The atmosphere is effervescent! Families are out enjoying a sunny Sunday. Small cafes are filled to capacity. The scent of roasting chestnuts wafts from charcoal burners on every corner. A visit to Kosovo shows that tourism is on its way up, and rightfully so! And, When in Kosovo Enjoy Pristina and Nearby Prizren.
We absorb the scope of light-hearted activity as we walk along Mother Teresa Boulevard in Pristina, the country’s capital. A statue of this great humanitarian stands mid-way along this lengthy pedestrian boulevard. At the upper end snuggled up against a skyscraper is an equestrian Skanderbeg, the hero who fought off the Ottoman in the 15th century.
Testaments of the country’s newfound independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008 abound. My husband Rick and I seek out the “NEWBORN” monument; the three-meter-high letters sport a military camouflage of browns and greens speckled with hearts and flowers. We learn that when first unveiled in 2008 the monument was brilliant yellow, and every year since has been given a different blaze of colors for the annual Independence Day ceremony.
A large painting of Ibrahim Rugova sides a building in a central square. A nearby statue also honors this past-president of Kosovo, who died in 2006. Rugova is known as “Father of the Nation” for his role in the country’s struggle for independence.
Some city streets are named after diplomats highly esteemed by the country’s citizens. Bill Klinton Boulevard (spelled with a “K” on the street sign) is a busy thoroughfare. On one corner we find a larger-than-life statue of this former US President; this signage begins his last name with a “C”. President Clinton is recognized as being instrumental in decreeing NATO bombings of Serbia, which put an end to Serbia’s “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo. There is also an Albright Street named for former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright; which try as we might, we did not find the location.
It is not surprising to find a massive cathedral under construction dedicated to Mother Teresa. Other than the brilliantly colored stained glass windows, the cavernous area now open for services is in total whiteness, striking a sensation of rising above the mundane and into the ether.
The National Library is mesmerizing with a strange exterior that has been likened to glutinous eggs wearing armor. As we check it out from various angles an image of a brain expanding with knowledge from the wealth of books (and computer generated information) within – this knowledge forever sealed within the steel bands of memory.
Our Pristina excursions always involve food, and there is no shortage of places to nosh-out. In a small café I zero in on a humungous plate of palm-sized-pillow-shaped treats being delivered to a family at the next table. What can one do? We soon have our own plate of Albanian doughnuts, and they are heavenly – steaming hot…golden brown on the outside…white-fluffy-goodness inside – and when spread with salty cheese and thick fruity jam….absolutely scrumptious!
When we ask around as to the most traditional dishes, we are told Pristina cuisine is the same as in Albania, which makes sense since the population of Kosovo is 92% Albanian. We also note similar items as in other Balkan countries we have visited – burek, kebabs, stuffed peppers – but am stumped hearing of “flija”. We stayed at the Hotel Pllaza Pristina, and our hotel owner says, “A good flija is a test of patience; the many layers are baked separately in special pans, then stacked with a creamy cheese between.” At the next breakfast in our hotel are wedges of this delicious crepe-like dish – a delightful surprise!
A jaunt to the historic town of Prizren is a fine way to spend a day. It rests on the slopes of the Sharr (Šar) Mountains and is overlooked by Kalaja, a medieval fortress first erected by the Byzantines, then for over four centuries under Ottoman control.
Across the 15th century Old Stone Bridge (superbly restored), we find ourselves in a picturesque haven of brightly colored shops along cobblestone streets. I am drawn to shops and side-walk vendors selling “filigree” jewelry and ornaments; this ancient valley craft involves fashioning silver and gold threads into lace-like works of art. Embroidery is another traditional art-form and there is no shortage of crafts and knick-knacks to purchase being Wednesday, the weekly market day when merchants come in from the surrounding villages.
Landmarks dot the town. Sinan Pasha Mosque was completed in 1615 by Sofi Sinan Pasha, bey (commander) of Budim. This important Ottoman edifice underwent major renovations in 2000. St. Maria Levishka Church is one of the oldest standing churches in Prizren, the denomination first Catholic then Eastern Orthodox. The tantalizing odors wafting out of a line of cafes and restaurants has us choosing one for a fine lunch before heading back to Pristina.
It is a great time to visit Kosovo. The citizens have come through a difficult time in their fight for independence, and a spirit of freedom prevails. Buildings are being restored and new construction is all around. Tourism is in its infancy, an enticement for us to find its flavor and essence on our own. A Balkan country not to be missed!
If you go:
Kosovo Population: 1.824 million (2013) sources incl. World Bank
Pristina (also spelled Prishtina) 198,000 (2011) Census
Visas – Passports are stamped for a 90-day stay on entry; check www.mfa-ks.net for charges.
Currency – Euro
Official Languages – Albanian and Serbian
Buses – Pristine to Prizren – leaves regularly www.balkanviator.com
Hotel Pllaza Pristina – (the “ll” is not a typo) this newly decorated, spotless hotel has comfy rooms, exceptional staff, good breakfast (no elevator) – highly recommended.
Written by Irene Butler and photos by Rick Butler for EuropeUpClose.com