Prizren, the highlight of Kosovo

Wednesday 27 February to Saturday 2 March

We arrived in Prizren and as usual we had trouble finding the hotel. Despite the TomTom and MapsME we found ourselves driving around in circles, up one-way streets and being blocked by pedestrian streets. We finally opted for Plan B to park at a nearby hotel and walk the last 80 meters. As Bruce was turning into the car park he got side swiped on the inside by a fast travelling delivery van.  No one was hurt and the damage to our car was superficial but we did get to spend a few hours in a police station. Bruce was fined €160 for making a dangerous turn, reduced to €80 if paid immediately. That wasn’t an option as the police took his driver’s licence – to be returned after the fine was paid. The worst damage was to Bruce’s ego.

After all that grief, the hotel offered us a car park in the little cobbled street, right beside to the hotel.

Prizren is on the Prizren Bistrica or Prizren Lumbardhi river, the same river from Peć

This was the most tourist oriented town since Ohrid in Macedonia, full of cafes serving coffee or tea, but very few restaurants. The sun was shining and the weather was a good deal warmer, so people were out in great numbers.

I guess the population is so poor they can only afford coffee, cigarettes and smart phones. I must say, in Prizren, the girls were very well dressed – although the milder weather and abundant sunshine may have been a factor.

There is a fabulous fortress in Prizren which overlooks the town and the valley and the mountains. A lot of good information about the development of the castle and how it was used from the 16th to the 19th centuries was available.

We met a guide who happily gave us some information about Kosovo. He suggested that they would prefer to become part of the Schengen community but not EU. At the moment they can only visit Turkey. Visas are needed for anywhere else and they are unaffordable. Their conundrum is that the economy is so poor they can’t afford to leave. We had met a lot of Macedonians who had relatives in Australia, but not Kosovans.

The cost of tea and coffee was testament: Tea €.50. Coffee €.60. Cake €1.00.

The Shinan Pasha Mosque from the 17th century was next door. Of course we heard to muezzin ‘crier’ call for parayer at 5:30am. During the day they opened a coffee/tea shop behind the mosque that was very well priced and very popular.

We wandered away from the tourist area looking for some tape to hold the damaged bumper together for the drive to Tiranë in Albania. We went into three shops and we were amazed how many people spoke English.

The tape was to do some minor repairs to the car, so the front panel would not fall off. Tridor, the young receptionist from the hotel rolled up his sleeves and helped screw the offending part down. People become very adapt at fixing things in poorer countries like this.

We drove into the mountains during our second day – to check no serious damage to the car and also to see a bit of nature. We followed the Lombardhi River to the Šar Mountains, through a ski village called Prevalla. We couldn’t find any ski lifts but tobogganing was popular on the icy slopes. We kept going as far as a village called Jazhincë, until we found a suitable place to turn around on the windy roads that were edged by piles of snow. Car checked, scenery discovered – a lovely drive.

And we had time when we returned to wander around, the capturing mosques and churches in the evening light. The churches were guarded and closed and we would not enter the mosques out of respect.

We walked along the river for a little while and discovered an ancient oriental plane tree, dating back to the 14th or 15th century. I wonder how long it can survive with the current climate change issues that we are facing.

Dinner was a challenge – there are heaps of coffee and tea shops but few restaurants.

To Bruce’s delight, we found a craft beer bar, where we sat and watched the world go by. It was worth returning to the next day.

There are no smoking regulations in Macedonia and Kosovo. Smokers are next to you in restaurants and coffee shops. I feel as if all my clothes and my hair smells of nicotine. We really have got used to smoke-free environments at home and in Europe.

Our last drinks were in the company of a cat and our last dinner was in the company of ducks. There are a lot of canaries around too, hanging off walls in little cages. But there are dogs as well – they are free to roam as they like.

The other thing that struck us, is how widely English is spoken in the new country. I am so pleased we made the effort to travel these roads.

So we finished our travels in Kosovo with a friendly farewell from the hotel staff and a very simple border crossing where our passports were looked at and the car’s documentation was examined.