Monthly Archives: May 2012

May 31, 2012 (Oh Goody! More Trauma and Torture)

Standard

Beautiful mosque in downtown Shkoder. Its located in the main pedestrian shopping area.

Today started off with a bang… well maybe a whisper. We went to speak with some elderly men who worked with victims of the Communist regime. They told us heartrending stories of their own torture, one man was bound and dragged behind a car, while another was arrested and imprisoned for “dressing wrong”. They repeatedly assured us that they were not seeking revenge, merely closure and healing. They also help other victims with their legal problems and lobby for human rights. Their office walls are covered with the faces of the dead, Albanian flags, and Abraham Lincoln quotes.

After that, we needed a little break, and decided to further investigate the pedestrian walkway of shops we had seen yesterday. I bought an autobiography written by a man imprisoned during the Communist Era, and Elijah searched in vain for an English copy of Mein Kampf. We had a wonderful lunch and relaxing rest of the day.

A fabulous restaurant owned by an Albanian who lived in San Francisco, Ca for 10 years but had to return to help his wife’s aging parents.
We learned that last week there was a sort of riot out in front of his restaurant in the pedestrian shopping area, and he went out to get the protesters to leave because a film crew had shown up and he didn’t want the bad publicity. A policeman approached him, threatened him and told him to leave Albania.
We also learned that every cafe/restaurant with tables outside had them there illegally (including our San Franciscan friend) because whenever anyone tried to apply for a cafe permit they were denied.

The Amazing Clydesdale Pigeon!

Advertisements

May 30, 2012- Day (Tears of Rosafa)

Standard

View of Shkoder, Albania from Rosafa Castle

We started our day with a trip to Rosafa Castle where legend has it there were 3 brothers who were the princes of the castle. Each brother was married. For some reason they could not complete the castle and fully protect it so the Eldest brother went to a witch for a solution. The witch told him that he had to kill the wife who served him lunch the next day and that he nor his brothers could tell their wives. The eldest and middle brothers told their wives but the youngest didn’t. The next day the youngest brother’s wife served lunch and was told she was to be sacrificed for the castle. She accepted but asked that they remove one arm, one breast, and one leg so that she may hold, feed, and comfort her son even after her death. They agreed, she was killed, and her body embedded in the last wall of the castle thus completing it. It is said that in the place on the wall in which her body lay there is a milky stream on the stones that is supposed to be her tears for her lost son.

Leg 1 of the road to Rosafa Castle

Leg 2 of the road to Rosafa Castle
Believe it or not, this climb was one of the milder ones of the trip…

The view from the top was definitely worth the climb 🙂

Rosafa Castle
Shkoder, Albania

Rosafa Castle
Shkoder, Albania

Place where the two main rivers running into Montenegro converge

Rosafa Castle
Shkoder, Albania

While soaking up the peacefulness of the castle Lori asked us to do a character sketch of a person who’s story had touched us on our trip. I chose Marigona Dulaku. She also asked us to do a scenery sketch of a place that affected us greatly, I chose the Communist Tunnels in Gjirokaster.

After reluctantly leaving Rosafa Castle we toured downtown Shkoder, stopped in the post office to send some post cards, and had one of the worst meals of the entire trip. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t already become tired of the same cheese/meat/yogurt/olive combo that showed up everywhere we ate…

Inside a Catholic Church that was repurposed into a cinema during the Communist Era when religion was outlawed. It has since been turned back into a church and now houses scenes depicting Shkoder under communist rule and a memorial plaque for the many priests who were tortured and executed during the Communist Era.

Memorial Plaque of all the priests who were killed

May 29, 2012- Day 15 (Ulcinj, Montenegro)

Standard

We spent a wonderful day on the beach in Ulcinj, Montenegro, picked up a few more stamps in our passports, had a great class discussion with dinner, and headed back over the border to our hotel in Shkoder. All in all it was one of my favorite days 🙂

Ulcinj, Montenegro

Old Communist Era structure that over looks the beach in Ulcinj, Montenegro

My, Lori, and Marigona’s spot was marked by this flag 🙂

There were a lot of boats in Ulcinj, Montenegro

Ulcinj, Montenegro

The view on the way up to dinner
Ulcinj, Montenegro

Bella, number 33 in Molly’s Cat Count. On every trip Molly takes she keeps a tally of all the cats she sees. She’s kind of a Crazy Cat Lady but we still love her 🙂
She befriended us and stayed with us until we left to go back to Shkoder

The view of the beach from the restaurant
Ulcinj, Montenegro

The restaurant had some awesome antique looking chandeliers and custom wood work.

