After 2 wonderful days by Lake Ohrid, it was time to move on to our next destination – Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. Kosovo is a country that neither of us had been to before, but that we were particularly looking forward to visiting. Like most people from the UK, the thing that first sprang to mind when we thought of the place was, sadly, the war. We were just about old enough to be aware of events at the time, and were fascinated/excited to see what we’d make of the place now.
Our day begun in typical Matt and Lucy fashion – which means another ridiculously early morning bus! 07:15 was probably quite a reasonable hour compared to some of the buses we’ve caught, but the long walk from our hotel to the bus station (as well as manically packing & checking out) meant that a very early wake up was still needed. On the way, we got some much needed breakfast Burek (not sure our arteries would agree) before rocking up to the bus station with plenty of time. Here, we came across probably the saddest looking stray dog of the entire Balkans tour. We’ll imaginatively call him ‘Sad Dog’. Sad Dog was huge, but could only plod straight past us (which looked like quite some effort) before falling to sleep by the fence. Poor Sad Dog.
Our bus route to Pristina was an unusual one: Ohrid-Skopje-Pristina. This meant we got to enjoy the mountain scenery on the way to Skopje again (whilst trying not to look down as we drove over the bridges!). When we arrived back in Skopje, we had a couple of hours before our bus to Pristina so decided to go for one last wander through the city. We embraced our inner tourists, and took a selfie with Mother Theresa (it’s what she would have wanted) before calling in at a supermarket to get supplies for the journey to Kosovo – juice and (you guessed it) Burek. We definitely lost track of how many portions of that stuff we ate on the trip.
On to the bus itself. If you read our blogs on Sofia and Skopje, you’ll have heard about our pretty awful night bus experience. The monstrosity of a machine which took us to Kosovo was far, far worse. It was a 5/6/7 hour bus in 30+ degree heat – but it had no air conditioning, and no windows/vents which you could open. The only ventilation we got was when we slowed down enough to let the driver open the doors. Needless to say, everyone was drenched in sweat – if we’re looking at this positively, I suppose it was like a free trip to a sauna. Lucy did at least make a friend – a sweet toddler who had an obsession with her hair.
We finally made it to Kosovo, and immediately realised that we had no idea how to get to the city centre! And that Pristina is/feels absolutely huge! So we wandered off somewhere and hoped for the best. Despite a slightly all-over-the-place route, we found our hostel – Hostel Han – which was very conveniently located just off the main street. The room was basic but clean, and we were only there for a night so we were quite happy.
After dumping our bags, our first task was food. This was delivered in the form of a bizarre Mediterranean fast food place, which served us up Döner kebabs and chips. We were ordered to wait outside whilst they made it – not the warmest of welcomes, but if they were providing us with something to eat then we weren’t really too fussed. The food was not exactly adventurous, but needs must. At €7 each, however, we’d sadly left the incredible value of Macedonia well and truly behind.
Food stocks replenished, we went off on a wander around the city – past the stadium (obviously), a big “Newborn” sign which celebrates Pristina’s status as the world’s youngest capital city, and a massive statue of Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton is a bit of a hero over here for his work during the war – so much so that they’ve given him an extra large hand. Zoom in on the photo and you’ll see what we mean!
Along the way, we found the world’s ugliest building – the University Library. Seriously. It’s beautifully disgusting. We couldn’t help but take a wander inside to see if it matched the exterior – and thankfully it was much nicer! There was some sort of government function going on (judging by the diplomatic plates on lots of the cars parked outside) – which meant plenty of very vulnerable looking glasses of champagne laid out on tables. We didn’t quite feel like this was the time or place to be caught stealing alcohol from politicians, so we moved swiftly on.
Interestingly, we felt incredibly underdressed as we wandered around – and we weren’t exactly dressed unusually. Everyone our age looked like they belonged in the upmarket shopping streets of Milan – an impression that was only heightened when evening time arrived. The main street seemed to be transformed into a catwalk – it was clearly the place to be seen, and further research tells us that people will spend all evening strolling up and down without necessarily spending any money (Kosovo is one of Europe’s poorest countries). Indeed, we felt quite out of place when we sat down in a busy restaurant and then discovered that we were the only ones who ordered any food – everyone else seemed to nurse a coffee for the evening. In all honesty, it was a very nice atmosphere, and one which I would choose every time over a “night out” in England.
The next morning, we got up early (of course) and went off to explore Pristina without rucksacks before we had to check out of our hostel. Breakfast this morning was probably the worst of the trip – and it’s no coincidence that this was the first morning we tried to source our own from a supermarket rather than a bakery. We bought donuts (what could possibly go wrong), and Matt bought a yogurt drink “just to try”. The yogurt drink was, predictably, pretty grim – the definition of an acquired taste. The donuts – where do we begin?! It’s quite hard to explain quite how horrible they were…but they’re what I imagine the plastic display fruit in Ikea kitchens would taste like if you actually ate a piece. Not pleasant.
Thankfully, we were both in a very giddy mood. An educated guess would say that this is due to sleep deprivation, which was beginning to catch up with us. The breakfast debacle seemed unrealistically hilarious at the time (and still does now). We even ended up spending 10 minutes laughing out loud at a statue of a man on a horse, who we named ‘Skenderbae’. It turns out that this is actually Albania’s national hero – Skenderbeu. Oops. Sorry Skenderbeu. Sorry Albania.
Anyway, we decided to cut our losses with breakfast and just feed the rest to the pigeons before heading back off on our explore. The obligatory “Newborn” photo opportunity was taken, and we ventured out into the old part of town which we hadn’t seen yesterday.
It certainly wasn’t the best Bazaar that we visited in the Balkans, but they each have their own charm and we enjoyed wandering round. The market place especially felt like you’d be transported out of Europe and we could easily have spent more time enjoying the chaos!
The time came to collect bags and make our way to the bus station to grab our bus to Prizren. On the way, we dropped in at the Mother Theresa Church, which has been under construction for years. It’s so under construction that there are absolutely giant doors which open out to a drop which would quite possibly kill you.
Excitingly, we discovered that there was a lift up to the top of the bell tower, so we took the opportunity to get some views/photos of Pristina. The views were great, but there was a hairy 15 minutes as the lift recall button seemed to break. Thankfully, we were still in the “we’re stuck on the top of a church and we can’t get down, this is hilarious” phase by the time it started working again. Phew.
Freedom was celebrated with a trip to the shopping centre near the bus station (only so that we could use the loo without having to pay!). It was absolutely boiling by the point, and we were quite pleased to be somewhere with decent air conditioning. We only had ten minutes further to go until we reached the buses – but it had got to the point where every five minute sit down felt like heaven.
There was, of course, still a bus to catch – heading to Prizren, another Kosovan town! Will we sweat to death in a minibus sauna? Is there going to be a Stadium for Matt to see? Will we find decent Burek? Stay tuned to find out!