How many countries are there in Europe? Google it if you have to. Some say 50, others 51. Why the difference? Kosovo. Some countries recognise it as an independent country, including the UK and the US, whilst others do not.
We had booked our bus tickets from Belgrade to Pristina in Belgrade for 15 euros each plus a small station fee travelling with Adio Tours. The bus left promptly on time at 12:00 and we arrived at Pristina bus station at around 6pm. It was a long trip but there was lovely scenery and the obligatory delay at the border crossing. There is something a little disconcerting about a guard with a gun boarding the bus and there was a delay of about an hour but we did have a stop or two on the way which broke up the journey.
Shortly after crossing the border, we saw some dilapidated houses. Possibly war damaged, though admittedly that is speculation. Some with no rooves, all with no glass in the windows. Some of them, sadly, with human inhabitants. You couldn’t help but feel for them living in such squalid conditions.
What struck us on our arrival into Pristina was how small it was; Belgrade was a large city but Pristina was very small in comparison and it was a lot more modern than we expected. We grabbed a taxi from the bus station and took the short journey to our accommodation ‘The Headquarters‘. We had used booking.com to book an apartment for our stay in Pristina which had a good rating and the meet and greet to collect the keys went without a hitch. The apartment was completely suitable for our needs and even had a washing machine which we were very grateful for after travelling for 2 weeks only on hand luggage! The accommodation was situated on a busy street with copious bars, coffee shops, restaurants and a supermarket. For only 54 euros for 2 nights, we were very impressed.
After a short time to unpack we headed up the road to the main town centre stopping at the cash point on the way and a stop in the supermarket. Kosovo uses the euro and it was quite strange to see prices for cents and the price differences compared to other euro destinations. By UK standards at least, it was very reasonable/cheap! It was dark by now and we headed to Mother Theresa Boulevard with copious restaurants and street stalls. This was a bustling area and obviously the main go-to area in Pristina, especially at night.
We stopped and had a meal at a nice at a nice looking restaurant in the Boulevard called Rings but despite the appearance we were disappointed that the food was somewhat bland; as an example I ordered a bruschetta which consisted of just a bit of bread with tomato and mozzarella on it, no herbs or seasoning and this was something we had noted throughout the Balkans. The food isn’t awful, but we found it extremely bland. We headed back to the apartment around the corner stopping via the supermarket for a couple of beers and settled in for the night.
The next day we had the breakfast we had acquired the night before from the supermarket and then headed out to see the famous Newborn Monument that we had passed on our way into Pristina.
The monument was unveiled on 17th February 2008; the day Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. The monument is repainted every year with previous decorations including the flags of the states that have recognised Kosovo. On our visit it had been changed to represent 10 years of independence. The monument is the ultimate selfie stop in Pristina.
Also nearby the monument was the Pristina City Stadium (now known as Fadil Vokrri Stadium) and Nigel being a football fan did his best to try and get a closer look and some photos. The stadium is multipurpose but mostly used for Football and home to FC Pristina; although has housed concerts for artists such as Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent
After a short drinks break, we then proceeded to the Cathedral of Mother Teresa. The cathedral is a new building with the foundations laid in 2010 and was only consecrated on September 5th 2017. The cathedral was an imposing building in Pristina being one of the tallest but impressive nonetheless.
We continued walking further down the road looking for the round about with the Kosovo flag in it; unfortunately it wasn’t there! Instead we headed back up Boulevardi Deshmoret e Kombit and crossing Bill Clinton Boulevard, checking out the vast number of electrical stores on the way back towards Mother Theresa Boulevard.
Arriving back at the boulevard it was completely different from at night; it was bustling with people and we were able to see the Mother Theresa Statue and the famous statues of Ibrahim Rugova, the first President of the newly formed Republic of Kosovo and George Castriot, an Albanian Nobleman and Miltary commander who served in the Ottoman empire.
Next on our sightseeing was the Kosovo Museum located just near the Jashar Pasha Mosque. The museum was founded in 1949 and is the largest museum in Kosovo. The ground floor was dedicated to the first First President, the 2nd has lots of archaeological items and the 3rd was all about the latest war with flags, pictures and artefacts from refugees. It was interesting and worth a visit if you have the time.
We headed back to our apartment and saw the Brotherhood of Unity statue based in the centre. This was the popular slogan of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and the monument was erected in 1961 to signify the different members of brotherhoods in Yugoslavian Kosovo at that time; the Serbs, Albanian and Montenegrins. There was talk in 2010 of this outdated monument being pulled down however there is no sign of that happening as of yet.
After a short rest, we headed out for a meal at the Mexican restaurant we had spotted earlier in the day called Restaurant Mexican – Down Town. We had a really nice and flavoursome meal in here and were amazed that because we were short of cash Euros, and they didn’t accept card payments, the waiter told us not to worry, we could come back and pay tomorrow! As it happens we did just about have enough but appreciated the trusting sentiment. We got into the swing of the atmosphere by making use of the available props! Although Nigel complained bitterly that the hat weighed a ton, and felt like it was lined with barbed wire on his poor sunburned bonce…
We headed back to our apartment on the way home taking in some of the interesting graffiti on the way ready moving on to our next stop in the morning.
We didn’t particularly have many expectations of Pristina but were surprised at how modern everything was; which I suppose is unsurprising considering it is ‘Newborn’ and has only started its modernisation to how it is today since Kosovo gained its independence in 2008. During the Balkan war, Kosovo lost many of its numerous mosques, but the rebuilding process is well underway. It was a really interesting place to visit although still growing and we could see it will continue to grow with tourism over time. We only had a short time here but we did enjoy it and would recommend a short trip here; however, any longer you may struggle to find things to do.
We struggled somewhat with cash points in Kosovo; many would say the pin number was incorrect when it clearly wasn’t and refused to give cash. We found during our time here that two banks would give money to us one was Raiffeisen and the other TEB. The currency adopted in Kosovo is the euro and you could easily buy a 3-course meal for 2 here for under £15 and we spent very little here. All in all an enjoyable trip but now onto our next adventure – Skopje in Macedonia.