Travelling Light

Prizren, Kosova to Скопје, Македонија (Skopje, Macedonia), August 2014

Our second day in Prizren had a gentle start, as we caught up on some much-needed sleep, had the breakfast supplied by the hotel (the bread in this part of the world is so good that we are eating far too much of it!), did some laundry, made some bookings online, and uploaded photos.

We noticed that the honey was labelled “shelf life unlimited”. You can’t do that in Australia – there is some maximum time period you must put, even if the food will keep forever.

The hotel staff came by while we were in the dining room using the WiFi and gave us a traditional Kosovar delicacy – layered pastry with a buttery, slightly cheesy taste. People here are so lovely!

Like the Hungarians, the Kosovans eat a lot of peppers (paprika). In the produce market, there were bunches of peppers everywhere – about an equal volume of peppers as onions!

In the afternoon, we headed back to the old town to have a meal and watch the world go by. We decided to see some of the film festival, since we were in town, and secured tickets to a two-hour showing of five short films, including one world premiere. (There was no red carpet, though.)

Prizren is lovely in the evening – the old buildings are beautifully lit, and the temperatures drop from the daytime 30-35 degrees C to something a bit less sweaty.

We were impressed by the inflatable movie screen which had been erected on the terrace roof of one of the art galleries. The movies themseves were a mixed bunch – one almost surreal one about a bloke with depression, two about families in the recent Balkan wars (one set in Kosovo and one in Sarajevo), and two dystopic future movies. We left in a fairly sober mood!

Outside the temporary theatre, the old town was heaving!

Between the regular Prizren night-time crowd and the influx of movie-going tourists, the roads were almost impassable.

We managed to navigate a couple of blocks without going completely postal, and took refuge in an underground supermarket, buying fruit and snacks for the bus ride to Skopje the next day.

Eventually, we fought our way out of the crowd, back across the old stone bridge, and hailed a taxi back to the hotel.

The next day, the bus left at 9am, so we shocked the hotel staff by coming down for breakfast at the earliest possible time – 8am. There was a slight flurry to get our food to us without too much delay, and they gave us a one-litre container of apple juice to take with us. People in Kosovo are so generous and hospitable, even when it is their job!

Every street sign is written in three languages here – the larger lettering is Albanian, and then there is also Serbian and Turkish. They use the Latin lettering for Serbian generally, rathen than Cyrillic.

The border crossing went smoothly, although some of the roads in Kosovo didn’t go so smoothly!

Before we knew it, we were pulling in to Skopje. Our first vision of the city was the large and well-preserved Byzantine fortress (built with stones taken from the earlier Roman fortress, whcih was badly damaged in an earthquake in the early 6th century). (And other stones, too!)

Skopje is a work in progress. In 1963, an earthquake levelled 75% of the buildings in the city. This provided an opportunity for city planners to create something wonderful and beautiful for generations to come.

Unfortunately, it was 1963, and the Communists were in power, with their disdain of the past and love of Brutalist concrete blocks. Their idea of wonderful and beautiful was to add “futuristic” curves to the Brutalist concrete blocks!

Macedonia has had a long and difficult struggle to finally become an independent country in its own right. Monuments to the struggle, to the different ethnic groups involved, and to the historical events have been constructed in recent years.

Using EU funding, the government of Skopje has set out to repair some of the lost beauty of the city. The project has its critics, of course, but now that it is nearly finished, the new central area is definitely visually appealing. Hopefully, bloggers in fifty years won’t be criticising the awful ideas they had at the turn of this century about what makes a building beautiful!

We had a brief wander in the old town, and promised ourselves a better look on another day. The earthquake damage is still quite visible here – while the buildings weren’t destroyed, they were damaged, and the flow of international aid in the 60s and EU development funds in the 21st century have been directed toward building new buildings, rather than restoring the old quarter.

We made a new friend – a toothless older gentleman driving a bicycle-powered cart. He was bemused as to why Jenny was taking photos of broken old buildings. He didn’t speak a word of English, so we couldn’t really explain, but we got on famously anyway.

At a drinking fountain we met this critter – a tiny kitten so young its eyes were just turning from blue to yellow. It was gnawing on a discarded bread roll in a pile of garbage.

Fortunately, we still had cat biscuits from Kotor on us, and we gave all the remaining ones to this little one. We liked the idea that we were feeding Montenegrin cat biscuits to a Macedonian kitten.

While we were feeding it, our friend came past on his way home from work. He had detached the cart from the bike (or maybe swtiched to a regular bike), so he couldn’t carry the kitten, unfortunately. It is so lovely-looking, we hope that someone picks it up and gives it a loving home.