mini-guide: KOSOVO, a brand new country…
Kosovo, (Albanian: Kosova) is a partly recognized country in South Eastern Europe. Formerly a Serbian province, after a lengthy and often violent dispute Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 despite vociferous Serbian opposition. Kosovo borders Albania to the southwest, Montenegro to the northwest, Macedonia to the south, and Serbia to the east.
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|Language||Albanian 90 % (official), Serbian 6 % (official), Turkish, Romany|
|Religion||Muslim 92 %, Orthodox 6 %, Roman Catholic 1 %|
|Electricity||230V/50Hz (European plug)|
|Time Zone||UTC +1|
Kosova is the Albanian name for Kosovo. The population of Kosovo is 90 percent Albanian, who use the name Kosova exclusively.
Ahh if only the people of Kosovo would learn to understand each other… but for now we’ll have to settle for you the wandering tourist trying to understand them. Well, actually its not that hard. Lots of people in Kosovo can speak English (even before the UN arrived) and they are more then willing to help you and tell you their stories. You, as the outsider, will get to hear both sides, they on the other hand usually spend their whole life only hearing one.
If you are interested in more than just seeing beautiful mountains and ancient ruins on your vacation to ‘the region’, Kosovo strongly recommends itself.
- Seeing the UN and the international community in action (or lack thereof) is quite interesting.
- speaking to people in a post conflict environment is an eye opener that tends to cause a person to stop thinking of people in countries of civil conflict as simply nuts.
- You’ll get a first hand view of about 5 different cultures (Albanian, Serb, Roma, Ashkalia, and Bosniak)
- You’ll gain an understanding of what happens when governments allow industry to function with no environmental regulation
- You’ll come to appreciate having electricity 24 hours a day
- The Kosovars tend to be very friendly towards the USA, for its support of their independence.
Info You can get a superb atlas of Kosovo from the OSCE that has detailed ethnic maps (before and after the war), vital statistics, along with navigational maps. To get the map, ask for the NGO Information office near the OSCE building in Pristina. There is also now a new travel guide to Kosovo published by Bradt in November 2007 by Gail Warrander and Verena Knaus. This includes more than 19 maps, 150 restaurants, hotels and lots of history. Available on Amazon and also on direct sale in Kosovo. See http://www.bradt-travelguides.com.
Warning: Kosovo is quite safe (so long as you spend more time listening to people then spouting your political opinions) but it is also an area that is ripe for conflict. Conflict is quite often foreseeable long in advance, so if you’re planning to go, check the news several weeks in advance to make sure that no major ‘incidents’ have occurred that could lead to rioting or other civil conflict.
The majority of the population of Kosovo speaks Albanian. Serb-Croatian is universally understood, but not all the Albanians are keen to speak it.
Many people in Kosovo spoke English even prior to the arrival of thousands of NGO workers but now almost everybody can at least speak a few words in English. German,Italian and Turkish are also quite common.
In many Balkan areas the approach to other people is a bit more forward than in other European countries. This is particularly true in Kosovo. Expect people to be direct, particularly get used to this if you’re going to be there for a while. This may mean people will invite you and treat you as a real friend and make comments about girlfriends, etc. that in your culture may be unsuitable. You’re there as a tourist so just smile or do whatever could smooth things over and let the conversation move on. Quite often these comments are not meant to offend.
In conclusion, Kosovars are really friendly, as long as there is no politics in the table. You will taken to the entire city, be told ther entire history of the place in one night, taken to most of the pubs, by people who you barely knew in the beginning of the night. Very friendly people.
Younger Kosovars commonly speak English in the towns. Many also speak German. Albanians also tend to be very pro-USA due to the intervention during the Kosovo War. It is not uncommon to see on Albanian beaches many American Flag motif bikinis and speedos. The autobiography of Bill Clinton is one of the highest-selling books in the country, and The West Wing with Albanian subtitles is a very popular television show. George W. Bush was treated as a celebrity, unlike everywhere else he travels, when he visited in 2007.
Americans and EU Citizens do not need a visa but if you are planning to stay in Kosovo for more than 90 days you MUST register at the Police Department for the Registration of Foreigners, which is next to the central police station. Citizens of other countries that have significantly contributed the the rebuilding of the Kosovo probably also do not need visas either, although Kosovo is starting to implement a stricter visa regime. N.B. The 90 day rule for the registration of foreigners applies to everybody.
