From Skopje the capital of Kosovo was just over two hours away by bus. We walked to the central bus station mid-morning and found a minibus scheduled to leave for Pristina in just fifteen minutes. Our trip turned into one of the more entertaining ones of our travels. A couple of border guards were headed to work, and we stopped to pick up a standing snack order that soon filled the small vehicle with delicious smells. As the driver jumped out to deliver the meals to various guards, our passports were examined and stamped. Kosovo’s mountainous terrain is beautiful, even dressed in winter’s drab colors. A bold highway project is currently in the construction phase, towering above valley villages and aiming to make access to Macedonia easier.
About halfway from the border to Pristina, our bus gave a rattle. By the time we pulled off on to the roadside the engine had quit. A nearby repair shop was not yet open, but our driver hurriedly flagged down another, larger bus, explained the situation and got the driver to agree to take us the rest of the way. Even with this hiccup, we were dropped in Pristina a few minutes earlier than expected.
Pristina isn’t a very large city, and the downtown is especially compact. We began our walking tour with a statue honoring Bill Clinton, who happened to President when NATO intervened during Kosovo’s War for Independence. Next door to the statue a shop called Hillary sells womenswear. During our short trip to Pristina, we noticed more US flags than we’ve seen in years.
Not far down the same street is Kosovo’s National Library. Built in the 1980s, it resembles a Faraday cage or a futuristic prison. It is a distinctly memorable structure. In a sweep of land next to the Library, an abandoned Serbian Orthodox church sits, barred shut and crumbling. Just one of many in the country deserted after the war, there is a lot of division surrounding the future of such structures.
We had coffees and a snack at one of the city’s cafes. The coffees – heavily chocolated – were possibly the best we’d had in a region known for its love of the drink. Unemployment is still quite high in Kosovo, and relaxing in a cafe is a common way to pass the day with friends.
Fueled up for more walking, we strolled through a market and eventually to the NewBorn monument constructed to celebrate the young nation, and now sporting a ’10’ in the center to commemorate the 10th anniversary of independence.
We’d stopped by the National Museum earlier in the day only to be told an event was taking place and they’d be open at one. Heading back we found a crowd watching a dance performance by a troupe dressed in traditional garb. Once that finished, most people dispersed and we shrugged and went inside. No one stopped us, although it was clear some sort of celebration was going on – a string quartet played and hors d’oeuvres covered a table.
The exhibits covered Neolithic to modern times, with objects as diverse as a lead coffin, stylized carvings, and Madeleine Albright’s cowboy hat. As we left, there were cars waiting for ambassadors from several nations. We later learned that these events apparently marked the museum’s grand reopening and that most of it had been closed off for several years prior to this.
While I think we would have enjoyed a longer stay in Pristina, a day let us cover all the major sights. Almost twenty years after war threatened to destroy the region and ten years after the independence declaration, the city is still making itself into a European capital.