On Friday afternoon I took a two-hour bus ride from Pristina to Prizren, a town to the south-east of the capital. The bus was crowded; the middle aisle was filled with people standing. As the bus left the city, a man made his way through the passengers and collected four euros from everyone onboard. Later, the same man passed out a complimentary Banana Kreme candy to each person on the bus. The bus traveled past beautiful scenery: forests, valleys, and snow-capped mountains. Prizren, at the least the city's oldest neighborhood, is just as beautiful as the surrounding landscape. I stayed at a hostel situated right across the river from the historic city center, so I never ventured into more contemporary parts of Prizren. My colleagues repeatedly recommended I visit Prizren, saying it was much more interesting and picturesque than Pristina. They were right. Seeing Prizren made me realize just how hectic, dirty, and congested Pristina can be.
The Albanian League Museum in Prizren commemorates the four years in the 1800s when the Albanian people attempted to join together as one nation. On display in the museum are letters from the time, stating in diplomatic terms that the Albanians were prepared to fight to the death before they were occupied by another Christian country. In one room of the museum stands a statue of Ymer Prizreni, the leader of the doomed Albanian League. A framed black-and-white photograph depicts the sculpting of Ymer's head. Based on this picture, it appears that an actual human skull was used as a model for the sculpture. The caption does not indicate to whom the skull once belonged.
Due to the city's historical and cultural significance, Prizren is a tourist destination for Albanians. My colleague warned me that Prizren would be crowded on the weekend. There were a decent number of people present wherever I wandered the city, but not to an irritating degree. While exploring the city and its many sights, I observed that Albanians apparently like to take pictures of themselves as much as Americans do. I had previously assumed, without much evidence to support my theory, that Americans lead the world in self-documentation.
While in Prizren I visited my first mosque. The Sinan Pasha Mosque, located in the heart of the old city, is the dominant feature in the Prizren skyline. A little unsure how to act, I took off my New Balances and placed them on the shelves outside the door of the mosque. They were a little out of place next to the rows of leather shoes. Inside I was surprised to find no furniture whatsoever, only carpet covering the entire floor. A handful of men were spread across the carpet, variously standing and kneeling. Behind a wooden trellis-like screen in the back left corner of the room, a shawled woman was praying alone. I waited until I saw one of the men get up from prayer and take out his cell phone to take pictures before I took out my own phone. The ceiling was beautifully painted, but as is often the case in places of worship, too vast to satisfactorily capture with an iPhone camera.
More than one colleague told me to try the desserts in Prizren. I stopped at a cafe behind the mosque and sat down at a table. At every cafe I have visited in Kosovo, a waiter has come and placed an ashtray on my table as soon as I sit down. Smoking is quite prevalent here. I asked my ashtray supplier for an espresso and a menu. The menu was in Albanian, and I of course refused to ask for any translations or assistance. I ordered something that turned out to be some sort of chocolate parfait. I am unsure what exactly a parfait is, but the dish looked like what I imagine a parfait resembles. I also ordered a Bosnian coffee. It was served on an ornate tray, with what I think was a ginger chew dipped in powdered sugar. The Bosnian coffee was similar to Turkish coffee, though thicker and grainier. I enjoyed my afternoon indulgence as the uncensored version of Rihanna's wonderfully filthy 2011 song "Birthday Cake" played from the cafe speakers.
On a hill above Prizren sits the Kalaga, a fortress originally built by Romans. In the evening, I went on a pleasant hike up the backside of the hill to reach the fortress. A sudden thunderstorm forced me to find shelter under a tree off the hiking trail. Under this tree I met Kushtrim, a local Prizreni who spoke a little English. When the rain stopped, Kushtrim showed my around the Kalaga, pointing out which structures had been built by Romans and which had been built by Ottomans. He could have made it all up, but it sounded believable enough. The structures in the Kalaga are in surprisingly good condition. Even more surprising, the Kalaga is open to the public for free, twenty-four hours a day.
I boarded the bus back to Pristina early Sunday morning. No complimentary candy this time. On the bus, small TV screens played a continuous loop of green-tinted music videos from the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. I arrived back in Pristina to a hot, dusty day.