Welcome back to our travel alphabet updates! I took a break from posting for a while but now I’m back with letter K which this time round is for Kosovo or the Republic of Kosovo as it is known. In terms of my travel challenge, I’ve counted it as a country, however it is only recognised as such by a section of countries. In visiting countries in the former Yugoslavia, I couldn’t leave out Kosovo so I nipped to it’s capital Pristina for 3 nights between Skopje, Macedonia and Sofia, Bulgaria.
The first tip I want to share in case there is anyone about to decide about travelling to Kosovo or Macedonia from Albania is this: If you have a choice of where to go next from Albania then choose Kosovo first before going to Macedonia.
Let me explain why: I had already booked Skopje when I arrived in Tirana, Albania however when I asked about transport to Skopje, I was told I could go direct or go via Pristina, Kosovo. I stuck to my plan and went directly from Tirana to Skopje which turned out to be a mistake in terms of time. From Tirana it took 3 hours to get to the border going through gorgeous surroundings which was great to see. Once at the border on the Albanian side, we gave our passport and then had to go and take our luggage out of the boot for it to be inspected. That was an hour and then over 30 mins nearer 40 mins waiting at the Macedonian border. Some were called off the bus to check their identity. the journey therefore took 9 hours instead of 7.
Once in Skopje, I found out that I couldn’t get directly from Pristina, Kosovo to Sofia, Bulgaria and would have to come back via Skopje and by a ticket once I arrived as they wouldn’t sell them before. Apparently, the crossing from Albania to Kosovo had been fine for those who took that journey and I also found on both my journeys between Skopje and Pristina. The crossing only took 30 mins to cross the 2 checks as for the Macedonian crossing we signed our names and passport number and then at the next window we got out and our passports were checked and then for Kosovo they got on and took our passports off. Crossing back to Macedonia 3 days later, I went for the earliest bus at 6am having already purchased my ticket on arrival 3 days earlier. The bus came on time and luckily we only needed 30 mins through customs and getting off once and then other checks were done.
So, that’s the customs information and travel tip, let’s move on to Pristina, Kosovo. When I mentioned going to Kosovo, there were mixed reactions with some asking me if it was safe to go and there lies a misconception we need to help change. I guess for many of us, the last time and maybe only time we heard about Kosovo was during the wars and troubles when the former Yugoslavia fell apart. It was clear that this is also something the locals are aware of as quite a few made an effort in telling us how safe it is and no, there is no war going on.
As we crossed the border in to Kosovo, the landscape changed to vibrant green hills which were gorgeous. It was also clear that there was lots of new infrastructures being built as we could see that on the drive into Pristina.
Free walking tour: I decided to take a free walking tour as this has been my favourite way of sightseeing as hearing things from a local is something special. Astrit was our guide and there were a few of us from different countries. We went from the National theatre to the Old Town past the National museum, mosque and the Ethnographic museum through the bazaar. Then to the square where we saw the brotherhood unity statue with flags from the countries who have supported Kosovo.
Newborn monument: This monument literally spells out the letters NEWBORN and was started from their independence 2008. Each year it is decorated differently. This year the letters and the decoration are representative of Nature and the environment.
A poignant monument: This is dedicated to women raped by Serbian forces in the war and to women’s contributions to society and is quite an amazing monument with 200,000 and medals being used to highlight a woman’s head.
National library: This is an interesting design to see. However, the more interesting part on the same campus is a Serbian orthodox church which wasn’t finished before the Serbians left. The church hasn’t been sanctified so it’s not a recognised church but they have placed a cross on top so that it can’t be knocked down. There are plans to use it as something else on the university campus.
Mother Teresa cathedral: Feels very big inside and as the guide said it isn’t representative of the number of Catholics in Pristina. It is there to pay tribute to Mother Teresa and for the work she has done. It also forms a contrast with the Islamic mosques as the dominant religion. You can pay €1 to go up the tower to get a panoramic view of Pristina which I couldn’t resist.
Pristina seems to be a small city with monuments to the war dotted around the city centre and on the way in and out of the city, you can’t help but see the statue dedicated to President Clinton who is considered a hero amongst the Kosovans. I found all the locals I fixed with to be very friendly and welcoming and I had no problem as a woman on her own walking out at night. I get the feeling there is much more to come for Pristina in its development and maybe if it is recognised by more countries then they will feel a lift in tourism.
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