Earth : Europe : Balkans : Kosovo
|Language||Albanian 90 % (official), Serbian 6 % (official), Turkish, Romany|
|Religion||Muslim 92 %, Orthodox 6 %, Roman Catholic 1 %|
|Electricity||230V/50Hz (European plug)|
|Time Zone||UTC +1|
Kosovo (Albanian: Kosova, Serbian: Kосово) is a "de-facto" independent country in South Eastern Europe. After a lengthy and often violent dispute with Serbia, Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 despite heavy Serbian opposition. Kosovo is largely an Albanian speaking and Muslim area, but there are also significant numbers of minorities living within its borders, especially Serbs. Kosovo borders Albania to the west, Montenegro to the northwest, Macedonia to the south, and Serbia to the northeast.
The population of Kosovo is about 95 percent Albanian, who use the name Kosova exclusively.
Many people in Kosovo can speak English; they are more than willing to help you and tell you their stories. You, as the outsider, will get to hear both sides.
If you are interested in more than just seeing beautiful mountains and ancient ruins on your vacation to 'the region', Kosovo strongly recommends itself.
- Seeing the UN and the international community in action (or lack thereof) is quite interesting.
- speaking to people in a post conflict environment is an eye opener that tends to cause a person to stop thinking of people in countries of civil conflict as simply nuts.
- You'll get a first hand view of about 5 different cultures (Albanian, Serb, Roma, Ashkalia, and Bosniak)
- You'll gain an understanding of what happens when governments allow industry to function when both environmental regulations and solid, defensible property rights are scarce
- You'll come to enjoy a lot of coffee-shops around Prishtina
- The Kosovars tend to be very friendly towards the USA, for its support of their independence. (ie: they have "Bill Clinton Boulevard" in Prishtina, as well as a large picture mural of him on the side of a building). They also are very friendly to Western European countries.
The climate is continental, with warm summers and cold and snowy winters.
- Pristina (Prishtinë, Priština) — the capital
Citizens of countries such as Albania, Australia, Canada, EU, Lebanon, South Africa, and Turkey do not need a visa but if you are planning to stay in Kosovo for more than 90 days you MUST register at the Police Department for the Registration of Foreigners, which is next to the central police station. Citizens of other countries that have significantly contributed the the rebuilding of the Kosovo probably also do not need visas either, although Kosovo is starting to implement a stricter visa regime. N.B. The 90 day rule for the registration of foreigners applies to everybody.
You can enter Kosovo through the northern border with Serbia through Kosovska Mitrovica or near Pristina. There are bus connections from Belgrade and Nis to Pristina and Prizren and from all the major towns in Serbia to the northern parts. Most used transport route is through Macedonia and Prishtina airport. Skopje is only one and a half hours from the capital city of Kosovo, Pristina. Travelling from Pristina to any other city of Kosovo does not take longer than an hour and a half. For instance, from Pristina to Prizren it takes an hour and a half, if there is no traffic, but the most it can take is two hours. The distance to Peć is also similar.
Several European Airlines have started to offer direct flights from their hubs to the International Airport of Pristina, e.g. SAS Scandinavian Airlines, SWISS, Belle Air, Croatia Airlines, Air Berlin, Malev and Austrian Airlines. During the summer several additional charter flights are available for travellers.
From Montenegro you can enter through Rozaje to Peja/Pec(approximately 2.0 hours).
From Macedonia you can take a bus to Prishtina (approximately 2.5 hours)
There is a border crossing in the Presevo Valley in Serbia.
There are a couple companies offering buses from Istanbul via Skopje.
From Albania you can enter through Prizren on a nice new road; gone are the days of the "nightmare" 10-hour mountain ride. The trip from Tirane costs 10 euros and takes 4 hours, with two stops. Just be aware that by crossing the border into Kosovo this way there is little or no border control at all. You will not receive a Kosovo entry stamp, nor will you receive an Albanian exit stamp.
There are also trains crossing the Kosovo border. Two daily services connects Kraljevo in Serbia with all towns on the Leshak - Fushë Kosovë (Kosovo Polje), connections from Beograd are possible but includes a long stay between train at Kraljevo, thus bringing the journey to more than 12 hours for 399 km. Since March 1, 2006 an identical service, twice daily, runs from Skopje in Macedonia to Prishtina in Kosovo. It is hard to gets timings for these trains. Trains are very slow and convey second class only, but they give the opportunity to see a lot of the country and are a good value at approximately €4 each way.
To enter Kosovo, the validity and acceptance of the International Motor Insurance Card is in doubt. Some sources say that you will need to purchase insurance liability at the border for 50€ before the border guards will allow you to enter. Travellers report that as of December 2008 this so called Green Card was accepted by border police and customs. Ensure also that you have your Vehicle Registration and a Power of Attorney from the owner if the car is not yours.
