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Kosovo and Macedonia

sunny 30 °C

]Leaving Montenegro for Kosovo was exciting….what was it going to be like? We nearly drove through the border checkpoint without even realising what it was. It looked like a big truck stop because that’s what was there…trucks stopped. Anyway we had to pay for car insurance because interestingly enough our insurance isn’t recognised in Kosovo because the UN doesn’t fully recognise it as an independent country. In fact if you are brave enough to drive into Kosovo from Serbia there are in fact no real border crossings because Serbia still does not recognise its independence. Kosovo is only officially recognised as an independent country by 193 nations.

Kosovo itself is surrounded by mountains, like a natural border, and the inhabited parts are all in the valley. Driving through it, the poverty is so obvious. Junk and rubble and dust and dirt litter everything. We drove straight through to Pristina, the capital,(pop 200 000) and had to ‘feel’ our way to our hotel stopping to ask for directions a few times. Pulling up to a roadside cigarette seller along the busy main drag we were accosted by helpful Kosovars all knowing the correct way to go to get to our hotel. After settling in to our pad we headed off to explore.
Pristina is one of those places where you really have to look past the dirt, dust and general dishevelled nature of the city to find its beauty. Nearly every single footpath we walked up was in the process of being ripped up (to be replaced??) and you had to dodge the cut off pipes and other dangerous looking implements to avoid having your toe chopped off. After stumbling around some of the restaurant strip we found ourselves in the main pedestrian mall, not too exciting. The beauty of the place though was what you couldn’t see, it was knowing what had happened, looking for evidence, of which there was little and just being ‘intrigued’ by it all. Intriguing was the best word we could think of to describe Kosovo. There is an obvious Turkish influence existing here. Along the main street is a monument called “Photos of the Missing” and is just hundreds and hundreds of laminated photos (like from a computer) of people that obviously went “missing” during the invasion. They are all just stuck to the fence of a government department building and go for what feels like miles. Once again though, people power past them on their daily business.

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One night in Pristina was enough and we drove onto Prizren (the prettier city) and found a much livelier square and atmosphere. Still dirty and dusty, we took no time to find its main attractions. It was interesting to note that in all the cafes we passed it was dominated by men, customers and employees. At one stage it seemed the only female component was coming from us. Adam wanted to buy one of the traditional Kosovar Plis (a cone shaped hat – see picture but you’re not allowed to laugh). A lot of the old men were wearing them and every time Adam tried to take a photo they would cover their face, hide or just get up and move; a religious thing maybe? Once again an intriguing place but one night was enough. Onto Macedonia…
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Skopje (sko-pee-ya) is the capital and the birthplace of Mother Teresa (did you know that? We didn’t). It was stinking hot and required a lot of walking. Skopje has probably the least impressive old town of all that we have seen so far but their newer side is hustle and bustle and great. All through their main pedestrian mall are brass statues just randomly placed, some depicting Skopje some depicting ‘stuff’. Needless to say we saw a great opportunity for photos and didn’t disappoint. The only real cultural thing we did was the Mother Theresa museum which is on the original site of the church she was baptised in the day after she was born, also a freebie which was a bonus. There are always lots of beggars though and Skopje probably had the boldest, older kids coming up and grabbing you but obviously so robotic in their begging you can see their eyes searching for their next victim while they are attempting to manhandle you. Eww dirty! We have not yet given any money to any beggars however we have given money to people that work for it eg musicians. Our second day had cooled down dramatically and by the third day, departure day, there was light rain, perfect for the drive to Ohrid.

Ohrid Lake is the world’s second deepest lake at 321m and is the world’s cleanest because of a fresh spring (Sveti Naum) that flows into it at the southern end and flushes all the water through. It is shared by Macedonia and Albania and has a diameter of 37km. We booked a private apartment for two nights in Ohrid and this is where we met Illiar. Illiar helped us with our bags and then cajoled us into a welcome coffee and raki (grappa), homemade of course. He is a very proud Ohrid resident and entertained us greatly over the two nights. It was a very pretty place and he offered us a third night for free but we had already booked….nevermind. An exciting moment for us was when a very uncoordinated child fell into the lake and went under. Instinct kicked in and we both raced over to the edge to do a Hasselhoff/Pamela Andersen duet but were beaten to it by a faster, older man.

Ohrid is also a UNESCO town (like Dubrovnik, Split etc) which means that it is considered to be of important historical value because of churches or castles that exist there. Ohrid has an amazing church, Mother of God Perivleptos, which was built in 1295. All around the walls are layers of frescos. The bottom layer tells the story of Mary, Mother of God and then the second layer tells the story of Jesus and the crucifixion. The guide was very thorough and knowledgeable and it truly was awe inspiring. There was a UNESCO restorer there from Italy up on scaffolds working on the frescos to preserve them. The church is not used for masses or ceremonies anymore and is purely for tourist and education purposes. History dictates that the Renaissance period actually originated in Macedonia NOT in Italy as the Italians would have us believe. Sceptical? Well the proof is in the pudding or the paintings in this case. The paintings in Ohrid predate anything in Italy. This church in Ohrid provides a unique experience with frescos seen nowhere else in the world which we were lucky enough to witness and lock into our memories forever. Ohrid also has an ancient Roman amphitheatre and underground remains of an ancient Basilica and a fortress (If we had a dollar for every fortress…..).. The water was a little chilly for swimming but Adam wanted a dip, so in he went.

We left Ohrid for Bitola our last stop in Macedonia. It was ho hum and we just did a couple of laps through the mall. The next day we headed for Greece. Originally we were going to stay three nights in Greece on our way through to Turkey but because we are trying to save Schengen days for the Greek Islands, we decided to just power on through in one night. Schengen days are the amount of days in a six month period you are allowed to stay in countries that are part of the Schengen agreement. Countries like Greece, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania among others are all part. We are allowed no more than 90 days in a six month period. Therefore because half of the countries we are visiting are Schengen we have to make sure our days are worked out correctly so we don’t strike any problems at any of the borders.
So one night in Greece was it so I guess it didn’t really matter that the hotel was dodgy, dark, broken and smelly. The breaky was good though – silver lining . We have planned three weeks or twenty-three nights to be exact in Turkey. We have decided to try to squeeze in a trip over to the east side near the Syrian border, a town called Mardin. It will just depend on travel bulletins on whether we end up there or not. Cross your fingers.

Posted by Ange and Adam 12:49 Archived in Saint Barthélemy Tagged ohrid skopje macedonia prizren pristina bitola Comments (0)

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