The first monument we come upon in Pristina is of large block letters spelling “NEWBORN”- first unveiled in brilliant yellow on February 17, 2008, the day Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. And every year since, before the February 17th Independence Day celebration the monument undergoes a paint-job, and is unveiled in a ceremony flaunting its bold new colours. Currently it wears camouflage-patterned greens and browns dotted with hearts and flowers.
Pristina is newborn in a myriad of ways; buildings are being given a face-lift and cranes evidence new construction everywhere. Tourism is in its infancy, making it a great place to discover. As yet there is no central tourist office, but we do note a vacant tourist kiosk, which is probably open during summer.
Daily we find our way to Mother Teresa Boulevard (Bulevardi Nena Tereze), the wide pedestrian street. The sun is brilliant and the autumn colours are dazzling. A fine place for Ibraham Rugova’s image on the side of a building; this past president of Kosovo who died in 2006 is remembered for his prominent role in the struggle for independence, garnering him the sobriquet “Father of the Nation”. There is, as well, a statue of Rugova in one of the city’s squares.
Our Kosovo Photo Gallery
The scent of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” (well, hot coals) permeates the air – there’s a chestnut vendor on every block! I resist – for almost a day – then purchase a bag. We sit on a ledge and although when I was buying them Rick says, “not for me”, he is so quick to dig into the stash that I had to munch faster to get my share.
The great humanitarian Mother Teresa is being honoured with a cathedral bearing her name; plans for which were approved by the government in 2007. This major project is still under construction, but a section is open for services. The interior, other than its windows of stained glass, is pure white – as unpretentious in appearance as Mother Teresa was in life.
Outside a café near the Skanderbeg statue we are drawn to something below the surface of the street that has a covering of thick glass. People stop chatting and come over to fill us in…and one gentleman is fluent in English…who needs a tourist office with such helpful locals? “This is a water meter from ancient times,” says our impromptu guide, “It was discovered a few years ago and has since been equipped with an electronic gizmo that shows a different colour according to the level of water.”
A bit larger-than-life statue of the former President (this time with the English spelling of his name) stands on one of the boulevard’s corners. President Clinton is recognized as being instrumental in decreeing NATO bombings of Serbia to stop the “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo. There is also an Albright Street named for former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, which we did not find the location of.
The National Library is startlingly and strangely mesmerising. It has been likened to glutinous eggs wearing armour. Rick and I have a different impression. We liken it to the mind expanding with knowledge from the wealth of texts (and now electronic information) within – knowledge that will forever be contained within the steel bands of memory.
There is certainly no shortage of places to nosh-out, although finding a seat in the bustling cafes/restaurants is
another matter. One day at a small café, as we munch away on a healthy whole-wheat and veggie sandwich, my eyes keep veering to two humungous plates of deep-fried puffy treats being delivered to a mom, dad, their about 8 and 9 year old sons, and a rotund fellow who except for his weight is the spitting image of the dad – so I’m calling him “uncle”. He seemingly is treating the family.
I count a half-dozen palm-sized-pillow-shaped doughnuts on each plate served with white cheese and jam. The two skinny boys take a few bites, but are more interested in getting back to their skateboards. Mom does not indulge, but dad nibbles on one – making me think this was the uncle’s pre-plan as he does a fine job of cleaning both plates. Well, I cannot stop thinking about these Albanian Doughnuts (so called on the menu) – so you got it –the very next day we come back to share a plate….and they are heavenly – steaming hot…golden brown on the outside…white-airy-creamy-tasting inside – and when spread with the salty cheese and thick fruity jam – YUM!
When we ask around as to the most traditional dishes, we are told Pristina cuisine is the same as in Albania, which makes sense since the population of Kosovo is 92% Albanian. I note similar popular items as in other Balkan countries – burek, kebab, stuffed peppers – and one I have not heard of, “flija”.
I ask our hotel owner about this dish, who explained how a good flija is a test of patience, being that the many layers are baked separately in a special pan, and then stacked with a creamy cheese between for the final result.
Can you imagine our surprise when on our leaving day at breakfast this gracious hotelier did an early morning run for big wedges of the crepe-like flija, along with containers of a popular unsweetened yogurt-like drink. How very delicious and appreciated!
Delightfully filled to the brim, we go outside to wait for our ride. After weighing our options – our Pristina to Tirana Albania trip will be by car, a white Mercedes no less. We met Mr. Seat back in Skopje when he picked us up from the airport, and we also used his service to bring us to Pristina. When he dropped us off in Pristina, we pre-arranged a specific day for him to drive us to Tirana (one of several places he drives customers to). The drive is 3 to 3 ½ hours by car, but more than double the time by bus – so Mr. Seat is the way to go.
A bonus to Mr. Seat’s service is a stop at Prizren, a town overlooked by a fortress and known for its old Ottoman quarter. Across the 15th century bridge we find ourselves in a picturesque haven of brightly coloured shops along cobblestone streets and squares. Tantalizing odours waft out of neat cafes and restaurants.
Our Pristina experience was great fun; it’s budding tourism an enticement to find its flavour and essence on our own, and we can see it blossoming into a popular Balkan stop. And after many “street-entertainer-less” countries, we find a very worthy winner of our Butler Busker Contest in Drummer Boy – please watch-
And…..drum-role please (says Rick, my Finance Minister) who tallies our Kosovo costs (for accommodation, food, travel) at $152 CDN a day!
Hotel Pllaza Pristina – (the “ll” is not a typo) this newly decorated, spotless hotel has comfy rooms, exceptional staff, good breakfast (no elevator) – highly recommended.
Mr. Seat – owner/operator of Taxi/Car Service
Based in Skopje Macedonia.
Does pick-ups from Skopje Airport.
Drives customers to Sophia, Tirana, Zagreb, Pristina, Belgrade, Thessaloniki.
+389(0)70 740 251