Keqkuptuar Kosovo

Literally meaning “Misunderstood Kosovo”, which sums up how this country is represented at times in Europe and the UK.

With little to no coverage on maps or GPS worth relying on we go on a combination of AA roadmaps we bought and some creative routing. Figuring daytime travel via the main highway via Prishtina to Prizren was best we head out.

We arrive at the border barely 15 minutes from leaving Skopje and we are waved through from the Macedonian side to meet the friendly Kosovar border security.

Immediately, I don’t have any insurances for the country with it being a quasi disputed territory. Our border guard says he will look after our passports until we get what is needed which means abandoning the car at the border to buy insurances from a small cabin.

This sees me jogging past a customs official who simply asks “anything to declare” and waves me on and smiles when I say “err no?” and running into the cabin. The chap politely informs me he needs my documents to process insurance so I run back, then over the the cabin again, in a strangely amusing scene only Kosovars would understand.

The insurance bureau takes the time to view my details and seems amazed by my passport. He asks “are you really from UK?” When I confirm he smiles wildly and hands back my documents complete with required insurances saying “thank you for all your country did for us”.

I have to add (whilst deviating) that I actually still have a lump in my throat about that kind of gratitude. You only need to see the 40ft high wall to the government Foreign Ministry building to understand the sentiment;

Obtaining my insurance, I walk back over and just pop into the border guards booth and obtain our stamped passports. Walking back to the car not a honk or frustrated driver awaits. Just a queue of people in the know. We have made it under 45 minutes from border to crossing!

So now we are on our way. We have a plan to head to Prishtina (capital) but swing over to Prizren (2nd city) as it is famed for its beauty. The view is beautiful.

A sad fact about Kosovo is 1/4 of the population live abroad and 44% are unemployed. In a county of 1.8 million and some of the most starkly stunning mountains outside of the alps it’s crazy not to come. The reality is so many would not come here – to this day – because of fears about mines and bombs. They are a real threat but without us, what will there be? No map should define any country as arbitrarily as it seems to for Kosovo.

Would you prefer your country to be seen like this?

Or like the reality, which is this:

The stunning scenery gives me easily the best photo opportunities we have encountered so far. Roads are good, the people so friendly.

All is not serious as this blog tone suggests. There are elements of barmy madness like we have seen all over the Balkans. We decide to head to Prizren for food and to talk a while. Our first sight we see is a giant digger on a lorry with a man on top travelling at some speed as they cross tiny bridges. Oh, we are for real…

With our arrival to Prizren we seek a place to park. I see a small space to chuck it in and don’t really think much of it. Would seem that it was a Taxi rank! Oops.

Just off the main road lies a most idyllic town centre. The only criticism I can levy would be the child beggars of Roma origin that seep out of corners the minute you drop your guard. This isn’t a Kosovo centric issue and has been prevalent for our journey so far.

Of note was the presence of so many minarets which is linked to the Albanian majority who live in Kosovo (94%), who in turn are Muslim majority. Within Prizren there are a number of churches and within one we speak to a Serb who noted that whilst atrocity after atrocity has been committed, so many churches have been lost in the wars that no one is left to rebuild.

Outside the church and mosques the signs serve a community purpose to keep tensions low. At the very least they serve to keep any religious offences as low as possible by virtue of good direction. No guns would seem self explanatory to most of us in UK but a necessary note to add here. Can you only imagine if there was a camera toting, femme fatal in short mini dress and strapping Glocks to her body whilst chuffing a pack of Marlboro?!

In seriousness what strikes us is that church or mosque, Serb or Croat, war or peace we are all bound by humanity and our actions and common setting. The two photos below show the common and linked nature of how religion and community blend and merge into one.

After so many years (independent since 2008) I would have hoped for more progress in Europe to solve issues in its youngest nation. We see the grass roots for that effort at the heart of the town in the form of the Red Cross. We take pride in knowing donations and assistance still helps daily.

We walk the town and enjoy a dinner by the river. No one speaks English but the reality is no one needs to. The menu is “point and click” friendly and the locals friendly.

We have made a point to document our steps in each country.

Okay so the wiring leaves a lot to be desired. I wouldn’t want to be a phone engineer in this city for sure!

For the two of us we just wish to communicate the real safety, security, beauty and serenity we were greeted with on our arrival and how happy we were to be guests in Kosovo. Our pictures say a thousand words in that sense.

The old fort above and old town below.

The river and the view for miles to see;

The old bridge and town from the new centre.

So now it is time to depart for Montenegro via Albania. We have only one wish; that local Kosovars can see we do stand still with solidarity and want to visit, to build a better future for such a beautiful country.

Onwards, reluctantly, to the Albanian border and our next adventure.

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