Before I even get into our night in Kosovo, I've gotta give a shout-out to the Germans, who must travel all over the ends of the Earth. We heard German spoken in every town and country we visited on this road trip, so to you I say, "Prost!"
The Republic of Kosovo hasn't had an easy road to country'dom and is still a disputed territory. Serbia doesn't recognize Kosovo as a country and claims the land as part of Serbia. In fact, if you drive to Serbia through Kosovo, border agents won't allow you into the country because you "entered Serbia illegally". Fortunately, we planned our route to avoid that awkwardness and entered Kosovo through Macedonia. We had international car insurance with our rental, but Kosovo wasn't included in the coverage, so we had to purchase country-specific insurance before we could cross the border.
The landscape from the border to Pristina went from mountainous to flat pretty quickly, and the drive was painfully slow thanks to the two lane road that served as the highway. Much like driving in Albania, we had people pulling over to wash their cars and plenty of trucks preventing us from going anywhere close to the speed limit. As we drove, we noticed a bunch of Albanian flags flying throughout neighborhoods and along the highways. When we later researched it, we learned that 90% of Kosovo residents are ethnic Albanians, and the flags are a sign of respect to the population.
Driving through downtown Pristina was a bit of a challenge because it's so pedestrian friendly. Even on streets that AREN'T pedestrian friendly there were people walking on the road and dodging them was like Paperboy. Our Airbnb promised "free parking" which we learned meant "have some old Kosovo dudes point you to a free spot on the sidewalk". Our high rise apartment was really nice, but we had to climb up 9 flights of stairs to reach it. As we climbed, we noticed that every apartment had shoes outside of them, and several had a sign explicitly requesting that shoes be removed before entering. Must be a cultural thang.
With the exception of Croatia, Pristina (pronounced Prish-teena) had a lot more English signs and menus in restaurants than the other places we'd visited. At lunch at Soma Bookstation (good food and the Sabaja craft beer, brewed in Kosovo, was delicious), we heard several tables of people speaking in English. Not too surprising considering the US presence in the region, particularly during the Clinton administration. Pristina itself even feels like an American city in some places. The main pedestrian street is wide like Barcelona's La Rambla and lined with touristy restaurants, bars, and a few statues (Skanderbeg is the most impressive). Surprisingly, there are few souvenir shops, which was refreshing but also frustrating because we were trying to buy a magnet (later bought the lamest magnet imaginable). Pristina is small enough to walk around, so we were able to go from the Bill Clinton statue (on Bill Clinton Boulevard-they love that guy there) to the Newborn Monument on foot. Even though it was boiling out, we seemed to be the only ones in the city wearing shorts so we took the hint and changed before dinner. We decided to check out a highly rated restaurant called Home; they had a really varied menu with huge portions. How varied? Well, we had spring rolls, red pepper/guac/and cheese spreads, El had boneless Asian chicken, and I had chicken parmesan. Yeah. That varied. Although there was plenty of places to hang out, we were pretty beat so had a drink at a craft beer bar called Strip Depot (just a cafe/bar, no nekked people) before watching Ink Master and calling it at night.
We got an early start for Sofia the next morning but had to drive back through Macedonia to avoid Serbia. The highway infrastructure, as I mentioned before, wasn't great and there were no highway food stops, and the painted lines on the ground were really faded. So that meant two things: 1) that we had chips and peanut M&M's for breakfast and 2) Elliot got pulled over for making an illegal pass. The cops didn't speak much English, and when it was clear that we were never going to pay a ticket, they let us go. I honestly think we got off the hook because we're American. U-S-A! U-S-A!
After we successfully avoided the Kosovoan (don't think that's actually a word) version of the gulag, we were on our way to country #7: Bulgaria. Bring on, Sofia!
Thirsty for more? Why not subscribe to Court's Excellent Adventures? Type your email address in the box below and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.