I’ve been so excited about writing this post, because I was SO excited about Kosovo! I love when a new place totally blows me away, and Pristina Kosovo did just that.
As Dan said when we were leaving the capital, “Pristina is one of my favorite cities we’ve visited, which is quite remarkable considering how ugly it is.” Because oh yes, a lot of Pristina’s architecture is pretty baffling.
I have to admit, I didn’t have particularly high expectations for Kosovo. Last year while in Albania Danielle and I had considered making a quick trip up to Kosovo, but everyone told us the country was pretty boring, and we believed them.
But still, when Dan tried to convince me to skip Kosovo again and instead spend a few more days in our heavenly apartment on the Bay of Kotor, I put my foot down and insisted that this time I had to go. And luckily my birthday was coming up, so Dan had to listen to me.
I’m not exactly sure why I so wanted to see Kosovo – maybe it was all the stories I had heard about how odd and quirky its capital city Pristina is.
Or maybe I should just tell you guys the truth: having grown up in the 90s, despite everything I know about Kosovo now, the name “Kosovo” still holds an air of mystique and danger.
I was 9 years old when war broke out in Kosovo; too young to really grasp what was going on in the Balkans, but old enough for my brain to have permanently recorded a CNN reporter calling in “live from Kosovo,” which now plays in my head every time I think “Kosovo.” I knew enough to know that terrible things were happening there, though I have a sneaking suspicion that I also thought Kosovo was somewhere in the Middle East.
No, I don’t know why I just admitted that to the Internet either. I promise my geography skills have improved since then!
The bus from Podgorica, Montenegro to Peja (Peć) took about 6 hours and was one of the prettiest bus rides of our trip. Dan told me it was a shame I slept through most of it.
I was at least awake for the drive across the border, where we took a sharp turn over a mountain peak and descended into a fluffy white cloud, immediately confirming all of my suspicions that Kosovo was no ordinary country.
And then we arrived in Peja, a bustling city full of mountain views, though somehow the only photo I took was of the food. But oh, what food! Remember how I raved about pljeskavica, the impossibly delicious hamburger dish I became obsessed with in Belgrade? Well, Peja’s version was even better, and stuffed with cheese!
Dan and I had initially wanted to spend a night or two in Peja, but when we couldn’t find somewhere to stay we hopped on a bus to Pristina, Kosovo instead.
I had expected Pristina to be quirky and sort of interesting at best, so I was more than a little surprised to find myself falling head over heels for Kosovo’s capital.
First of all, what on earth is up with Pristina’s architecture? I’m asking that out of awe, and maybe slight confusion.
For one, what is the university’s library? I love it. Or hate it? It’s sort of hard to decide, but I definitely enjoyed puzzling over it.
And the confusion didn’t stop with the library.
And of course you’ve probably heard of the odes to America in Pristina – a statue of Bill Clinton, as well as boulevards named after Clinton and Bush. Thanks to American intervention in the Kosovo War, Kosovo is one country where American travelers are sure to be welcomed with open arms.
I’m sure the bird droppings and graffiti aren’t meant to be personal.
And then there’s the unfinished Serbian Orthodox Church next to the university library. Construction on the church had begun before the war, but Kosovo’s predominately Muslim population had little interest in finishing the church after the war ended. Now it’s yet another eerie abandoned building to explore.
But while I do always appreciate a dose of wacky architecture and delicious food, what really won me over in Pristina was the people.
Seriously, I know I’ve probably said this about a lot of places before, but Pristina must be home to some of the friendliest people in the world. From the waiters enthusiastically asking where we were from and offering us free coffee and/or rakia to the strangers turned Facebook friends striking up conversations with us on the street, I pretty much just wanted to be best friends with everyone I talked to in Kosovo.
I mean really, how can a capital city be this friendly? In the evenings most of the city’s population (over half of whom are under 25!) can be found walking along the main promenade, cheerfully greeting each other with seemingly little other objective than to see and be seen. I happily joined in because, well, does this sentence even need a because?