You can enter Kosovo through the northern ‘internal boundary’ with Serbia through Kosovska Mitrovica or near Pristina. There are bus connections from Belgrade and Nis to Pristina and Prizren and from all the major towns in Serbia to the northern parts.
WARNING – Serbian border police will stamp your passport when you enter Serbia. If you travel to Kosovo by crossing the Serbia / Kosovo boundary you will not get a Serbian exit stamp, so you must go back the way you came and leave Serbia via a recognised border crossing point – e.g. Belgrade airport. That is the only way of getting a matching pair of Serbian entry and exit stamps in your passport.
From Montenegro you can enter through Rozaje to Peja/Pec.
From Macedonia you can take a bus to Prishtina.
There is a border crossing in the Presevo Valley in Serbia.
From Albania you can enter through Prizren, although supposedly the Tirana-Prizren bus ride along the mountain road can cause the faint-hearted to move on to the next life.
There are also trains crossing the Kosovo border. Two daily services connects Kraljevo in Serbia with all towns on the Leshak – Fushë Kosovë (Kosovo Polje), connections from Beograd are possible but includes a long stay between train at Kraljevo, thus bringing the journey to more than 12 hours for 399 km. Since March 1, 2006 an identical service, twice daily, runs from Skopje in Macedonia to Prishtina in Kosovo. It is hard to gets timings for these trains. Trains are very slow and convey second class only, but they give the opportunity to see a lot of the country and are a good value at approximately €4 each way.
BUS The best way to travel intercity in Kosovo is by bus. The buses are relatively cheap (Pristina to Peja, 2.50 EUR).
COMBI When traveling both inside the city or to surrounding regions you will need to travel by ‘combi’ (a minibus). Often they will drive certain roads and be labeled with a cardboard number in the window. You can flat them down and then hop in. You’ll be expected to pay 0.50 EUR upon entry. When you want to get out just tell the driver and he’ll stop and let you out.
Kosovan Railways Kosovan Railways (Kosovske Zeleznice – Hekurudhat e Kosovës) are currently (2006) running the following passenger train services: from Fushë Kosovë (former Kosovo Polje; a city near Pristina) to Leshak (a town North at the Serb frontier) three trains a day. From Fushë Kosovë at 07.35, 11.18 and 14.15 and from Leshak at 09.55, 13.19 and 16.50. The train passes through most of the Serbian enclaves that are strung up through the northern part of Kosovo. The system is seen as a way of helping to make the lives of the Serbs in the enclaves easier but also as a way to help integration. The service is free of charge to local people. Another service runs twice a day from Fushë Kosovë at 04.17 and 19.00 to Hani i Elezit (former General Jankovic) on the border to Macedonia, return journeys from Hani i Elezit starts at 05.53 and 20.44. A local suburban services runs from Fushë Kosovë to Grazhanica with departures from F. Kosovë at 05.40 and 19.17, returning from Grazhanica at 06.30 and 20.05. The railway is about to order some self-propelled diesel railcars to improve services.
TAXI Beware, often in Kosovo taxi drivers and other people involved in the grey market transportation system will try to rip you off.
- The Peć Patriachy
- The Peć patriarchy lies 2km to the north west of the Pec city center. This location was the seat of the Patriarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church starting in 1302 and for many Serbs is considered to be of extreme national importance. All of the Serbs who lived in Pec have either left or been forced to do so by Albanian nationalists leaving the Patriarchy to be heavily guarded by NATO troops, with a few remaining clergy. It is a beautiful monastery with many spectacular paintings. If you go, dress conservatively.
- The Rugova Gorge
- The Rugova gorge is also to the north west of Peć and can be found by following the same road that leads to the Pec Patriarchy. Just drive further. The canyon has extremely steep walls reaching possibly up to 300 meters.
- The Gjakova Old Bazaar
- Very beautiful old « shopping center » from 17th century. It was burned down from Serbian Army forces during the war in 1999 and reconstructed recently. Also in the center of the bazaar is located an old mosque that was build in the 15th century.
- The Mitrovica Bridge
- An interesting symbol of the division of the population in Kosovo. This bridge is the dividing line between Serbs and Albanians in Mitrovice/Mitrovica. It will almost always be safe to approach the bridge and look at it, although the French soldiers who guard it may not let you cross if the political situation is worse than average (average not being so good).
