Thursday, January 26, 2012

Battle of Kosovo

The Battle of Kosovo is at the center of Kosovar history. The result of this battle, fought on June 15, 1389 between Serbian Prince Lazar and Sultan Murad I, was the complete crumbing of the Byzantine Empire by Turkish armies. The Ottomans eventually marched all the way to the gates of Vienna before being stopped. The Ottomans ruled Kosovo for over 400 years and left a significant imprint on this culture.

The Battle was fought on the plains between Pristina and Mitrovica. This monument was built by the Yugoslavian government overlooking the battle site.

It is quite large and has an inscription in Serbian.

There are quite a few steps up to the top of this stone tower. We huffed and puffed up to the top.

The climb was worth it. There is a map of the battle and an excellent view of the battle site at the top of the tower. Estimates of the forces go as high as 40,000 Ottomans and 30,000 of Lazar's coalition. Only a few thousand of either side survived. There weren't any really good accounts of the Battle left so much of the information about it is conjecture.

Murad's troops on the left, Lazar's on the right.

The plains where the battle was fought.

In the distance you see a small tomb. The fallen Ottoman Banner men rest there. These men led Murad's troops into battle carrying the Banner of the Sultan, a very high honor which won for them a nice tomb in Kosovo.

Going down the tower was a bit easier.

At the battle, Sultan Murad was killed. I think he is the only Ottoman Sultan to have died in battle. In the photo below you see his tomb where his internal organs are interred. The rest of his body was sent back to Turkey. The same family has been caretaker of this tomb for hundreds of years. Their descendants maintain the job today.

The tomb is located in a very small village between Pristina and Mitrovica. The Turkish government helps with its maintenance.

These are the caretakers. We got there on cleaning day.

This is an ancient, ancient tree in the courtyard. They are trying to keep it alive after it split down the middle. That's concrete you see in the middle.

The inside of the tomb is quite simple.

After awhile they took the plastic off so we could see the gold embroidery

Murad's name in calligraphy

The Turkish government also maintains a very interesting museum near the tomb. I thought the museum had a definite Turkish slant on history but they do own it! Nonetheless it is definitely worth a visit.

Some local village traffic on the road back to Pristina.

I just had to take a shot of the electric generating plant just outside Pristina. The air pollution is really terrible.

This area is so rich in history. And it's history that is not very well covered in the West. I am glad we were able to learn more about the events that lead to the development of this  multifaceted culture

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Shooting in England

One of my (Charlie) interesting events was shooting with my friend and colleague from northern England, Jonathan Welford-Carroll (Jonty) during the last week of October.   Jonty is a Judge working here in Kosovo and in England is a barrister and part time Judge.   In England barristers who are interested in becoming a full time Crown Judge can work on a part time basis until selected as a full time Judge.

Jonty lives in the very quaint village of Pickhill, next to Thirsk (the Darrowby of James Harriott for you fans of "All Creatures Great and Small").  He invited me to join his friends in a driven shoot for partridge and pheasant in North Yorkshire.  I was thrilled to be invited and eagerly accepted. However, I constantly committed the unpardonable error of referring to the activity as "hunting".  Jonty quickly pointed out that "hunting" is something done by a guy in a pink jacket riding on a horse and chasing hounds.  It took me a while but I finally got the hang of the lingo.

We met in the morning with his friends and their wives at a nearby country inn for a "full English breakfast which would be absolutely forbidden for those of you who have cholesterol problems, but was delicious anyway...lots of sausage and other meats with the occasional egg thrown in for health purposes!

We then proceeded to the area for "shooting".  Jonty and his shooting friends have exclusive rights to hunt some farms that are cultivated by the farmers with an eye toward leasing the rights to hunt to local shooting syndicates.  In Jonty's group there are 11 members and each can bring a guest, so there are usually about 15 shooters.  It is also important to note that, as I said previously, this was a driven hunt. In the old days, on estates, servants were charged with the duty to go in large numbers through the brush pushing the birds ahead and toward the hunters who waited in assigned spots for the birds to finally lift and fly over them.
I asked Jonty who the drivers were and he replied "some lads from the village."  In fact a few wives and daughters joined the drivers and seemed to be having a good time.So, most of the shooting is straight up or going away from you to the rear.  Shooting straight ahead would endanger the "drivers"...and they quit shooting the help several years ago !!!

We gathered at one of the farms shown below  This is known as a "Model Farm" There are a number of these spread around England and was part of a reform movement in the middle of the 19th century.

I arrived in typical Iowa redneck hunting gear of boots, jeans, a ratty sweatshirt and a jacket and hat. As you can see below, that is totally inappropriate shooting attire. Jonty (on the left) and "the colonel" on the right are modeling the latest "kit" for the shooting set.

Below is Jonty and his son, Oliver, (11) who got to shoot with us and got two partridge.

The Colonel is well armed (see the shells on the belt)

Above are some of the others and another son and below Jonty showing his fine duds.  Notice that every person has not only tweed shooting attire but also a tie !!! They only made fun of my clothes a little...they were very polite

As I said, some wives and daughters joined the hunt and below we are preparing to lunch after 3 drives (below)  Lunch was, once again, an extravaganza of meat, sausages, meat pies and sandwiches delivered in wicker baskets,  washed down with home made sloe gin..then back to hunting !

