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

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“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)

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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)

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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)

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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

May 24, 2012- Day 9 (Berat)

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We left Gjirkaster and headed for Berat, our last Albanian stop before heading to Kosovo for 4 days. We hit a slight snag on our way when we came across a road block due to repavement of the road. Luckily Zamir, our driver who we had come to know and love by this point, came to the rescue and got us through the block and back on our way. We stopped in for a quick bite, and potty break at a gas station. One cool thing about gas stations in the Balkans is they are HUGE and almost every one has a restaurant inside. We all packed into the elevator like sardines and predictably the light came on telling us we were too heavy. We pushed Elijah out and that seemed to do the trick because the doors closed and the elevator began to rise. However, a few short moments later the elevator jolted violently, we screamed, and Elijah cackled from his safe position outside as the elevator slowly inched its way back down. After a quick lunch and refuel we were on the road again.

Zamir comes to our rescue!

Horse drawn carts are a common mode of transportation in the rural areas of Albania.

We toured another Ethnographic House in Berat upon our arrival. This one, while very similar to all the others we’d seen thus far, was clearly set up to focus on the richness of the inhabitants rather than an accurate portrayal of their living quarters. Expensive looking dinnerware from a different time period and place was set out on the tables and newer “artifacts” were displayed on the walls and in the various rooms. It was beautiful if a little false.

Berat, Albania

After the house we went to an old Catholic Church, turned museum. There we encountered our first crowded tourist site. The area was flooded with young people on field trips. Right away we recognized that they were not Albanian due to their style of dress and some indescribable aspect of their appearance. Turns out we were right, they were Serbian and Kosovar.

Hordes of Serbian and Kosovar Students

Inside the Catholic Cathedral (we weren’t supposed to take photos… oops)

We next ventured into another castle, same old same old right? Wrong, this one still had people living in it! There are currently over 100 families living on the castle grounds. It was a very strange sight to see homes nestled in amongst the castle ruins.

The Inhabited Castle
Berat, Albania

The Inhabited Castle
Berat, Albania

After this delightful day we headed back to our hotel where Kelsey and Feagin discovered a kitten on the roof outside their balcony that they could hear but not see. They tried valiantly to rescue it but to no avail, I hope it made it off the roof safely…

My and Cady’s hotel room (very ’70s chic)
Berat, Albania

May 23, 2012- Day 8 (The City of Stone)

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The City of Stone

Sadly we had to leave Corfu, but the next city certainly made up for our disappointment. Our next destination was Gjirokastër, a city in southern Albania. Its nicknamed “The City of Stone” because nearly every single structure is entirely made of stone (including the roofs). This city has been our unanimous favorite so far because its so beautiful and amazing. We met with the GDP (Gjirokastër Development Project) in the morning and talked about what they do and saw a very fascinating slide show about the bunkers in Albania (there are more than 700, 000! That’s 1 for every 4 to 5 people in Albania) and talked about the mysterious disappearance of several bunkers in recent weeks.

Gjirokastër, Albania

After our meeting we toured the extremely creepy tunnels beneath Ali Pasha’s castle. They were built during the Communist Era as a “safe house” for the people if America, or our allies, tried to bomb the area. Needless to say, I would NOT be happy if I had to live down their for even a day. I shudder at the possibility and am extremely grateful I will never have to experience anything like it. We are the first American group to enter the tunnels (cool right? :))

Communist Era Tunnels

Very Creepy…

This shows the double reinforcement of the bunker-like structure. It was very “safe”

After our creepy tour we walked to the site where Enver Hoxha’s statue once stood deliberating about what to do next.

The site of Hoxha’s statue

We finally decided to tour Ali Pasha’s castle. Little did I know that it would be an intense climb. Lori, Molly, and I decided to walk the “easy” way up the sloped incline while the rest of the group took the stairs.

Ali Pasha’s Gun Hall

The prison on the second floor of the castle. It was still being used to torture people during the Communist Era.

An American plane shot down in wartime

May 22, 2012- Day 7 (Corfu Holiday Palace)

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Sarandë, Albania

Our first view of Greece

We left Albania for a much needed retreat to Corfu, Greece after the horrible news of yesterday. We stayed at the Corfu Holiday Palace. It started life as a Hilton Hotel and its claim to fame is that one of the James Bond movies was filmed there. Today was a very relaxed, uneventful day spent on the beach and by the pool, after our trek through back alleys and narrow streets to find the bus stop. Needless to say I was very grateful Dr. Weigand has been gifted with an amazing sense of direction.

Could you find your way around with out GPS?

Old people are adorable… photo bombers are not.

Relaxing by the pool…

… soaking up the sun

The sea water was so cold that after a few minutes it was only tolerable because my extremities had gone numb, the cool thing though is the water was so salty I floated and didn’t need to tread water. All in all I’d say it was a great day 🙂