The only teensy bit of unfriendliness I encountered was from other Americans, though I probably was just being ultra sensitive because it was my birthday (and you might remember that turning 27 filled me with lots of angst).
We stayed at Hostel Han, which is lovely and very central and I would highly recommend to anyone, but the weekend we were there it was the hangout for Kosovo’s American Peace Corps volunteers.
And what could be more annoying to volunteers living in a country than backpackers who pass through for just a few days and think they know something about the place? Especially the sort of backpackers who, God forbid, have the audacity to blog about it, ugh.
I’ve been the expat rolling her eyes at tourists before, so when I walked into the hostel kitchen and all conversation came to an abrupt halt I took my fellow hostel-stayers stares as my cue to make a swift exit and go get some ice cream for breakfast instead. Because birthday!!
^^Now that I’m 27 and the aging process seems to be gaining momentum, I’ve instructed Dan to never focus the camera lens on my face anymore.
Okay that was actually just an accident, but after seeing the wonders a little bit of blurring did to my skin tone, I’m thinking of making it a rule.
“What about Pristina’s nightlife” you ask?
Well, considering the city’s lively young population and the fact that a banana split at a swanky café costs 2 euros, I’m going to go ahead and say that Pristina has a booming nightlife that even backpackers on a tiny budget can indulge in.
That’s just a guess, though, because while Dan and I did make it out to a pub, as soon as Dan saw that Eurovision was on TV he was dragging me outside to the central square, where a huge screen had been set up for all of Pristina to watch the song contest outside together.
Apparently this happens in cities all around Europe? You’ll have to forgive my ignorance, but I’m afraid my American upbringing lacked the cultural richness afforded to my European counterparts, which is to say that I never watched Eurovision.
But as soon as Dan had explained the rules (and that the contest only lasts one night, not several weeks as I had previously thought) I was totally on board.
And so I enthusiastically joined in the deafening cheers for Albania’s contestant, and the loud booing for Serbia’s.
No no, there wasn’t actually any booing – Eurovision is a place for positivity – but there might have been a bit less applause.
Did you know that foreigners can’t enter Serbia from Kosovo? Kosovo is the world’s second youngest country, gaining independence in 2008, and it still has only been recognized by 108 out of 193 UN member states. That means that as far as Serbia is concerned, Kosovo’s borders aren’t legitimate, and thus illegal entry points into what they consider to be Serbian territory. (I met several travelers who hadn’t known this and found themselves turned away when trying to enter Serbia from Kosovo, so watch out!)
This also means that Kosovo hasn’t been officially recognized by enough states to become a member of the UN, which means it can’t be a member of the International Telecommunications Union, which means it can’t be a member of the European Broadcasting Union, which means Kosovo can’t participate in Eurovision.
While watching an ultra-camp European song contest in a European country that isn’t allowed to participate (while Australia can?!) made me sad for Kosovo, everyone else still seemed in high spirits. Earlier in the day I had wondered at the abundance of Albanian flags in Pristina, but now it occurred to me that perhaps the city was just showing its support for Albania’s Eurovision contestant?
Probably the best part about watching Eurovision in Pristina, Kosovo was the very well-dressed and very tipsy interpreter translating what was going on for the audience.
Of course I couldn’t understand most of what she said, but when it was France’s turn to caste votes and instead of speaking in English the presenter insisted on using French I couldn’t blame our interpreter for mocking him. “Bonsoir, bon SOOOOIIIIR” she boomed into her mic, tripping over her towering clear plastic heels.
And when it was Belarus’ turn to caste their votes our interpreter beat the presenter to the punch “12 points to Russia!!!” For anyone who didn’t know how she could have guessed who Belarus would vote for she added, “Russia, BELARUSSIA.”
Needless to say, Eurovision is now my favorite thing ever, and I spent the rest of the night glued to Youtube reliving the contest through the decades.
And with that I’ll leave you with my current Eurovision favorite, and no I’m not biased because my name is in the title (okay maybe a little biased, but I don’t think anyone will argue that it’s not a genius performance):
Has a new place ever hugely surpassed your expectations?
Shop my look: