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Priština

Tuesday, July 15th 2008

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.

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