So my flashbacks from sitting outside a hostel in Skopje drinking a beer and flicking through Facebook on my phone. I came across an acquaintances pictures of a holiday in Tenerife, complete with McDonalds shots and a statement that the Canary Islands are not just “paradise” but they have also been much more of an adventure than Spain. I was sat there thinking about this bold statement, it is in Spain I thought, paradise? an adventure? But hey maybe I am just not as adventurous. Besides, I got to go to bed, I am fairly drunk from the €1 Macedonian pints and we are going to get up early and look for a bus to Kosovo in the morning.
Morning: I love traveling with females, my American travel buddy was “getting ready” this gives me ample time to drink enough coffee to shake off the cobwebs from the previous late night. We miss the bus off-course. If there was one, then we find a minibus with Pristina scribbled on a piece of cardboard in the windscreen. So we wait, and we wait more, then finally passengers and a driver arrive and 12 seats fill up fast. There is nothing better than getting up early with a hangover to jump on an overcrowded minibus for a 3 hour journey to a country I knew nothing about other than a war.
Pretty soon we were rolling out of Skopje and we stopped to pick up more passengers. What made this even more interesting than the fact that there was no room for them on the bus but they were getting on anyway, was the area we had stopped in. It looked a bit grittier and more densely populated, very different to the rest of Skopje. More eastern looking and even complete with a few mosque towers. It was here I learned (from Google on my phone) that 30% of Macedonia’s population is actually Albanian. And Kosovo’s largest ethnic group are Albanians so most of these passengers were Albanian Kosovans or Albanian Macedonians, confusing isn’t it. Basically a large percentage of Albanian Kosovans were displaced in to Macedonia during the war. I gave up trying to figure it out. If there is one thing I have learned from visiting every other country in the Balkans it is that trying to figure out the history or politics is impossible and asking people about it is not wise unless you have plenty of time to listen. Even then you will never fully understand any of it!
So we hit the road again, crammed in like sardines and I am day dreaming about things like windows that open and air conditioning. Pretty soon we arrive at the border. Nothing out of the ordinary here, the police get on the bus, take your passport and bring it back with a new stamp. It’s all pretty efficient actually and only took about 10 minutes. I have read stories about this stamp causing issues entering Serbia but I don’t think there is much truth in this. The first thing you see entering Kosovo is an uninspiring big cement works and quarries but pretty soon we were cruising through some really scenic countryside. The views were a good distraction from my body telling my brain that I really needed to take a pee but we had 2 more hours to go.
So we arrived in Pristina and after I made a sprint to the toilet we jumped in a taxi in to town. One thing I noticed coming in to Pristina was American flags, the American hospital, the American college etc. On entering Pristina centre there was a statue of Bill Clinton, complete with a shrine to Bill Clinton on the side of a building on a road called Bill Clinton Boulevard. This was the Kosovans way of thanking him for helping them in the war. My American travel buddy was made up with this and so was I. I was with an American, everyone is going to love us here I thought. Which as I will explain later was actually the case.
The next thing was to get some currency. Kosovo to my surprise uses the Euro. Due to the war and restrictions the locals stopped using Serbian Dinars, opting for US dollars and Deutsche marks instead. Then when Germany joined the Euro, the Euro became the main currency in Kosovo and stuck. Speaking of money, Kosovo is one of the poorest countries in Europe. It was the last place I would have expected to see lots, and I mean lots of high end cars. But there was loads of them. Range rovers, Porches, 2 Ferraris, a Maserati, an AMG Mercedes and I even spotted and Austin Martin DB?,
Entering Pristina city centre was equally as surprising. It is modern with lots of building work going on. Chic Cafes and bars mixed with high street shops line the main pedestrian area. The first menu I took a look at showed I could get a pizza for €1.50! So after a stupidly affordable lunch we went to explore. There was for some unknown reason a massive piece of Lego in the centre of the pedestrian street. After the Clinton statue it was the second strangest statue I have ever seen. I will explain more about bizarre statues when I do my write up on Skopje next.
After a couple of hours wondering round we stopped for a drink. The owner of the bar asked where we were from, as soon as my friend said she was from America he asked could he buy us a drink and join us. Now if you have read my post on Serbia a few days previously we had encountered extremely friendly and accommodating locals. This time was more of the same. He got out a bottle of Schnapps, his best bottle that he had brought from Germany and he kept pouring us “just one more” he also gave me 2 more beers and we had a great conversation for an hour or two about the history of Kosovo and life in general. Now this guy would not take a penny for the drinks and when I asked for the bill he insisted there was not one. He was even insisting that he will call his chef to make us food but we had just eaten. It was a shame to leave after such great conversation and hospitality but we had to go for the last bus back to Macedonia so we said our farewells and checked out a couple of sights (and bars) on the way back to the bus station.
Once again bursting for a pee on the bus back, it must have been the Schnapps 🙂 We got chatting to an Albanian girl living in Skopje who was really interested in why we went to Pristina and what we thought of Kosovo. She was visiting her boyfriend but wanted to live in Pristina as there was more for her there, I could see where she was coming from. As we approached Skopje I told her it was really nice meeting her but I am running as soon as the bus stops because I was once again dreaming about getting to a toilet. Why didn’t you just ask the driver to stop she said. Everyone else does, its normal. With this new information I wanted to cry!
Taking a day trip to Skopje to Pristina.
I will wrap up by giving directions for anyone else planning this trip. There are regular mini buses from Skopje’s main bus station to Pristina and back. The ticket cost about €5 and it took 3 hours to get there and just over 2 to get back. I think it depends on the time spent at the border. The first bus was around 8am and I think the last bus back was around 6-6.30pm but I could be mistaken.