Kotor Old Town

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Kotor Old Town

Wandering Kotor, one can find many remnants of the Bay’s Venetian past. Kotor owes much of its current look to nearly 400 years to Venetian rule. Then, the town was known as Cattaro.

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Back alley ways that just scream “Venetian Influence!!!!!” to me.

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Mary found a young boy on the street selling sea shells for 1 euro a piece. She first asked if he spoke English and he responded “Yes, a little.” Turns out he spoke English really well! Mary bought two souvenirs from him.

Waking up to the Bay of Kotor

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Waking up to the Bay of Kotor

This is Paradise, and I’m so fortunate that I get to share it with these two wonderful people. Check out the breathtaking views from our apartment in Muo, an old fisherman’s village in the Bay of Kotor, not far from the Kotor old town.

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A lovely summer lunch on the balcony. Mary made a delicious salad with fresh greens from the farmer’s market in Kotor.

The Austrians Came and Went

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The Austrians Came and Went

For a very brief period in 1689 the Austrians took control of Kosovo. During this time, Austria backed support with the Serbs and a small number of Albanians in the Great Turkish War of 1683-1699 in an attempt to reclaim the Balkan land taken by the Ottoman empire.

As the story goes, In October 1689 a small Habsburg force under Margrave Ludwig of Baden breached the Ottoman Empire and reached as far as Kosovo. This bridge that I’m standing in front of is the only remnant of the Austrians in Kosovo. They commissioned the construction of this Austrian bridge in Rugova gorge and then left! Their war success in Kosovo was cut short because the Ottomans made a massive counter attack that following summer, eventually driving the Austrians back into Serbia and Austria. Thanks for the awesome bridge Austria!

Turkish Coffee

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Turkish Coffee

The first time I had Turkish coffee it was the first week of school and the teachers were trying to make me feel at home. There was a pause between classes and they offered me a Turkish coffee. Or course, I said “sure.” I took a sip and almost immediately I wanted to throw the rest away. Turkish coffee is like sludge or drinking liquid mud that has a touch of sugar in it. Forgive me for these harsh words, but this is truthfully how I felt.

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Albanians love their Turkish coffee and they make it especially when receiving guests. If you refuse a coffee, the superstition is that your sons and daughters won’t get married. If you accept a coffee and it’s so full that it spills over the sides, the superstition is that you will be the recipient of good luck in the days following! So obviously, drinking Turkish coffee is important in this culture.

In the weeks and months after the incident that left a scar on my tastebuds, I refused any offer for Turkish coffee. Everyday at the filigree studio, the artisans would offer me a cup, but I always refused. If they gave me a cup anyways, I wouldn’t drink it. I saw their faces slump and frown every time I refused Turkish coffee because to them, I’m refusing their hospitality. Albanians know how to receive guests with Turkish coffee, and they didn’t know how else to make me feel comfortable.

So a couple months into my Fulbright experience, I just gave in. Fine, I’ll drink the sludge if it makes you happy. And as it turns out, I’ve gotten used to Turkish coffee. It’s not as bad as I thought. Well, it’s not “ideal” let’s put it that way. It’s strong and super caffeinated, but sweet at the same time. At school one day Adelina, one of the teachers, asked if I wanted a Turkish coffee in an obligatory manner. She was expecting a “no” and asked just to be cordial. But then I said “yes.” Surprised, she turned to look at me and said, “But I thought you didn’t like Turkish coffee?” I responded with, “Ahh, Kadale kadale,” which means slowly slowly in Albanian. She had the biggest smile and gladly made me a Turkish coffee.

A Very Orthodox Easter

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A Very Orthodox Easter

Apologizes, I know Easter was a little while ago. I spent a wonderful 2 days at Decani monastery with my boyfriend, Lorenzo. My friend who is a monk, Francesco, invited us to stay at the dormitories available at the monastery and take part in the religious activities. It was quite the experience. It all started with mass at 11:30pm, which lasted until 3:30am!!! I was exhausted and almost falling asleep in the pew. Francesco jokes with me all the time now that I survived the Orthodox Easter mass, which is supposedly one of the longest masses of the year. I had no idea beforehand.

At the beginning of mass, the entire church was dark and the monks handed all the attendees candles, which we lit one-by-one. Then, we exited the church in a procession and encircled the church three times which chanting and lighting the way with our candles. After the third time, we re-entered the church through the main doors and the interior was magically ablaze with candles dripping from every chandelier, swinging in a circular motion. First it was dark, and then it couldn’t have been brighter. The candle light moved across the medieval frescoes, up to the highest dome, and transmitted this ecstatic energy that Christ had risen (Cristos Voscrese). Truly, he was resurrected (Vaistinu Voscrese). I won’t forget that magical moment.

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Once mass finished at 3:30am, the entire congregation moved to the refectory where a feast of eggs, pie, pita, pastries, and sweets awaited us…..all the good things that the monks were abstaining from during lent. Large baskets of dyed red eggs adorned each table. A Serbian woman next to me explained that they play a little game with the red eggs: two people each take an egg. While one holds their egg firmly with the top exposed, the other uses their egg to hit and try to break partner 1’s egg. Both partners take turns hitting the others’ egg until one of them breaks. The winner gets to keep the broken egg and must eat all of the eggs they “win.” Needless to say, I had a really strong egg. I ate a lot of eggs that night and felt a little sick afterwards. Once the egg breaks you say “Christ has risen! Cristos Voscrese!”

After the feast, Francesco gave Lorenzo and I some special eggs that he had decorated himself. This was a very special present. He said that I mustn’t eat them. I should take them home with me because the Orthodox believe the eggs to be angels that protect you. My favorite egg is the one inscribed “X.B.” because those are the Cyrillic letters for “Cristos Voscrese.”

Heated Games of UNO

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Heated Games of UNO

A word to the wise: a game of UNO never fails and it doesn’t matter if they’re kids or adults. Before coming to Kosovo, I had no idea how much I was going to play UNO. I usually fill my adult activities with discussion questions, board games, and reading exercises, but the activity that truly never fails is UNO. They absolutely love it. It’s simple for them because all they have to concentrate on are colors, numbers, and the meaning of a couple special cards like “skip” or “reverse.” They also really enjoy the “revenge factor” when they have a “draw 4” card or they catch someone who forgot to say UNO. While many of my adult students are proficient in English, I also find that some of them are at beginning level or are really nervous to speak up and participate. UNO is zero-stress for everyone and fun! When this picture was taken, we had already played UNO for 2 hours straight for the second weekend in a row and I was ready to do something different. But they just wanted to keep playing UNO.

Best Pic of Prizren

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Best Pic of Prizren

Meanwhile, surfing my facebook friends’ pictures of Prizren, I found this gem. At the center is Sinan Pasha mosque, admired in Islamic architecture for its compact quality. Back in the Ottoman days, the steps of this mosque would have led down to a Hamam (Turkish bath) located on the banks of the river. But in the flurry of building projects brought on by the Ottoman takeover of the Balkans, the Turks actually decided to restructure the city and move the walls of river closer to the mosque. Therefore, no more Turkish Hamam. Try to imagine it where the river is now. On another note, take notice of the mosque’s beautiful and compact porch. The Serbs dismantled this part of the structure during the war because they believe the stones used to build the mosque were recycled and taken from the abandoned monastery outside of Prizren in the Zupa Valley. In fact, I have visited this barely functioning monastery and all that remains is a 2-foot tall outline of the church foundations. Things can get pretty “sticky” when one ethnic group claims that the other ethnic group destroyed their religious monument to build another religious monument.