It is true that there are not many who choose Kosovo as the place to be in during the holidays. I too had the apprehension, initially of course, but out of my eagerness to choose something that is less travelled by others, I chose to visit the Balkan countries including Kosovo. After my trip I have no qualms to admit that I did an excellent selection by choosing Kosovo and other nearby countries to visit during my much awaited holidays. I shall always remember them as I had the best of time there.
During my trip to the Balkans I visited many less known tourist spots to tourists of course in cities like Sarajevo, Tirana etc. During this trip only I got a life-time chance to visit Pristina, the capitol of Kosovo. I started my journey from Skopje at 9 in the morning and reached the border of Macedonia with Kosova in roughly 25 to 30 minutes. We showed our passports there to the authorities, not too much of hassle as the response was good and very friendly, and then continued to our travel towards our destination Pristina.
Though I went by road but one can also reach Pristina, the capital of Kosovo by air, taking direct flights from Budapest or Vienna. This is relatively small country, only 80 square mile wide, and do not require any visa for the USA nationals. English is very well understood and spoken here, so there will not be any problem of communication for a person with good command of English.
On our road to Pristina we passed through the enchanting lush green forests, vast farmlands many big construction sites, markets, small cities (that you always wished to settle down in for a peaceful life). There was lot of building (or you may say rebuilding) going on, a reminder of the loss the country experienced during long civil war.
But that is past and today Kosovo is as safe as any other place on the planet. The UN Mission is still in the process of transferring various activities to the Kosovors. One can still see the UN Troops, called KFOR (Kosovo Force) guarding the important official buildings and also important tourist attractions.
Some peculiar things I noticed was that despite being a Muslim country the place is very respectful of America as they credit president Bill Clinton and President Bush for being the architect of their independence. I saw many streets and buildings named after them. The people were very friendly and helpful with excellent driving habits. The roads were wide and traffic was found to be well disciplined.
On our arrival to Pristina, capital of Kosovo, which took around 2 hours from the border, I got down from the bus. The map that was given to me by the travel agent but was useless and there were no directions signs to be seen. So, I relied upon the locals for directions and found them very corporative and helpful.
My idea was to roam a bit on foot to get a feel of the market that we were in. It was Boulevard Nena Tereze, one of the main streets of the Pristina. On my way I saw many communist era apartment blocks and also many new building that were coming up. I saw a vendor selling the photos of the destruction that took place in 1990s when lot of people died in civil war related violence. A grim reminder of Pristina’s past who in the present times looks to be in peace for centuries. There were shops selling all kinds of things starting from needle to machines, clothes, vegetables etc.
After roaming for sometime of foot I decided to take a taxi to cover the places of tourist importance in and around Pristina. Fortunately, I got a driver who was basically French and had good English.
Though it took 3 hours but he took me to all the important places in Pristina like Mother Teresa Statue, the national Library, Bill Clinton Avenue, Germina Park, the University and the Museum.
Anybody who is coming to Kosovo must taste the espresso macchiato, because this country has one of the best coffees in the world. You must also try Raki, a local spirit that is unique to Kosova. You shall like the fruit flavours of this drink and the shot of energy that it will give.
After our Lunch we turned to cover the other places. The driver was very knowledgeable of the places and gave me the guided tour of Gracanica Monastry, Kosovo Polje (place where the 1389 battle with ottoman Turks was fought), and the mosque of Turkish leader Sultan Murad.
I suggest that whosoever is coming to Kosovo must also see the Prizren. This is a place frozen in the Ottoman period. We covered the Prizren Museum, a nice place to see. It is also a great place to cover on foot and one can see the snow covered mountains in most part of the year.
I stayed for the night in a good 3 star hotel. There are many options to choose with good lodging and boarding facilities.
Next day, my driver cum guide took me to western Parts of Kosovo. I visited places as Decani Monastry, a 14th century Monastery known for its fresco paintings. We also visited stone farmhouses (called Kullas) and the trout farm in Istog. Lastly we visited a winery in Rahovec and tasted some good wine. If you are a trekking lover then The Rugova Canyon is the best place to be in Kosovo. It is rare combination of natural beauty and calmness.
One special encounter that I would like to describe in Kosova in my hotel was the “pas de deux” by local dancers conducted in my hotel in the evening. This was a type of ballet which was supported by the intermittent clapping by the people around and it was fun to join them.
During my two days in Kosovo I was really thrilled as the place was good, the people were very co-operative and friendly and despite being a Muslim country the society was observed to be secular. The women were given proper freedom and they were seen wearing all kinds of western outfits, a rare thing indeed for any Muslim country. As I am from USA so I got great respect wherever I went as people everywhere thanked me for what America did for their independence. That is the reason that for US citizens there is no visa in Kosova and they may visit any time of the year and can gain entry by showing the passport alone.
Today Kosovo is fast rebuilding itself and despite that fact that there are still many issues of the civil war still unresolved and that Serbia is still trying in UN to get Kosovo back, but the people here see a bright future for them and are working hard for it with missionary zeal. There is so much of the construction going on everywhere and it won’t be a surprise that soon this small country will emerge as a vibrant commercial centre of Europe.
After my two days in Kosovo, I left with many fond memories and with feel to some back again with more time on my side. On my way back I took direct flight from Pristina to Budapest, my next destination to see.