Kosovo: Europe’s newest country (although still not recognised as a country by Serbia – they still count it as part of Serbia, making border crossings somewhat complicated depending where you are coming from).
Border crossings aside, we arrived and found ourselves at a very lively hostel, the busiest one we’ve stayed at so far on our travels through low season. We headed out for food, it was very cheap with big portions, although the price of beer was a bit more than we’ve had in other places.
One thing that you will notice about Kosovo is their love of NATO, America, and most importantly, Bill Clinton. It was President Clinton and NATO which bombed Serbia in 1999 to end the war in Kosovo so naturally, they love him. There is Bill Klinton (yes that’s how they spell it) Boulevard and a big statue of him. They are also big fans of Tony Blair (something we find strange as English citizens). There was also Toni Bler Street, and even funnier, we found out that parents would call their child Tonibler (one word). When he came to visit the country, Tony Blair had pictures with lots of children called Tonibler, I imagine that must have been very confusing and surreal.
The country is small and apart from visiting the capital of Pristina, we weren’t sure where else to visit, everywhere could be done in a day trip. In our hostel dorm we ran into two Danish guys that we’d previously met in Serbia, they were planning to visit the town of Mitrovica and we said we’d join them. It’s certainly not a town that any book or website would recommend tourists to visit, however, the town is one of the most interesting in Kosovo as it is divided by a bridge, Albanians on one side and Serbians on the other.
As the four of us got off the bus we looked a bit out of place in this town. A local Albanian girl asked us if we needed help and we told her we came to see the bridge, she offered to take us there and pretty much ended up being our tour guide for the day out of sheer kindness (and probably a good excuse to practice her English as she was studying it). An Albanian flag lines one side of the bridge and a Serbian flag on the other side, in the middle of the bridge is ‘Peace Park’; a small patch of grass you can walk along but cars cannot drive over the bridge. The girl walked with us to the other side of the bridge but she was very nervous and wouldn’t speak a word of Albanian. As tourists, obviously we were fine but she said she even looked different and they could tell she wasn’t Serbian.
It wasn’t until this town that I realised how much of a divide exists in Kosovo between the two countries. Serbia are very firm in their beliefs that is it still part of their country, places like Mitrovica and towns north of there are their way of showing that it is still part of their land, by having all Serb populations and ensuring Albanian’s don’t come over to their side of town. It was an interesting and enlightening day, we all headed back to Pristina thinking about the division that still exists and hearing stories from the Kosovo War.
In the evening we decided to head out for a few drinks, there was a large group of us from various countries and some locals too. We drank a lot of beer and ended up back at the hostel at 3.30am. It was a brilliant night and so whenever people ask us about Kosovo we say it was fantastic. I guess that’s part of travelling though, the people you meet and stuff you do with them gives you an opinion.
There isn’t lots to see in Pristina and it had some of the worst poverty we’ve seen on our trip so far, but the country itself is very interesting, although scars of the recent war still show, the country is blooming and is well worth a visit.