Have you ever thought of visiting or heard of Kosovo before?
Don’t worry, many haven’t or remember it being in the news in the 90’s and still (unfairly) believe it is a war zone.
Kosovo is the self-proclaimed independent break away nation in the Balkans that broke off from Serbia in the 90’s. Around 109 United Nations countries recognise Kosovo as a country, however, formal UN recognition is vetoed by Russia (an ally of Serbia), making it a non-official UN nation.
Due to this technicality, some individuals count Kosovo as a country along with other self-breakaway states, making their country-counter tallies greater than that of the formal UN 193.
If you have had a chance to read my recent blog post to Northern Macedonia, I tagged my trip to Kosovo onto it. There are several ways you can head into Kosovo:
1. Fly into the capital Pristina
2. Take a bus from one of the surrounding countries in the Balkans
3. Hire a car and drive yourself
I took option two and took a bus from the capital of Northern Macedonia, Skopje, to Pristina which took roughly two to two and a half hours depending on how long it takes within passport control. Kosovo doesn’t see a great deal of tourists, apart from citizens of the following countries:
- Northern Macedonia
The ticket cost me 350 Macedonian Denar (€5.70) (Euros is the official currency of Kosovo).
The Kosovo countryside is beautiful – a lot of the southern parts of the country (only areas I saw) are untouched, with the odd new piece of infrastructure to make travel across the country easier.
I hit a bit of a situation when I arrived at the main bus station. It is almost 2km away from the centre of town, and I was told in broken English that it was impossible to walk, that you could only take a taxi. I had no euros on me, and there were no cash machines in sight. No one at the bus station could speak enough English to communicate with me, and to top things off when I did exchange my Macedonian Denar to Euro it left me with only €15 in my pocket. I started to panic.
Luckily, one local told me there were cash machines in the centre of town, so I did decide to try walking. Part of the walk was along a highway, but there were some back streets that eventually got me into town where I found a cash machine… a relief.
Once I got over my fear of being stuck in Pristina, I decided to enjoy myself and see the sights.
The weather was beautiful and 30 degrees (something I hadn’t seen in months since the previous summer in London).
My first stop was at the Mother Teresa Cathedral. Just like in Macedonia she is an iconic figure within the Orthodox community in Kosovo.
The streets were bustling, and I noticed that everyone looked very young. Later I found out that majority of the population 65% is under the age of 30. This is partly due to the recent war in the 90’s that created many causalities.
With this younger vibe in the capital, there were restaurants and cafes up and down the main shopping district, with little vendors selling ice cream for €0.30 or cotton candy for €0.50. I couldn’t resist a bargain and got myself a couple of ice creams because it was hot. 😛
Another thing you will notice in Kosovo, especially in Pristina, is their love for America and specifically the Clinton’s.
There are American flags everywhere, restaurants named after landmarks in the US like Route 66, clothing stores named Hilary, I saw a small Statue of Liberty on the roof of a building, and finally a statue dedicated to former President Bill Clinton.
Throughout the city you will also notice quite a few memorials dedicated to those who died in the 1990’s war for independence, which show how proud the country is of its recent past.
As I walked north of the city I came across three mosques, Jashar Pasha’s Mosque, Xhamia e Çarshisë, and Džamija Cara.
You might not realise until you hear the call to prayer or see the mosques that Kosovo has a large Muslim community.
The Ottoman Empire ruled in the Balkans from the 14th century until the end of World War I, and had a lot of influence in the region.
Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo and parts of Macedonia and Montenegro have large percentages of individuals that practice Islam. Unlike the Middle East, most of the population do not wear traditional Islamic clothing day to day. Some Kosovans even mistook me for a local and spoke Albanian or Serbian to me before realizing I was a tourist.
One thing I highly recommend everyone going to see is the Ethnographic Museum. It isn’t large, however it shows you around a traditional Kosovan house from the 18th Century.
The guide was super friendly and gave me heaps of information about their culture and how they lived. The tour is free (tip if you wish) and highly recommend if you are interested in learning about some day-to-day history.
I then found myself at the Museum of Pristina. There are two levels here, one was an exhibit on Ancient Egypt and the other on the Independence of Kosovo.
I quite enjoyed this(Unfortunately most of the descriptions were not in English). This museum is free so totally worth checking out.
The day was drawing to a close and I had a bus to catch to my next stop, so I made my way back through the centre of town and passed the NewBorn sign. This sign signifies the celebration of independence from Serbia.
I then took a look at the Kosovo Library. This must be one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen (sorry!). I did not understand why all this metal cage work was surrounding the building, but you should certainly check it out and form your own opinion.
As I was leaving I saw an unfortunate soul texting and not watching where she was walking, and a car park barrier came down hit her quite hard (I think she was ok). Moral of the story is – watch where you are walking!
I arrived back at the bus station and paid €4 (pay on bus) to catch a two hour bus to Prizren.
Buses in Kosovo were punctual and always running, however they are small, lack air con and got overcrowded as they transport locals between the towns. I have never sweated so much in my life in that 30 degrees, non-air-conditioned bus (Sorry to the guy that had to sit next to me!)
Prizren is a city in the south of Kosovo, which just like Pristina has a large culture of spending time in restaurants and cafes along the river Prizren Bistrica. The city was so beautiful, with old stone footbridges every so often and a lively atmosphere, with people sitting by the river, drinking their tea and eating meals with Mosques lit up in the background.
I could have walked up and down that river for hours – it was that memorizing.
I chose to eat at a restaurant called Besaka where I got two dishes for about €5.
Day two in Kosovo I decided to get up at 6 am… Lord knows why… and go for a walk along the river again before breakfast.
The tone of the area had completely changed. It was still beautiful, but so peaceful as everyone had not yet risen for the day ahead.
I decided to do a hike up to the Kalaja, which was the old fortress on top of the hill that overlooks the entire city. The walk up was relatively easy, however once I got to the top it was not open.
I decided to find a spot to sit, think and enjoy the view until the first call to prayer. Words cannot describe how magical that moment was to experience.
I then walked through the small town and saw the Turkish Baths, which is a large, beautiful structure (it would have been great to have taken the time to experience it properly).
I also managed to go and see the NATO Denkmal, which is a monument to thank NATO for helping Kosovo through its fight for independence.
After a quick breakfast I made my way to the bus station and paid €4 to head back to Pristina for a connecting bus. The bus came quite quickly and only cost me €5.50.
I spent exactly 24 hours in my entire trip to Kosovo. It is certainly worth a day trip if you are in the region, and if you like slow-paced travel where everything is very cheap. Even though I encountered a language barrier everyone was super friendly and went out of their way to help me.
I find myself very lucky to have taken the time to go and visit this young yet extraordinary country. I highly recommend it to everyone that travels through the Balkan region.