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  • Day78

    Prizren is reputedly Kosovo's prettiest town, and with a well preserved ottoman town centre, nestled on the bend of a river and overlooked by an imposing fortress, it's not hard to see why. It also has more mosques than I have ever seen in one place, counting 16 minarets from the top of the fortress. However, at this point of the trip I'm definitely mosques, churches and fortresses out and have lost count of the pretty Ottoman towns I have been too, so I spent most of my time there hanging out at the hostel with the resident 4 month old catdog, T-Rex and chilling in the river side cafes deciding where to go next.

    Looking for somewhere a bit different, I found what sounded exactly what I was looking for after finding a solitary description of the village of Brod in the southern Albanian mountains.
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  • Day82

    Pristina, and Kosovo more broadly, was fascinating, not so much for the sights, but in watching the newest country in Europe in its early postwar transformation from a communist backwater to a modern secular state under the intensely watchful yes of the international community. KFOR is still a very visible presence throughout the country, providing a reassuring, if alien, presence, and an opportunity to 'collect' the full compliment of international GI Joes as you make your way around the country. However, taking away the continuing presence of KFOR, there's a surprisingly limited number of reminders that a war was fought here less than 20 years ago. There are many monuments to martyrs, but compared to somewhere like Bosnia, which is still so battle scarred you would be hard pressed to find any obvious reminders. For this reason, on one of my days in Pristina I went on a day trip to Mitrovica to get a better sense of the ongoing tensions that still simmer just below the surface.

    Mitrovica is a town in northern Kosovo, divided by a river and ethnicity. After the Kosovo war, all the Serbs fled north of the river and all the Albanians fled south, leaving behind a fascinating monument to Balkan ethnic tension. Today the main bridge across the river remains closed to vehicle traffic and is guarded by KFOR soldiers keeping the peace. The bridge is one of the nicer modern bridges in the country, but as you get closer you'll notice the Italian soldiers standing next to their jeeps with machine guns, a Kosovo police car blocking the road on the south and the ripped up road and concrete bollards on the north side, for instead of connecting two neighbourhoods, this bridge separates them. Mitrovica is literally and city divided. Despite being well within Kosovo territory, the bridge also represents an unofficial border between Kosovo and Serbia. South of the river, you are in Kosovo, with Albanian and Kosovo flags flying prominently, mosques being built and everything in EURO's, but as soon as you walk across the bridge you are in Serbia, with Serbian flags and nationalistic graffiti everywhere, signs in Serbian, orthodox churches and shops only accepting Serbian Dinar. Also as soon as you cross the river you are all of a sudden struck by the lack of number plates on cars, due to everyone removing Kosovo number plates due to nationalistic pride and/or fear of vandalism. Mitrovica is a tense and present example of the passion and beliefs that still simmer at the heart of the Balkans and going there was essential to getting even a basic appreciation and understanding of the past and the present.

    Pristina on the other hand feels like most other post communist cities in a poor country, trying to reinvent itself. Much of its history has been destroyed under the heavy handed communist brutalist and roughshod modern construction, yet it definitely has an edge to it and scratching the surface present many weird and wonderful places to see. The main pedestrian street is buzzing with energy day and night and the monumental communist buildings of the Youth Centre, who's cavernous interior is now largely empty, bar for the car park in what was once the basketball court, and a perfect location for the urban explorer, and the public library, which is often regarded as one of the ugliest buildings in the world, provide for a fascinating juxtaposition. Other weird and wonderful places include the slightly abstract statue to the father of the nation, Bill Clinton, which stoically keeps watch over the womens wear store 'Hillary', which I'm sure does a roaring trade in pantsuits.

    The love for all things American is on display everywhere, from the street and building names, to the countless American flags and the referential tone that even young Kosovo people speak about the country. In many ways it was so recent, I remember the Kosovo war clearly and remember being impassioned as an idealistic 17 year old cheering on the NATO intervention in spite of the UN inaction, yet it's also so foreign now. The idea that the USA would spearhead a bombing campaign on behalf of a Muslim population against a Christian nations aggression with public support seems so far from where we now find ourselves. It makes you realise how quickly and fundamentally politics and sentiments can change.
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  • Day77

    After so much trouble and dead ends the final trip into Kosovo couldn't have been smoother, immediately getting a lift from a policeman to Burma Curri and a Furgon across the quiet border crossing. I was intending to head straight to Prizrin, but as we passed through Gjakova I liked what saw out the window so jumped off for a closer look and ended up staying the night in a fantastic boutique hotel (one of only two hotels I could see in town) in a restored old building right off the grand bazaar, which is what had grabbed my attention from the bus.

    It turns out the bazaar is the largest in the balkan's and is unique in it's form being a single 1km long street lined by wood fronted single story shops. Gjakova was one of the worst towns hit during the Kosovo war of 1998-99, with over 75% of the population driven out and most of the more prominent buildings destroyed. However, while many buildings remain gutted and empty, the grand bazaar has, mostly, been rebuilt in its original style and is refreshingly full of life and actual craftsman. The top end is being transformed into bars and restaurants in a very hipster fashion and is packed and lively in the evenings, but as you walk down the street further it becomes incredibly atmospheric and timeless with crafts of all types, including tailors, cabinet makers, knife makers, metal workers and jewellers, making the bazaar one of the most authentic I have been to. I stopped in a barber for a trim and ended up spending hours there drinking macchiatos and talking to other customers, many of who are part of the Kosovo diaspora home for the summer and keen to welcome me to Kosovo, explain to me the history of the town and find out how and why I ended up there.

