I recently returned from an absolutely lovely holiday. I did my obligatory visits to England, Italy, and Belgium, but the best part was finally exploring round the Balkans! As with most my trips to Europe, I used London as my home base – friends flats to store my bigger suitcase and dirt cheap intercontinental flights make it ideal. My main aim was to make it to Pristina to visit a dear friend of mine from my grad school and the cheapest I found was a flight from London to Skopje, Macedonia via Wizz Air (Tirana, Albania was also an option as there are buses from pretty much any point A to point B you might need). The flight cost me a whopping $35.
From Skopje airport, I was able to catch a “shuttle” to a few drop points in the city center, one of which was the bus station. I wish so badly my camera could have captured the state of this building – it was like a scene out of the Matrix or some other dreary alternate reality film. I was honestly quite surprised this place wasn’t condemned (though after a few days in the Balkans, I was no longer surprised by this). At any rate, I found the ticket counters and secured a ticket for the 2.5 hour bus to Pristina later that afternoon. I had a couple hours so I took a gander around the city center and had a quick lunch before heading off to Pristina.
Pristina definitely still has the post-conflict region feel. It might not be the prettiest city this side of the Adriatic Sea, but the people are absolutely wonderful, the food delectable, and the prices unbeatable. And get this, they actually like, no…LOVE Americans. That’s always a strange, but welcomed feeling.
Where I Ate:
- Baba Ghanoush (It’s not the easiest place to find, but hopefully the FourSquare link will help). Supposedly the only vegetarian restaurant in Pristina, the six of us did a family style meal. We told our waiter, “Bring the works!” and he did. Everything was incredibly delicious and when all was said and done…it cost each of us €6. SIX. Amazing.
- Pinocchio. A hotel and restaurant that boasts a spanning view of Pristina from atop a massive hill. I’m an absolute sucker for pasta, in fact, I’m a pasta maniac, so this place got my vote. Our waiter was so adorable and sweet and the restaurant has a fancy-cabin-in-the-mountain vibe. We also asked if we could see the view from the hotel and they were kind enough to oblige – they even let us into the top floor suite to have a peep out the window.
For Coffee and Tea:
- Half and Half. It’s just off the bustling Mother Teresa Blvd. It’s new and swanky.
- Dit’ e Nat’. It feels like hanging out inside an old cosy, library. Bookshelves and books everywhere, a.k.a. heaven.
For Drinks and a Night Out:
- Hamam Jazz Bar. For some live jazz and an award winning interior design, this is the place.
- MHz (Megahertz). This place was rammed and so smokey it made my eyes burn, but they played a lot of Beach Boys.
- Creme de la Creme. To be honest, I was only in this place after hours, but I can imagine it being as equally creme de la creme during opening hours. I mean, they actually have a real website. That’s fancy.
- Zanzibar (more fondly known as Zanzis). It was sadly closed from the summer season and had yet to open for the winter season, but I was told by many it’s THE place to go in Pristina on a Friday night.
- Birdshit Avenue. No, seriously. That’s what they call it. The street is lined with heaps of cool hang outs and bars.
What I Did:
- Beauty Spot. I got a manicure and pedicure because…it was too cheap to not? The woman who owns this salon recently moved back to Pristina after twenty years of living in London. She and I bonded over our mutual love of London and sipped away at our macchiatos.
- Mirusha Waterfalls. Four friends and I hired a car and drove out to Mirusha Falls. I did not pack proper footwear for this, but enjoyed it regardless. It’s about a forty minute hike to the lowest waterfall and depending on how adept you are at scaling rocks and avoiding plunging to your death, it’s another ten minutes to the next waterfall, and another ten minutes to the one beyond that. We packed a massive picnic and sunned ourselves on the rocks above the second waterfall. It was absolute heaven!
- Gjakova. After our waterfall adventures, we drove to visit a friend that is from Gjakova – a charming, small city an hour and a half drive outside of Pristina. The high street is lined with a plethora of bars and restaurants. We drank at a friend’s bar, but decided we were hungry. Never fear though…they didn’t mind having the restaurant across the way bringing food to our table at the bar. Gotta love Kosovo.
- Hotel Gračanica. We had a Sunday all-you-can-eat brunch buffet at this beautiful hotel. After sufficiently stuffing ourselves, we took our teas outside and lounged in the lawn chairs which overlooked a great expanse of greenery and corn fields. Hotel Gračanica is considered to be within Serbian territory, just FYI. After brunch we walked down the road to the Orthodox Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Mother Teresa Cathedral. Usually cathedrals on this side of the world are old and historical. This one is new and modern and frankly, that’s a bit weird, but the view from the tower is pretty neat. It’ll cost you a euro though.
Things I Learned:
- Whilst traveling in the Balkans you don’t really have an itinerary, just a general idea of what you’re hoping to do.
- If you’re looking for official bus schedules or restaurant websites…it’s likely you won’t find it online (unless it’s a third party posting helpful hints).
- After a day or two, you will no longer wake up to the 5:30am call to prayer.
- Even if it’s supposed to be a “non-smoking” bar…it likely is a smoking bar. A very very smokey bar.
- Pristina is really not a well-lit city.
- It’s likely that your apartment building will only get running water a few hours in the morning and a few hours at night.
- It’s best not to mention anything Serb, Serbia, Serbian.
- The scariest thing about Kosovo? Rabid dogs. Dogs that stalk you at night whilst you walk down a dark, quiet street. He may be rabid, he may not be. Let’s not get bit to find out, yeah?