How To Spend 2 Days in Pristina, Kosovo
Pristina is the capital city of Kosovo, a country you’ve probably only heard of because of the news. It isn’t beautiful in the conventional sense. It’s gritty and it’s raw. There’s Ottoman heritage from centuries ago mixed with Brutalist architecture from Yugoslavia. Both Kosovo and Pristina have been through a lot, owned and hurt by different regions. It takes time to find yourself. But when it’s finished healing, in a few years, Pristina will be badass.
Kosovo is the second youngest and newest country in the world. They only gained independence in 2008 and there are still some countries out there who don’t acknowledge it as a country. After Moldova, Kosovo is the poorest European nation. They use the Euro, and although a lot of things are cheaper than in Western Europe (fancy coffees, restaurants, transport), it’s not all as cheap as other countries you may have visited in Eastern Europe.
It’s a safe place to visit. You don’t need to worry about any leftover tension that may reside there. Maybe don’t have a debate about it though. There’s a bit of pickpocketing, but there is in so many cities. There are currently 4000+ peacekeepers in the country, most of which are outside of Pristina (because they are unnecessary, so don’t worry). Before I went, everyone was asking me if the war was even over, so I get it.
If you’re flying into Prishtina Airport, it’s a lot cheaper to get a bus to the city centre than a taxi. The last stop is the bus station which is walkable to town. Follow the signposts for the taxis to get you outside, and then turn left. There will be a small yellow sign for the A1 service. The bus is bright yellow so even if you can’t find the sign, you’ll see the bus when it arrives. Do not panic if there are taxi drivers telling you there isn’t a bus. There is. I got it. They just want more business.
We walked from the bus station (Stacioni i Autobusve) to Hotel Denis. It was supposed to take us 45 minutes, but because of the snow and the chaos of the roads, it took us at least an hour and a half. Luckily we’re good for walking!
When I say “the chaos of the roads”, I don’t mean there was a ton of traffic. That was pretty normal. It’s hard to explain but they don’t really seem to do car parks in Pristina. They park along the sides of the road, but in such a way that you can’t fit by them, you have to keep crossing over to avoid them. And because there was so much snow and sludge, we couldn’t tell where the pavement ended (if there were any) and the road began. Trust me, it was awkward.
Anyway, here’s my favourite story about our adventure in Pristina, and it happened on day one, before we’d even gotten to the hotel.
We knew that our hotel was up on a hill, and we had a feeling we were across from the right hill, but our map was telling us that we had to keep walking and go a long way around and walk up the hill another way. We were freezing and fed up with the icy, broken pavement so we said f*** it, we’d try and walk up the hill from here. We had seen a couple of people coming from that direction so it wasn’t impossible.
We crossed the road to the station, and as we were walking across the tracks we saw there was a sloping footpath zigzagging up the hill. Yay! We were going to save so much time and be warm soon!
Someone was coming down the path, towards us, they seemed to have to hop over a little bridge. No problem, we’ll just make sure to pick up our case and not slip.
Well, we go to this “little bridge”. I kid you not, somebody had flipped over an old, warped road sign so it just (just!) fitted across a stream. It was covered in snow and ice which I guess helped reinforce it? Oh, and a dead hare who looked like he’d been there for a while. Anyway, apart from the “bridge” bending when you walked across it, it wasn’t the worst idea! What an introduction to Kosovo. 😀
Once we’d dropped our bags off and warmed up with a cuppa we were ready to venture out again! We wanted to go back via the “bridge” and station though because there was something strange about the place. It looked small and as if it had been completely abandoned for years, yet it was the station for a capital city and seemed to have an up-to-date timetable. And on the way back a few hours later, we even saw a train!
The Newborn Monument
The NEWBORN Monument was unveiled on February 17th 2008, the day Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. “Newborn” was chosen as a single English word for its power to describe the birth of a new country, its positive connotations, ease of understanding by non-native English speakers, and potential to present Kosovo as a new, contemporary, trendy country.
“NEW life is BORN
NEW hope is BORN
NEW future is BORN
NEW country is BORN”
Sheshi Skënderbeu if using a map app
Skanderbeg was a medieval Albanian who fought against the Ottomon forces. It took four days to bring the statue from Krüje in north Albania to the centre of Prishtina. There is also a war memorial dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo War along with photographs of people missing from the conflict.
Mother Teresa Statue
She may have been from Skopje, North Macedonia but due to her Kosovar-Albanian parents, Kosovo consider her one of their own.
Emin Gjiku Ethnological Museum
A museum showing what life was like in the time of the Ottoman Kosovo period. Ancient clothing, tools, pottery, weapons, musical instruments. We didn’t go in, but even just walking around the grounds and old buildings was nice.
Imperial Mosque (Sultan Mehmet Fatih)
The Imperial Mosque was built on the orders of Mehmed the Conqueror around 1461, and although it was converted to a Catholic church during the Austro-Hungarian era, it was renovated again after WWII and is now the city’s most important mosque. The minaret collapsed during an earthquake in 1955; the one standing today is a reconstruction.
Cathedral of Saint Mother Teresa
This is the only cathedral in the world dedicated to Saint Mother Teresa. Hey, I was surprised to! The former President of Kosovo, a Muslim man called Ibrahim Rugova, was the one who laid the foundation stone. It sparked some controversy amongst Muslims because they felt the cathedral was too much for the small percentage of the population who were Catholics. In the 2011 census 95.6% of Kosovo were Muslim, and only 2.2% identified as Roman Catholic (the other 1.5% are Eastern Orthodox).
National Library of Kosovo
The library was built with iron and glass and was topped with 99 different-sized domes. Quirkiest library you’ve ever seen though, right? Everybody seems to have their own theory on the story behind this unique-looking building. The most common is that it’s meant to represent a style blending Byzantine and Islamic architectural forms.
The actual architect, a Croatian named Andrija Mutnjaković, says that the design is linked to the tradition of pre-Romanesque architecture of the Balkans.
Despite the official statements, there are other controversies when it comes to the appearance of the library and what it means. One of the most famous versions is the one that connects the domes of the building with the national Albanian hat called a qeleshe. This, they say, was the reason why Serbian politicians reacted very strongly about the appearance of the building.
So who knows? It’s definitely worth seeing though.
Church of Christ the Saviour
This unfinished Serbian Orthodox church was being built in the university grounds during the Serbisation (forcing the spread of Serbian culture) of Kosovo. Albanian students and professors were being expelled from the university while its foundations were being laid.
The exterior was completed by 1998 but the interior was never finished. It was interrupted by the Kosovo War (Feb 1998 – June 1999).
Today the majority want the church gone and have called for its demolition. It is used as a public dump by many and has been vandalised and set on fire several times.
Bill Clinton Boulevard & Statue
After the Kosovo War, the Albanians in Kosovo wanted to thank US President Bill Clinton for helping them during such a tragic time.
They give him the credit for the NATO bombing campaign which ended the war. Their strategy was to bomb Yugoslav (Serbia who controlled Kosovo before the war began) military infrastructure and strategic locations such as bridges and power plants from above to stop them battling Kosovo.
They erected an 11-ft statue of Bill Clinton and a few shops down, even have a boutique called Hillary which sells clothes in the her “classic” style.
We went to Pristina on our way to Skopje, North Macedonia. It’s as good as place as any for a stopover. I’ll be writing how I got from Pristina to Skopje soon, and will leave a link here 🙂