Priština - Andrew - 2009
Europe's newest country (unless you are Serbian in which case our apologies), Kosovo was born from bloodshed and chaos. Administered for almost a decade by the UN it voted for independence from Serbia in 2008.
So far around a third of the world's countries have recognised this independence, although the UN has not. Amongst those recognising the country are the US and the UK.
It will be some long time before Kosovo features on many tourist itineraries. The country is poor and bears scars of war and Communism. The capital, Priština, suffers from poor town planning and a lack of obvious tourist draws. Elsewhere the country has some superb landscapes and a scattering of historic sights which will eventually bring much needed revenue.
Priština - Andrew - 2009
First impressions of Kosovo were quite favourable, an efficient processing through customs followed by the acquisition of a not-often-received Kosovo stamp and we were through and passing through extremely dramatic canyons and gorges that form the natural border with Macedonia. Once through this, however, you reach the Plain of Kosovo and the landscape becomes less exciting. Flat and arid, looking for all the world like the parts of Serbia I’d passed through from Belgrade to Niš, there was lots of evidence of failed heavy industry. We passed into the town of Urosevac which was, frankly, horrid – congested, dusty and hardly pleasant to look at. Fortunately, we were off again quite quickly and soon we arrived in the giant traffic queue that forms any of the roads in and out of Priština.
The Balkan inefficiency which had faded in Macedonia now came back in abundance. The bus station, for a start, newly built and fresh and clean is about 3 km outside of Priština centre (the train station is even further away!). I had read of left luggage (I had no desire to drag my suitcase around with me all day) but trying to find it was a bizarre sequence of talking to one person who talks to another who comes back to me and tells me to see the person I’d talked to in the first place. Finally, I got into the taxi which drove me through the randomly zig-zagging traffic chaos and dropped me outside the Hotel Grand, which is by far the best object with which to navigate in Priština.
Priština was busy, to say the least, chaotic would be a world I’d use (if I hadn’t already used it once). From the Hotel Grand it is a short walk downhill to the famous Newborn Monument – a massive yellow metal word “Newborn” erected to celebrate Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. It was signed by everyone present at the ceremony and is one of the few icons of Kosovo. Here were many people enjoying themselves, being photographed by the monument and having coffee in the surrounding cafes. It was the part of Priština I liked the most – from hereon in things would be more frustrating.
Nearby is the bizarre Stadium – one of several bizarre buildings put up during the Communist period.
Across the other side of the town is the University Library which appears to have been built from Styrofoam eggboxes and stands in amongst very unkempt looking fields. Directly next to it is the massive, unfinished and neglected Orthodox Cathedral – it was begun by Slobodan Milosevic’s regime and is regarded as a hated symbol of Serb overlordship by the Albanian Kosovans.
The Unfinished Serbian Orthodox Cathedral
I wandered back into town and headed up Rruga Nëna Terezë – yes, it’s Mother Teresa again, who was not born in Kosovo at all. A small and rather forlorn statue of her stands part way along this, admittedly, wide and impressive pedestrian street which forms the backbone of Priština’s centre. When you reach the end of it you get to another Skanderbeg statue – this one more impressive than Skopje’s – and the bizarre Yugoslav Monument to Brotherhood (ironically celebrating the unity of the ethnic groups of the former Yugoslavia).
Across the road from here is the very small Turkish Quarter. Unlike the one in Skopje this is unattractive and somewhat threatening and I only briefly skirted around it to photograph the Sultan Mehmet Fatih Mosque before heading back onto Mother Teresa Street.
The Kosovo Museum was shut – and I had heard that half it’s contents were somewhere in Belgrade anyway – so I suddenly found myself with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
As usual, food came to mind and I tried to find a famous pasta place called Pizzeria Toni. I could not find it. I found another potential place, but they informed me with a startled look that their ‘Napolitan’ pasta sauce certainly did contain meat. It was probably at this point that Priština suddenly began to drop in my estimation. I then proceeded to get lost, walking not along Nene Teresa but instead along Agim Ramadani and Lidhja e Prizrenit. This was (unbeknown to me) taking me way out of town. Fortunately, the eggboxes of the University Library came to my rescue and I walked back past it to the Hotel Grand.
I knew this Hotel was intended mostly for foreign visitors, so I sat in the outdoor café thinking a coffee and a sandwich might be on offer. And I sat. And I sat. And I sat. And then I’d had enough, I left, found another coffee place and tried to make one small coffee last as long as I could. It wasn’t long enough, so I bought some dry tasteless popcorn and some (at least decent) potato crisps and sat on a bench having a rather forlorn and unexciting main meal.
I decided that I’d had enough of Priština now. So I made my way back to the Hotel Grand and the taxi rank outside it. My taxi driver looked like something from the Arabian Nights, but I tried not to judge by appearances. The trip back to the bus station was uneventful and whilst Sinbad waiting for me I went and retrieved my bag. Sinbad then started to zig-zag through the horrendous traffic making for the airport. I began to worry when airport signs started being behind us and no longer in front of us. “No worry” he explained grinning with too much gold, “is short cut, no traffics”.
The short cut began to get worrying when we were heading out into the hills. I began to think about horror stories of demands for cash and so on. We began to bump along horrid little country roads, swerving alarmingly – and my protestations began to get louder. Sinbad just grinned and repeated his “No worry” mantra. Eventually, having done a loop which I swear took in most of Kosovo I looked across a low valley and could see an airport – and annoyingly just beyond it a city which looked very much like Priština to me. After nearly an hour the taxi drew into Priština Airport and I braced myself for a demand for money. I was surprised (and relieved) to get a demand for only 20 Euros. I gladly paid, grabbed my bag and put as much space between myself and Sinbad as possibly.
I then holed up in the Airport (where I had four hours to kill), had a decent coffee and a rather dry muffin and waiting for my plane. No further problems occurred and the short flight home passed uneventfully.
Kosovo had been an adventure as, I suppose, it ought to be – but I am glad I went to see a country which was only just a year old when I visited.
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