The Raki Trail

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Kosovo, Albania
September 2018

By Leeor Ohayon

“Isn’t it at war?” a family friend asked me upon my explanation that I was off to work in Kosovo for three months. Twenty years have passed since the end of the 1999 war and ten since Kosovo declared itself Europe’s newest state and yet its name still conjures up associations of war. 

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Once outside of the dusty streets of the car-clogged capital Prishtina, Kosovo’s charm presents itself to you, giving you the feeling of having arrived in Europe’s last frontier. The last place in Europe where you can consume a Borek and a Macchiato- the nation’s chosen beverage- for a grand total of one euro before embarking to dramatic snow-capped mountains or scaling the Rugova canyon without the tourist hoards and the prices to match. 

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Heading south east towards Albania, you pass a countryside littered with war memorials that give way to picturesque villages one after another comprised of stone houses and pencil-thin minarets, occasionally disrupted by burnt-out shells that stand as monuments to a difficult past. Each village silently announces another constituent group that make up this diverse plateau- Bosniak, Gorani, Albanian, Serbian- all hemmed in by no less than three mountain ranges.

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Crossing into northern Albania, turquoise rivers give way to mountains that scramble ever higher into the sky, villages perched on the edge of merciless peaks of oranges and purples, greens and browns and grays that pierce the sky. A world apart from the Mediterranean vibe of Tirana and its manicured inhabitants, or the sweet clear blue waters of the grey pebbled beaches of Dherme and the south. 

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Hugging the coast, we made our way inland to Gjirokaster’s UNESCO protected cobbled streets, guts filled to the brim with endless glasses of quince Raki. From there we made a slight detour across Greek Macedonia for a weekend of decadent gorging in Thessaloniki, before the final journey to Prishtina.  

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