A holiday in Kosovo?

Day 1|

Prishtina City Tour The first Friday of that hot August 2018, I met Gabriela and Ruth at the “Adem Jashari” Airport the moment they appeared one after another at the gate. They were carrying heavy luggage full of nuts for the journey they have planned six months ago and were looking forward. They had a nice flight full with diaspora Kosovars. After I introduced myself, we drove to the Hotel Gračanica and checked in. A nice hotel, built as an attempt of a Swiss guy to bring together different ethnic groups living in Kosovo. Soon after, we drove further to Prishtina for a city tour. We started at the Youth and Sports Palace, ex Boro and Ramiz palace named after an Albanian and a Serb who together fought and lost their life in the World War II, NEWBORN monument a typographic sculpture unveiled on 17 February 2008, the day that Kosovo declared its independence, Bill Clinton Statue/square, Hillary boutique, the city Cathedral, Mother Theresa square and ended eating a healthy food at Anise. After the lunch we drove back to the hotel and agreed to start the journey tomorrow from 10:00. All this wouldn’t happen if Uta had not a sudden flight to USA and hadn’t she asked me to experience again the Peaks of Balkans with Ruth whom she met in Nepal and her friend Gabriela.

Day 2|

Prishtinë – Reka e Allages (1306m) Radavci – The Spring and The Sleeping Beauty Cave. Driver picked me up and drove to Gračanica. Gabriela and Ruth had a good sleep. Eager to start the journey in the mountains we drove right away to Peja. On the way there, the driver has suggested to visit Radavci – the spring of the river “Drini i Bardhë” which together with “Drini i Zi” form the longest Albanian river Drini (335 km) that meets the Adriatic Sea. Once there, you cannot leave without visiting the Sleeping Beauty Cave. The guide there was great and he did a little tour showing and explaining in details the cave features.

Peja – A city to live in One of the best cities to live in Kosovo, free of air pollution and plenty of pure water from surroundings mountains. After we visited the old part with many small jewelry stores and the local food market place where I got stung by a bee, we had a refreshing ice cream cafe at the main square. Ruth was so kind to give me a pain relief liquid for my stung leg. Patriarchate of Peja On our way to Reka e Allages we stopped again for a visit at the Patriarchate of Peja which has been inscribed upon the World Heritage List of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage in 2006. The polite nuns were on their usual afternoon walk as we tried to figure out the history of the building. We were impressed with the nature and calmness inside the Patriarchate. We could feel that we are in the house of God.

Reka e Allges – Fetija, Mustafa and 12 Germans At the afternoon we headed to Reka e Allages – the starting point of the Peaks of Balkans adventure from Kosovo. The host Mustafa and Fetija were expecting us. Beside us there were a group of 12 Germans on the same adventure. We shared the same dining table and as their guide initiated a self-introduction tour, we had to introduce ourselves as well. The table was full of delicious traditional food. After the tomorrow track briefing from the Albanian guide we were allowed to eat :). After the dinner we went straight the bedroom that we shared with two Albanians guides.

Day 3|

Reka e Allages – Hajla – Drelaj (1130 m).Hajla Peak (2403m) The very first day of hiking adventure. After the breakfast and a lunch pack we have rushed out and start the hiking before the 12 Germans finish their breakfast and keep the whole Halja peak “only” for us. As soon as I started walking everything was in tune. From Mustafa and Fetije’s house the first few hundred meters are steep. Than the beautiful valley starts to reveal itself and one can see the Hajla peak. Up to the top of the range I choose to hike with a moderate pace. Both did well. It was a proof that they are in good shape, we form a good team, in tune, and we can overcome any obstacle of length or altitude during the hiking trip. At the ridge we have enjoyed the view of surrounding mountains and we could see Rozhaje town in neighboring Montenegro. On the way to the top we found the rare flower Silver Star (Das Alpen Edelweiss – Leontopodium alpinum). Soon after we have climbed the top, the 12 Germans started to arrive and we decided to descend towards Drelaj hoping for a nice dinner. On the way to Drelaj we meet a nice wholehearted family from Kosovo living in diaspora who spoke German, Swiss German and French. They were a little bit surprised to meet two Swiss women in Drelaj. After we met the host Ilir, a couple from Denmark entered the garden asking to stay overnight at Iliri’s house. They’ve decided few days ago to do Peaks of Balkans, grabbed the Peaks of Balkans book and hurled to Kosovo. They have lost the track few times but asking the locals they eventually found the way to Ilir’s guest house. They were young, beautiful and full of life! The boy with green eyes looked very much like Dorian Grey. We have enjoyed their company during that night and next day in Babino Polje.