The best way to travel intercity in Kosovo is by bus. The buses are relatively cheap (Pristina to Peja, 4,00 EUR).
Kosovan Railways (Kosovske Zeleznice - Hekurudhat e Kosovës)  are currently (2006) running the following passenger train services: from Fushë Kosovë (former Kosovo Polje; a city near Pristina) to Leshak (a town North at the Serb frontier) three trains a day. From Fushë Kosovë at 07.35, 11.18 and 14.15 and from Leshak at 09.55, 13.19 and 16.50. The train passes through most of the Serbian enclaves that are strung up through the northern part of Kosovo. The system is seen as a way of helping to make the lives of the Serbs in the enclaves easier but also as a way to help integration. The service is free of charge to local people. Another service runs twice a day from Fushë Kosovë at 04.17 and 19.00 to Hani i Elezit (former General Jankovic) on the border to Macedonia, return journeys from Hani i Elezit starts at 05.53 and 20.44. A local suburban services runs from Fushë Kosovë to Grazhanica with departures from F. Kosovë at 05.40 and 19.17, returning from Grazhanica at 06.30 and 20.05.
Beware, often in Kosovo taxi drivers and other people involved in the grey market transportation system will try to rip you off.
You can get a superb atlas of Kosovo from the OSCE that has detailed ethnic maps (before and after the war), vital statistics, along with navigational maps. To get the map, ask for the NGO Information office near the OSCE building in Pristina.
The majority of young population speaks English, and older people may speak either English or German. A small portion of northern Kosovo has a Serbian majority, where Serbian will come handy. The Turkish minority speaks its own tongue as well.
- Pristina is the capital city of Kosovo. Places that should be visited in Prishtina is the quarter near the National Museum of Kosova. In addition to visiting the museum where a lot of archelogical artifacts are presented, in both ways when you exit you see the old mosques, since the Ottoman Empire.
- Waterfall Of The Drini River -Located North Of Peja Behind The Berdynaj village. During the summer this place is fantastic, and the road to the river is an amazing, narrow road with wires on one side and the river on the other this is a great part of Kosovo.
- The Peć Patriachy. The Peć patriarchy lies 2km to the north west of the Peja (Pec) city center. This location was the seat of the Patriarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church starting in 1302 and for many Serbs is considered to be of extreme national importance. All of the Serbs who lived in Peja have either left or been forced to do so by Albanian nationalists leaving the Patriarchy to be heavily guarded by NATO troops, with a few remaining clergy. It is a beautiful monastery with many spectacular paintings. If you go, dress conservatively.
- The Rugova Gorge. The Rugova gorge is also to the north west of Peja and can be found by following the same road that leads to the Pec Patriarchy. Just drive further. The canyon has extremely steep walls reaching possibly up to 300 meters.
- The Gjakova Old Bazaar. Very beautiful old "shopping center" from 17th century. It was burned down during the war in 1999 and reconstructed recently. Also in the center of the bazaar is located an old mosque that was build in the 15th century.
- The Mitrovica Bridge. An interesting symbol of the division of the population in Kosovo. This bridge is the dividing line between Serbs and Albanians in Mitrovice/Mitrovica. It will almost always be safe to approach the bridge and look at it, although the French soldiers who guard it may not let you cross if the political situation is worse than average (average not being so good).
- Dečani Monastery. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important monasteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo. It is famous for its elegant and peculiar architecture. As an orthodox monastery from the 13th century, it successfuly mixes western and eastern church building elements to form a particular hybrid style only known on the territory of old Serbia. This monastery is particularly noted for some of the world's finest medieval frescoes adorning its walls.
- Gračanica Monastery. One of the most beautiful examples of Serbian medieval (14th c.) ecclesiastical architecture. This monastery was built by the Serbian king Milutin in the serbo-byzantine style, reportedly its shape being inspired by a cloud. It is noted for its frescoes, and being the only medieval Serbian monastery found in an urban setting complete with an old school and archives. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Prizren. The most historical city in Kosovo. It has plenty of beautiful Islamic architecture.
- The Roma quarter (mahalla) in Gjilan. Gjilan is located to the South East of Pristina.
- Brezovica Ski Centre - Old infrastructure but great slopes, located in Southern Kosova.
- Novo Brdo (in Latin documents written as Novaberd, Novus Mons or Novamonte; and in Saxon miners' documents as Nyeuberghe) was mentioned in the historical documents as early as 1326. Novo Brdo was a metropolis at the time, with a huge medieval fortress built on the top of an extinct volcano cone, the remains of which can be visited today, and residential sections sprawling all around. In the outer wall of the fortress a large cross is visible, built into the stones. The castle, or fortress, was thought at one point to have dated back to the Byzantine Empire.
