Balkans Day 4: Prizren to Kukës
19/08/2013 29 Comments
Breakfast at the City Hostel was included in the price and we had the typical soft bread, cheese, salami and jam with orange juice and tea. As the weather was its usual warm self we decided to take this up on the roof terrace with its views over the city.
Not being due to leave Prizren until the afternoon we had plenty of time left to explore more of the city. As it was still early and not too warm we decided to head up to the Prizren Fortress above the city.
Following some vague directions and sporadic signposting we proceeded along a couple of streets near the area of the Sinan Pasha Mosque and eventually found a path up to the fortress. This was paved in hexagonal stones and would have been a nice walk if it wasn’t built at an angle of roughly 45°! It wasn’t actually that steep but felt like it.
The path soon levelled out a bit and climbed at a more leisurely pace up to the fortress.
Arriving at the top we were a bit disappointed to discover that the fortress flatters to deceive somewhat. It looks quite impressive from below but the only part which is still intact is the outer wall overlooking the city.
The first fort was built by the Byzantines and it was then occupied and extended by the Serbs before coming under Ottoman control for over four hundred years. It was finally abandoned in 1912 when the area was liberated from Ottoman control in the First Balkan War and has since fallen into its current state of disrepair although restoration work is under way.
Despite there not being much to see of the fortress itself the views are spectacular.
Needless to say the descent back to town was a bit quicker than getting up there and we still had some time to kill before heading to Albania so we had a quick peek inside the Sinan Pasha Mosque which is the city’s oldest.
Although imposing and photogenic from the outside truth be told it isn’t a very impressive sight inside. The dome and Koranic inscriptions aren’t very spectacular although they are nicely done as you would expect.
With that done it was back to the hostel to pack up and set off for a new town in a new country. Kukës lies only 20km or so inside Albania and Prizren is just inside Kosova but transport between the two is somewhat erratic to say the least.
No buses ran directly between the two so we tried to find an Albanian furgon (a privately owned car/minibus) which would take us there and got an offer of €10 for both of us direct to our hotel in Kukës. We took it. €10 for an hour’s journey including crossing an international frontier didn’t seem too bad although when our driver pulled over just after the start of the journey and accepted a package from the back of a van it did seem a bit dodgy. It turned out to be sausages for a friend on the other side of the border!
The journey took us through some hills on the main Prishtina-Tiranë highway to the border where we were waved through and on along the foot of some magnificent mountains before turning off onto a local road and into the rather dreary little town of Kukës and pulling up at the Hotel Gjallica.
After checking in and dumping the rucksacks in our very comfy room we set out to take a look round the town which despite being surrounded by some amazing scenery is itself nothing special at all.
After changing some money into Lek in a local bank where the lovely young lady working there told us it was her dream to come to Norway we took a stroll along the main street where the hotel is situated and then down another street to try and get some shots of the mountainous scenery.
Coming back up this same road we moved on into the other side of the town which wasn’t in much better condition than the rest. We passed apartment buildings which seemed to be crumbling before our eyes and up to a square which should have been the civic pride of the town. It contained a couple of official buildings and a memorial to the Kosova War which affected the town greatly but which was shut.
Kukës’ two main claims to fame are that it was relocated from its original location due to the creation in 1976 of the artificial lake pictured above and its brief spell at the centre of the world’s media attention during the Kosova War 1998-99 when the town hosted some 450, 000 refugees fleeing over the border from Kosova. This is in fact led to Kukës being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 and many of the world’s top Foreign/War correspondents and journalists stayed in the same hotel as us.
Trying to find some nice shots of Lake Fierze we went up a road which leads to an abandoned hotel, part of a failed attempt to create a tourist industry and cash in on the scenic beauty of northern Albania.
Returning to the hotel in the early evening we ate in the dining room there with me having a fairly good lamb casserole and Mrs Mjollnir opting for a similar dish of chicken which consisted mainly of bone and very little meat!
Later we sat on the hotel’s terrace and had a few drinks while watching the world go by before retiring for the night.