Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cultural excursions

Sadly, my first interview which was supposed to be today (perfect, with one day to get oriented in Pristina before diving in) was postponed to Thursday, so I now have extra time. The result of that, however, I got to accompany my new American friend to the Dečani Monastery, which is about a 1 1/2 - 2 hour drive from Pristina. As an added bonus, it was beautiful, warm and sunny there, unlike Pristina which seems to have perpetual thunder storms.

The Dečani Monastery was constructed in 1327-35, with the frescos completed in 1350. While there were some additional icons added a couple centuries later, the original work is all still visible, remarkably well preserved, and has never been restored. It’s the real deal. The Monastery is part of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The stone building itself is built in a Western style – the monk there told us that it was actually commissioned from a Catholic architect. But the inside frescos (covering the walls floor to ceiling as well as the ceiling and cupola) and mainly in the Byzantine style, with artists imported from Constantinople to work on it, but also borrowing from Romanesque influences. Truly the meeting of Eastern and Western Christianity of the time. The guide book said that that this is the place to go in Kosovo if you only have one day in the country, and it was certainly well worth a visit once here. The extent and detail of the frescos and the way they are so well preserved in the original space is really amazing to see. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site considered endangered, along with 3 other UNESCO sites in Kosovo – which are all medieval Serbian churches. Despite the fact that it is protected by KFOR soldiers because of real threat (there have been past attacks on it), it was very peaceful, there were several other visitors, and the monks were very gracious and welcoming.

Tonight, after a bit of wind-down time, we met back up for dinner at a place recommended by both my guidebook (the only guidebook to Kosovo that exists, at least in English), and a friend who has spent time here previously. We explored in the afternoon to make sure we could find the place since Pristina can be difficult to navigate, what with curving streets and no signs. Good thing we did, because the place was super tricky to find. I would’ve given up if I were on my own, and still would’ve if it hadn’t been recommended by a friend. But it was worth hunting for, cause it was great. It serves Albanian food and attracts both an international and local crowd (a plus, cause you know its good, but they speak English and understand vegetarian). I was a little worried since they have no written menu, you just have to know, or ask, or have the waiter bring you stuff. But it seemed worth a try given the double recommendation. Anyways, it was lovely. They served a warm traditional bread (sort of like pita, but different) with cheese spreads, and a very nice salad to start. Then you get a main dish (the waiter picked for us, vegetarian one for me, and meat for companion). All the main dishes are baked in clay dishes. The veggie dish was simple -- a veggie medley cooked to perfection over a long time and topped with some goat cheese. And of course a macchiato for dessert – the favorite coffee in Kosovo. No room left for baklava with it, which is also traditional. All in all, a very good, but exhausting day.

1 comment:

Gersh said...

Of course they're endangered...the Kosovars want to destroy any link that the Serbians would be able to claim to the land. Remind you of anyone?