Euro Trip 2 – Part Two – Kosovo

Macedonia Kosovo Albania Image Map

Highlights:—The Martyrs MonumentKosovo National LibraryThe Miners Monument

I remember seeing Kosovo on the news back in the late 90’s, at the time I didn’t really know what was going on or anything about the conflict, all I knew is that it looked pretty terrible on the TV.

This is a very, very brief account of the recent history of Kosovo (let me know if its incorrect, I don’t want to offend anyone).1981 Map
Yugoslavia (land of Slavs), was made up of 6 republics with Serbia having two autonomous regions Vojvodina and Kosovo. The population of Kosovo is made up mainly of ethnic Albanians (which is a remnant of the Ottoman empire). Serbia consider Kosovo to be part of their historic homeland. While Yugoslavia was ruled by Tito there were tensions between the different ethnic groups but they were kept to a minimum, the Kosovars were able to pretty much govern themselves.

During the 1990’s the republics started to break away and declare their independence. This resulted in various wars and eventually left only Serbia and Montenegro as Yugoslavia.
Slobodan Milošević, president of the remaining Yugoslavia limited the rights of the Kosovars, they no longer governed themselves, he wanted to fully integrate the region into Serbia. The Kosovar Albanians wanted the opposite – independence from Serbia. The KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) started to take action. Yugoslav forces attacked and killed KLA and KLA sympathisers including civilians. 

Peace talks broke down so NATO took action against Serbia with an air strike campaign lasting 78 days until Yugoslavia agreed to end the violence.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and although it has be recognised by some countries it has not but others so it can’t really be classed as an official country.

This blog is just an account of mine and Keiths time exploring Kosovo.

Tuesday 15/03/2016

border…….The journey to Kosovo started with a quick visit to the car hire shop in Skopje where we purchased a green card for travel in Kosovo and Albania, it cost €30.

The border crossing from Macedonia to Kosovo went smoothly with no issues. Next stop Pristina.

On the approach to Pristina the traffic was getting busy and a little crazy, there were also some welcoming messages!

welcome to hell kosovo

The sat nav did its usual thing of trying to take us through roads that weren’t really suitable for motor vehicles! We finally arrived at the apartment.

no one likes us kosovo

Though there were only 2 of us we booked a 3 bed room with the hope it would be quite big so we could sleep as far apart as possible because I can’t handle Keith’s snoring!!! (it was only about £3 more).

Linda showed us to our room. We were made to take our shoes off at the bottom of the stairs and leave them in a cupboard. She said we could borrow some slippers but we declined.

The room was ok. Not that big but big enough for us be fairly far away from each other. Linda couldn’t understand why we booked a 3 bed room!

It was now the evening and we were hungry so took a wander into Pristina city centre which from where we were staying was down a fairly steep hill.

On the walk we noticed that cars were parked anywhere and everywhere, wherever they could squeeze in often taking up the whole path. There was also quite bit of traffic about.

We stumbled upon the main boulevard, it was a welcome change to walk through a pedestrianised area.
There were so many people about which was totally different to Skopje where there weren’t many in the street at all in the evening.

On our quest for food we also passed the New Born monument.


Newborn 🇽🇰 #pristina #kosovo

A photo posted by Alex George (@leaderofourboat) on

 

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

We ended up going to a ‘jazz’ themed restaurant. It was seemed quite posh. It was weird to see a smoking area inside, it seems like the smoking ban’s be around forever in the UK.

symphony

Symphony Restaurant

The meal was very good, very cheap, with free bread and free dessert. The free dessert was some kind of boiled apple, wasn’t really my cup of tea but was nice of them to give it to us for nothing.

We were pretty shattered so wandered back to the apartment and got an early night ready to properly explore Pristina the next day.

Wednesday 16/03/2016

Keith had a cold shower. I worked out that the switch for the boiler wasn’t on. It started to heat up very slowly so I had a brief few seconds of lukewarm water followed by lots of cold. We left the boiler switched on in the hope it would heat up properly.


The Martyrs Monument

It honours the partisans that died during the liberation of the region in World War II.

Located a short walk from our accommodation it is situated at the top of a hill in some sort of park.
We spent a little time taking photos before heading into the city.