- Ulpiana , one of the oldest cities in the Balkan peninsula is just 20-30 minutes away from Pristina towards Gjilan and that is the city that is know to have been re-constructed by Justinian I emperior.
Lots of great burek, (baked pastry stuffed with cheese, meat or spinach). Try the drinkable yogurt - it's superb. Lots of kebabs and other Ottoman Turkish style food. As far as you are in an Albanian territory, you could try Albanian food as well. Fli, a very good pastry, can be found in different traditional restaurants. One of the most notable 'Pellumbi', although be aware because you might overpay. Lots of pizza in restaurant pizzeria "SAN REMO" in city of Peja the best meat you can eat in Country House.
At the bakery you can buy a fantastic loaf of bread for under one Euro.
The grocery stores have a plentiful supply of Western food.
Beer e Peja is a pretty good brew. It is brewed in Peja (Pec). Peja Premium is a slightly stronger beer from the same brewery but less widely available. Wine is also widely consumed when eating out, some local wine and also Vranac from Montenegro are the most common ones. Even though Albanians are predominantly Muslim drinking is still quite liberal.
Accommodation in Kosovo can be expensive, meaning it is probably the same as hotels in surrounding countries (starts at 25 EUR and goes over 100 EUR) and primarily is designed for people working for the development agencies. Your best bet on finding a place to stay is outside of Prishtina (if you're with the car) and to have a contact there ahead of time (even if its just somebody you met over the internet) and stay with them. Or possibly contact some of the smaller development organisations, such as Balkan Sunflowers and online listing of Kosovo hotels http://hotelskosova.com/, and ask if they can help you with accommodation staying in a rural community or in the city for higher price.
But in the otherside if you plan not to sleep, go at the bars (i.e. Hard Rock Bar - close to KEK- Energy Enterprise, you have a good prices and of course the best rock music in town, considering the elite people in there, such as musicians, actors, etc. Other places to visit are Strip Depo, close to the ABC Cinema, Kafja e Vogel(Small Cafe) close to OSCE. Kosovo youngsters, as in other Balkan countries, are largely cafe going culture, so you will find these places full any day during week. Reception Room, located opposite to Skenderbeg monument, seems to be a popular night club for 2007.
Skopje in Macedonia has some very cheap accommodation so doing day trips to Kosovo from there is very much a possibility. But Prishtina now has many places thus there is no need to go and come back from Skopje just for a cheap hotel for a night.
Avoid making comments about politics in Kosovo, although ask as many questions (within reason) as you like. They are very open about their hatred of each other and more than willing to tell you about it.
Also, with Kosovo's declaration of independence, things could heat up again. Again, stay on top of the news before going.
The Serbs are a very hospitable people and very friendly. The most likely encounter starts with them saying your country (if you are American or British) bombed them. Their next action will most likely be inviting you into their home to drink 'rakija' with them and offering you way too much food, end of discussion of politics. Though that is the most likely encounter, occasionally you will meet somebody who may not be as hospitable. Be smart, and if the discussion gets a bit intense don't verbally resist and get in an argument about the war, agree with them where you can and downplay your country (as truthfully or untruthfully as you feel you can do).
Like much of the Balkans, land mines were heavily used during the Yugoslav civil war. Stay on the pavement, if you go off the pavement stay on well worn paths. Wandering off of trails can be dangerous. On the other hand don't let this minor problem make you not visit Kosovo. So long as you don't go wandering around in the bushes where clearly no-one else goes, it poses no hazard to you. In other words do not be an idiot and say I want to hike through that forest!!!
Likely stolen to sell as scrap metal, one should keep an eye out for this potential hazard. Whilst not an issue on busy city streets, walking even a few kilometres outside downtown Pristina can be dangerous - particularly when walking in tall grass beside roads or sidewalks. Local residents have been known to use a small pile of sticks and stones to cover an open sewer pit and care should be taken not to step on these either.
Don't pet dogs - stay away from them!
There are direct flights from Pristina International Airport to London, New York City, Zurich, Geneva, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Vienna, Zagreb, Hamburg, Hannover, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Frankfurt,Podgorica, Munich, Stuttgart, Bremen, Rome, Milan, Verona, Ljubljana, Budapest, Tirana, Istanbul and Antalya. Soon, there will be direct flights to Sarajevo and other destinations.
There are direct bus links to most cities in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Note that if you plan to go to Russia after Kosovo, you may encounter a bit of trouble entering the country as Russia still considers the declaration of independence of Kosovo to be illegal.
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