On a whim, we decided to go to Prizren yesterday. It was a four-day-weekend for all those who only had kids in ILG. Most of our friends had taken off to go skiing in Bulgaria but 1. We don't ski (can you imagine another sport as prohibitively expensive with four kids? Scuba diving, maybe), and 2. We only had three days and Alan has still not quite recuperated yet. So there was no weekend hike and instead of hiking by ourselves, I suggested we'd go to Prizren.
Which we did.
And it was a good idea.
The road to Prizren is one of the easiest trips to make - there is a super-new, wide, almost completely empty motorway that leads from Pristina to the border with Albania which skirts Prizren. You probably don't know much about the geography of Kosovo, so here's a quick map:
Kosovo is a small country and it took us about an hour to get there. Mind you, that includes crossing the entirety of Pristina because we live on the east edge of town. Once you're on the motorway, you're in Prizren in half an hour.
Prizren sits right on the Northern slopes of the Sharr Mountains. As you can see from the map above, Kosovo is basically a plateau surrounded by mountains. The Sharr mountains to the South divide Kosovo from Macedonia. Don't mistake those for just some hills - those are some serious mountains. Up next to Peja (or Pec in Serbian) are the Accursed Mountains and boy, are they ever accursed. The Kopaonik mountains make it hard to get out in the North. The eastern edge is described as "hilly" but you know, those are hills on steroids.
Anyway. The Sharr mountains are beautiful and very steep. But first, we went to Prizren. It's an old, old town with a population of about 180,000 and mostly Albanian after some thorough ethnic cleansing in the war. It's a sad story, like all war stories. Look it up on your own risk, if you are interested.
We parked on the outskirts of the center, having been warned by our guidebook that parking is notoriously difficult in the center - and that is very true. The roads are narrow and winding and Prizenris, like all Kosovars, are very creative parkers so that there is little room to navigate, let alone find a parking space. So we have to walk a kilometer to the Old Town but heh. Apart from kids aghast ("What? We have to walk!!??"), it was fine.
The city center is old Ottoman and very beautiful. I saw a lot of things that instantly reminded me of Turkey, like this shoe polisher's box, and the nut and seeds stores everywhere.
We just walked around with not much in mind. We usually take it slow when we are in a town for the first time and we know we will come back. Just drifting through the narrow roads and the pedestrian area called Shadervan was lovely. We had a little snack, and looked at the cathedral (not open to the public) and the Sinan Pasha Mosque only steps away, had some lovely coffee and then gave in the the kids' demands to walk up to the Kaljaja, the fortress up on the hill.
That walk up there is a serious climb. Alan was completely exhausted afterwards but he did want to go and I think it was good for him. No chest pain was also good! Only a week before, a short walk had left him completely winded and with chest pain. So, that's good.
The kids basically ran up the hill. They were so excited about a fortress! that they forgot they hated walking uphill. Or so we are told every Saturday on our hikes. Anyway, up the hill we went to the fortress. There isn't too much left of it, just some walls, and some arches, but it's a very big areal faintly reminiscent of Masada. It surely has the greatest views of Prizren you can wish for!
And then we had ice cream for dessert and started back homewards. Alan was very tired and we can always come back for more. It was also a cold, blustery day, despite the many plum blossoms we spotted everywhere.
We decided to take the long way home and take the mountain route through Bresovica, a popular Serbian ski resort. We were a bit surprised to find an intact Serbian village here in those mountains but on second thought, it makes a certain amount of sense. It's remote and not close to any Albanian villages (think steep mountains, sparse population) and it's also far away from Serbia -- pretty much as far away from Serbia as you can get in Kosovo -- so there is not a danger of being overrun. So yes, this is a successful re-population effort. But that makes only one in so very many that have not worked out. It doesn't matter much too me who was right and who was wrong - ethnic cleansing is always a bad thing, and it invariably robs a country from that vibrant mix of cultures that signifies a healthy society.
The pass through the mountains was steep and we went above the snow line, deep into winter and heavy fog. It was a bit touch and go at some spots but then we descended quickly into spring again and were almost home. I think those mountains must be absolutely spectacular in the spring, so we'll be sure to come back in a month or so. (I was driving, so no pictures of Bresovica and the mountains. Next time!)
Kosovo is a very beautiful country. Come and visit!