    Having got strict instructions on where to go and eat, I ended up having a great day eating a fantastic lunch in a restaurant in an old restored Han, and the oldest building in town, walking up the hill behind the town to see the bizarre and ruined communist WWII modernist memorial and views over the old town and feeling incredibly underdressed having dinner in the nicest restaurant in town where I ate an amazing 3 course meal, beer and wine for the princely sum of $20.

    All in all Gjakova was exactly what I needed to unwind and recharge after my previous few days of sickness and exertion and a great, and unexpected, introduction to Kosovo.
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  • Day79

    I was very intrigued by single brief description on wikitravel of the village of Brod in southern Kosovo, which described a small village built at the base of a ravine, completely off the beaten track and with access to fantastic hiking, but I couldn't find any more information about how to get there or if there was any accomodation. After talking at length to the hostel owner, who made some calls for me, I was informed that there was no public transport and no English spoken, but he was confident that I would find somewhere to sleep if I managed to get there as the locals were apparently very hospitable and friendly. Sounded exactly what I was after and so the next morning I took a bus to the closest town with a bus link and without too much trouble managed to hitchhike with a local in an incredibly beaten up YUGO who drove like a maniac through the mountains, continually trying to engage me in conversation, seemingly oblivious or indifferent to our impenetrable language barrier. However, he got me to Brod, where he left me in the village square with a wave as he headed further into the mountains.

    I headed into the only open store, where I was met with blank stares as I tried to ask about accomodation options, until out of nowhere a Polish guy appeared who was on a driving holiday with his wife and 4 year old son and had arrived the day before after reading the same wikitravel description as I had. They had been put up in a room above the only bar in town, where there was a spare bed I was welcome to take, with a lack of any better options I took him up on his offer.

    Brod is located on the Kosovo/Macedonian border and is populated by the Gorani people, which is a tiny ethnic grouping of roughly 50,000 people, who are of Slavic descent, speak their own language and are primarily sheep and cattle herders. This history and occupation explains the picturesque, yet denuded, landscape in which Brod is located. The mountains around the village are entirely pasture, having been continually grazed for time immemorial, leaving the villages reliant on dried dung for heating in winter. It does, however, make for a dramatic and beautiful setting and after dropping my bag, I joined the Polish couple and their young son for a gentle hike up the ravine behind the village, which after 3 or 4 kilometres we were surprised to come across what must be Kosovo's only, and very sad, sky resort, which consisted of a single hotel and a lone chairlift. Being the middle of summer it was largely deserted, however, we decided to drop in and see if we could get lunch and a drink and was immediately welcomed like a long lost friend by our server who was the same guy who had given me a lift to Brod. After walking a bit further up the valley, we eventually hit a Shepard's hut and some big angry dogs not happy with us straying into their territory, so decided that was as good a sign as any to turn back.

    Back in the village I had a wander round town, while my new friends had a siesta, becoming a minor celebrity with the local kids who followed me on my rounds from a safe distance. The village appeared mostly deserted, until mid afternoon people started congregating and looking expectant. As more and more people started milling, music started coming from up the top of the village and before I knew it I was in the midst of a very traditional wedding, which included a parade of locals in traditional costumes, music and dancing that went on for hours as it snaked its way around the village and ended with a huge party that went on late into the night, with the streets full of people drinking and celebrating and, despite the language barrier, we, as the foreign guest, were put front and centre, continually having shots of rakia thrust in front of us for toasts and being dragged up to form part of the conga like line of dancers doing a variation of the kolo dance I'd seen a very touristy variation of in Bosnia 3 years ago.

    At one point during the evening I started chatting to a guy, who had a bit of english and a bit of Italian and was insistent that I join him for a horse ride up the mountains the next day. However, he was extremely drunk and after arranging a time and place to meet, disappointingly he was nowhere to be found the next morning, presumably having forgotten or too preoccupied with his hangover. In the end this was probably a blessing, as I was pretty hungover myself and not sure I would have survived a day being bounced around the the saddle, so instead I took the offer of a lift back to Prizren from my new Polish friends who were following my advice to head to Gjakova, while I headed to Pristina.
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  • Day11

    We decided to leave for Prizren and made our way to the only hostel there. The town itself was quite nice and we took a look around and climbed up to the castle. Unfortunately the hostel had a bed bug problem which the staff didn't seem to care about so we decided to only stay here for 1 night as well.
    We also did the city tour with the hostel. It was horrible! the guy had no clue at all and was really unfriendly.Read more

  • Day10

    We were really hungover the next day but it was time to head on to Kosovo. When we arrived in Pristina though the hostel had given our beds away (we had confirmed our booking 2 hours earlier) cuz they were too stoned to know what they were doing.
    We made our way to Buffalo backpackers, which was a bit further from the city center. Still we were able to walk through the entire city.
    Overall it was quite cool to see the sights but none of us were fans of Pristina. It seemed to lack a soulRead more

You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Kosovo, Kosovo, كوسوفو, Республіка Косава, Κόσοβο, קוסובו, कोसोवो, Koszovó, Kosóvó, Cossovo, コソボ, კოსოვო, 코소보 공화국, Kosovas, Kosowo, Косово, Republika e Kosovës, Република Косово, คอซอวอ, Kosova, 科索沃

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