Day 4|

Kuqishte – Babino Polje (MNT).  Drelaj Fatos was again precise and early in Drelaj. He was assigned to drop us in Kuçishte and carry our bags to Babino Polje so we could enjoy the track with a light backpack. The route we did on the second hiking day started at Kuçishte (1450 m) – Liqeni i Kuçishtes (1860 m) – Jelenak Pass (2272 m) – Zavoj/Ravno Brdo Pass (2178 m) ending in Babino Polje (1492 m) in Montenegro. Gabriela and Ruth (and me) have enjoyed the second day watching flowers and eating blueberries. Babino Polje At the guest house Woodland, we met a lovely family, from Kosovo and Montenegro, living in Babino Polje but also in Munich in Germany. The host could really good pronounce and in a funny way the word Superrr like in Switzerland whenever Gabriela or Ruth said something nice. His daughter was playing with a rabbit while his wife Anke was preparing a great dinner for us. We ate wild mushrooms and fish. We spent a great evening with Adrian who told us stories why Albanians produce and drink Raki, his restaurant in Munich and so on. The Denmark couple found the guest house and we spent that evening again together.

Day 5|

Vuthaj – Theth (ALB). Vuthaj (1022m) – Qafa e Pejës (1707m) – Theth (728m) After a nice breakfast with a homemade blueberry’s marmalade, Adrian’s uncle drove us from Babino Polje to Vuthaj for an hour and a half. His impaired ear was the reason why he talked so loudly while driving. Eventually we all got used. With an old Opel we couldn’t reach the starting place of the third hiking day, the lake Ropojane, where a young man and a horse were waiting for us. Few hundred meters we had to stop and if it weren’t for this nice guy from Vuthaj who happen to come across the road and willing to transport our heavy bags with his own car, we would possibly get a bit unsatisfied with Adrian and his uncle. Leka and Luli – Leka had to wake up at 4 am just to wait for us at the Ropojane Lake. A young Albanian transporting the hiking bags on the Peaks of Balkans trails. After we were sure that he was the one contracted to transport our bags we started the third and I believe the most attractive track of the Peaks of Balkans. Leka had e nice horse called Luli. Whenever he stopped he told him “ecë Luli ecë”. The phrase we have used in upcoming days whenever we got a bit tired by the end of our daily hikes :). Maja e Arapit (2217m) – Albanian Matterhorn The third day was the longest hike so far and we had to cross again the border now from Montenegro to Albania. The surrounding mountains are overwhelming, the track passes along the rockiest part of the Bjeshkёt e Nemuna mountains. Almost the entire hike is surrounded by steep mountains with stunning views. At the Qafa e Pejës (1707m) if one turns right the track to leads to the Maja e Arapit (2217m) that looks a lot like the Matterhorn. Though the longest track so far, Gabriela and Ruth were very fit and today we ate a lot of various sorts of plumps. We didn’t do Maja e Arapit. We left it for another time. We slept at Leka’s house on purple bed and had dinner at Pavlin’s guest house.

Day 6|

Theth – Syri i Kaltërt – Theth. The Rest Day – Der Ruhetag We decided to stay at Leka’s house and not move to Pavlin’s guest house, but to eat there. Pavlin was cool and agreed right away with our suggestion (request). It was supposed to be a rest day after three hikes in a row. However, due to a distant attraction called Syri i Kaltërt the fourth hike was a long and a hot one. Kulla Right after the breakfast we visited a house called “Kulla” where in the last century and before, people that committed a homicide have been sheltered until a decision on their fate has been brought by a group of people called wise old men. We enjoyed the description of the “Kanuni i Lek Dugagjinit” by the local guide. The renowned Albanian writer Ismail Kadare describes those times and Kanun in his book “Broken April” in which “a 26-year-old Albanian man living on the high plateau is forced to commit a murder under the laws of the Kanun to avenge his brother. As a result of this killing, his own death is sealed; he is to be killed by a member of the opposing family”. In 2001 a movie adaptation of Broken April, called Behind the Sun, was filmed in Brazil. Waterfall and Canyon We hiked further to a high waterfall where we enjoyed the fresh air coming from the waterfall. Further down we walked through a tiny and narrow bridge at the Grunasi Canyon to continue on the dusty road where otherwise one could enjoy the view of the river Thethi and Grynasi Canyon. Nevertheless, it was not a good decision to walk on that road since several van driving fast have spoiled our Ruhetag. Eventually, we reached a small tiny mill that unfortunately was empty at that time of the day.