The guy below is the captain of the shoot.  We all draw "pegs" with numbers assigning us to a different location on each "drive". We did a total of 6 drives that day in different locations and shot about 40 partridge and 15 pheasant. My friend Hajnalka (a very nice woman from Hungary who is an excellent Judge) said that she heard that Jonty and I went "peasant hunting"...I told her that I hoped we missed most of the peasants

In the following three photos you can see the hunters spreading out and waiting at assigned locations for the "drivers" to push the birds toward us.

Jonty's brother-in-law loaned me a gun to use for the day. I must admit that I was the worst "shooter" of the day. I found standing still and waiting and then shooting straight up at the birds as they flew over to be very difficult. We Americans are more used to following an upland game dog and shooting out in front which seems much easier to me.  However, this was an experience that few Americans ever get to enjoy and I enjoyed it immensely.

As one would imagine, we adjourned to another inn/pub for some discussion and a few pints after the shoot.

In the evening Jonty, his wife Mellie and I joined some of the shooting friends for dinner at their beautiful (1610) home.

The inn and pub where I stayed for the two nights I was in Pickhill.

Below is the typical interior of the pub.

Following are photos I took of the little village of Pickhill on a early Sunday morning walk.

As you can see below, even though we are in a village, North Yorkshire is very rural and agricultural.

Below:  Jonty and Mellie's house in Pickhill.

I thought the place below was interesting. Immediately behind Jonty's house is this mound where the manor house or castle stood about 1000 years ago.  The moat is still somewhat visible.  

I couldn't leave Pickhill/Thirsk

Below is the surgery with residence upstairs

Harriot's real name was James Alfred Wight.

They have completely restored and recreated the premises including some of the sets and equipment from the popular BBC television series based on the books.  Jonty couldn't resist getting into the car from the TV series.

Finally, I was really interested in the Church across the street from Jonty's house pictured below. The part of the church to the far right was build in 1030, prior to the Norman Invasion of England. The rest of the church was completed in the time of Henry VIII.

The main door to the present church is Norman.

I liked this spot on the inside of the middle part of the church. The local militia was (in the middle ages) required to have archery practice after church services and the grooves shown here are from sharpening arrows on the limestone blocks.

It was really an exceptional experience for me to see that part of England, and, as a lifelong hunter, to take part in a type of that was so different and interesting. Next time I need to get my tweed knickers, vest, hat and tie ready and that will, no doubt, enable me to shoot better.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Quick Trip to Macedonia

In October we took another weekend trip with friends to the Popova Kula winery in Macedonia. This time we took a daylong hike and saw some beautiful scenery and met some very interesting people.

The clef you see in the photo below is call the Iron Gate. This is the place where people were able to pass through the mountains from Greece and beyond to western Europe. For ages this pass has seen conquering armies, merchants, traders, adventurers and just plain people move through it. And they still do. In the nearby town of Stobi there are Roman ruins dating to 100 BCE but the area had been inhabited for thousands of years. This pass is very important.

Here is our group. Tracy (Peace Corp volunteer from Chicago, me, Noora (Legal Officer from Finland), Charlie, Tara (Legal Officer from New York), and Oliver (EULEX police officer from Germany).

On our way to the hike we passed through this tunnel which was built by the German army in World War I.

Here is the inscription beside the tunnel which states that Wilhelm II, German Kaiser and King of Prussia, built this tunnel in 1916

Mountain ranges.

A shrine we happened upon. These shrines are quite common in the mountains.

Wild pomegranates growing alongside our path
Up the hill ...


This is a little station built by monks - a place for them to pray and be solitary.

These are huge cliffs running along the mountains. They made the people really happy to see the Iron Gate.

Our first resident of the mountains. This little lady was so happy to see us.

Although her living conditions were very primitive, she did have a TV antennae

There is a beautiful old church at an abandoned village. In the 1840's the murals inside were restored. It was quite a find in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.

The Archangel Michael.

The murals were painted to instruct the people who couldn't read. This is pretty much the whole tale of salvation on one wall.

There were juniper trees growing in the church yard. I thought the berries were pretty.

A local goatherd and his companions.

Another local resident. He had such an interesting face. He invited us to come to his home and have some refreshments.
Here is his place and his wife. This is their front yard which they share with goats, chickens, dogs, cats and whatever else wanders in like hikers.
Charlie enjoyed the rakia - a deadly version of grappa.

His wife had just made some goat cheese so we were able to try it. It was so fresh it was warm.
Our couple again.

I forgot to mention that they shared their yard with a satellite dish, too!

This is their garden of pepper plants. Peppers are a staple of the Balkan diet. If you look closely you can see a few ripe red peppers.

Here is a very old stone wall we passed.

A truly gallant EULEX police officer.

We had quite a day on our hike but an even better night with a wine tasting and dinner. Please note the number of wine glasses. It was a good time!