I've never felt so small before

Trip Start Nov 15, 2005
Trip End Aug 15, 2008

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Flag of International  , Komuna e Pejës,
Thursday, August 3, 2006

Having spent the past couple of evenings talking with the others staying in the guest house, we got together and took a taxi out to Peja and Decani monastery. In principle, this sounded like a good idea. Between four of us, it wasn't too expensive (particuarly as one of our number was considerably better off and offered to cover the greater share of the cost), and was much more convenient than trying to negotiate the buses. It also meant that I wouldn't have to listen to any more of that godawful music.

The problem with getting the taxi lay in with whom I got the taxi. We all got on fine, and had a very good day for the most part. They were interesting people - Martyn and Henrik were Dutch, out on a research project looking into youth networks (basically interviewing young poeople during the day and getting invited out to parties in the evening), and Cornelius was a German professor researching organised crime in post-conflict areas. I felt rather lazy, just being out there to see the place without doing any sort of research. No, the problem I had was their size. At 6 foot, I was the shortest person by quite a considerable margin. Henrik was somewhere around 6'3, Cornelius and Martyn were both in the region of 6'8. I don't think I've ever felt quite so short. Needless to say, I was relegated to the middle seat of the taxi for the entire day. Not comfortable.

Given Cornelius had organised the entire thing, sorting out the taxi and getting in touch with KFOR to allow us entry to the monasteries, we followed his schedule. This unfortunately didn't include seeing anything of Peja itself, so I can't really comment on anything other than it's location, which is stunning. Travelling across plains and low hills all the way from Prishtina, Peja sits right at the foot of the mountains that form the border with Montenegro. These are incredibly abrupt - one moment the ground is flat, within a couple of kilometers you're about 1.5 kilometers up in the air. The monastery we visited there was right on the edge of town, just as the mountains are beginning to rise.

After a worrying couple of minutes when it seemed as if the KFOR soldiers guarding the place were unlikely to grant us entry, we entered one of the more peaceful places I have seen in this area, an odd contrast to all around it. Armed guards seemed rediculously out of place there, but I doubt the monastery would last long were they not. Albanian resentment towards anything Serb, and especially the orthodox churches, doesn't seem to have lessened since the last disturbances.

The monastery itself consisted of a church (oddly tucked away into a corner) elaborately decorated with frescoes, some living quarters and a garden tended by a surprisingly unpleasant old lady. After exploring the church some, Martyn and I were sitting outside waiting for Cornelius to finish when she approached us and asked how long we were going to stay for. I thought perhaps she wanted to do something around the table at which we were sitting, but she actually just wanted us to leave the monastery. When we tried to tell her we were waiting for our friend still inside, she got the wrong idea and thought we wanted to go back in, and proceeded to snap: "Why do you want to go in again? You've seen it once already!". Not exactly the attitude one might expect from a supposedly tolerant religious lady. I was quite glad to leave the place, though we did hang around for considerably longer than intended, just to annoy her.

A short ride took us to the monastery at Decani. Not being a religious person, I was unconvinced I really wanted to visit two monasteries in one day, but I changed my mind when we got there. The setting of the monastery was even more stunning than that of Peja, isolated as it was in the forests in the foothills of the mountains a little way to the south. Far more imposing, the church at Decani stood in the middle of an immaculately tended lawn, and was actually a working monastery instead of a restoration site, so there were black robed monks going about their business (whatever that may be) throughout our visit. It must be a difficult life for them, with the situation being as it is. Relying on KFOR for protection, even necessities like grocery shopping turned into a whole day trip over the border into Serbia because their presence would not have been tolerated anywhere in Kosovo. Still, within the monastery grounds all was peace, and the church had some of the most intricate, colouful and beautifully preserved frecoes I have seen. We spent a very pleasant 2 hours there, and it really didn't seem that long.

Cramped in the middle again on the ride back, I don't think I've ever been so glad to see a city as ugly as Prishtina!
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