Vaskat The famous place where everyone stops and many take a bath, swim or just refresh is at Vaskat. Several bathtubs and turquoise color of the water make Vaskat one of the most attractive places in Theth. On the return from Syri i Kaltërt we took about two hours to refresh and enjoy the sun together with a group of mixed tourists. They took some interesting photos in the midst of bathtubs. Syri i Kaltërt It was hot and we were tired from the dusty road, but we decided to visit Syri i Kaltërt about 2 km away from Vaskat. Perhaps it was not the best decision. But the moment we arrived and sprung in the exceptionally cold water our struggle on that summer hot day was paid off. Dinner at Pavlin After the bath at Vaskat we took another track vis-a-vis dusty road and enjoyed evening walk and we repeated few times “ecë Luli ecë” phrase. Before we’ve arrived at the Leka’s house Gabriela and Ruth made a triumph walk on the two famous rusted tubes above the river Thethi. After the bath we enjoyed the dinner with a glass of white wine at Pavlins but we didn’t repeat the short evening walk from previous night. Though it was a long and a hot summer day, we enjoyed it totally!

Day 7|

Theth – Valbonë. Valbona We said goodbye and thanked Luke for her hospitality. After the breakfast at Pavlin we started the fifth hike now from Theth to Valbona Valley. By now we were fit and a great team enjoying Peaks of Balkans fully. I was amazed with Gabriela and Ruth culture of hiking. They never complained or asked to stop. They just followed my steps. Sometimes to closely :). Valbona is characterized by its very remote areas which have a large preserved ecosystem all of which is primarily untouched with pristine quality. This vast pristine ecosystem is the centerpiece of what has been referred to as the Albanian Miracle of the Alps, Albanian Perl or as I am used to say Perl of Balkans. We reached Qafa e Valbonës and climbed further to Valbona Peak. Fantastic 360° view of surrounding Albanian Alps. Even though a polish group of young people wanted to keep the Valbona peak for itself we managed to take some great pictures. Simoni Bar On the way down, we stopped at Simone bar where we met this German couple hiking the Peaks of Balkans on their own. The German guy reminded us on someone, an actor, or musician I couldn’t really tell. We had our usually lunch pack with cheese, tomato, cucumber and paprika and Turkish cafe from Simone. Gabriela and Ruth have so fairly shared the lunch pack. Kola’s Guest House After eating again many different kinds of plumps, we arrived at the Kola guest house full of tourist. There was no place for me and Ruth and Gabriela had to share e tiny room in which Ruth had a good sleep. The food was traditional and very good. The small chat with the guest house’s women was interesting to Gabriela and Ruth. The garden was marvelous with an awesome view.

Day 8|

Valbonë – Çerrem. Zla Kollata (2534m) After a nice and quiet breakfast, on the sixth hiking day we discussed the possibility to climb Zla Kollata the highest mountain of Montenegro. I knew it will be difficult to reach the peak since through Qafa e Preslopit the climbing is steep most of the track and it will take us more than three hours of moderate hike to get to Qafa e Preslopit. When we arrived at Qafa e Preslopit the view was gorgeous but we decided to leave the peak for another time. Than we climbed down to the ice-cold cave and took few pictures. Ruth throw some balls on us when we encountered snow on the way towards the border with Montenegro. She was happy. We crossed the border twice from Albania to Montenegro and back to Albania. There were no border guards, only the remainings of a high border stone I guess number 23 of the ex-Republic of Yugoslavia. Çerrem A small and cute village in Tropoja, Kukës region in north. We arrived relatively late since we took a nap at the border with Montenegro. There were almost the same hikers we met on other tracks. The German couple, the Irish couple, their guide Kushtrim and us. We met there another couple but this time a local man from Çerret with a German girl. They were planning and preparing for a wedding. We could chat with them and literally see their dreams in motion. The food was bio, traditional, delicious and plenty of it.

