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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Kosovo-Albanian Flag PRISHTINE


November 20. PRISHTINE "Day Trip to Prizren" We had lucked out with our lodging situation because our Professor's group of Dutch professors was smaller than their reservation so we were set for our time in Kosovo.  Doing day trips from Prishtine seemed to work well but we had only allocated two full days to Kosovo and were trying to cram everything into those two days.  We knew that we had to go to Prizren, Kosovo's most scenic city, but we also wanted to visit the memorial at Prekaz.  This left us in a conundrum because we knew both couldn't be done in one day.  We went to the bus station early and tried to work out a way to do it all but even with enough hours in the day there weren't bus schedules to match so we had to make a choice so we went to Prizren for the day.

Prizren was about the same distance from Prishtine as Peja but to the south, just a bit farther west than the highway we had used to come up form Macedonia and not far from the Albanian border.  En route we were delayed by a traffic accident that coincidentally happened in front of a large war memorial.  There were so many of these that this conflict would be part of memories for generations to come.  This one was a raised platform of all marble with a chained fence around the top and three plaques in the center.  With today's laser engraving technology the faces of the deceased were often seen on the plaques and the memorials were never without large arrangements of bright red flowers.  

We didn't have a map of the Prizren but knew that the highlights of the city were in the center and the bus station was 2km outside of town.  When the bus made a stop in what looked like a busy area and a good number of people got off we did as well.  The details in our guidebook on where to find tourist information were vague and without a map we didn't know where to go.  We just used our instincts to guide us in the right direction and followed our way down a street full of shops that led through town.  The street was being seriously torn up and was wide gaping ditch for most of the way.  We started to hope that this wasn't the charming center of Prizren that we had read about.  After dodging a tractor, ducking to avoid a back hoe, wiggling our way around some piles of dirt and over a ditch we came to the end of the construction area and saw an old church on our right and minaret on our left.  Prizren was the medieval capital of Old Serbia but much of the architecture you see today is Turkish influenced.  Directly ahead of us was the river and the rebuilt "medieval" bridge that crossed over to the large dramatically situated Sinan Pasha Mosque and the nearby cobblestone Shadrvan plaza.  Up on the hilltop we could see the Serbian Church of Sveti Spas.  Everything began to line up and were exactly where we wanted to be.  A shoe shine man next to the river waylaid Lesley while he finished what the man in Skopje had started and polished her shoes to a shiny new black. He wanted to polish ours as well but I had to tell him they were made of cloth, not leather.

Satisfied that we had found our way without much trouble we rewarded ourselves with a break at cafe just down from the mosque.  It was empty and they looked amused to see foreigners turn up.  The plan was to warm up over a coffee but I went one further and order a serving of goulash.  It was an overcast and chilly day but we still sat outside to take in our surroundings and figure out what Prizren had to offer.  A group of small school children paraded past, holding hands in twos, on their way to the mosque.  The noon day prayer time was approaching and more and more people gradually emerged into the streets and started filing towards to mosque.  Rob chatted up a pair of French officers that were standing nearby with their UNMIK vehicle.

After our break we still weren't quite sure where to go so we just wandered around the square and up a cobblestone street that led away from the river.  We didn't go far until we reached a large Orthodox church encircled in barbed wire with signs that read, "KFOR AREA.  Prohibited Area! Danger, authorized use of firearms", in four different languages.  We deduced that it was probably the Church of Sveti Georgi, built in 1856, because it had newer architecture.  It was guarded by a team of German soldiers and they had a small fortified booth at the gate.  When we approached them and asked if we could take a look inside they put in a call to the KFOR headquarters for approval.  They reinforced that next time we should get approval ahead of time from KFOR but let us through the gate and one of them escorted us into the church.  The exterior of the church was bland compared to the older Byzantine churches and the interior was sparsely furnished but it had a spectacular wooden retable that reached to the ceiling.  The soldier had been on duty in Kosovo for just about two months but had good knowledge of the church he had been entrusted to protect and spoke good English.  We didn't want to make him feel like a tour guide but he didn't seem to mind sharing what he knew.  Fortunately they didn't see much action on a daily basis and hopefully the occasional tourist helped to break of the monotony a bit.   The wooden retable was thought to be from the 12th century and this relatively new church had been built to give it a new home.  The windows in the church lit it up nicely and the dark green background with delicately painted images from top to bottom almost overwhelmed the plain white walls and unadorned ceiling.  There were no pews in the church, as is the custom in the Orthodox faith, but a few oriental rugs were spread across the floor.  A number of icons rested against the right wall, rescued from destruction.  The soldier let us take a few photos but was respectful of the church belief that only men be allowed to see behind the retable so just Rob was able to take a peek there.  I asked how many Serbs were left in Prizren and he knew the exact number.  There were just over 50 in Prizren and about half still lived in the old town area.  They still held regular services at the Church of Sveti Georgi every weekend.  When I asked if there was often any conflict he reported that a elderly Serb couple had been assaulted and a Serb home had been the victim of arson within the last month but there had been no recent fatalities. We didn't linger too long, aware that we were taking this guard away from his post.  As we left the front gate we thanked them for their trouble and took a photo of them at their post.   

