|The ‘Newborn’ art installation|
One of the reasons that we chose Skopje as our jumping off point for the visit to the region was its proximity to Kosovo, which we also wanted to see on this trip. A coach from the Macedonian capital to the Kosovan capital of Pristina can be picked up from the central bus station and journeys take two to two and a half hours using the border crossing in the Šar mountains in the northwest of Macedonia (there is a border crossing at Mitrovica, but currrent UK Foreign Office advice warns strongly against taking this route). Coaches leave hourly throughout the day from 9am and, although the journey is rather long and the border-crossing process quite protracted, once you get into the mountains the landscape is beautiful – verdant forests rise up the sides of steep gorges on all sides. It’s not unlike the journey from middle England towards the west of Wales in fact!
|The National Library|
Our visit gave us about 5 hours to look around Pristina, which is certainly enough time to see all of the sights. Although it’s not the most beautiful of cities, Pristina does have some features that are of interest. Like it’s southern neighbour the old town, dominated by mosques and their minarets, is in a rather charmingly dilapidated state and there’s an interesting park just on the edge of the city centre which has an interesting history to it. This open space, on the edge of the university campus contains both the national library, looking like something that just descended from another planet, and also the unfinished Serbian Orthodox Church which is slowly being reclaimed by nature – clearly no-one is going to be coming back to finish the building…
|Statue of President Clinton|
Elsewhere in the city there’s the optimistic art installation called ‘Newborn’ which, although it is covered in graffiti, makes a rather striking statement about Kosovo’s hopes for the future. One of the main figures which feature in Kosovo’s recent history is also celebrated – right in the middle of Bill Clinton Boulevard you’ll find a statue to the man himself, in gold with arm outstretched. I have to say that it’s not the most flattering likeness of the President I’ve ever seen – in fact the facial features seem to be an amalgamation of Clinton and Reagan – you can judge for yourself! Of course there are also poignant memorials to the many fighters who fell defended the city during the Balkan wars – it’s probably appropriate to stop for a few moments and pay your respects as we did for these brave men who died trying to save their fellow citizens.
|A memorial to fallen police officers|
I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression of Pristina – you’re as safe in this city as you are anywhere. The war is fast receding into the past and to make sure it stays that way both the United Nations and European Union have a strong presence – the huge compound of buildings with a car park full of identical SUVs emblazoned with the EU flag attests to the fact. People certainly seem to have an optimistic and sunny outlook here – like it’s neighbouring capital Skopje the cafe culture is thriving here too, with the pedestrianised area full of people chatting and sipping coffee in the many bars and cafes. I also noticed that many of the young men wear t-shirts displaying British symbols – union jacks and London Underground roundels seem to be particularly popular, and it goes without saying that a certain warmth extends to British visitors to the city given the British Army’s previous involvement in the country’s defence.
If you happen to be driving rather than using public transport you’d do well to include a visit to the neighbouring city of Prizen if you’re in Kosovo. This is a far more historical and pretty city than Pristina but is rather awkward to get to if you don’t have your own vehicle. Also remember to stuff your wallet with Euros, which is the currency adopted by Kosovo since 2002…