Prizren Stories and Tips

Prizren - The Jewel of Kosovo Pt II

Grazing Cows in Prizren Centre Photo, Prizren, Kosovo

We walked round to the "Kaderi the Kurila Tekke" (a 'tekke' being the Albanian word for the place where members of the Sufi order meet) but really wished we'd visited on a Friday afternoon as this is the only day where there is a public 'ziker' - better known to most people as the ceremony of the 'whirling dervishes', the name given to the devotional dance performed by Sufis (visitors to Istanbul may have attended a ziker). There are three tekkes in Prizren and like the others, this one has a small exhibition in which the traditional robes and ceremonial weapons are displayed.

Passing through an old residential district, we started to make our way to the "kale" or fortress, just a ruin these days but worth the hike (the path climbs a steep 500metres) as you will be rewarded with tremendous views over the town in one direction and over the Pashtrik mountain, and beyond it Albania, in the other. Sadly on the way up to the ruins you have to pass a number of ruined houses that formerly belonged to Serbs who were driven out of the city in 1999 when Albanians returned after the 1998/9 war; also on the way up, a handsome Orthodox church which looked to be in the process of restoration, inaccessible due to some serious metal fencing and many hefty padlocks.

On a hot September day we plodded up the stone steps, pausing now and then to watch tiny lizards basking in the sun, and to take in the constantly changing view. At the top we were grateful for a tap which had been installed for the workmen who were busying bolstering the crumbling fortifications. Without the advantage of a local historian a hike to the summit is really just about the views. There are plenty of hidden corners to explore but I would advise caution as many of them have been utilised as public conveniences, perhaps by walkers, perhaps by courting couples. It's though that there has been a fortress of in some form on this location since the 6th century. The heyday of the fortress was the Ottoman period when a whole town existed within its walls and military used the site as recently as 1912; sadly, today there is only rubble and a few minor stone walls.
It's perfectly possible to get a flavour of Prizren in a day, or even a half day if you don't stop at any museums, but there are a number of interesting sites outside of the city that I would aim to see if I visited again (fairly likely when I go to Macedonia as the Macedonian capital, Skopje is just an hour away). Cafe culture is an important part of Prizren life so you should leave enough time to sample the delights of at least a couple. While its possible to enjoy a beer, and many of the cafes that line the riverbank become very lively after dark, you may feel self conscious if you do because almost everyone else is drinking coffee; the staff won't bat an eye if you order a Peja (the main beer of Kosovo) but you'll likely notice you're the only one drinking beer (contrast that with neighbouring Serbia where a beer is de rigueur at any time of the day or night).

If you do decide to spend longer in Prizren (and after any time in soulless Prishtina I would expect that many backpackers at least would find Prizren a lazy, laidback delight) there is a limited range of accommodation available in the centre but more options if you are prepared to stay slightly out of town where there are many brand new hotels where interior designers have excelled themselves in putting together the most lavish displays of kitsch. There are plenty of places in Prizren to eat out but the majority serve local cuisine, unlike those in Prishtina which offer a wider range of international cuisines. Vegetarians will not starve but will find their options more limited as this is meat country and the Albanian 'qebaptore' (literally a place serving kebabs) are ubiquitous. In summer fish eaters should head to "Mullini i Pintollit", a reconstructed watermill in the quaint Marash district where they serve excellent trout. If you're only staying a short time in Prizren you should make a point of sampling one of the local sweet delicacies. You may well be familiar with baklava which is also found in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, but there are other local sweets such as 'ekler' (I'm guessing the name is derived from 'eclair') which are stuffed with rich vanilla cream, and 'revani' which is a delicious moist cake made using sugar water. The "Royal Arabian" which overlooks the river is my pick of the pastry shops.

If you like Ottoman towns (and I love them!) and happen to be in Kosovo, then you must make time to see Prizren. It would be a terrible shame to visit Kosovo and only see Prishtina, as is the case for many business people (and for those people I would advise extending your stay in order to see somewhere considerably more "Kosovan" and scenic). There may not be a heck of a lot in terms of "attractions" but the pace of life and the charming buildings make Prizren a welcome change from Prishtina. One of my biggest thrills was to see elderly men wearing the "plis", a traditional hat - it's made only of white felt and is a slightly conical (bit with a rounded peak) brimless hat - that you'll only see being worn in Albania and Kosovo. If you ask someone who speaks English they'll direct you to one of a couple of small workshops where these hats are still handmade today. The plis used to be known as the "liberty hat" because those Albanians who wore it refused to be subjugated in slavery and seeing people wearing them still today is a reminder of the struggle for Kosovan independence. Prishtina may be the gleaming international face of Kosovo but to see what the country is really like you do need to see somewhere like Prizren.

Granted it's not the easiest place to get to but a trip to Prizren is essential for anyone spending time in this part of the Balkans.

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