Upon reaching the first big intersection in the city I suddenly felt like I was no longer in Europe. The chaotic traffic, bustling sidewalks, half-finished buildings, and hardware stores with merchandise out on the street corners was reminiscent of Morocco or Ethiopia. Away from the busy intersections this feeling diminished, but the Turkish influence–or at least similarity–remained clear in the mosques, kebab shops, and cafes.
Also evident in both the cities and the countryside was evidence of the recent war. I saw several NATO KFOR vehicles, road signs indicating rules for tanks, and signage warning of land-mine areas as well as those areas which had been cleared. Every few kilometers I passed a memorial to members of the UÃ‡K–the Kosovo Liberation Army.
I had an opportunity to drink coffee with another man at his house and he pointed out to me the abandoned, half-destroyed buildings in his village that were remnants of the war. He also noted that the village had both Albanian and Serb residents. However, when riding through the country I saw lots of signs where the Serbian words had been spray-painted out, so I wonder how welcome Serb-speaking residents would feel in the villages.
I spent an extra day in Ferizaj hiding out from the rain then biked west to PejÃ« at the foot of the mountains that border Montenegro. Where Ferizaj is clearly a working town, PejÃ« is more of a tourist destination. The city sits at the mouth of a dramatic canyon coming down from the BjeshkÃ«t e Namuna range (even more dramatic when you realize that the name means “accursed mountains”). I waited out another rainy day in the city and never saw the tops of the mountains due to the constant rain and cloud cover.
But finally the rain let up and I spent the next morning climbing up to the 1800 meter pass into Montenegro.