I was looking for a nice place to meet up with my good friend Friedrich for a weekend, and after shortly discussing our options on Facebook, we quickly decided to travel to the Patriarchate of Pec in Kosovo (Peć in Serbian, Pejë in Albanian – here, I’m going to stick to the “English” / Wikipedia notation: Patriarchate of Pec). Why Kosovo? It has been a war-ridden region that has just declared independence a couple of years before (March 2013). For all of you who did not know: the region has long suffered from severe inter-ethnic violence between the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbs, which lead to the Kosovo War of 1999 (in a nutshell). Even today, the relations seem to be rather hostile, maintaining a high level of intolerance and separation. And this is where the Patriarchate of Pec comes into play. It has been the center of the Serbian church for many centuries and even today, is still listed as a monument of “exceptional importance” to the Serbs (it’s a UNESCO World Heritage, too). Since the declaration of independence of the Republic of Kosovo in 2008, the Patriarchate of Pec has been under the protection of the KFOR (Kosovo Force, a NATO-led peacekeeping force), as it now officially lies on Kosovar territory and consequently represents a potential for increased hostility – or cooperation between the Kosovar Albanian and Serb population.

We had no idea how to get to the Patriarchate of Pec, but weren’t too concerned about it either – Kosovo covers only a very small area after all. We met up, as usual, at the airport and immediately looked for a cab driver that would take us straight to Pec. Our ride through the countryside was rather short, inexpensive and already very insightful. It was obviously a comparatively poor region, with a lot of debris on the roadside. Also, there had been severe floods, which gulped many of the houses we passed by. We had no idea where to sleep or even what to do in Pec, so we strolled around the city until we found a poster about the nearby mountainous region – the Rugova Valley, with the Patriarchate of Pec at its foot. It was already getting dark, so we decided to visit the Patriarchate of Pec the next day, after exploring the Rugova Valley first. The Rugova Valley was mentioned as one of the most picturesque regions of Kosovo, so we immediately convinced a cab driver to bring us to the most remote place we could find in that area: Bogë – a little village in the Albanian Alps, less than five kilometers away from the forest border to Montenegro.

Bogë – the last village of the Rugova Valley

We quickly realized that the cab driver was crazy, but so was the condition of the taxi. That cab driver simply ignored all laws of physics when he rushed up that narrow mountain road. His car was very old and had several holes in the floor, covered by a thin carpet, constantly letting through a ridiculously cold stream of air. The tires were so worn, I couldn’t even tell if they were winter or summer tires – but it didn’t really matter as they had almost no grip on the snowy mountain pass anyway. We constantly kept drifting to the sides of the road, almost missed several curves and continued struggling up the hill. Twice, Friedrich and I had to jump out of the car and push it uphill. Every time the roads got too narrow to cross, we just prayed that we didn’t have to halt the car, never being able to leave the spot again. The darkness didn’t help our siutation too much either, but after a 40-minute ride, we safely arrived in the snowy, little village of Bogë.

We were starving by that time and so we went to the main house where we ordered some beers from two young guys who sadly did not speak any English. After choosing several items on the menu, they surprisingly informed us that the cook was not working anymore and that the menu was meant for breakfast. But all we wanted was a sandwich, or for what it mattered, even an egg. To our great disappointment, the young guys did not (want to) understand that we were starving, so we decided to go all out on beer (for the nutrients, obviously). Especially once the power went out  in the entire village, we decided to crank the “hunger drinking” up a notch. At around midnight, we were both less thirsty than before and made our way back to the cabin, when the power suddenly returned. Friedrich did not hesitate for a second and ran over to a restaurant at the other end of the street, went it, came out and put two thumbs up. When I arrived at the door, I said to him: “If they will cook for us, they shall be royally rewarded.” And royally rewarded they were.

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Getting to the Patriarchate of Pec

The next morning, we quickly got up, washed our faces with painfully cold water and tried to moisturize our dry skin. It had been so cold in the cabin, we dragged our mattresses to the fireplace and curled up like dogs right next to it. My skin felt slightly burnt and my lips were terribly dry. It was time to get the hell out of there and continue our journey to the Patriarchate of Pec. We passed by several ‘fit for winter’-SUVs and got into an old shabby Volkswagen (with worn tires, again…) and began our slippery ride back down the Rugova Valley, until we had reached the Patriarchate of Pec.

