video camera to ask if we could come in and take photos.  The man casually nodded so we stepped into his small workshop. It couldn't have been much bigger than 15x20 feet.  A stove was at the back and there were hats lined up along rafters in the ceiling to dry.  The man shaped the white felt hats over wooden forms, dried them, and then carefully trimmed the edges.  They were dome shaped and were worn by the Albanian men with a scarf wrapped around the base of the hat.   Another man was sitting towards the back, perhaps just visiting, and was wearing one of the hats with a striped scarf wrapped around the bottom.  If we hadn't seen the felt hats being made we might have thought it was all one piece.  The hat maker asked us if we worked in Kosovo but we told that we were just tourists.  He seemed surprised.  After taking some photos we bought one of his hats and left.  Before meeting up with Lesley, I gave in and bought a necklace at the jewelry shop across from the mosque.  It was just sold by weight and then he dropped it into a little box for me to take home.

Returning to the police headquarters we continued up the busy street that passed all of the way through Peja.  It was full of cafes, small restaurants, a hotel, and shops.  In many ways it looked like a typical street almost anywhere in the world, with the people dressed in modern styles, but the buildings were a bit dilapidated and rough around the edges.  Peja was more in need of care than Prishtine and was probably a indication of what Prishtine was like not so very long ago.  Peja was much smaller but no street signs had been put up here, making it feel more like the frontier town that in now was since the border with Montenegro was only kilometers away.  The weather was overcast so the scenic backdrop of mountains that surrounded the town wasn't very visible.

We decided to just walk our way to the Serbian Orthodox monastery on the far side of town but were a little uncertain of the directions.  The man at the UNMIK office had told us to just keep going straight and we would end up at the monastery.  But, the streets weren't so straight.  The busy street came to an intersection where there was a UN checkpoint.  We noticed one American, identified by US flag patch he had attached to his shoulders, out stopping cars and checking people.  The UN forces in Kosovo were from many nations and the nationalities could always been seen on their shoulders.  On the far side of the intersection we saw a small UN booth where we went to confirm directions.  We continued straight until we reached a bridge that crossed the river to the left.  At that point the road veered slightly to the right and the road became much narrower and lost its sidewalks.  We kept our heading, passing another small mosque and a Catholic Church, before a barricade gate came into view.  

The camouflage outpost, manned by Italian soldiers, had been erected next to the gate.  The monastery was still some distance from the checkpoint but was within view.  There were three men at the gate.  None spoke any English but they were all pleasant and understood where we wanted to go.  They asked for our passports and radioed ahead to their counterparts at the monastery before giving us the clearance to go ahead.  They held onto our passports for the duration of our visit.   A stone wall surrounded the monastery and as we approached the entrance we noticed another military checkpoint.  It was manned by a couple of soldiers.  We waived as we walked past and they waived back.  It looked like an uneventful post and no doubt they hoped that it stayed that way.  We saw an espresso pot sitting on a burner inside the guard booth.

The monastery complex was beautiful and as the weather improved we could see that it was nestled in a narrow valley with fall-colored mountains rising up on either side.  It was a peaceful place, as a monastery should be, but it was impossible to forget that we had just passed a military guard post to get inside.  The exterior of the church was similar in style to those we had seen in Macedonia, made of red brick. A small creek ran right through the length of the long courtyard, some nuns were busy with daily tasks at the far end and paid little attention to us.  As we entered the church narthex we observed a shrapnel scared image of Jesus faintly surviving above the doorway.  The narthex was large and a nun sat at a table to the left had side of the door to collect the entrance fee. We perused the collection of books and items she had for sale.  The pins of the Serbian national flag caught my eye.  On the right side of the narthex three large chapels extended in parallel to one another, a unique configuration compared to the other churches that we had seen in the region. They contained some glorious frescos and an array of icons, probably some that were seeking refuge from damaged or destroyed churches in the area.  

