Tanks, war and danger zone – how Kosovo is nothing of that kind.
Kosovo, the forbidden land, surrounded by mystery and prejudice that hang in the air. The land that according to what they say, once you cross the borders you may never go back. The land of a bad reputation; mafia, drugs, kidnapping, shootings, organ trafficking and other crimes. The land torn by conflict like a child of divorced parents, hanging in between Serbia and Albania.
Being a kid of the 90s, Kosovo engraved its letters deeply in my mind.Not understanding much of Balkan politics at the age of 8 I glanced through the living room’s door at forbidden news, for adults only at that time. The memory that is stuck in my head shows only tanks, Kosovo conflict and the fight for independence which in a child’s naive mind can only evoke compassion. Fed by the Second World War martyrology of my country, I kept fingers crossed for Kosovo, who wouldn’t like independence, right? After that, Kosovo disappeared from the news and partially from my mind too. As a child I didn’t know many things and didn’t have the slightest idea about many countries but I knew that Kosovo existed and only a decade later when I started my independent travelling it came back to me, the sudden urge to visit the country that won its independence on tanks that in my naivety remained the past of World War II. Crossing border is nothing else than usual, UN and USA squats do not greet you, mafia doesn’t await to push you in the shady car and drive away with the squeal of tyres. A war was not Kosovo’s guest for a while, what you encounter in the cities is mostly modern society, being way ahead then others may think.
We jump off in Prishtina, it’s a sunny day, nothing makes me think of the horror stories that people keep on repeating carelessly. The capital is under construction, it seems to constantly grow along with its population, blocks of flats sprouting one by one are the main landscape of Prishtina. Present image of the city, communist’s merit, is quite modern and not really attractive for tourists, as they made sure that no past will remain. Inhabited by the youngest European nation with average age estimated as 27,Prishtina is a vibrant city. For those who look for capital’s sights and charms they should lower their expectations and accept Prishtina as it is. To enjoy and understand the city better you may pass by waving at friendly Bill Clinton’s statue; a reminder of USA engagement in the conflict, drop by caged National Library with its unique design and neighbouring abandoned church of Christ the Saviour whose construction was disturbed by events of 1999. To distance yourself from the history, have a stroll at Mother Teresa boulevard, enjoy macchiato,head towards the remains of bazzar with its mosques and take a deep breath in Germia Park. At the end of the day just before you embrace Prishtina’s nightlife take a moment by Newborn and Heroinat monument, it should give you a profile of the city’s big moments and struggles.
Surprisingly, given Kosovo is a Muslim country, it looks quite secular, women dress as in any European capital following the trends, Christmas lights illuminate Mother’s Teresa boulevard almost blinding passers-by.As locals say they celebrate everything so there is a Christmas market, Christmas tree, Glühwein and German language all around, it seems almost as if it was a second official one. Leaving Prishtina in early morning the sky is painted in orange and pink, this background suits the statue of liberty saying goodbye to travellers.
Next stop –Prizren, the route takes us through villages and towns, the landscape changes drastically once after a short nap I open my eyes.Valleys filled with milky fog pierced by tops of minarets, mountains sharply cut out of the sky, and snow hats covering summits, perfect postcard if only piles of trash wouldn’t lie along the way.Prizren is covered in fog too,we stroll through the half-awaken town. It somehow managed to escape communist modifications, with its narrow cobbled streets, stone bridge, mosques and churches Prizren represents the true soul of the region. Uphill location makes the landscape quite picturesque with the fortress overseeing it from above. There is old town with charming cafes and little shops, if you cross the bridge you can see old hammam, it seems Prizren managed to establish some balance between cultural mix without demolishing the past.
Two days later, we leave Kosovo, noorgans missing, we are glad some stereotypes do not work. What did we find there? A bunch of false prejudice, friendly people, vibrant nightlife, tasty beer and good memories. Next time someone asks me “what the hell are you doing there?”, I will respond: enjoying myself. All in all, I wish the same as 8 year old me; I hope Kosovo will remain like a blackbird, free.