Travel G-spots

POV {+ travel tips}: Pristina, Kosovo

Fact 1: there is really very little to do or see in Pristina, Kosovo.

It’s a country in its infancy, having been declared independent only in 2008.

It’s not on the tourist radar and there is definitely no ‘backpacker circuit’.

It’s a place that frankly void any character or history with very little evidence of the armed conflict that lasted from 28 February 1998 until 11 June 1999; that is when I were to compare Pristina with Sarajevo, which I had just come from recently.

What caught me by surprise was the fact that Kosovo has a ‘Kosovo Hospitality CD’. This was left on the king sized bed in my dated hotel room with a queer ‘painting’ of Paris on the wall. I’m yet to discover what’s in the CD and I’m sure it’s being chucked in one of the many zip locked bags containing ticket snubs, fridge magnets, key rings and what-nots that I tend to collect on my trips and do nothing with them thereafter, often forgetting what’s in those bags!

But being a bus ride away from Macedonia without the need for anyone of us to acquire a visa, traveling on Hong Kong/ Canadian, Hong Kong/ Portugal and 2x Malaysian passports it seems like a natural thing to do; i.e. to visit both Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Besides, it was Eid Mubarak and we’d wanted to spent it in a Muslim country.

Fact 2: you gotta love Bill Clinton!

If you weren’t attuned to politics in the late 1990s to know about the Kosovo war, a trip to Kosovo would get you confused – wondering if Bill Clinton had eloped with Madeline Albright to be the President and First Lady in Kosovo. On a serious note, if you’ve got an allergy for Bill (despite how he’d taught us how to smoke marijuana and not make it not count or how to really use a cigar), avoid Pristina at all costs! They have a life-sized bronze statue of him near the city center with a MASSIVE billboard of his smug face staring down at you.

What more?  Buildings, car wash and even trees are named after him!

Now, now, let’s grow up and be objective.

The dude rallied NATO to end the war – determined not to let history in Sarajevo repeat itself – and to his credit, he pushed for Kosovo’s independence. With the locals unabashed love for Bill, and perhaps genuinely embracing the new beginning of Kosovo with a NEWBORN sculpture rather than making up for Pristina’s lack of historical monument and architecture character, here’s another bizarre ‘iconic’ sight …

Third anniversary of Kosovo's declaration of independence

Copyright Ezequiel Scagnetti 

Fact 3: There doesn’t seem to be an economy going yet it oozes (other countries’) money …

There’s really not much of an economy going on there – you can’t even buy any souvenirs – not a single fridge magnet or a lame postcard let alone tea towels, needle thimbles (I never understand this!), iPhone cover, dog’s bowl, umbrellas, boxer shorts … you get the drift.

But Pristina has one of the highest ratio of luxury cars to cars per square kilometers and seriously fancy restaurants that are packed to the brimmed with well-groomed professionals.

A closer observation reveals that Pristina has many expats living and working with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo and it benefits from many foreign government support in the form of ambulance, security/ armed trucks, hospitals, schools and even benches in the park! Whilst it does take a bit of adjusting seeing ambulance with Japanese katakana alphabet splashed on its sides, I’m not complaining about the many muscled testosterone walking the streets or casually leaning against bulky pieces of metal (Hummer), making it impossible for me to tear my gaze from!

Fact 4: they make stone grilled trout like no one else!

I am doomed for life! This is really much the same as me tasting my first ever duck confit in a Michelin star restaurant in London. Thereafter, all duck confit is deemed inedible, and likewise I am yet to find a trout dish worth me battling with the fine bones for the last 2+ years.

However, if you’re not into fish and want something light, the burek are to die for too.

Fact 5: there’s at least two things worth visiting in my humble opinion…

Photos of the Missing – B-2, Bul. Nëne Tereza

A poignant reminder of the Kosovo crisis, the gates at the northern end of the boulevard have dozens of photos of Kosovans who have been missing since the conflict; nearly 1,900 people remain unaccounted for.

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Kosovo Museum – B-2, Sheshi Adam Jashari, tel. +377 44 50 80 55.

This pretty ochre-painted villa housing the Kosovo Museum was built by Austrians for the Turkish army in 1898, and was used by the Yugoslav national army until 1975. The museum used to have a rich collection of pre-historic objects uncovered in Kosovo – these were all spirited off to Belgrade just before the troubles started in 1998, and hundreds of archeological finds and ethnographic items yet have to be returned. The extensive permanent archaeology exhibition details life in the region in the Illyrian, Dardanian and Roman periods with excellent English-language texts, all accompanied by Philip Glass minimal music. Centre stage is the 6000 year old Hynesha në Fron (Goddess on a throne) statue, found at Tjerrtorja in 1956 and returned to Pristina in 2002. In front of the building recent history is represented by some artillery hardware, while two large Jewish gravestones remind of another recent exodus drama. Open 09:30 – 17:30, Sat, Sun 11:00 – 15:00. Closed Mon. Admission free.

All digital photo © {p}.Haque – All Rights Reserved

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other places where references were made above are:

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Clinton Billboard & Statue – A-4, Bul.

Bill Clinton. Kosovo’s favourite superhero is honoured with a large billboard overlooking the boulevard named after him. Right below, a three metre high bronze statue of Bill Clinton was unveiled in 2009, showing the love affair is still fresh. The statue, depicting Bill waving and clutching the 1999 agreement that permitted US troops to enter Kosovo, was paid for by the ‘Friends of the USA’ association who didn’t get permission to put it anywhere else in the city. It’s a welcome addition to the grey boulevard.

Newborn Monument – A-3, Rr. Luan Haradinaj

Missing a central rallying point in the heady days of the declaration of independence in February 2008, some clever clogs designed these seven huge yellow steel letters spelling out the word ‘newborn’ that was placed in front of the Palace of Youth and Sports. The three metre high letters were quickly covered in autographs and texts, scribbled by thousands of people starting with the PM and president.

National Library – B-3, Sheshi Hasan Prishtina, tel. +381 38 24 96 50, http://www.biblioteka-ks.org

Unleashed on a bewildered public in 1982, Pristina’s extraordinary National Library was designed by the Croatian architect Andrija Mutnjakovic. The outside of the mammoth 16,500 square metre space-age building features a total of 99 white glass cupolas of different sizes and is entirely covered in a metal fishing net. Simultaneously gorgeous and absurd, the library was once home to a huge depository of Albanian literature, much of which, thanks to the enlightened leadership of Slobodan Milosovic, was turned into cardboard in the early 1990s. The equally beguiling interior which has some photos of old Pristina still contains over 5,000 fine examples of old and rare books and manuscripts, dating back to the 16th century. The library also holds many foreign titles, and membership is open to anyone.

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useful information

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The Pristina Heritage map can be obtained from IKS (www.iksweb.org), an independent non profit NGO focusing on socio-economic research in Kosovo and the region. In partnership with ESI, European Stability Initiative, IKS has done research into Pristina’s development and published a discussion paper (available online) on the city’s threatened cultural heritage, and is starting a cultural heritage awareness raising campaign amongst both locals and foreign visitors. The map can be downloaded on the website.

Spring-Summer 2011 In Your Pocket City Guide – Pristina, Kosovo

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This entry was posted on August 8, 2013 by in Europe, TRAVEL ITINERARY & POV, TRAVEL TIPS.

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