The only guide-book I could find for Kosovo (Bradt if you’re interested), opens with the following statement: “Few people think of Kosovo as a tourist destination”. Yup. That just about sums up the blank looks and general vagueness when I said that Kosovo was also part of my summer plans. To be fair, if someone had asked me to stick a pin in the map of Central Europe and locate Kosovo before August I would have struggled. My own knowledge was based mostly on vague memories of war crime commissions and listening to Dame Professor Sue Black talk about her forensic science work there. Kosovo turns out to be rather a curious place, with an eye on both the past and some kind of future as it carves a new identity within the Balkan states.
Journeying into Kosovo from Albania, three things dominate the landscape; green mountains, endless fields of pumpkins and melons and the many small cemeteries and graves that appear randomly amongst the everyday detritus of life. Weapons are also fact of life in the Balkans.
Throughout Kosovo I experienced a curious mix of the very old and the very new. Crossing the threshold into the Decani Monastery, I entered a site that has been used for worship since 1327. As with many of the Orthodox Monasteries across the region this one is steeped in history, both holy and bloody. Yet walking through the age darkened naves, followed by the eyes of Saints and Kings, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of peace and beauty.
An afternoon walk through the city of Peja, on the other hand took me straight back into a world of modern consumerism and status symbols. Football is king here and the major European players are the modern icons. I also managed to find Tony Blair street! Several streets are named for world politicians to mark their part in the negotiations after the conflicts of recent times.
To escape the towns we headed to the mountains and walked a trail through the pine forests. Up there, for a time, there was nothing but the hum of insects and bird calls. Unfortunately, Kosovo has not yet felt the need to protect its natural heritage in the same way as their monasteries and many paths are littered with a sea of plastic bottles. The bottles from the Rahovec wine region were an altogether different proposition. This area has been used for wine production since Roman times and is now re-developing production of finer wines and the fiery Raki liqueur drunk across the region. An afternoon of wine tasting was the perfect end to this part of the trip.
The final stop in Kosovo was Prizren, which Bradt declares “the jewel in the crown”! It has a great strategic location, with a Roman road and direct access to many neighbouring states throughout the ages. It also escaped much of the 98-99 war, so many of its Ottoman bridges and buildings are still intact. Despite that it did remind me of a rather run down British sea-side town – street hawkers, over ambitious restaurants and replicating tourist shops gave it that slightly shabby feel. Despite that, it was more relaxed than Pristina and Peja and after several days on the road was a welcome bit of down time.
After a few days of hanging out and dodging rain storms it was time to pack up the bags, get in the bus and climb into the mountains again to cross over into country #3. Next stop Macedonia. An altogether different place.
©Chez l’abeille 2016