Day 5 – Into Kosovo

24 Sep

At the prearranged time of 8am,  we were reunited with Derek who had returned from the hospital in the early hours. He was unfortunately going to leave the tour and go back to Tirana for some more hospital checks.

We boarded the breakfast bus and resisted taking part in the Albanian sport of kicking sleeping dogs during the day. The theory is that they bark late at night, but if they were kept awake during the day it wouldn’t be such a problem.

Eggs again today.  The options were not mixed (fried),  slightly mixed (scrambled) or heavily mixed (omlette). And 100 questions about whether we had finished the “orange stuff”. Steve technically had the last drop, but I didn’t escape the stereotype. At least one of the ambassadors and his wife turned up for breakfast in the official BMW.  Rather too well dressed for the mountains.

We drove back to Bajram Curri,  avoiding the cows,  goats,  sheep and minders in the road and the road itself sometimes. Dropping Derek off at this unannounced stop allowed postcards to be posted after a few hand gestured directions from a local. Not the usual stop on an Explore tour!

Endrit explained that Kosovo was two valleys with hills between. An odd description. It’s very flat here though. And much dirtier than Albania.

We arrived in the small town of Junik to find the blood feud tower closed due to a religious holiday. 10 minutes later it was opened up specially for us. Endrit gave us detailed examples of how blood feuds were settled.  Until 1913, the “canon” was the legal basis for settling these, but they still continue today with over 150 Albanian families still being pursued by others. Blood feuds never die, even if the person dies, so they can go on for centuries. People came to the tower to hear all sides and agree the punishment. A priest in the 19th century wrote down all the rules – a man after my own heart! Copies are available at all good tat shops!

Endrit also told us the story of his grandfather who had married late in life to prevent his cousins from arguing over his land. After he died his young wife married again to someone who had killed 3 people. Endrit’s stepfather was therefore holed up at home to prevent revenge attacks on him. Endrit wants to build a guesthouse on the land that is now his!

Moving on to Dečani monastery, a Serbian Orthodox church amongst Albanians, we passed the UN KFOR mission that is still here to protect it.

Inside, as Endrit had not told us that no shorts were allowed, I was asked to don a very fetching robe. Thankfully to be handed back afterwards. A monastery guide took us into two parts (of 3) of the church – built 1327-1335 – both were covered with frescoes, mostly in Byzantine Blue. At the time, this was more precious than gold. Also the only fresco in the world of Jesus with a sword. There was also a tomb of the 700 year old king who built it that was opened every week to allow people to kiss the unmummified body.  It’s apparently perfectly preserved.

It could well have been Catholic, as there was of course a gift shop to peruse.


Five star hotel, but rubbish in the river

We then headed to the town of Peja in the west of Kosovo and checked in at a five star hotel. After dropping my bags, we headed to the recommended area for lunch. There was a popular bar that didn’t sell food, or a hamburger shack that was empty. We sat down and instantly the place filled up with kids – some wearing bow ties and some with braces (hanging down). Despite having an extensive menu, only variations of burgers were available. €2.50 including fries and a drink!

Tom, Steve and I then wandered the length of the town where we found that absolutely everything was closed. Highlights of the town included the old bazaar, mosque and Ethnology museum. We broke into the latter after a local persuaded us it was open and just to push the gate harder. It wasn’t. There are also a lot of wedding dress shops and some western brands like Adidas.

Back at the hotel I ducked the sauna and jacuzzi option and instead was entertained by a band playing loudly outside the hotel. The brief rain shower silenced them. I did discover that the 5 star hotel has design flaws. A rainforest shower head high up points only at the toilet which is also included in the shower cubicle. Specifically at the toilet roll.

We met for a briefing with Endrit who talked us through the geography of the country and showed us where we would be going over the next few days. He then took us on a “walk”, consisting of standing under a nearby tree whilst he gave a lot of background to the Albanian and Kosovo interactions. I tried to find out whether the Albanian government had directly armed the Kosovans during the 1999 war, without success. I suspect so. Certainly private individuals had sold weapons.

We decided on a meal in the hotel and had a very decent 3 course meal with wine and 3 other drinks for €25.

Due to the forthcoming thunderstorm, we are unlikely to be walking tomorrow. But we’ll see …

(Sorry few photos today as had slight problem with phone camera)


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