When I found out my apartment in Kosovo had been flooded out, I was rather bummed that I had to change my plans. But, after a marvelous few days in Slovenia, all was forgotten. Until, the chance for a day in Kosovo came up while I was in Skopje. So, I boarded a minibus — with no seat belts or AC — for the journey to Prishtina. Two-and-a-half hours later, our bus rolled into town, having made the 100-km trip over the border through the mountains.
I’d heard a lot about what to expect in Kosovo during my Balkan travels — that I would see American flags, that Kosovars are extremely welcoming of U.S. citizens. And straightaway, I could see the influence. One of the main streets in Prishtina is named for President Clinton.
And there’s a large statute of him at one end of it, near the bus station.
You can still see the scars of Kosovo’s recent tumult throughout the city, with crumbling buildings still standing and pavement scarred by shelling. But, Prishtina has an optimistic spirit as well. On a Saturday morning, families were out having coffee and children were squealing and playing in the fountain along Bulevardi Nene Tereza, named for Mother Teresa.
Her influence looms large over this city, with a beautiful cathedral named for her standing at the intersection of Bulevardi Nene Tereza and Bulevardi Bill Klinton.
Construction began on the large building in 2011, not without some controversy from Muslim Kosovars, who saw it as being unnecessary given the small size of the Catholic population in the city.
Still, her presence is impossible to escape. A mural, made of thousands of staples, lines the stairwell in the Kosovo Museum. The artist created this stunning masterpiece in 27 days, and it’s an impressive sight amid the many artifacts of Kosovo’s violent past.
Outside the museum, artillery from the Kosovo War sits as a reminder of the 17-month long battle between Yugoslavia and the Kosovar Albanian rebels known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). NATO eventually intervened, and later investigations would reveal the bodies of nearly 3,000 victims who’d died in the conflict.
A statute of the first commander of the KLA, Zahir Pajaziti, stands in one of the main squares along Bulevardi Nene Tereza. Although he died in 1997, he was declared the Hero of Kosovo in 2008 for his efforts.
Bulevardi Nene Tereza is the main pedestrian area in Prishtina, and the tree-lined route is a wonderful place to stroll in the morning, have a drink and watch the people pass by. Kosovars love their cafes, and groups of young people were gathered all along the route. The country has the youngest population in Europe with more than a quarter of its citizens under the age of 14.
At the opposite end of the pedestrian street is this monument, the Memorial to Brotherhood and Unity, sits adjacent to the main government buildings in Kosovo. It pays tribute to those who lost their lives fighting in World War II.
Nearby, the Heroinat monument commemorates the lives of all the Albanian women who died during the fighting. The memorial is stunning when it catches the sunlight. It’s a beautiful tribute.
And it sits across from what is likely the most famous landmark in Prishtina, the Newborn monument. Unveiled on February 17, 2008, the day that Kosovo officially declared its independence from Serbia, the Newborn monument attracts crowds and photos from locals and tourists alike.
Around the city, street art and graffiti serve as reminders of the young nation’s violent history and struggle for independence.
As I headed back toward the bus station — there’s no rail service in Kosovo and limited air service as well — I stopped at the University of Prishtina. Originally opened in 1969, the Albanian-language university split into two faculties — Albanian and Serbian — in 1999. It was described as “being at the very core of political conflict and the self-esteem of Albanian Kosovars.” Following NATO’s campaign, the Albanian faculty re-took control of the university. Below, you can see its most notable building — the library. Much of the rest of campus, sadly, is in a state of disrepair.