Weekend Romance in Prison

Where did I leave off last time? I believe it was in the ritzy Classic Hotel in Prizren. It still sounds like all the locals are calling it ‘prison’ every time they mention it. Lola and I were able to find a slightly less expensive hotel a few meters away for the second night in the city. In the morning we checked out but left our bags in the lobby. Our bus out of town was still a few hours away so we walked the city for a bit, eventually making our way up to the Prizren fortress. It was a bit of a climb up the mountain, but I guess if it were easy to access it wouldn’t be much of a fortress. The two of us sat on the wall overlooking the city and talked for about an hour, counting the mosques when the afternoon prayers started, sounding over the traffic below. We explored the rest of the ruins a bit, but the crumbling architecture was not easy for Lola to climb around in a skirt. I was able to assist her through most of the obstacles. Descending back into the city we found lunch at a pizza restaurant, then of course enjoyed yet another round of tri leçe, the delicious milk-based treat that has quickly overpowered my addiction of gelato.

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Buses from Prizren to Prishtinë run about every 15 minutes for most of the day. We boarded one about 1600 and settled in for the scenic trip. Thankfully a week earlier I had the foresight to buy an audio splitter for my mp3 player, and Lola and I were able to listen to music together on the way to and from Prishtinë. Her favorite song to sing along to was “Airplanes” by B.o.B. I can only assume that after listening to it several times together this weekend that it has officially become OUR song. I certainly will never listen to it again without remembering the short time we spent together in Kosovo.

Arriving in the capital city we made our way towards the center, stopping at a restaurant along the way to use their wifi and eat a quick salad. We had booked an airbnb close to the city center, overlooking a big park. This apartment quite literally ruined our short stay in Prishtinë. The bathroom was just atrocious. The toilet didn’t flush, there was no toilet paper anywhere, the shower was just a trickle at best, and the whole place smelled of cat feces. I don’t like leaving negative reviews for places, but this place seemed to have actually gone out of its way to earn it. We attempted to spend as little time there as possible, which wasn’t difficult since we only scheduled about 18 hours in the city anyway.

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The first night we walked the center pedestrian mall for a bit, finding a sweet shop. Lola ordered the strawberry cake with mango juice and I had a slice of oreo cake with ginseng tea. After finishing the desserts we sat in the shop for about an hour talking. We found a bar – Maroon Bar – and had a few drinks while dancing a bit that evening before returning to the hostel. In the morning we quickly packed up our belongings and left, catching a cab to the bus station for our trip back to Skopje. We made it just in time to board the 1100 bus, which turned out to be packed with smelly, loud children. And the overweight lady next to me breast fed her three-year-old at least four times during the trip. Really, REALLY not necessary. For many reasons. Lola and I just listened to music most of the way home.

Yesterday I decided to switch hostels when I got back in Skopje. The first one, Unity, took me an hour to find, only to be fully booked. I broke down and caught a cab to my next choice: Hi Skopje Hostel. The cab drivers here will try their best to rip off tourists. You have to make sure to “remind” them to turn on the meter, otherwise (I quickly discovered) they will charge you whatever they want when you reach your destination. I liked Hi Skopje much better than Kalonis as soon as I arrived. I met Simon, a traveler from New York within five minutes. Turns out he was born in Pennsylvania, but moved to a suburb of D.C. when he was really young. The most coincidental part: he was born in Waynesboro, just a 20-minute drive from where I grew up. It’s such a small world!

I met a girl on Couchsurfing before I left for Kosovo, but didn’t have a chance to hang out yet. Now that I was back in town me scheduled a meet-up for 1900 that evening. I invited Simon, so we walked into the city center together to meet Ivana. She took us for a long walk to a hackerlab outside the city center. This is really a cool concept: all over the world small labs are set up and usually free of charge for people who want to tinker around with electronics, programming, and other related hobbies. One of their rooms really resembled my Electronics and Measurement class at Arizona State University. We met her boyfriend, Silver, and a few other locals working on projects. They are really a fun group, and Simon and I stayed about two hours talking with them. They explained to us about the “colorful revolution.” Apparently there were protests in recent years over corruption within the Skopje 2014 project, but most of the protesters were being jailed. In order to remain anonymous, they started painting (haphazardly) the monuments and statues that were being erected throughout the city. This makes for some interesting artwork.

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Simon left to get some food around 2100, and I left about half an hour later to return to the hostel. I had to get a few errands done before bed. The hostel owner brought me and the several other travelers in the commons some rakia and we shared a few beers before I felt too tired to stay up any longer. The next morning Simon and a girl from Belgium were headed to the bus station on their way to Ohrid, so the three of us split a cab. I was hoping to catch a bus to Matka, since I missed the last few opportunities. Unfortunately I didn’t look at the bus schedule until AFTER I arrived at the station. I was six minutes late for the bus to Matka, and the next didn’t leave for about an hour and forty minutes. I worked out a deal with one of the cab drivers who took me the 17 kilometers to the canyon and just sat in the restaurant for about an hour while I explored and went kayaking. Still, it cost me a whopping €15 – half of what I try to budget daily. The canyon itself was beautiful, and I’ll most likely be back tomorrow, but I’ll explain that shortly.

Back in town I walked around the Old Bazaar for an hour or so, but the heat was excruciating. I returned to the hostel and as soon as I had wifi again I received numerous messages via Whatsapp from friends. Gorjan wanted to meet up for drinks in the evening, Lola wanted to get dinner after work, and a new friend, from Couchsurfing, wanted to hike Matka Canyon tomorrow for a few hours. So I replied in the affirmative to all three. Lola and I met up around 1600 at the Philip II of Macedonia Arena and ate at a bar/restaurant called Twins. Then we walked around the city park for awhile, eventually stopping at a bench where we sat and talked for about two hours. I can’t remember the last time I met someone who I could talk to for so long without getting anxious to change scenery. I really lose long stretches of time when we’re together – sitting on the fortress, eating in numerous restaurants, strolling in a park or downtown city centers. The day I leave this city can only come too soon.

After dinner I walked to the brewery at which I was supposed to meet Gorjan and another Couchsurfer that he brought along. I got there about 2200, but didn’t see him anywhere. I still don’t have phone service, so there was no way to contact him (we had set up a place, but not a time). By this point I was pretty tired, so I decided to call it a night and meet up with him another time.

Tomorrow I am meeting up with another Couchsurfer early in the morning at the Skopje City Mall to catch a bus back to Matka Canyon. I think we are going to spend most of the afternoon there, as I was given a list of items to bring: snacks, water, sunscreen, a hat, and my smile. I don’t ever use hats or sunscreen, and I never go anywhere without my smile, so I’m mostly set. It should be a fun day. I will most likely try to meet up with Lola again in the evening, and maybe Gorjan if I have enough time. Regardless, I feel like my time in Skopje is coming to an end. Besides the brief detour into Kosovo, I have been here for quite some time – more time than most travelers spend in any given city. I guess no matter what happens, we’ll always have the dookie water in the streets of Prishtinë (hilarious inside joke here).

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In case you are interested, this has become my “travel song.” Both this and last year I listened to it quite often, and had to smile every time it played on the mp3 player.

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