A Visit to the Deçan Monastery

My friends and I visited the Deçan Monastery a few weekends ago. We were fortunate to go on a mild spring day.

Decan monastery 1
A view from the road
Decan monastery 4
Entering the Decan monastery
Decan monastery 2
Doorway
Decan monastery 3
Decan monastery
April
April at the monastery

Some interesting facts about the monastery:

  • There are 10,000 portraits in the monastery.
  • St. Stefan’s tomb is inside and every Thursday at 7:00 p.m., they open to tomb to show visitors St. Stefan’s “uncorrupted” hand (meaning, it has not decayed). Sadly, I did not visit on a Thursday evening and did not get to see his hand.
  • The monastery has a rare fresco that depicts Jesus holding a sword. It is one of the only images of Jesus holding a sword in the whole world.
Jesus sword
Christ as Protector (Image via johnsanidopoulos.com)

Here are posts about other monasteries I have visited in Kosovo:

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Photo Scavenger Hunt

When I asked my friends and family for ideas for this blog, my friend Whitney sent me a Pristina, Kosovo photo scavenger hunt challenge she found online. That was a year ago. Since I am going to see Whitney in a few weeks, I decided to finally do the scavenger hunt. Saturday was a nice day and I had nothing else to do. So, I hopped on the bus to Pristina to begin my challenge!

The clues:

  • If you’re passing by Mother Tereza pedestrian street, just have a look at this Albanian National Hero. [Answer: Zahir Pajaziti]
  • As an American, it’s kind of funny to see this statue. His name is spelled correctly while the street is not. [Answer: Bill Clinton]
  • If you’re tired of traffic and urban life, this is the ideal place to have a nice walk or take a dip in the gigantic pool without leaving the city. [Answer: Germia Park]
  • This kind or architecture will kill your eyes, but since it was listed among top 10 most ugly buildings in the world it is a must-see. [Answer: National Library]
  • This is the location where Slobodan Milosevic delivered his 1989 speech which ignited the flames of nationalism in the former Yugoslavia leading to a decade of war and ethnic cleansing. [Answer: Gazimestan]
  • Located in one of the few Ottoman style buildings in the city. It’s tucked off a side street but worth finding. [Answer: the Grand Hamam]

I had already seen three of the sites (Bill Clinton, the library, and Zahir Pajazitit’s statue, because it is located in front of a building that has two Airbnbs I’ve stayed at). But, in the spirit of the challenge, I visited all six places in one day.

I decided to start with the most far-flung of the six sites: Gazimestan. It is a monument that commemorates the 1939 Battle of Kosovo. To get there, I took a bus from Pristina’s central bus station toward Mitrovice, and asked to be let off at Gazimestan, which is just a short ways out of the city. I got off the bus and walked along a desolate, trash-strewn road in the middle of nowhere. As I approached the monument, two stray dogs ran up to me. Luckily, they were friendly, but they shook me up a bit. I got to the monument with my two new dog friends trailing behind me and handed my passport over to a very unhappy-looking guard. He kept my passport for safe keeping and I was allowed onto the grounds to take photos. I thought it would be disrespectful to take selfies at a war memorial, so no selfies for this clue.

Gazimestan monument Kosovo
Gazimestan
Gazimestan 1
Gazimestan

Apparently, this is a curse:

Gazimestan curse
Gazimestan

After I finished visiting the monument, I collected my passport, walked back down the desolate road, crossed the highway, and took a kombi back into the city center. In retrospect, I should have sprung the money for a cab or taken someone else along with me. [Total round trip from Pristina: 1 Euro]

The kombi let me off right in front of the Bill Clinton statue, something I pass every time I come to Pristina. My next clue: DONE!

Bill Clinton statue
I felt like such a tourist taking this photo …

I decided to go to the next furthest-flung clue, which was Germia Park. Lots of volunteers I had talked to had been there before, but I never had. (Not much of a park enthusiast, I guess.) I had heard that the pool is absolutely enormous. It is! Although, it was empty and blocked off this time of year.

Big pool Germia Park Pristina Kosovo
Really, really big pool
Germia Park
Me with the pool

[Total round trip from Pristina: 80 cents]

The bus back into the city center dropped me off very close to my next clue, the Great Hamam. I had a vague idea of where it was. I even had a map I had gotten from my Peace Corps safety and security manager. I still couldn’t find it. I asked four different people on the street for directions. Finally, I asked an older gentleman sitting on a bench, and he pointed at an ugly building across the street.

It was a good thing this notice was posted to the door. Otherwise, I would have doubted I was in the right place.

Grand Hamam
Heritage site

I was really disappointed by this clue. I thought the Grand Hamam would be beautiful. But no, it’s an ugly, dirty, white cinderblock building. (There is a really beautiful mosque next door.)

Grand Hamam Pristia Kosovo
Me in front of the Grand Hamam

After stopping for a refreshment at Trosha, my new favorite bakery in Pristina, I headed off to finish my scavenger hunt. I already knew where my last two clues were.

This is Zahir Pajaziti, the first commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Zahir Pajaziti

There was a boy around age 10 who was lingering near the statue. I gestured for him to move so I could take the above photo. Then the boy offered to take a photo of me with the statue. Aww. It was a reminder to me to be less of a jerk when I’m in public.