When we arrived at the Patriarchate of Pec, we encountered an unexpectedly strong military presence (of the Kosovo Force, KFOR), so we decided to get out a few kilometers before so that we could “sneak up” and safely take photos. Trouble for nothing, as it was very easy to get in. The KFOR soldier at the checkpoint checked our backpacks, took our passports and granted us visitor passes. He was highly amused to encounter two young tourists and curiously asked us about our business in Kosovo. I replied to him: “Tourism. We’re here to take nice photos.” After which he cynically replied with his heavy accent: “Photos? Nice photos of what? Garbage? You want to take nice pictures of garbage? Go, go ahead, go, go – take pictures of garbage.” Although I knew that he was partly kidding and exaggerating, I felt slightly offended. Sure, Kosovo with its violent history was not necessarily beautiful in general, but one who would (want to) look at the right places could immediately realize the potential it had to offer. And one of these potentials lay right in front of us: the Patriarchate of Pec.

Being one of the most important Serbian Orthodox churches on Kosovar territory, it is probably necessary to have the KFOR guarding it. The Patriarchate of Pec was built in the 12th century and newly renovated in 2006 – presenting itself in a distinct crimson color. I’m not a religious or especially history-affine person, so if you want to know more about the Patriarchate of Pec, I suggest to visit the “official” website. It was very quiet in the  Patriarchate of Pec – hardly any people, except for a cleric we met. We enjoyed the atmosphere of the secluded monastery and took our time looking at the buildings and their impressive inner decoration, especially the paintings. We were very happy to have had made this strenuous journey through Kosovo to visit the Patriarchate of Pec, but nonetheless, we were hungry again and we desperately craved some qebapa. So we enjoyed the last few moments at the Patriarchate of Pec, went back to the questionable gentleman of the KFOR, thanked him for letting us in and rushed back down the streets to Pec.

We spent our last night in Pristina, slurping caffe macchiatos, having one of our best meals ever at Tiffany’s and exploring the city’s nightlife. It was excellent, but that’s an entirely different story.

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About the author Valentin Rüst rotate

I founded Don't Complain Travel in 2010 with the goal to experience, document and share travel adventures from all over the world. From Zurich, Switzerland.

7 Comments

  • Val, I have read about all your travels and your stories and pictures are fantastic !!! You have educated and enlightened me. I wish you only the best of life… it is an adventure like no other !!I have fond memories of you and amy. Be safe, my son, all my best to you…. lynne

    • Thank you so much for your kind words and continuous support, Lynne!
      I put a lot of effort into the preparation of my trips, the actual traveling, the documentation and finally the sharing of everything. So it makes me very happy to hear that all the work pays off!

      Be assured that I have decided on at least two more major adventures this year – the first in Africa, the second in South America. More to follow soon!

  • Kosovo is not a COUNTRY, it’s an autonomous province in SERBIA.

    • Dear Baka, thanks a lot for your comment! I see and understand your point of view, and as I am far from being politically motivated in any regard, I’ve decided to make the description more neutral.

      I hope you’ve enjoyed the article about the Rugova Valley and the Patriarchate of Pec – I can highly recommend visiting these places! збогом!

  • Thank you for this insightful and balanced post. I say this as a Serb 🙂

    However, it is worrying that the KFOR, and not the UN, are guarding Pec. The KFOR was a militaristic terrorist organization bent on Kosovo independence (the first phase of independence was actually peaceful protest, led by Ibrahim Rugova, who seemed a sensible, educated guy). KFOR eventually got NATO backing and became the “official” force.

    Its hard to tell the way you wrote it, but it seems the KFOR guy was referring to Pec as garbage… extremely worrying, given that he should be guarding it!…

    • Thanks for your comment, Nena, and happy you liked it!

      It was too long ago to remember precisely, but in any case an unnecessary comparison. Nonetheless, I can tell you that the Patriarchate of Pec was very well guarded and in excellent condition back in 2014, so I remain confident that it still is.

      • Hey, I just realized something and now I feel like a complete idiot…

        The KFOR is actually the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo. The KLA is what I was thinking of… two very different things. Of course the UN wouldn’t let the KLA guard those churches, what in the world was I thinking… Argh, I could kick myself now! I usually double-check stuff before I make comments. This time I thought I knew what I was talking about (and evidently didn’t). Sorry about the mistake! Both begin with K… 🙁

        Thank you for your response, by the way! I’m glad you had an interesting experience in Kosovo.

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