The sun was at its highest point in the sky by the time we reached the gates of the monastery. It had taken us an hour and a half of trekking to reach the old temple. It was 35 degrees.
We entered and glanced around the inside of the gated complex. It was green, shaded, and peaceful. There were pristine lawns and huge old trees with branches which reached out horizontally, creating a canopy of leaves. Placed perfectly in the centre was The Holy Virgin’s Temple of Gračanica, a Serbian Orthodox Monastery built by King Stefan Milutin, in 1321.
The sweat was pouring off all of us. I’d opted for a vest that morning and hadn’t applied enough sun cream. The straps of my backpack were rubbing on my now salmon-pink shoulders. My water bottle was dry.
I was in Kosovo, working at a hostel in the capital city, Pristina. I’d organised a group to visit a nearby monastery, which the hostel owner Chelsea had advised us was on the outskirts of the city.
“Outskirts” had been a slight understatement. The walk had left us all with a significant dose of vitamin D and in need of a bit of shade.
Entering through the massive front gates, you felt like you’d gone back in time. The only hint of modernity were the sprinkler heads poking out the lawn. The group, having been chatting most of the walk, fell into a respectful silence. A nun smiled welcomingly and pointed us in the direction of the building we’d come to see.
As we walked through the front door, I took off my sunglasses and gave my eyes a second to adjust. The muscles in my face relaxed for the first time in hours.
At the door of the main room was a granite basin of ice-cold water to wash your face and hands. I took full advantage, splashing some over my sunburned shoulders. My tight, red skin loosened.
Finally, we entered the main hall.
I stood in the doorway of the monastery for a few seconds taking it all in. On the walls were fresco paintings that were had been there for 700 years. The stained glass windows cast vibrantly coloured shadows throughout the whole room. The air was still and smelled pleasingly of incense.
I sat down on one of the pews and instinctively closed my eyes. The cool air, the dim light and the silence created the perfect environment to relax. On that pew I learned a valuable lesson.
(Part 2 on Wednesday)