Zahir Pajaziti 2

My last destination was the National Library. I’ve defended this building on my blog before … I don’t think it’s ugly! It’s unusual and, as my parents pointed out when they visited Kosovo, in need of some repairs. But still, I like it! (Also, there are way uglier buildings in Pristina. See: any cinderblock apartment building)

National Library Pristina Kosovo
Me at the National Library

This turned out to be a fun day. I got to see new places in Kosovo (and I also realized I don’t have many pictures of myself at touristy places here). Thanks for the photo challenge, Whitney! (Sorry it took me a year to do it.)

Silver Filigree Jewelry from Kosovo

There are a number of artisans in Kosovo who are known for making silver filigree jewelry. After seeing several members of my cohort sporting beautiful, handcrafted rings, I decided it was time to buy one for myself.

wearing ring
Silver filigree ring from Kosovo
ring front
Silver filigree ring from Kosovo
ring gift wrapped
Silver filigree ring from Kosovo
ring side
Silver filigree ring from Kosovo

My ring comes from Peja, though if you are interested in learning about how the history of this type of jewelry in Kosovo, Balkan Insight recently wrote an article about artisans in Prizren.

I hope I make a habit of wearing this … I am not usually a ring-wearer. However, this was so pretty I had to get it!

Holiday Gift Guide: Kosovo

Let’s say you’re a person living in Kosovo, and you don’t know what to get your friends and family this year. Or, let’s say you’re a person in another part of the world, and you have a friend/family member in Kosovo and you want to ask them for a gift but you don’t know something good to ask for. Look no further. Here is a holiday gift guide for you!

During the holiday season, Nene Teresa Boulevard in Pristina turns into a Christmas mart. In addition to mulled wine, you can also find cute gifts. I bought several of these magnets last year and mailed them home to my family. Normally, I don’t mail stuff other than postcards to the U.S., because that can get expensive and I am a poor Peace Corps volunteer. However, magnets only cost a few Euro to send.

kosovo magnet 3
Traditional male clothing
kosovo magnet 2
Traditional female clothing
kosovo magnet 1
Rugova canyon

These beaded necklaces are popular in Kosovo. Many local women make them. They cost around 5 Euro each. Someone in my cohort has a host sister who makes them, and I’ve ordered a number for my friends and family.

beaded necklace kosovo 1
Single color
beaded necklace kosovo 2
Multi-color

Postcards are a cheap, fun way to send a holiday greeting. There is a big selection at the Pristina Christmas mart.

kosovo-postcard
Pristina postcard

If you really, really like someone, you could buy them a handmade rug. I bought one for myself. 🙂

Albanian handmade wool rug
GORGEOUS!

If you know someone musical, consider introducing them to the çifteli, a traditional stringed instrument.

çifteli (2-stringed instrument)

Last, a plis (men’s traditional woolen cap) could be a fun gift for the more adventurous gentleman in your life. 🙂

man-wearing-plis
plis

Cathedral of Saint Mother Teresa in Pristina, Kosovo

During my first visit to Pristina, my language training group got to go to the top of Cathedral of Saint Mother Teresa to enjoy a great view of the city. The cathedral was under construction at the time. Now, it is finished. I visited again with some friends to see the new interior.

wall cathedral of saint mother teresa
Rainbows and stained glass
door cathedral of saint mother teresa
I love this door.
stained glass cathedral of saint mother teresa
The church has several panels depicting Mother Teresa’s life.
pristina kosovo church 2
Eagle pew
pristina kosovo church 12
Mother Teresa
pristina kosovo church 8
Stained glass + beams
pristina kosovo church 14
Ceiling
pristina kosovo church 10
Pretty stained glass

According to the CIA World Factbook, 2.2% of Kosovars are Roman Catholic. The country is primarily Islamic (95.6%).

I live in a Catholic village. You can see photos I took of my local church here.

Batlava Lake, Kosovo

Living in Kosovo is the first time I have ever been landlocked. The town where I grew up shares a border river with Canada. When I lived in Boston for two years, I would sometimes spend my lunch break at the harbor. And my last apartment in Chicago (which I rented for 4.5 years) had a view of Lake Michigan from every window.

When I was home last month, my family and I went to a local arts and crafts fair along the water. As we watched a giant freighter float down the river, my Dad asked, “Are there boats like that in Kosovo?” And I said, “We don’t have water in Kosovo. It’s all mountains.”

Well, that’s not entirely true. Kosovo is mountainous and shares land borders with four other countries (Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro). However, it does have a few lakes. On Friday, my friend Chester and I visited Batlava Lake, a man-made lake.

When we arrived, we walked halfway around the lake, and decided to rent a paddleboat. (Cost: 5 Euro for one hour.)

When we were done paddling, we walked halfway back around the lake and had lunch at a restaurant on the water.

Batlava Lake was clean and quiet. I was surprised more people weren’t there. It was a nice little summer day trip. 🙂

Batlava Lake sign
Walking to the lake
Batlava Lake
Ridiculously beautiful view
Batlava Lake
The beach
B Lake
Representing America
Batlava Lake 6
Boat rental … We opted for a paddle boat.
Batlava Lake 9
On the water
Batlava Lake 7
Tall trees
Kosovo
Moo

If you plan to visit Batlava Lake, here is something to note: You don’t catch the bus at the main bus station in Pristina. Instead, you catch the bus at a stop near here:

take the bus to lake batlava kosovo

The cost is 1.70 Euro each way (it is about a 45-minute trip from Pristina to the lake).

Batlava Lake
So pretty