May 28, 2012- Day 13 (Mirupafshim, Kosovo)

Standard

“When will independence be returned to Prizren, Serbia?”
Rough translation and may be slightly off

This morning we were supposed to sit in on a mock election in Prizren, Kosovo. Unfortunately we were misinformed about the provision of translation and so we left after the lunch break. Instead, we toured the city with Marigona and had a very delicious lunch and gelato at Ambient Restaurant. Today was kind of a relaxed day in which we mostly acted like typical tourists. It was very fun. We ran into some Turkish children outside a convenience store. They were quite precocious and a little rude but mostly cute, especially when Ashley began taking photos of them and showing them. They wanted her to friend them on Facebook and post their photos.

Beautiful 600 year old mosque along the river in Prizren, Kosovo

Gelato! ❤

Some kids having a “water war” in the city square

A Serbian church smack dab in the middle of Prizren
Its under police protection to prevent vandalism

After we left Prizren, it was Mirupafshim, Kosovo and Përshëndetje, Albania! We arrived in Shkoder in the late evening.

Black mineral mined in Albania and used to make roads. It is not actually used in Albania due to the poor condition of the roads and the even poorer construction infrastructure.

The sunset in Shkoder was beautiful

Sunset in Shkoder, Albania

Our lovely hotel inexplicably named Argenti University

May 27, 2012- Day 12 (Mountain Retreat From Past Sorrows)

Standard

Rugovë, Kosovo

Usually we wake up every morning and just get in the bus with a vague idea regarding the day’s plans, but today was not like every other day, no today we were totally unprepared for what awaited us. First, on our way to Rugovë, we were shocked into grief stricken silence when Shkodran shared his story (which I have sworn to keep secret). The most I can say is that I would not wish what happened to the Kosovar during the war on my worst enemy.

God, Fate, Destiny, whomever you believe in is a sneaky bastard however, because after hearing his story and being unable to process the grief and rage it caused we came upon an extremely tricky bit of mountain road. Three times we had to squeeze past other travelers on a barely one-way dirt path, in the rain, on the side of a mountain. Needless to say, by the time we made it up to our destination we were stress free due to the extreme release of endorphins caused by near-death panic. Luckily we were never in any danger because our driver, Zamir, is an amazing Godsend of a man who safely got us to the top none the worse for wear.

Rugovë, Kosovo

Cows on the front lawn… only in the Balkans
Rugovë, Kosovo

Once there we had a wonderful lunch amidst some truly spectacular mountain scenery and arrived safely back in Pristina.

May 26, 2012- Day 11 (Mitrovica: The Most Dangerous City in Europe)

Standard

Mitrovica, Kosovo

Today we ventured into the heart of the Kosovar-Serbian struggle, a city called Mitrovica. It is currently the most dangerous place in Europe due to the violent tensions between the Serb occupied northern part of the city, and the southern Kosovar side. We were accompanied on this daring journey by Marigona, Gladi, Afet, Shkodran, Yul, and Albert. Our first stop was a Serbian roadblock on the outskirts of the city.

Serbian Roadblock just outside of Mitrovica

On our way into the city we stopped at a memorial site. I didn’t really catch who the site was for but I got pictures 🙂

Memorial Site
Mitrovica, Kosovo

Memorial Site
Mitrovica, Kosovo

Soon after arriving at the memorial site, we were kindly asked to leave because someone had seen our Albanian license plate. This was our first taste of the tensions in Mitrovica. When we got to the city, we saw how serious the situation was.

Serbian roadblock in the middle of the city. It separates the Serbian side from the Kosovar side. We were on the Kosovar side.

Very obvious sentiment

KFOR (Kosovo Force) and police were present to help keep the peace. (Somehow their toughness is lessened by the puppy…)

We quickly left the city due to the unsafe nature of the area. After a quick lunch we were off to our next stop, The Jashari Family Memorial.

My delicious cappuccino ❤

The Jashari Family Memorial
The youngest family member to be killed was a 7 year old girl.

Adem Jashari leader of the KLA

Part of what’s left of the Jashari Family home.
It was bombarded by Serbian forces during the massacre of the family in a bid to kill the KLA leader, Adem, in an attempt to squash the KLA rebels

May 25, 2012- Day 10 (Kosovo)

Standard

Pristina, Kosovo

Today was spectacularly uneventful due to the 8/9 hour bus ride up the entire country of Albania and into Kosovo. One of the few exciting blips on this journey was when Dr. Weigand got in a little trouble with border patrol for taking pictures. Luckily it turned out not to be a huge deal and she got off with a slap on the wrist. We got into the capital city, Pristina, in the early evening and had just enough time to settle into our freezing hotel room before we were scheduled to go out and meet a good friend of Lori’s and refugee of the Kosovo War, Marigona Dulaku, some journalists Shkodran Gajraku and Afet Bela, and a former KLA member turned government official Yul (meaning Star, a very difficult but beautiful name). We had dinner and drinks with them at Corner, a fantastic restaurant, and then bar hopped for the rest of the night. We came back to the hotel tired, sweaty, and reeking of cigarettes, but these were only mere reminders of our fun time dancing at the clubs.

Our hotel in Pristina, Kosovo