24.07.2007 - 01.08.2007 -17 °C
After Sofia, it was a train ride to Nis, Novi Pazar, and finally Prishtina in Kosovo.
The bus ride from Novi Pazar to Prishtina was amazing. After the UNMIK checkpoint, the road was paved round mountains after mountains. The scenery is truly amazing - the mountains are unspoilt - a great big mass of mixed-green canopy. The bus follows the course of the river at the mountain valley, which is crystal clear and turquoise. There were even ducks in the river! It's like those few seconds of nature that's truly untouched in the beginning of nature documentaries (think planet earth!). However, beauty can't always last. As soon as plastic bottles and bags and other garbage starts appearing at the side of the road, you know you're close to civilization.
Whoever we meet in Kosovo - locals, UN peeps, KFOR troops - they all ask the same question. "Why Kosovo? What are u doing here?". I honestly do not know why I wanted to go there - basically to see how it's like after the war and how people are living now. The city has rebuilt itself well, although like Belgrade, it cant be considered a beautiful city (sorry Albanians). But both Prishtina and Peja, a little town 1 hour away from Prishtina, are so energetic and full of life. Most people in the Balkans have this raw energy they turn into living life to the fullest - maybe because of prolonged suppression and conflict. Theres people everywhere at anytime of the day - hanging out in cafes, pubs until late at night - except for Sunday, where they really use it as a day of rest.
We spent our first day in Prishtina walking around the city, saying hi to Bill Clinton on his boulevard, and just acting Albanian (sitting down at cafe for hours drinking cups after cups of coffee, chilling, and people watching). Paul said that there should be a Tony Blair boulevard as well, but I asked a local and he said there isnt a Tony Blair road anywhere =(. That night we went to the Phoenix bar to try to hook up with some UN guys to see if we could get them to take us around Kosovo in their trucks. Unfortunately we picked the wrong group and ended up spending the night with some non-UN Danish guys who works in Kosovo. Well, still a pretty fun night.
The next day, we took a day trip to Peja. The bus drove by alot of bombed buildings that arent restored yet. Every few minutes or so, there would be graveyards, or monuments of brave soldiers that fought in the war. Most monuments and tombstones also had portraits of the fallen. ive never seen portraits on tombstone anywhere else. It was a bit heart wrenching to see how many tombstones there were, alot of them bearing the sign UCK (representing the Kosovo independent army). Anyways, we were lucky because it was Saturday and it was market day in Peja! They sell everything in that market - Clocks with Bill Clintons face (as a souvenir, can u believe it), pirate VCDs, fresh produce and even live turkeys. After bumming around looking at almost every stall but not buying anything, we headed to Petriarchate of Pec. The monastery was heavily guarded by Italian KFOR, and we had to give them our passports before being allowed to go in with a pass. Later, we learned that alot of Orthodox chuches and monasteries in Kosovo are being guarded by KFOR, because they are considered Serbian by alot of the Albanians and KFOR needs to guard them *just in case*.
Both the Patriarchate of Pec and Decani Monastery have beautiful undamaged frescos, especially the Decani Monastery. The frescoes at the church in Decani Monastery were never damaged - although the colour has faded a little bit it was still stunning! at least it wasnt restored by clumsy hands like the Patriarchate of Pec). They were great places to visit, because they have so little tourists, you can still see the monks and nuns going about their daily lives. The only tourists apart from us at that time were other KFOR troops. They kept on using flash to take pictures, but the monk giving them a tour didnt say anything, probably cause theyre in their macho uniform =). We met a German and Romanian KFOR troop at the Patriarchate of Pec, who were nice enough to offer us a ride back to the city center. We finally got our wish - we rode back to town in their truck, feeling very important because we were like the boss on the road.
If it wasn't for numerous UN trucks and KFOR troops u see on the streets, you'd think Kosovo was always a peaceful little country. I would never have thought of this before I visited Kosovo - but Kosovo is a great place to relax and chill. People who have lived through conflict and suffering have a passion in them. Like a raw energy that they use to enjoy life to the fullest everyday. You will never see that in Hong Kong, who are just full of people working for money and more money.
It was time to leave the next day. After a very uncomfortable night bus (next to smelly old fat man) I arrived in Belgrade.