Day 9|

Çerrem-Dobërdol. Dobërdol The seventh day of hiking was for the most of it part a beautiful one until afternoon when it started lightning and thunderbolt. The German couple was not anymore sure of the track and asked us for help. Together we almost run the last part of the track fearing from lightning and heavy rain. Luckily nothing happened and we reached the Bashkimi’s guest house safe. However, on the other part of the mountain it has rained and hailed and unfortunately it took the life of a calf. On the way to Bashkimi’s house we saw a drowned horse as well. Dinner We spent the dinner with the Irish couple, German couple, Nori the horseman and Kushtrim. Tomorrow was Julie’s birthday and Kushtrim had a surprise for her. She was a bit saddened since without mountaineering experience she hurled into Peaks of Balkans, a surprise of her boyfriend. But we took care of creating a good atmosphere and she started laughing again. Ruth found the hut the best one from all others we had so far. Tomorrow was the eighth and the last hiking day. The hiking adventure was almost over.

Day 10|

Dobërdol-Gjeravicë-Gropat e Erenikut. Gjeravica Peak (2656m) – The highest mountain of Kosovo The day was beautiful. Last night we decided to start earlier than usual in order to catch the good weather without loud at the peak. Today we were heading towards the highest peak of Dinarica Alps in Kosovo. I was happy that we started early and our chances were pretty good to be at the top before any storm or cloud would ruin our last hiking day. Gabriela and Ruth slept well in that cute classic and simple hut. The Peak and the Surprise The Scenery was spectacular, we were enjoying our last hiking day. After somewhat more than three hours we reached the Gjeravica peak free of clouds. Kushtrim suprise was a bottle of Champaign. He opened it and we all celebrated Julie’s birthday and our last day on the Peaks of Balkans adventure. I found the geocache left in 2012 by my friend George. I was overwhelmed. Gabriela reached Gjeravica that reminded on her childhood when she often went mountaineering and reached the top, and Ruth was happy to finally reach a peak “free of clouds”. The happy group Though we took our swimming suit for the highest lake in Balkan, Liqeni i Gjeravices, it was a bit cold to swim so we rather joined a group of happy people whom I happen to know. They invited us and offered us burek, olive, paprika, tomato and so many more. After the lunch we headed towards Gropat e Erenikut where we saw two beautiful horses. We couldn’t stop ourselves from eating blueberries again.

Day 11|

Gropat e Erenikut – Gračanica. Gjeravica Hotel Me and Ruth woke up early. Soon after das Phlegma came down and we decided to do Yoga. It was a beautiful sunny day. Even without mats we managed to do some good postures and start the day fresh. In meantime the driver arrived and we drove for an hour and a half to Junik. Teqja E Madhe Amë E Tarikatit Alijjei – Halvetije Xhaferije While we were approaching Junik I suddenly remembered that last year I visited a beautiful house of God “Teqja e Madhe” and asked the driver to turn left and drop us there. Gabriela and Ruth were surprised for this out of itinerary visit. But since I’ve suggested them to read 40 Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, I thought it will be good for them to have at least a slight feeling of how the premises have looked like eight hundred years ago while reading the book. Since the cicerones were on the break, I slowly opened the door and did a quick tour. They were both fascinated with the beauty of the Teqe inside and outside. The Deqani Monastery After Teqe we drove to the Deqani Monastery and we again enjoyed the quietness of the house of God. Same as Patriarchy of Peja, Deqani, the Monastery was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2004. The difference is that here live and pray Monks. The Dinner and Farewell After the visit at Monastery we drove to Gračanica. We stopped for a lunch break at Nora hotel. The food was not as tasteful as in mountains. After Gabriela and Ruth checked in at hotel Gračanica, we drove to Prishtina where they wanted to buy some presents. At the evening we met once again to recapture the whole adventure and kind of sort out our emotions. I had the feeling that it was a journey for all of us, we learned from each other culture and life, and that in search for happiness we sometimes encounter people of incredible character who leave in us impressions for the rest of our lives.

This Peaks of Balkans adventure was more than just a hike in Albanian wild alps. We had fun, we laughed a lot, we ate a lot of good traditional bio food, and we met many people that gave us smiles that we will stay forever within us. Through Gabriela and Ruth, I got to know more closely the Swiss culture. They were very correct, not a single complaint, always ready to help or share the same amount of food :), they took my comments and suggestions easily and I was fortunate to share this adventure with both of them.

Writen by our guide: Arben Lila