- Dečani Monastery
- Gračanica Monastery
- The most historical city in Kosovo. It has plenty of beautiful Islamic architecture.
- One of the most spectacular villages throughout the Balkans.
- The Roma quarter (mahalla) in Gjilan
- Gjilan is located to the South East of Pristina. If you can get to Gjilan, the Roma quarter can be found by asking around.
Brezovica Ski Centre – Old infrastructure but great slopes, located in Southern Kosova.
Lots of great burek, (baked pastry stuffed with cheese, meat or spinach). Try the drinkable yogurt its superb. Lots of kebabs and other Ottoman Turkish style food. As far as you are in an Albanian territory, you could try Albanian food as well. Fli, a very good pastry, can be found in different traditional restaurants. One of the most notable ‘Pellumbi’, although be aware becuase you might overpay. lots of pica in restaurant pizzeria « SAN REMO » in city of Peja
Beer e Peja is a pretty good brew. It is brewed in Peja (Pec). Even though Albanians are predominantly Muslim drinking is still quite liberal
In Serb area’s avoid Pils Plus, its ‘fortified’ which means 1. its taste like crap and 2. it will give you a really bad headache. Other than that the selection of beers in the Serb areas is also quite good.
Accommodation in Kosovo can be expensive, meaning it is probably the same as hotels in sourrounding countries (starts at 25 EUR and goes over 100 EUR) and primarily is designed for people working for the development agencies. Your best bet on finding a place to stay is outside of Prishtina (if you’re with the car) and to have a contact there ahead of time (even if its just somebody you met over the internet) and stay with them. Or possibly contact some of the smaller development organisations, such as Balkan Sunflowers, and ask if they can help you with accommodation staying in a rural community.
But in the otherside if you plan not to sleep, go at the bars (i.e. Hard Rock Bar – close to KEK- Energy Enterprise, you have a good prices and of course the best rock music in town, considering the elite people in there, such as musicians, actors, etc. Other places to visit are Strip Depo, close to the ABC Cinema, Kafja e Vogel(Small Cafe) close to OSCE. Kosovo youngsters, as in other Balkan countries, are largely cafe going culture, so you will find these places full any day during week. Reception Room, located opposite to Skenderbeg monument, seems to be a popular night club for 2007.
Skopje in Macedonia has some very cheap accommodation so doing day trips to Kosovo from there is very much a possibility.
Avoid making comments/statements about politics in Kosovo, although ask as many questions (within reason) as you like. They are very open about their hatred of each other and more than willing to tell you about it.
Read the news before going. Recently (July 3rd 2005) three bombs exploded near UN headquarters. This could be a signal that one of the groups has had it with UN and international intervention which could lead towards violence against foreigners…but then again maybe not. Point being, stay on top of the news but in general Kosovo is very safe (for foreigners).
Also, with Kosovo’s recent declaration of independence, things may heat up again soon. Again, stay on top of the news before going.
The Serbs are a very hospitable people and very friendly. The most likely encounter starts with them saying your country (if you are American or British) bombed them. Their next action will most likely be inviting you into their home to drink ‘raki’ with them and offering you way too much food, end of discussion of politics. That though is the most likely encounter, occasionally you will meet somebody who may not be as hospitable, more then likely in Mitrovice. Be smart, and if the discussion gets a bit intense don’t verbally resist and get in an argument about the war, agree with them where you can and downplay your country (as truthfully or untruthfully as you feel you can do).
LAND MINES! Like the rest of the Balkans, land mines were heavily used during the Yugoslav civil war. Stay on the pavement, if you go off the pavement stay on well worn paths. Wandering off of trails can pose a significant health risk to your legs (and your life). On the other hand don’t let this minor problem make you not visit Kosovo. So long as you don’t go wandering around in the bushes it poses no hazard to you.
Speaking with strangers, especially about Balkan politics and NATO policies is discouraged. If you want to make friends, don’t talk about politics first.
RABIES – Don’t pet dogs -stay away from them!
The are direct flights from Priština International Airport to London, New York City, Zurich, Geneva, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Vienna, Hamburg, Hannover, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart, Bremen, Rome, Verona, Ljubljana, Budapest, Tirana, Istanbul and Antalya. Soon, there will be direct flights to Sarajevo and other destinations.
There are direct bus links to most cities in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia.
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