(Since our visit there has been a resurgence in violence in Prizren and other parts of Kosovo that resulted in the Church of Sveti Georgi being burned.  When looking at reports of the happenings I came across a photo of the front of the church with a charred facade.  I got chills when I thought of the young soldiers that we met and whether they suffered any harm from the incident. It brought pains to my heart to think of the beautiful wooden retable and those lovely icons being lost. I don't know to what extent the church was damaged but it seems unlikely that these things would have survived a fire.  All of this unrest was the result of a chain of events set off by a drive-by shooting that injured a Serb which led to three Albanians being mysteriously drowned in the river and ultimately leading to a more violet retaliation from the Albanians. Since June 1999 Kosovo has been administered by the UN and NATO.  Over four years later the emotional tension still runs deceptively high.  Our visit was peaceful and it was hard to recognize most of Kosovo as the worn torn country of 1999 but underneath it still has scars that run deep.  Hopefully one day it will maintain a stable enough peace to protect the history it has left, both the Serb and Albanian, and allow more people to safely visit and enjoy the little treasures that Kosovo has to offer.) 

Behind the church we found streets that wound up the hill towards the Church of Sveti Spas.  We passed through a severely damaged neighborhood directly below the church that had not been easily seen from the river.  The homes were gutted by fire and scared from shrapnel.  It looked like restoration work was slow.  Climbing a steep road up to the church we turned at the top to find another camouflage outpost of German soldiers.  There was less to-do about us seeing this church because just a shell remained.   The roof was gone and weeds were growing up within its walls.  The view, however, was fantastic. At least this team of soldiers had that going for them.  (The Church of Sveti Spas also suffered further damage during recent unrest.)  As we looked up towards the remains of a citadel that hung onto the ridge above the one soldier that spoke a little English waived us onward.  It had previously been off limits but was now apparently accessible, although the downhill side of the pathway was lined with barbed wire.  

There wasn't much left but a wall that surrounded barren land but the ruins weren't what made the hike worthwhile, it was the outstanding views out over Prizren.  We could see out across an expanse of red roofed houses and protruding minarets, with the lovely Sinan Pasha Mosque dominating the foreground. The overcast weather left a misty haze on the horizon.  We just sat and absorbed the view, feeling privileged to be there and hopeful that more places becoming accessible was a positive sign of things to come.  As we sat in silence it came time for the evening call to prayer.  It started slowly with just a couple of prayer cries softly bellowing through the city until they were joined by more and the city began to gradually hum with the Arabic chant.  We couldn't have been in a more ideal place to enjoy the atmosphere that it created.  We sat until the prayer cries had finished before starting our descent.  

Before we reached the mosque again we passed a music school with a group of students sitting out front.  I lifted my camera to take a picture and they became animated and asked where I was from.  When I told them the U.S. they gave me a thumbs up.  That had become a common reaction from the people we met in Kosovo and it was a nice feeling at a time when so much of the world was at odds with unpopular American foreign policy in other regions.

We had wanted to visit the Sinan Pasha Mosque (1561) as well but Ramadan was still under way and that wasn't a good time to try and visit a mosque.  A nearby craft shop occupied the last bit of our time before we decided it was getting late and we needed to find our way to the bus station.  To avoid the construction area we tried to find our way through the back streets but began getting too far off track.  We found our way back to the main road at about the place where we had gotten off of the bus. Of course, we didn't exactly know where the bus station was but we knew which road the bus had taken after we got off so we went that way.  Walking along we were distracted by a bread shop that was busily installing and removing pieces of flat bread from a wood fired oven using and wooden paddle.  A queue of people waited for their fresh bread as we watched the activity through the window.  The man collecting the money saw us and put three steaming hot pieces of bread in a bag and handed it through the window.  He wouldn't take any money for it and was just offering it to us out of hospitality.  It was awfully good bread.  The sky was getting darker and it was getting colder and that warm bread was very soothing to our stomachs.

The roads began to confuse us and we weren't sure which way to go for the bus station but just stayed on the busiest route until we saw a policeman standing to the side of the road.  We figured he would be a good person to ask for directions.  He didn't speak any English but the word for bus station was enough to convey our need.  He motioned for us to wait and the bus would pass by where we were standing.  We weren't sure we had understood correctly but he pointed to himself like he would stop the bus for us.  He had become involved with someone else when we saw the bus come up the road.  We started to look for an opportunity to cross the busy street so we could catch it and he stopped us.  With a waive of his hand the bus pulled over and he stopped traffic so we could safely cross over.  We thanked him enthusiastically and hopped on the bus.

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