For getting from Kosovo to Albania, I settled on the border crossing at the Qafa e Prushit pass south of Gjakova, which would lead me on to the Albanian city of Kukës. I was intrigued by this border crossing because the Bradt Albania guidebook describes it as “desolate country”, but there are hardly 50 km between Gjakova and Kukës, and the Albanian side of the border is a continuous string of villages. It’s really nothing special by Balkan standards, though the mountain views are nice. Continue reading From Kosovo to Albania: cycling the Qafa e Prushit pass
Last time I cycled in Kosovo, I was new to the whole route-planning thing and ended up traveling the main roads. The roads in Kosovo connecting cities other than Prishtina are not as heavily trafficked as the routes involving the capital, but they still have a steady stream of cars and the occasional truck, and so are worth avoiding if possible. This time, I managed to coax OpenRouteService into giving me a way to cross the country, from Prishtina to Gjakova, on mainly minor roads.
Infrastructure in Kosovo is really impressive. Even minor village roads generally have excellent asphalt, with no feeling of corners cut. These 110 kilometers that I cycled over two days were one of the most pleasant routes in my touring experience, though there were three grueling ascents. Continue reading Across Kosovo: cycling from Prishtina to Gjakova
When it came time to cycle from Niš to Prishtina, I was very keen on following the same route as when I hitchhiked this way years ago. Namely, this was the E80, Serbia’s national road 35. As I set off from Niš on the bike, I discovered that cycling is a very different kind of experience: the whole way to Kuršumlija is heavily transited, and there isn’t much of a shoulder to ride on. If I had known this, I probably would have chosen one of the minor roads over the mountains, even if it would have taken an extra day. Continue reading Cycling from Niš to Prishtina
Prizren is a very picturesque city and surely one of the up-and-coming tourist destinations of the Balkans. It was virtually devoid of tourists when I passed through, but eventually memories of the war and Kosovo’s unfortunate reputation will fade. Prizren will then draw the same crowds as Mostar in Bosnia. Continue reading Prizren and towards Macedonia
When I last visited Kosovo, I entered from Serbia near Niš, where one is close to the capital Priština and immediately plunged into Albanian culture. This time I entered from Serbia south of Raška, where nothing really changes after the border because the north of Kosovo is still dominated by Serbs. Continue reading Among the Serbs of Kosovo
The largest town in the west of Kosovo is inhabited almost entirely by ethnic Albanians, who call it Pejë. For Serbs, however, this is Peć, site of the first patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The complex of monastery and churches, dating from the 13th century, is located just outside the city, on the road running in the Rugova mountains.
The patriarchate is guarded by KFOR soldiers and access is allowed only to holders of foreign passports. I arrived too late on the first day and was told by a couple of bored Slovenes to return the next day. When I had come back the following morning, they were replaced by similarly bored Italians. In exchange for my passport, I was given a visitor’s pass and allowed to walk through the outer gate.
A gently winding stone path led past a herd of cows to an inner gate, where a sign still boasts that the site was a monument of the People’s Republic of Serbia. The monastery church is unusual in that it originally consisted of four churches built side by side, with a common entrance built to connect them. The ancient frescos inside are lovely, though many have deteriorated completely.
I didn’t find this monastery particularly welcoming. None of the several nuns standing near the entrance spoke to me, except when one chided me for having a backpack and offered me no place to set it down. Perhaps a suspicion of outsiders has grown due to their isolation among an Albanian majority.