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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Kosovo – Carpe Diem


Kosovo had been on my bucket list for ages, as the only Balkan country I hadn’t set foot in. It was high time to turn this dream into reality. Faced with a thought I hadn’t ever experienced – travelling into a country my own country did not recognise –, I started digging for entry requirements. I was lucky enough to find a very kind contact person at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who would explain these entry requirements into Kosovo. Romanians needed valid passports to cross the border into Kosovo. Things changed. As of May 8th 2013, citizens of EU member states would be able to enter, transit, or stay in Kosovo for 90 days with only a valid ID card. Theory was different from practice in our case. See below.   
After a very adventurous and bumpy ride from Podgorica through the mountains, we reached the border crossing point at Kulla/Kula. My friends and I were very surprised to see that we actually entered Kosovo, but the Kosovar border crossing point would be nowhere in sight. Therefore, we just rode down the mountains, admiring the majestic fir tree forests and occasionally stepping down our car onto the Kosovar soil and into the crisp air. We reached the border crossing point in the end. After paying the vehicle insurance [30 EUR; valid for 2 weeks], we proceeded to document control and submitted our ID cards (we all had our passports on us, but we wanted to avoid problems at the border crossings of the countries that did not recognise Kosovo [there are all kinds of stories on the Internet; anyway, I’ll only believe them when I face them]). The border control officials did not accept them (and even checked if we were really allowed to enter only by valid ID cards or not, of course, following our protests). In the end, we submitted our passports and we were officially in Kosovo!
Finally! It was dusk and night crept in. I tried to decipher the landforms from the car window. I know for sure that I saw lots of colours and a trilogy of flags present all across the country: the Kosovar, the Albanian, and the American. The first city on our way to Prishtina was Peja. The traffic and the hustle and bustle of its streets reminded me of my trip to Marrakech and certainly left me with an Oriental flavour.
We reached Prishtina close to midnight, on the trendiest and busiest night of the week (as we would later find out) – a Friday. Literally everybody was in the streets. All young, dressed up, without any worries. ‘What a vibe!!...’ I told myself and I admit I couldn’t wait to get to the hostel, change, and join the crowds for a fun night out. We found a paid parking near ‘Hostel Han’ (5 EUR/day), we checked in, changed, and went out. I had heard a lot about Prishtina’s nightlife reputation, but things were better than I had imagined them to be. As hip-hop is probably one of the favourite music styles in the country, it was bliss simply walking through the streets of Prishtina and listening to some Old School tracks pumping from the different cars crossing our path.
Unfortunately, the hip-hop club I was dying to get to (‘Depo’) had closed for the summer, so we ended up in a very cozy club, playing traditional music. My state of mind was excellent and I was having a blast! It reminded me a lot of the moments spent in Albania and of how welcome I had felt there, too! I was really curious to see the way Kosovars actually had fun. In this club, the ladies and the guys were drinking and dancing separately, clearly enjoying themselves. As our bookstore/jazz club – second option for the night – had already closed, we headed to a salsa club. ‘The Cuban’ was our choice. We stayed there, sipped some Mojitos, and had tons of fun. We danced and laughed a lot, I even convinced the DJ to play ‘El Meneaito’ and tried to teach the related steps to all those on the dance floor. Hunger defeated us in the end and ‘Route 66’ [yes, there are many American brands present in Kosovo] provided a great 3-o’clock-in-the-morning meal, at a good price.
The 'Newborn' Monument
After a few hours of sleep, I woke up to many phone calls and texts from my friends: it was my name day! A perfect time to celebrate, so we went to the bookstore café we missed the previous night – ‘Dit' e Nat’ – for coffee and cakes (my friends had mine served with a candle attached J). I couldn’t leave Prishtina without a visit to a beautiful store selling African items – ‘Afrodizia’ – and without a close look at the ‘Newborn’ Monument, repainted with the flags of the countries that had recognised Kosovo.
Gazimestan Monument commemorating the Battle of Kosovo (1389) was next. We found it after driving 5 km north to Mitrovica. It is of strategic importance, so we were required to submit our passports, climbed to the top of the monument and then got our passports back.
Prizren in the rain and Prizrenska Bistrica
Our last (sadly) objective for our short time in Kosovo was ‘the most historical city’ in the country. I must say that it enchanted me and fascinated me ever since I first saw its cobbled centre and the 5th-century fortress dwelling on a hill and overlooking the city. Several surprises followed – from the 16th-century beautifully preserved hammam to the magical Sinan Pasha Mosque (1615), and ending with a superb lunch at ‘Besimi Beska’ Restaurant, where I was delighted to discover one of the best desserts I had in my life – the traditional Trileqe!
The rain stopped us from getting by foot to the fortress, but I’m sure the opportunity’s going to arise again! As we started driving the 105 km to Skopje, I felt sad and I only get this way when I really connect to a country I’m visiting. I had heard so many bad things about Kosovo and mainly about the lack of security I’d find there. Honestly? It was one of the places I felt most secure in! And I fell in love. I fell in love with its rhythms, with its people, with its energy! Kosovo definitely had a hard period to overcome, but its people did that with flying colours. Moreover, in an era with so many shocking events that only leave you wishing you’d really seized the day, experiencing the vibe of Kosovo makes you really stop and smell the flowers, dance your way through life, with a big smile on.     

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