With our heads still swimming from the extremely confusing short films we had seen at the Prizren Film Festival, we were back on the road, aiming for the Kosovian capital of Prishtina. From Prizren we found a good place to hitchhike next to the UN military base and we were soon picked up by a couple who had doubled back on themselves after originally having driven past. They were a sweet young couple fresh out of university still deciding on where their lives would take them. Next up were two guys who were living in Austria but were back to visit family and loved driving extremely fast on the country’s sole motorway. One more lift with a guy in a van, in which I had to slide around in the back as there was only one seat, and we arrived on the outskirts of Prishtina in the middle of a downpour.
Luckily we had managed to organise couchsurfing previously, and so with the prospect of a bed to sleep in and home cooking we undertook the laborious walk into the centre, hiding under garage awnings and in shop doorways when the road got too heavy to continue. Eventually we found the tourist information centre and after a little charming they were persuaded to let us use their phone in order to contact our host, Bujar.
Bujar is of Albanian descent, in his early thirties, separated but with a young daughter who has done very well for himself running a company importing and installing doors. Clever enough to exploit the extremely low levels of tax in Kosovo, Bujar has become quite a wealthy man and his flat was both large and comfortable. Whilst staying with him and his parents, we enjoyed a lovely traditional home cooked meal, partook in late night vodka and chatted a lot about life in general. During the war, Bujar had lost his brother to Serb paramilitaries but he was surprisingly forgiving towards those who had ripped his family and community apart.
Let’s be honest from the off, Prishtina is ugly. The city centre revolves around the rather nondescript Mother Teresa Boulevard which is flanked by grey lifeless buildings. Monuments are thin on the ground and green spaces are at a premium but all this doesn’t mean Prishtina is a soulless place. There is an unexpectedly vibrant café culture that caught us completely by surprise and all the locals we met were friendly and welcoming. The city is not nearly as war-torn as we had imagined it would be and the quality of the life is far higher then we had expected.
We had enjoyed our time in Kosovo and had had our preconceptions challenged. We came expected a country in the throws of rebuilding and found out that they were far more advanced than we had thought. Our believe that Albanians were some of the nicest people in Europe was strengthened and we were taken aback by the lack of rancour, and their capacity to forgive, about the war years. Next up, Serbia, and what had come to feel like a journey to find the source of the Nile. All the stories, the history, the horror and the blame seemed to fill a river that ran all the way to Belgrade. It was time to go and see if we could make any sense of it.
Follow our 2 month hitch-hiking trip across the north of Italy and the Balkan Peninsula:‘The Balkan Peninsula by Thumb 2013′. It’s happening now!
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