K is for Kosovo: What to Do in Kosovo
Sorry for the delay in getting this post out. I recently started a new job which begins at around 4am. While I really enjoy it and it should facilitate my travels, I haven’t really adjusted to the new sleep schedule!
I‘m always fascinated by microstates because no one really talks about them. It’s why in the first round of A-Z I have tried to focus on smaller countries where I can. So, here’s What to do in Kosovo!
A Little History
Kosovo is one of the world’s youngest countries, only declaring its independence from Serbia in 2008! Sometimes I think it is easy to forget that new countries pop up all the time throughout history and things are not always so static as they might seem.
While Kosovo’s namesake “Field of blackbirds” is derived from the Serbian language, Albanians make up the majority of the country’s population. This was as a result of increasing Albanian population and Yugoslavia (consisting of Serbia and Montenegro republics), with this increasing concentration leading – in part – to ethnic tensions between Serbia and the Kosovo territory. During the 1980s to 2000s the independence movement grew in Kosovo resulting in the Kosovo War (1998) followed by the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Some countries still do no recognize Kosovo’s independence but 113 do. Unfortunately, while there are many wonderful things about Kosovo (as will be seen) there is still a lot of tension. While things are looking up in terms of the Serbian minority (who now have their own police force and court of appeals) other minority groups still struggle in Kosovo, perhaps most notably migrant groups like the Roma (who make up 2% of the population).
I cannot claim to know nearly enough about this conflict, but it always saddens me to see groups that were persecuted turn around and persecute others. The UN, in particular, is also at great fault for their involvement, by placing Roma in camps up until 2012 which were contaminated by massive amounts of lead – leading to the deaths of many children and leaving behind issues which are still seen today. The UN accepted responsibility in 2016 but news about financial compensation is scarce – which is, quite frankly, ridiculous and disgusting. If they accept responsibility, they need to follow through to do something to fix it.
Moving on to happier things!
The Euro. Even though it’s not a Eurozone member, it is a potential candidate.
What to Do
Of course, one must visit the capital of a country wherever possible. Most people don’t have much to say about Pristina in terms of tourism – which doesn’t make a terrible amount of sense to me. The architecture in particular is highly eclectic and fascinating, with the National Library of Kosovo often being dubbed one of the world’s ugliest buildings. Clearly they are not familiar with Soviet Russia block buildings AKA my least favorite style of building ever. I actually find it rather pretty in a weird way! But that could be my innate desire to form attachment to any kind of ugly duckling.
Nightlife in Pristina sounds very interesting – and frankly much more lively than most European (even capital) cities I’ve visited. Eclectic seems to be the rule here, with various individuals discussing different dance forms, music styles, as well as clubs in the capital of Kosovo. But there’s also a quieter side, with nighttime/evening cafe people watching or strolling being some kind of national past time (known as xhiro).
Perhaps the most well-known and only (?) tourist destination in Kosovo, if Kosovo could really be considered a tourist destination. The Balkans, as a whole, are relatively undiscovered by tourists. The views from the Kaljaja Fortress (built in the 11th century) are absolutely stunning. In pictures, it seems to tower over the town in places – what a sight. While I don’t normally advocate for shopping, as I myself am currently trying to reduce everything I own, Prizren seems like a true gem of a shopping place. Many of the products are artisanal, with methods like jewelry making dating back over 600 years.
Gjakova and Kosovska Mitrovica:
Oh my goodness Gjakova is absolutely adorable – and so beautiful nestled into the mountains of Kosovo. Lovely, quaint architecture I’m not sure I’ve seen outside of Kosovo, a Grand Bazaar full of cafes and local art – I’d really love to visit this town. Kosovska Mitrovica is a divided city, where many of the minority Serbians live. I’m always interested in cities like this, and it is important to me to try to see many different sides of a country.
There is a limited train network to places like Peje from Pristina, another place I recommend visiting if you have the time. However, I would actually recommend going by bus. It’s not terribly difficult to get on the bus. It’s cheap, and your journey will likely never be longer than 2 hours as Kosovo is so small. I would recommend this over trains. This is because the Kosovian countryside is pretty gorgeous. It’s a nice way to see the country it if you’re in a time crunch.
What to Eat
Dairy products seem to be a fun area to focus on when visiting Kosovo. The drinkable yogurt (ayran) seems to be the most “different” item. It is commonly seen on menus. Although, it is also a favorite in many other countries. Roasted food is also very traditional, along with pastry baked dishes and meals are often served with rice or potatoes. It all sounds terribly hearty and I’d love to give it a try!
I hope you enjoyed What to Do in Kosovo as I’m working to expand this series to provide more information, such as the “What to Eat” and “History” sections. I’m also trying to provide links to more information on the various languages where available 🙂 Feel free to comment any suggestions!