Articles tagged with "kosovo"

Train to Skopje

Train to Skopje

Early the next morning I walked down from Velania to Priština’s train station. I’d checked it out the day before, and found that one train a day left from here to Skopje, at 6.24am. The station was tiny and grotty, and I did not have any particular faith in the timetable. But I got there at 6.15am, after a nice walk in the dawn light through the deserted city. And the train left exactly on time. I was the only person on board.

The train wound its way through southern Kosovo, through forested valleys and alongside rivers. Only an hour and a half later, we were at the Macedonian border. I got no Kosovo exit stamp, but luckily I got a Macedonian entry stamp. I also made the acquaintance of an elderly Albanian man, who appeared at the door to my compartment carrying immigration forms and passports for himself, his wife and his daughter. For a moment I thought this might be because he was illiterate; in fact it was because all the forms were in Macedonian and English only, despite the large Albanian minority who live in the country. I filled in all the forms, and we all made it across the border.

It was a bright sunny morning. About half an hour after we left the border, we pulled into Skopje station. I wouldn’t have minded staying here but I didn’t have that many days left before I needed to be in Thessaloniki. So I just bought myself a great espresso from the station cafe, a snack from a shop, and a bus ticket to Ohrid.


Prizren

Prizren

I didn’t have too long to spend in Prizren. The last bus back to Priština left at 6pm, and I didn’t want to get stranded. So I hurried into town, not knowing where I was going because the map in the guidebook didn’t say where the bus station was. But I found my way, and before too long I was in the historic centre of the town.

It was the usual Kosovan mixture of upbeat and depressing. The town centre was busy and lively, and cafes overflowed with people. Old buildings lined the streets. But right in the centre there were burned-out buildings, and up on the hillside an ugly scar of abandoned houses showed the ethnic conflict that still existed. Kosovo had been overtaken by violence in 2004, and Prizren had suffered. The remaining Serbs had more or less all abandoned the place, and their empty houses remained.

I sat by the almost-dry riverbank for a while in the warm sun, but soon my time was up. I got a bus back to Priština as the sun was setting over the hills of southern Kosovo. Free sweets were handed out again. I got back to the capital just as it was getting dark, and walked from the bus station up to Velania.


Peja

Peja

I got a bus to Peja. It was not a long run through the Kosovan countryside. We passed a lot of memorials to fallen KLA fighters on the way, all with the Albanian flag flying over them. Half-built houses seemed to be everywhere. It was hard to tell if they were ruins being rebuilt, or just haphazard new construction. As we headed towards Peja, someone came around the bus to collect tickets, and also to hand out sweets, which I thought was very cool.

In Peja I had thought I might go to see the Patriarchate of Peć, an orthodox monastery outside town which is supposed to be very impressive. I walked through the city, along Tony Blair Street, and out towards the monastery. Ahead of me, the fantastically named Accursed Mountains looked gloomy and forbidding, their peaks wreathed in cloud. I reached the Italian KFOR post which protects the monastery from Albanian harassment. They asked to see my passport, then searched my bag. They said they’d have to take my camera, and apologetically removed it. Then they decided that actually they’d have to take my whole bag. Even if I just wanted to walk up the road a bit, I couldn’t take anything with me. And according to my book it was far from certain that I’d be able to get into the monastery anyway. So I decided to abandon the plan.

I got the impression that my visit was one of the more exciting things that the Italian KFOR guys had had to deal with. They had to be here to stop the monastery getting attacked, but I supposed that their presence put off most would-be attackers and that they probably didn’t have a whole lot to do most days.

I walked back to Peja, and got a bus to Prizren.


Priština

Priština

The journey to Kosovo was exhausting. The bus had come from Ulcinje, and it was full of rowdy young Kosovar holidaymakers. One of the two bus drivers was the spitting image of Lloyd Bridges. I had met a Dutch traveller as we were waiting at the bus stop, and after we’d boarded Lloyd Bridges spoke to a couple of people who gave us their seat. I didn’t want any kind of special favour like that, but no-one spoke English and I didn’t quite understand what was going on. Then, about an hour later we stopped at a service station, two young Kosovars came up and angrily shouted at us. Lloyd Bridges was nowhere to be seen and neither of us knew what was going on, but it was clear that the two guys wanted our seats. We could hardly argue, in the circumstances.

I ended up sat in the stairwell. The lights were on all night, music played, and I thought about the various crazy bus journeys I’ve done in various crazy parts of the world.

In the middle of the night we sailed across the Montenegrin border without stopping. We paused briefly at the Kosovan border, but to my huge disappointment I didn’t get a passport stamp. Not long after that some people got off, and I finally got a seat. I dozed as we rumbled on into Kosovo.

We got to Priština at 5am. The Dutch guy got a taxi to a hotel; I decided to sleep in the bus station for a bit. It was spacious, clean and empty, and I slept until about 7.30, when I got a taxi to the Velania Guest House, a cheap place to stay in a hilltop suburb.

It was good to be in the world’s newest country. Kosovo’s declaration of independence, only four months earlier, had spurred me into visiting this part of the world. War and mass killings were the things Kosovo was famous for in the UK, and I wanted to see what things were actually like here.

I walked into town from Velania. It was pretty hard to find the way; I had a guidebook with very poor maps, and few streets had signs anyway. But I haphazardly found my way into the centre. My first target was a cafe, and I found one on UÇK Street – Kosovo Liberation Army Street. I restored myself with several strong espressos before heading off to explore.

I spent two days looking around the city. I felt a vibe of happiness and optimism about the place. Families promenaded up and down the pedestrianised Mother Teresa Street. People were extremely friendly to me when they realised I was English. The city was crumbling and dusty and mostly quite ugly, but somehow in the warm summer days it looked quite nice.

But at the same time it was obvious that not all was good in Kosovo. An abandoned Orthodox church stood looking dismal and decrepit in the middle of a park, and anti-Serb sentiment wasn’t hard to find.