Martyrs' Monument, Pristina

Martyrs' Monument, Pristina

Martyrs' Monument, Pristina

Martyrs' Monument, Pristina

After grabbing a quick snack we headed for the next pin point on our map.


Kosovo National Library

Now this is a very obscure looking building. After wandering around the outside getting a few snaps we had a quick look inside. They didn’t seem to mind us taking photos inside.

Background information can be found here.

The National Library of Kosovo

The National Library of Kosovo

The National Library of Kosovo

The National Library of Kosovo

The National Library of Kosovo


National Library of Kosovo #pristina #kosovo

A photo posted by Alex George (@leaderofourboat) on

The National Library of Kosovo

Looking up at one of the domes.

yo (149)

yo (150)

The National Library of Kosovo

The National Library of Kosovo

Now I don’t mind traditional tourist spots like churches but they don’t really interest me that much, so we weren’t too fussed about trying to visit the places on the tourist map.

We stumbled upon the Brotherhood and Unity Monument which is located at the end of the boulevard. It dates back to the Yugoslavian era and the each of the pillars symbolise Albanians, Serbs, and Montenegrins.

Brotherhood and Unity' Monument, Pristina

Kosova pen and flag sticker

Kosova pen and flag sticker

The majority of the population of Pristina seemed pretty young, maybe due to the university, I read somewhere that Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe with an average age of 25.

On our search for souvenir shops we found a few stalls darted about selling Albanian things. We managed to find one proper walk in shop selling actual Kosovo (and Albanian) souvenirs. The lady gave us a free Kosovo pen with our purchases.

M.CHAT, Pristina

M. Chat painted by Thoma Vuille in 2013.

Continuing to wander round the city where we checked out the shops. We tried to find a mall but maps.me took us on a wild goose chase.

Palace of Youth and Sports

On our travels we came across a very strange building,  the Palace of Youth and Sports. It was originally called Boro and Ramiz after the Albanian and Serbo-Croatian WW2 heroes to represent brotherhood and unity. It was finished in 1977. It was fire damaged in 2000 and only partially renovated. Part of it may be a school now, I’m unsure as there was a banner over the door with the ‘Cambridge School’ on it.

Palace of Youth and Sports, Pristina

Kids at the Palace of Youth and Sports

There were some kids who saw us with cameras and kept shouting at us about getting a photo for facebook!

M.CHAT, Pristina

We found ourselves back at the New Born monument – unveiled on the day Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia (February 17th 2008); it symbolises the birth of the new country.

New Born in Pristina.

New Born in Pristina with the police

As our quest for a mall failed we decided to drive to one. In fact there are two malls next door to each other on one of the main roads out of Pristina. Didn’t really find much we wanted to buy but did get some food in the food court followed by some cake from the supermarket.

We were pretty shattered and tomorrow was going to be a long day so we headed back to the apartment for some down time.

Thursday 17/03/2016

The boiler had been on all Wednesday and there was still no hot water for this morning’s showers, wonderful!

Although it was a little chilly outside it was a sunny start to the day.

We were in two minds over visiting the next pin on our map due to the UK governments advice on the area. The Miners Monument is situated in the Northern half of Kosovo, in the Serbian part of the town of Mitrovica.

Foreign & Commonwealth Office warning:- The security situation in Kosovo remains calm but tense. There have been violent clashes in the north and incidents involving grenades and vehicle explosions in northern Mitrovica. Incidents in the south are rarer, but violent demonstrations have occurred in Pristina. Northern Kosovo
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the municipalities of Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic, and to the northern part of the city of Mitrovica due to occasional violence and security incidents there.

This was a little off putting and we debated whether or not it was worth it just to see a monument, we decided it was.

I’d seen a video on Youtube by Vice news about the bridge in the centre of Mitrovica which separates the Southern Albanian side from the Northern Serbian side of the town. Where drivers remove their number plates so they don’t get caught up in the wrong part of town. There used to be frequent violent clashes on the bridge but as far as I knew was calmer.

I didn’t really fancy driving over that bridge, so we were going to try and find a way around. The satnav took us off the main road towards the town, I was pretty sure it was going to try and take us over the bridge, we followed it anyway.

