Kosovo – Feeling Welcome in a Newborn Country
“First they will steal your money, then they will steal your phone, then they will steal your car. Don’t go.” That’s what we were told before visiting Kosovo, Europe’s newest country. Read along as we describe our experience in Kosovo.
Seeing that my death had been predicted several times over in different cities around the world by otherwise well-meaning friends and relatives, and having survived what is reputedly the world’s most dangerous city in Honduras (although some friends’ belongings did not), I was curious to explore some of Kosovo’s alleged dangers. And there we were. Right in the middle of it all and I couldn’t have felt safer.
Our Experience in Kosovo
After having read some other travel blogs before we arrived in Kosovo, my expectation of it was that it might just be a little bit boring. And grey. But one of the most delightful things about travel is discovering that many places rarely equate with the pre-formed images in your head. And that no story, guide or blog can ever prepare you for how you feel about a place. And that was the case with Kosovo.
The Republic of Kosovo is Europe’s youngest country having declared de facto independence from Serbia in 2008. This is not recognised by all of the world’s countries including of course Serbia itself, and its official status is still hotly disputed. In fact it is not possible to enter Serbia from Kosovo without first having exited Serbia to enter Kosovo (thus having a Serbia stamp on your passport); if you attempt to travel from a third country into Kosovo and then into Serbia, Serbia will declare that you are trying to enter it illegally and you will be turned away.
Kosovars speak mostly Albanian and are predominantly Muslim, although those living in the north near the border with Serbia speak Serbian. In addition to this all the young people we met spoke very good English too. And with the Euro being the official currency in Kosovo, there was no need for annoying mental currency calculations for us – so easy!
At one point during lunch at a Pristina cafe, I commented to Nikki about how we seemed to be surrounded mostly by young people. At first we put this down to the fact that we were in the university area but it still seemed weird, so a very slow wifi connection and some research later, we found out that more than 50% of the population in Kosovo is under 25 years of age making it the youngest in Europe, a fact which instantly made us feel super old.
Kosovo in the beginning of April was surprisingly warm making even an open-air dinner very enjoyable. Whilst we thought that Pristina was not particularly pretty, Prizren proved to be a fantastic travel destination discovery for us and we just loved walking around its narrow cobbled roads.
We discovered that Kosovar people are really easy to speak to and everyone was really friendly especially when we needed help with directions. We didn’t see many tourists in Pristina but Prizren on the other hand seemed to have a mix of different tourists including backpackers, older couples and groups of young people. Our hotel receptionist told us that most tourists come from Germany and Italy along with some Brits and Americans but he had obviously never met anyone from Malta – no surprise there!
Like its neighbouring countries, Kosovo is still rather cheap when compared to western Europe. A massive dinner of sheep cheese, a selection of heart attack-inducing sausages and meats (some of which were also stuffed with cheese) some wine and soft drinks set us back about 20 euro. Strangely enough though, accommodation in Prizren proved to be the most expensive of the whole trip – it was only when we read the booking form properly did we notice that it mentioned the inclusion of a rather expensive city tax (one third of the total room price). I’m not sure whether this could have been avoided by booking some other type of lodging rather than a hotel.
Unfortunately this time round we missed going up to Peja, a town surrounded by mountains containing the Serbian UNESCO world heritage site Peć Patriarchate but I would happily go back to discover more of the country with some relaxo time in Prizren thrown in.
Oh, if you do go there, be sure to try out the local wine – it’s a great complement to the heavy but delicious food.
Some Practical Tips for Travelling to Kosovo
We entered Kosovo (Han i Elezit) by car through Macedonia (Blatse) and got through border control in a couple of minutes. We were stopped by border police for a car check but they just wanted to know what we were carrying and told us to keep going when we explained that our backpacks were mainly filled with dirty clothes (unlike the Albania-Macedonia border police who detained us for over an hour). Although we travelled by car, there are also buses which run from Skopje in Macedonia to Pristina in Kosovo and cross the same border.
When travelling by car, border police will also ask whether you car is insured for Kosovo travel (it will probably not be, since Green Card insurance which covers many other European countries does not include Kosovo). You will then be sent to a little office to apply for insurance at the following rates: 15 euro for fifteen days (the minimum you can apply for), 20 euro for one month, 35 euro for two months and 130 euro for six months. Quite surprisingly credit cards are also accepted.
We never felt unsafe in Kosovo despite some recent travel warnings (most of which referred to the area up north close to the border with Serbia) however, as always, if you plan to visit, take an informed decision based on current news and warnings.
Accommodation & service
We stayed at a newish looking hotel in Prizren very close to the old town centre. We seemed to be the only persons staying there; the receptionist was very welcoming and had even reserved a spot in front of the hotel in which to park our car.
Driving in Kosovo
Driving in Kosovo is pretty straight forward. The roads, although not the best to drive in, are well marked and the country is small enough to get around easily by car. Traffic close to Pristina was rather chaotic; do be careful of Kosovar drivers – like Albanians, they are rather “adventurous”, i.e. they will simply ignore all traffic regulations!
Wifi was widely available but very slow (in cafes, our hotel, restaurants etc…..) when compared to that in neighbouring countries. Sending emails, chats and updating social media sites was not a problem, but using some other phone apps was simply impossible.
Seems to be allowed almost everywhere including indoors so keep this in mind if you find cigarette smoke annoying.