When we headed over into Kosovo we really weren’t sure what we would find, after already having passed through Serbia we were a touch nervous at the border as the guards inspected our passports. Arriving in the midst of a storm, as the rain bounced off the pavement around us and thunder crashed above like never before. Little did we know the fascinating and unique experience our time in Kosovo and particularly Pristina would hold. We won’t lie, Pristina is anything put a remarkable or beautiful city, it maybe be mostly spattered with largely modern artefacts but there is amazing history here to discover as well as wonderful examples of everyday life.
See the heart of this new country at the “Newborn” monument
The famous Newborn monument that sits in the heart of a country that has done just that was one of the things we most wanted to see, and if we are honest one of the only things we really knew about here! Unveiled on 17 February 2008, the day that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia it was originally painted a bright yellow. Each year on the Kosovan independence day it is repainted in another symbolic style. Built in just 10 days of round the clock work this monument symbolised all that Kosovo has been through but even more their hope for the future as a newborn country, and what a powerful statement it is.
Wonder at the statue of Bill Clinton!
Whenever a statue is unveiled of someone who is still with us you know they mean a great deal. So just down the aptly named “Bill Clinton Boulevard” sits the someone strange and yet fascinating likeness to the one time US president.
But in many ways this statue symbolised the young age of a country who has been through so much, a country paying its respects to those who got them to where they are now. The statue is a thank you to the help which the US gave in the 1998-1999 war.
Get lost in the local markets
They might not be this grand bazaar, but the markets of Pristina behind the large mosque are a microcosm of life in Kosovo. Here you can see local life in its fullest, most energetic and colourful flow. Collections of brightly coloured fruit and veg tempt you with their shimmering glow, whilst the pungent smell of home made cheese in buckets of brine fill the air.
Piles up on piles of the most random electronics you would ever wish to find, wires like black spaghetti spilling out of the masses of old VHS tapes, remote controls and brick like mobile phones! The sounds, smells, colours and dramas of the market are a quite special experience, as locals gossip, stall holders shout in rhythmic tongue rolling Albania and you get lost within its midst!
Visit the historic Ottoman Imperial Mosque
Pristina might not be the most historical of all the capitals of the Balkans, or even within Kosovo itself. But the impressive and awe inspiring Ottoman Imperial Mosque dominates the city’s skyline and tells the story of this country of many identities. Built in 1461 by Sultan Mehmet II Fatih this Ottoman mosque is a protected monument and solidifies islamic culture in Kosovo.
See the telling unfinished Orthodox church
In a sharp contrast to the towering Imperial Mosque where the faithful flock at every call to prayer sits the abandoned orthodox church. The church of Christ the Saviour began construction in 1995 and was due to be completed in 1999, it has stood in limbo every since after being interrupted by the Kosovo war. A controversial building it has stood abandoned ever since, many have called for its demolition and it has been seen as a symbol of the rule of Slobodan Milošević.
Check out the crazy architecture of the Kosovo National Library!
Within a stones throw of the abandoned church is again another controversial piece of architecture within the Kosovan capital. Its bold appearance that was unveiled in 1982. But the library is also an important location in the history of Kosovo itself and currently has a mission to “Collect, preserve, promote and make accessible the documentary and intellectual heritage of Kosovo.” The library itself was founded in Prizren (then capital) back in 1944 but is best known for its position during the occupation of Kosovo when it was used as both a shelter for Bosnia refugees and as a command and control centre by the Serbian Army.
Explore local culture
There might not be as many “tourist” sights in Pristina as many other cities and towns in the Balkans, but what makes it one of the most interesting places we have ever visited is the local culture on show.
Albanian flags flying proudly alongside Kosovan ones, a young and energetic vibe that in many ways is a modern reflection of time warp Albania.
Sit down with a local, wander around the neighbourhoods, sip some Turkish tea and learn all about the contrasting cultures, history and eras of this wonderful new country!
Getting around the city:
Pristina is a relatively small city for a capital and is compact and walkable. There are buses available for almost nothing that cross the city to get to some of the other outlying areas such as the main bus station.
Where to stay:
We stayed in the awesome Han Hostel right in the heart of the city. The facilities here really make you feel comfortable, they have curtains on all the beds, plugs for each bed also and huge lockers. The kitchen is fully stocked and free tea, coffee and breakfast is available every day.
But the best part of the hostel had to be the amazing people we met there in the cosy living room. From all corners of the globe both staff and guests provided amazing conversation and interesting cultural discussions about Kosovo and travelling itself. We also had a great laugh after a bottle of wine!