The town looked like any other European town, apart from a couple of UN vehicles and increased police presence.

The sat nav took us somewhere into the centre. We saw the entrance to the bridge, there were cars parked in front of it. There was even a sign with ‘P’ on it. We only stopped for a minute and didn’t get out of the car but could see that there was a big pile of rubble blocking the entrance to the bridge closing it off to motor vehicles probably as an attempt to stop some of the clashes. I assume it was still open to pedestrians.

So we headed back to the main road and followed it around the edge of the town. On our right were the remains of the old UN check point.


Back on the Albanian side…. #kosovo

A photo posted by Alex George (@leaderofourboat) on

Soon after we saw a sign in Cyrillic so we knew we were heading the right way.

Welcome to the municipalities of Zvečan

Welcome to the municipalities of Zvečan

The sat nav finally decided to reroute in the direction we were headed.

Throughout our trip driving around Kosovo we couldn’t help but notice the amount of Albanian flags everywhere especially in gardens or on buildings, this was about to change.

On the approach to the bridge there were Serbian tricolour flags outside the buildings instead of Albanian flags.

We approached another bridge crossing the river Ibar. The majority of cars had no number plates on them. We hoped that we would look pretty neutral with our Macedonian number plate but were unsure. There were Serbian flags on the bridge.

As we drove into Northern Mitrovica, we could see the Serbian passion with more flags and bunting.

Following the main road and the sat nav we continued towards the monument. Not long after we’d crossed the bridge we got flagged down by the police who were in a layby.

They asked to see our documents, I handed them over. Could our monument dream be over when we’d got so far??? No chance! When the officers saw we were English they didn’t even bother checking the documents, just handed them back and waved us on.

No number plate on the bridge

No number plate on the bridge

Like a lot of these Yugoslavian Spomeniks (memorials), the Miners Monument was situated at the top of a hill and it was a steep drive up some winding roads. The monument came into view behind the trees.

I parked the car next to a little play area.

The monument was still a short steep walk to the top of the hill.

The sun was shining and I was actually pretty warm after the trek to the top.


The Miners Monument

The monument is pretty impressive, it’s also pretty big. When seeing pictures of these monuments it’s sometimes hard to judge the scale.

The huge concrete monument was designed by Bogdan Bogdanovic in 1973, it represents a mining cart which is held up by two column’s.

Mitrovica Miners Monument

The monument is a memorial to Mitrovica’s Albanian and Serbian miners who lost their lives during World War II, another monument symbolising unity between the ethnic groups. After Yugoslavia disbanding, tensions between Albanians and Serbs and the Kosovo war has caused the monument to lose some of its significance.

Miners Monument, Mitrovica, Kosovo

Miners Monument, Mitrovica, Kosovo

Mitrovica Miners Monument

Mitrovica Miners Monument

Kosovo is Serbia

Kosovo is Serbia…


Didn’t quite work!

A photo posted by Alex George (@leaderofourboat) on

Mitrovica

View of Mitrovica from Miners Hill.

Now it was time to start the long drive to Tirana, Albania, 271KM, sat nav said it would take just over 4 hours.

Once past Pristina the roads towards Albania were really, really good; brand new motorways with hardly any traffic.

The car was getting low on fuel and we were getting hungry so stopped at a petrol station. I was getting used to having someone else fill the car up and when we got back to the UK it seemed like a massive chore having to do it myself!!

Duli - Je Perfekte

Duli – Je Perfekte

Forget Little Chef or McDonalds, pretty much every petrol station has its own restaurant. I wasn’t really keen on the food on display but luckily they had a menu too. We went for pizza.
The pizza was really good. I went for the vegetarian; considering it had some very random toppings it was pretty damn tasty.

They had random CDs in the petrol station too, I wanted to get my Dad an album of Kosovo music so picked an album: Duli-Je Perfekte, now I’m not sure if Duli is actually from Kosovo but my Dad really likes it so I suppose that’s all that matters!

We approached the Albanian border, next stop Tirana…….

Regrets from the Kosovo trip: Probably just not checking out the Pristina night life.

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