The soldiers returned our passports as we left at the main gate.  Without them watching over the monastery it was hard to know what might happen.  While this 13th century complex represented the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, this population of nuns was a minority in Peja and not all of their neighbors were tolerant of their presence. It was difficult to imagine how the monastery would persist given the current state of things in Kosovo.  It only takes a small group of people to stir up trouble in a region with such fresh scars.  But it had already been there for a very long time and that sense of history can give people the tenacity to pursue the impossible.  

There was another monastery further outside of town that we thought about visiting as well but it was getting late in the day we had seen enough of Peja.  We retraced our steps back to the center of town where we wove our way through some new streets into the backside of the market area.  We rested and had a late lunch at a small pizza place before heading back to the bus station.  It was dark by the time we finally left Peja.  The ticket taker on the bus handed out hard candies to all of the passengers, a small token to differentiate his bus company from the others.  When we reached Prishtine we just walked from the bus station to the center of town.  We were already starting to get our bearings in this small city, without a map and proud of it. The initially bland downtown area constantly yielded interesting contrasts.  Along Bill Clinton Avenue, not far from a bar with a large brightly lit American flag for signage, we came across the volunteer Saudi Arabian mission in Kosovo.  Close to the intersection with Nena Teresa Avenue we saw a sign acknowledging support from a Jewish American organization.   Two military jeeps with Swedish flags flying behind them were constantly making rounds through the city.  Arm badges on uniforms revealed a myriad of nationalities doing service in Kosovo.  It was a peculiar patchwork of  international influences.  

It didn't take us long to reach our Spaghetteria Tony's for dinner and more Kosovo wine.  They obviously didn't get many requests for the wine because the waiter had to jump out and run down the street to buy another, this time a different brand but we didn't care, it was still made in Kosovo.  As we sat stretched on the bench seat along Tony's back wall, watching MTV, we started a conversation with a nice American man and his Kosovo wife with their two month old baby.  He was from Florida but had been living in Kosovo for several years.  His first question was what work did we do in Kosovo and when we told him that we were just visiting he looked slightly surprised.  He kindly offered us his card and told us to contact him if we needed any help in Kosovo.  He later followed it up with an email as well.  It was very considerate of him.  We enjoyed a nice conversation with him and his wife before his sister-in-law and family arrived to join them for dinner.        

After Tony's we ended our day with the long walk back up the hill to our hotel.  When we arrived we noticed some movement in the driveway next door.  With some closer investigation we found a cow rummaging through the trash bin in front of the neighbor's rather nice SUV.  It still had its horns in tact and was vigorously searching for some tidbits to munch.  We were careful not to get too close to a hungry how sporting horns but it was hard not to laugh at the sight of it.  It wasn't until we looked at it from the other side of the fence that we saw there was another cow behind the one digging in the garbage.  When they finally noticed us the turned to walk away and found that they couldn't get between the front of the car and the garage door.  They were just too fat.  We back off so as not to encourage them to force the situation and damage the car.  With some breathing room they made their escape with no harm done, except to the trash bin.  We were staying in a nice neighborhood and it was just one of those sights that was totally incongruous with anything we could have imagined. 

SLOVENIA Ljubljana Oct 7-8 Piran Oct 9-12

CROATIA Istra Peninsula Oct 13 Split Oct 14-15 Hvar Oct 16-18 Korcula Oct 19 Dubrovnik Oct 20-29


BOSNIA Sarajevo Oct 30 Oct 30 Nov 1

SERBIA Belgrade Nov 2-3

ROMANIA Bucharest Nov 4 Suceava Nov 5 Nov 6 Cluj Napoca Nov 7 Sighisoara Nov 8-9 Brasov Nov 10 Nov 11

BULGARIA Sofia Nov 12 Nov 13 Nov 14

MACEDONIA Lake Ohrid Nov 15 Nov 16-17

KOSOVO Prishtine Nov 18 Nov 19 Nov 20 Nov 21

GREECE Thessaloniki Nov 22 Athens Nov 23 Nov 24