Saturday, November 15, 2014


Will and I arrived at City Hostel in Prizren Wednesday night, and had barely set down our bags before Mr. G, the genial owner of the place, filled our hands with the first of many free beers and glasses of rakia, a strong locally made fruit alcohol that will feature largely in the rest of our trip.  Mr. G, it appears, has made it his mission to prove that Prizren is the second-best party city in the world (he concedes first place to Ibiza), and if the rest of the city won't comply by stubbornly continuing to be Muslim, well then, Mr. G will make his hostel the second-biggest party spot in the world. Will and I greatly appreciated being included in his campaign, to say the least.

After that memorable first night, we spent a day exploring Prizren.  It's been interesting to experience Kosovo-- people here LOVE America in a way I have never seen, even in America.  Example: I got a little lost trying to find my way back to the hostel, and stopped in a sunny sidewalk cafe to get a cup of coffee and my bearings.  I started talking to the barista and his friend, and as soon as they heard my accent, it was all over.  "Americans don't pay here," the friend, a piano teacher, solemnly declared.  "From the people of Kosovo, this is our thank you."

I ended up spending over an hour with them.  Every time I emptied my coffee cup or juice glass, a new one was filled and put before me and another cigarette pressed into my hand, despite my protestations that I couldn't possibly keep smoking.  (Turns out I could. I would live to regret that on my next run.)

The piano teacher, it was revealed, was a militant during the war.  He crossed the mountains into Albania on foot to bring back weapons, carrying guns on his back for hundreds of kilometers.  He was almost careless in the way he spoke about it, joking that it was not such a bad nature hike, as long as you didn't run into the Serbian army.  This begged a follow-up question.  Yes, he said, he had been caught, once.  His tone grew more serious.  Someone had informed, there was no question-- the Serbs had known exactly where they would be. 110 people were killed.  He survived.

He shrugged.  It was all long ago, now, and he, like all Kosovars, has forged a new life.  Other than being banned from Serbia, things have moved on.

The next day Will and I briefly parted ways.  We had met an Australian civil engineer, Joe, who was going hiking in the Rugova Canyon, a gorge in a mountain range in the north of the country.  I was inclined to join him; Will, less avid about hiking, preferred to take a day trip in the south.  We established a day and a city in which to meet up again, and Joe and I took our packs and left for Peja.

We arrived a little before 11:30 and started wandering around looking for a cheap place to stay.  We found a seedy hotel called the Paris, where if we so desired we could have rented rooms by the hour. The owner, Naim, gave us a 5-euro discount, because he had lived in France for 26 years and I spoke such fluent French, it just brought him right back-- and, of course, because I was an American.  Naim added, as a lecherous afterthought, that I was very pretty; I'm not sure how much this had to do with the discount.

We dropped our packs in the room and headed by foot for the mountains, quickly passing our of the town.  At the edge of the gorge, we stumbled upon a beautiful and isolated Orthodox monastery, set back from the road in a tranquil orchard.  The path to the cloisters was lined with towering lindens and bushy spruce trees.  An oval-faced nun with surprisingly good English greeted us, plying us with slivovitz, the nuns' homemade plum brandy, as she told us about the monastery.  "They make you take a shot before you can go into the church?" muttered Joe, wiping his moustache.  "I think I grew up in the wrong religion."

The view from the monastery

After sufficiently admiring the frescoes, we headed back onto the road, passing a military checkpoint where the police, seeing my passport, started chanting, "USA! USA!" I'm not kidding about the love for America.  It's a strange sensation not to have to apologize for my country.

Joe waits for the passport check.  They were much less excited about Australia.
The road that snaked along the gorge was long and winding; to get to where we wanted to hike would have taken hours on foot.  Barely had we decided to hitchhike than a mud-spattered red pickup screeched to a halt as it passed us, the driver motioning for us to hop into the bed.  As soon as we were perched amid sacks of potatoes and rattling cases of Peja, a Kosovar beer, the pickup roared off.  Joe and I clung to the sides as we flew around hairpin turns and barreled through tunnels of rock, equal parts exhilarated and terrified.  Joe captured it all with his GoPro, as the wind whipped our hair into our faces and froze the circulation in our hands.

Our wild ride
Eventually we rapped on the back window of the cab and leapt out.  The hiking was unbelievably gorgeous.  We found our way to a river at the bottom of the gorge, walls of mountain knifing into the air on either side of us.  Every turn revealed yet another breathtaking view, trees decked in autumn fire cascading down the steep slopes, the razor tops of the mountains shrouded in dense drifts of cloud.  We hiked along, our hands becoming stiff and useless with cold.

There are about 800 more where these came from. Kosovo is stunningly beautiful.
Evening falls early at this time of year (still a surprise to me after two years living near the equator), and by 4:30 it was getting dusky.  We were discussing the merits of hiking versus hitching back into town when once again the decision was made for us; a van stopped several meters down the road, honking impatiently for us to get in.

Once back into town, we found a bar and thawed out over boxed wine while watching the Albania-France soccer match with, as Joe put it, "a roomful of blokes".

Kosovo has been fascinating, and I would love to spend more time here. Tomorrow, however, we'll be moving on to Albania. Next up, a town called Puke (the puns will never get old).

1 comment:

  1. The Mr. G had told you that they are banned from Serbia ? PLEASE ! Albanians attacks the Kosovo and most of all Serbian people has been banned from Kosovo (their country!) and their houses has been burned as most of churches also, because they (Albanians) wanted to take power over the Kosovo and take that land off the Serbs, they killed so many Serbian people .. Ohh, I just can't keep my mouth close when I hear such a false story... Kosovo was always Serbian land and it will always be until the Albanians take it off the Serbs ... There was so much wars because of that land for hundred of years back in history. They still fighting for it and they still want that land... There will be always some war about that land and that can't be stopped . It's disgusting, I know, but that's the true story . I will tell you more when we meet . Wish you best luck and easy travelling . ;)