My First Tourism Assignment..kosova
Travel is huge in our family. Being the only son, my parents exposed me to travel at the tender age of 3. Our family has already toured most of the ideal destinations around Asia, America and Europe. Because of this passion for travelling my father set up a travel agency in America to explore the wonderful places in Europe and other continents. I became a Travel Professional once I finished my degree in tourism, on this time I was sent out to do a travel destination survey for Kosovo. I got a different 6 day tour experience exploring this mystic country along the Western Balkans but it is one that I highly recommend!
After an 18 hour flight from La Guardia International Airport, I landed at Pristina Serbia Airport located at the capital of Kosovo. At Pristina, I joined 6 other travel agents who took advantage of this Kosovo tour; a minibus took us to the Ethnographic Museum which can be found at Rr. Iliaz Agushi. This museum holds a treasure of regional costumes, household furnishings, and musical instruments. Entrance was free and the staff was very welcoming as they gave us a guided one hour tour of the museum. I learned a lot about how Albanians used to live and their customs. From here we visited the Germia Park, a beautiful park with nice restaurants. It is a huge forest park that has a children’s playground, walking streets, gravel and grass roads, bikes for rent, and a swimming pool. I had a meal of traditional Kosovar dishes and good Peja (beer) to pair it with.
Then we head off to the Fatih Mosque, it is surprisingly small but very attractive. The ceiling paintings were remarkable. Found along Mother Teresa Street is the Statue of Mother Teresa. Very symbolic that it stood along the walking streets of Pristina, but I feel the place is falling down and needs to be renovated. Three blocks from here is the Mother Teresa Cathedral, dedicated to the famous Albanian nun who is a native of Skopje. It was undergoing construction when I was there. The wall of the missing persons was quite eerie. I also checked out this mall with a sign in front that signifies the symbol of Kosovo’s independence; a huge, yellow graffiti tattooed statue saying ” NEWBORN”. To end the day, I took a photo of the historic Clock Tower and strolled along the Shadervani Fountain, a simple old fountain along Pristina.
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The next day we took a local bus to get to Prizren, located in the southern part of Kosovo. Our 2 day tour started at the Sinan Pasha Mosque, a very interesting mosque where the walls are lined with floral patterns and Qur’an verses. From the city center we took a 20 minute walk uphill to get to Kalaja Fortress, a partially renovated castle with a great view of Prizren and the mosques on top. We stopped at St. Saviours Church on the way up. The fortress has nothing but walls and ruins, there were no buildings left intact. We met a team of archaeologists who proudly showed us their recent finds. The castle was quite extensive and so many open space within the area. The superb view of Prizren was worth the climb alone. Then we head off to the Sharr Mountains in the Zhupa Valley, inside is the unique National Park of Kosovo. It is well known for its flora and fauna diversities. I tried the outdoor mountain sports activity at the Brezovika Ski Center. I rented good winter equipments to ski around this mountain. I get to enjoy the Lumbardhi Valley, passed difficult sectors of the Zhupa Valley and ski all the way to Prevalla Passage. Coming around during the winter months of April in Kosovo was perfect!
On the third day I visited the Mehmet Pasha Hamam, It was a bit of a steep walk to get to the top but once on top I got a good 360 view of the city of Prizren. The views of the distant mountains were tremendous! Once upon a time it was a Turkish bath but now it serves as an art gallery. I found the site interesting but underwhelming in terms of available general information and condition. Along R.Sharri Street, I checked out the Albanian League of Prizren Museum. It holds some interesting historical documents, paintings, and provided good insight about the history of the Albanian people and their struggle for independence during the Serbian War. It was well laid out and had interesting mix of displays. Before the day was over I visited the Archaeological Museum, it once functioned as a Turkish bath but now serves as an art gallery with Clock Tower, fully renovated (lovely interior!) and hold a hundred items of archaeological and historical from antiquity up to the 19th century. It was worth the struggle to get up to the Clock Tower; from the observation post I had a good panoramic view of the city.
From Prizren our group took a half day bus trip to Gjakova, it has one of the largest Catholic communities in Kosovo. St. Paul and St. Peter Church dominates its skyline. Opposite the bus station is the “mini mosque” called Namazgah, it is basically an outdoor mosque with an open prayer area. Across from it is another mosque called, Suzi Celebi Mosque, a small and attractive mosque which sits next to the Suzi Celebi Bridge. I had a great view of the snow capped mountains from this bridge. Along the way we pass by the Maskut Pasha Mosque, behind this mosque follows a path that follows a river and ends to the rest of the Zhupa Valley where ruins of a monastery and a castle still stands. Other worth seeing sights includes the 16th century Hadum Mosque, Memorial Charmel House and old Serbian churches.
The highlight and final leg of our tour was a visit to the Visoki Decani Monastery at the Prokletije Mountains in Kosovo. This monastery was the best preserved Orthodox Church located along the Decani Gorge and Valley. Getting to the monastery was a bit of a hassle, there were road blocks set by the military and UN, and they checked our passports and visitor pass. All these security measures were annoying but regrettably necessary. The greatest rewards were entering the ancient monastery and view the numerous frescoes that cover the monastery walls and ceilings. The architecture of the church was both gothic and roman. We were welcomed by Father Petar, who was very polite and helpful in explaining the historical facts of the church in English and part Albanian language. It has a well-tended lawn surrounded with high walls, like a sanctuary of peace and beauty. There was a stretch of green grass and staggeringly beautiful medieval frescoes. As we tour the monastery we found the dormitories, sleeping quarters and library built for the Serbian Orthodox monks. A friendly monk tends the small monastery shop where we bought some souvenirs. Decani Monastery is also known to hold relics from famous saints. The relic of King Stefan can be found in the middle of the church. There was also an area where monks do wood carving and icon painting. They are also engaged in book publishing and missionary works outside the monastery. It was amazing to learn how they were able to survive the hostilities of war and live thru threats of the numerous military structures around Decani up to this day.
The Kosovo tour gave me a glimpse of how a country can struggle after years of conflict. It gave me two faces of the country, one side I saw the horrible reminders of war; buildings with bullet holes and ruins of monuments, while on the other side are the presence of rising new buildings that promotes a sense of optimism for its brighter future ahead. I have high hopes for the country as it cherishes its lasting peace. It was worth my time to visit this beautiful city.