So my wife and I arrived at the airport in Pristina and I was a cross between nervous and excited to visit the country, as I did not know what to expect. I am sure like many people all I know about this places is what I saw in the news which mostly was about the war and fight for independence. Before coming I did a bit of reading to get the best understanding I could about the place. So I knew that Kosovo* claimed independence since 2010 and Serbia and some other countries in the region still did not recognise Kosovo* as an independent nation.
So at the airport, I was surprised not to get my passport stamped and was also a little disappointed. I asked a policeman who I think may have been part of a UN peacekeeping mission as he was German, he took my passport and told the immigration guy to stamp my passport. This was really cool. So with my stamp, Aini (my wife) and I left the airport to look for a cab. Like many places, there were a bunch of guys offering taxi’s at I’m sure overrated prices, we bargained a price and made our way into this city. We had pre-booked a hotel to stay so went straight there.
Nowadays almost all hotels, hostels and B&B’s are online and if they are half decent they will be reviewed too. A peer review of accommodation can be a great guide. If you have the time to shop around and are happy to take your bag from place to place then do so, also look at couch surfing. If you have the luxury of time this is a better way to get to know a place and find the best bargains, but I had 3 days so preferred to spend my time looking around and seeing sights. So that’s what happened checked in dumped the bag and hit the city. Walking around one of the first things I saw was some graffiti saying “Fuck Serbia”, I think that highlighted the cities feeling toward their neighbour to the north. Also, a little bit further I saw an orthodox church that looked like it had been totally burnt out. I know that Kosovars are mostly ethnic Albanian’s and Muslims, but this still made me feel a little sad to see. The city was not so big, or at least the bits you can touristically see. We walked passed the University, went down the main street and checked out the NEWBORN sign. The sign was to commemorate the independence and now has been covered on all the flags that recognise the new nation. So carrying on we went to get something to eat, hung out in the city, took some photos and checked back into the hotel.
The next day we hired a car to drive to check out as much as we could. We got up early to start the day. We first drove north to the city of Mitrovica, I wanted to see this town as I knew it was a city that was divided between the Serbian minority in the north and the Albanian majority in the south. What made this town famous or infamous is that it was divided along the river. There is one bridge along the river that (for now) is permanently secured by UN Peace Keeping forces. The bridge is closed to cars but people can walk over no problem. On the Serbian side, there were a lot of flags and anti-Albanian graffiti. Overall the city seemed fine but it was clear that the Serbian minority were not happy about the independence and that the country is run by the Albanian majority. We first walked around the Albanian part of the city grabbing a coffee and then went over to the Serbian side. We felt a little nervous to cross as first but it was fine. Touristically there was not much to see so like on the Albanian side we stopped and went for a coffee. While drinking a coffee one local guy struck up a conversation with us. He seemed really nice and we discussed a little about the city and travel in general. I asked his name and he said “Slobodan but not Milosevic” with a laugh, and I think this kind of summed up the local situation, people are tired of politics and conflict and just want to live their life, while identity is important people just want an easy life. We felt like this glimpse into the political situation had met its end so then got back in the car and headed south to the city of Prizren.
Getting into the south the landscape started to become very beautiful. Prizren just looks beautiful, lots to see and a really enjoyable city to hang out in. The city still has UN Peace Keeping forces but if you are posted here you must feel like you have won the lottery, the area feels really calm, lots of great coffee shops and places to eat. We were not left with enough time to explore as much as we wanted to but this is a place I would really love to return too and highly recommend. Finally, we had to leave the city and go back to Pristina.
The next day we were due to travel to Montenegro. From what I had seen online there was a central bus station and that busses went to Montenegro, I also checked with the hotel I was staying in and they confirmed there would be a bus. We got to the central station and there were no busses to Montenegro, oh crap. We had a project there and needed to find a way. I am not sure why, but I saw a bus that said Pec, which is a city in the west and not too far from the border, so I said to Aini “ Let’s take this bus and try our options from there”. Getting into Pec there just happened to be a minibus that goes once a day to the eastern part, had just happened to be travelling to the city we wanted to get to, what were the chances. We crammed onto the minibus with all the people who were buying goods to take over the border as it must be cheaper and we were on our way. The minibus was going through the mountains and although a little scary the landscape was amazing. Finally, we got to the checkpoint where we had to give our passports. The guards seemed a little surprised to see us, but I think it made their day a little interesting at least. We had no issues and was on our way to Montenegro.
A video I made about crossing the bridge in Mitrovica.
*Kosovo* – This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.