With regular flights from London to both neighbouring capital cities of Skopje and Pristina, it made total sense to tie them both together in one trip and explore more of the Balkans for my birthday treat. Buses leave the main international bus station of the N Macedonian capital every hour or so and takes around 2 hours. Head to counter 6 to buy your ticket and it costs around £5 for a single journey. I say bus, it was more like a large mini van, but it was clean, left on time and got us there safely, so I’m definitely not complaining. Make sure you have your passport handy too, as you’re likely to need it at the border crossing.Arriving at the bus station, it’s a little bit on the outskirts of this Kosovan capital city, so if you’re walking to your accommodation, head north east, along Bill Clinton Avenue. It takes about 35 minutes to walk to the city centre, if you pass the statue of Bill, you know you’re heading in the right direction, and I think its only tradition to reward yourself with a 30p pastry and coffee or beer on arrival! I was staying in a little hotel, just north of the main city square, so once unpacked, I headed out for a wander. The city felt quite grey and serious, and of course it’s not famous for being a popular tourist holiday spot, so you have to work a little bit to feel orientated in a city that is busy going about its every day business. It definitely felt like a city in the middle of its transition from a country recovering from a war and developing its own new identity, as well as still experiencing difficulties with its neighbours, most especially Serbia, who still consider Kosovo to be part of their country, whilst Kosovo declared independence back in 2008. There is absolutely enough to do in Prishtina for a couple of days if you just take your time, get creative and if you incorporate some rest time in the many little coffee shops along the way. A great place to start and the perfect photo opportunity is the NEWBORN monument, erected the day the country declared independence and each year it is repainted in a different style to represent another years anniversary. About a 10 minute walk South, takes you to the tall and impressive Mother Teresa Cathedral, still being built and one of the tallest buildings in the capital, it’s easy to spot, just look for the bell tower. There is a lift to the top which costs about €1 and well worth the trip upwards for the great views across the city. Once atop the bell tower, you will easily spot what is said to be one of the ugliest buildings in the world, a place I have wanted to visit out of curiosity for some time. The National Library of Kosovo, from afar and in the photos I had seen, to me looked strange but beautiful in a way that far away unfamiliar places sometimes do, like a collection of boxes filled full of chocolates with bows on top. But up close and personal, I got to say, I did find it rather ugly it turns out, more like concrete squares with chain mail draped over them. That said, I loved the interior!
When its time to refresh, get a coffee fix or hot meal, head back towards Mother Teresa BVLD. All around here are great coffee shops, bars, cafes and restaurants as well as the odd tourist shop if you fancy some postcards or gifts. You know you are back in the heart of the city centre when you see the statue of Zahir Pajaziti, the first commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
A few places I really liked for coffee and snacks whilst I was in Kosovo, all based just off the main boulevard were Green Protein for tasty vegan breakfasts, smoothies and delicious coffee. Cup O’ Tea was a delightful little place, serving all kinds of tea as well as snacks, I rested my feet, read a book and sampled quite a few brews whilst there. You cannot miss Soma Book Station though, a really creative space, serving coffee, food, hosting events, selling records and crafts as well as books, I loved the vibe in there. And of course, if you just want a snack to go, grab pastry for a few pence at the many bakeries found on most street corners! Often when I arrive in a country or city that I am not too familiar with, I like to take a deep dive into the local history museum. With the history of the new country and its recent struggles with war and occupation, coupled with the history of former Yugaslavian region as a whole, this museum does well to try and explain it from its point a view. A short walk from the boulevard, as most things are, its close to the Jashar Pasha Mosque, so head North East towards the minaret. The museum is free and open 7 days a week, divided into 3 parts, the main museum, the Ethnographic museum as well as the Museum of Independence, so I spread my visits over the 2 days. I was the only tourist when I arrived at the Ethnographic museum and was given a lovely solo tour by one of the guides around the fascinating 18th century housing complex.