One of the perks of interning in the Balkans is the proximity to so many incredible places. After work, it is extremely easy to hop on a bus (or into a UN car) and sightsee for the weekend. Here are some brief descriptions of the places I have traveled in the Balkans thus far.
This Serb-majority town was the first place Ajinur and I traveled outside of Pristina. We were escorted by our friend Joe, who works for the UN, in his UN car. We all ate a large brunch at the lovely Hotel Grecanica and explored the town. The highlight of our day was visiting the Grecanica monastery. Joe was our own personal tour guide and detailed the history of the monastery. One of the most interesting things I noticed about Grecanica was that the people in the town fly the Serbian flag, not the Kosovo or Albanian flag. Joe told us that they even use different currency in the town. This was my first introduction to the strained relationship between the two ethnic groups. Later in the day, we stopped by some ruins that were being excavated.
Kotor and Budva, Montenegro:
Montenegro was breathtaking. Once again, Ajinur and I traveled with our friend Joe in his UN car. We drove for about seven or eight hours and didn’t arrive in Kotor until 1 a.m., but we made the most of the short time we had there. We stayed at Old Town Hostel, which is one of my new favorite hostels. The staff was incredibly friendly, the accommodation was clean, and the other travelers were sociable. On Saturday, we walked up what seemed like a thousand steps to the top of fortress, which overlooked the city and the Bay of Kotor on Saturday. The impeccable view was definitely worth the hike. On Sunday, we visited Budva and hung out on the beach for a few hours.
My weekend in Skopje was surprisingly one of my favorite weekends of the summer. I originally planned on just spending one day in Skopje and then traveling to Lake Ohrid, but my plans changed. I met three lads from Norwich, England, and we traveled around the city together. We visited Lake Matka, went on a boat tour and explored a cave. We also walked around the city for hours. Skopje is interesting because there are gigantic statutes everywhere. Everywhere. I enjoyed the views and thought the statues gave the city character, but apparently many Macedonians hate the new set-up. My favorite part of the weekend was visiting the Millennium Cross. To get there, we had to take cable cars to the top of this hill overlooking the city. The view was incredible. We also visited the old bazaar and marketplace, which apparently is the largest in the Balkans outside of Istanbul. Once again, I stayed at an incredible hostel, Shanti Hostel, which I would recommend for anyone staying in Skopje. The only complaint I had about Skopje was that all of the meat tasted the same-- it was like every restaurant used the exact same type of spices. Food aside, it was a fantastic weekend of traveling.
Prevalla Mountains, Kosovo:
(I’m actually not sure exactly where we were, but Prevalla was our general location.) Two of my friends who are in the Peace Corps here and I decided that it would be a good idea to get some fresh air on a Sunday afternoon and go on a hike. There’s a tour company here that does weekly hikes in Kosovo, so we signed up and paid 10 euros. I am totally fine, healthy, and I didn’t break any bones, but in retrospect, that “hike” was hands down the most dangerous thing I have ever done in my entire life. It wasn’t a hike as much as a rock-climbing excursion. There were no waiver/release forms at all, and from the pictures on the Facebook page, we expected a long yet leisurely stroll through the hills. We were utterly unprepared, under-dressed, and unexperienced. I would say that the view was beautiful from the top of the mountain, but it was so cloudy that we couldn’t see anything. It was an experience that I'll never forget, but one that I'll never do again.