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Monday, 18 July 2016

Kosovo: a Phoenix story



3 years had passed and I was back, as I wished and had promised. This time, through green hills and red earth.
The first signs were very encouraging: the vehicle insurance rate had halved. As I stood sipping a Peja for breakfast [yes, I know, an early start is not always a bad thing!], in an old inn set on one of the many labyrinthine streets of the Grand Bazaar, I felt it again – this good vibe, this positive energy, this extraordinary joie de vivre. Past reads had indicated a Gjakova visit as life-changing, due to the massive destruction caused by the war, but I had missed my visit in 2013 and the structures had mostly been rebuilt.
Peja felt vibrant and the peaceful narrowness of Rugova Canyon followed. Contrasts… ‘Is it going to be like this all day long? Mellow and bustling and mellow again?’
The sun was up, as we headed towards Prishtina for a sweet and friendly meeting. Things had changed, had improved, had evolved. In so short of a timespan! ‘Boy, these people know their priorities!’ Better and neater roads, many constructions underway, and a ton of gas stations! Even the capital felt different! The dust – so present on our last journey – was no longer there. Neighbourhoods looked more polished, new and trendy cafés were to be found – decorated with a good taste and matching colours that would breed envy in the Balkan countries around.
As I took the first steps towards a cheesecake whose taste felt the same, I realised that the people had not changed either: the same smiling faces, the same kindness, the same hip clothes and attitude.
Some hours later, I also realised that journalists and writers rank as important in Kosovo and their words weigh heavily… when we managed to escape a traffic fine and enter the Marble Cave for a private visit, arranged by our friend. A beautiful cave, interesting formations, thought-provoking explanations, and a bat bidding us farewell.
...so much time until they finally meet | The Marble Cave
We caught the sunset in Ferizaj and drove on to Prizren, which we reached in the dark. There were construction works along the river, but it still looked lovely. Passers-by were crowding the Shadervan – it was Saturday night, after all –. We joined them, had an exquisite dinner filled with laughs at our favourite restaurant in town, and prepared to go clubbing, but some misunderstandings (time-wise) left us chilling, a frozen Mojito in my hand.
Kalaja e Prizrenit
‘Can’t we have breakfast first?’ The coconut bonbon that I had just savoured had to serve, as we were going up to the fortress for the view that we had missed out on due to last time’s heavy rain. It feels lucky to return to a place that you fell in love with and still find that something that drew you close. As the real breakfast followed and as I had my last spoonful of Trileqe, still divine, chatting with a friend that had met us on our last minutes in Prizren, I was happy for the people around and for a future that – from the outside – looked brighter and brighter thanks to their resilience and mind-shattering optimism.
Prizren: the view
And I was happy for my traveller’s heart, as well… because it had been delivered the trip’s most pleasant surprise. This time, it was Kosovo.              

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