A trip to Kosovo has long been on my agenda, after all one cannot call oneself the Balkanista and only have visited Albania and Macedonia so far.
Autumn is perhaps my favourite season in this part of the world due to the abundance of rich colours that punctuate the landscape, combined with a faint smell of woodsmoke, and burgundy pomegranates bursting with sweet juice.
With that in mind, we loaded up Dea’s considerable luggage and two small bags for us, and headed off towards the border. We have driven a million times through the flatlands of the Tirana plain, framed by the mountains to the right. Passing farmers selling fruit and large colourful gourds by the side of the road, I admired the vibrant yellow, ochre, and rust coloured leaves on the branches of the trees. At this time of year, it looks like nature has some kind of pre-planned colour scheme that every plant and bit of foliage adheres to- orange, red, burgundy, brown, umber, and splashes of dark green here and there.
After an hour or so, we turned off onto the Rruga e Kombit that winds and turns all the way to the Kosovo border. This new road replaces a perilous almost single lane road that runs within eyesight of our path and it makes me anxious just to look out of it. A snakelike dirt path cut out of the side of the mountain that almost seems to disappear completely at some points. I cannot imagine the terror of those who had to take that road as until recently it was the only road to Kukes, and the border crossing nearby.
This part of Albania is very different from every other part- it is wild, unreachable, desolate, remote, and we pass villages and clusters of red roofed houses that look like they are stuck in another age- in a good way. Some houses are perched on small ledges in the vast, craggy mountains and with no visible road leading there, I wonder how those people live and whether they get a sense of peace from being so cut off from the rest of everyday life.
As we continue on our way, I start to notice an increasing number of abandoned houses and industrial units- half built, falling down, inhabited but crumbling- it seems that industry that once thrived here, does not so much any more. There are large piles of different kinds of sand and rocks, corrugated factories and rusting trucks and lorries behind barbed wire fences, exposed to the elements and left to rot.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE BY ALICE TAYLOR – THE BALKANISTA HERE.