I Just Spent A Whole Day In One Of Europe’s Poorest Countries And I Was Shocked By What I Saw

I Just Spent A Whole Day In One Of Europe's Poorest Countries And I Was Shocked By What I Saw

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I simply spent a complete day exploring one in every of Europe’s poorest nations, the place there are not any shimmery Eiffel Towers, Mediterranean sunsets, or broad leafy boulevards lined with designer retailers – and I nearly couldn’t imagine I used to be nonetheless in the identical continent.

I Just Spent A Whole Day In One Of Europe's Poorest Countries And I Was Shocked By What I Saw

Comprising Southeastern Europe, the Balkan Peninsula is formally residence to 12 nations, which all share a typical tradition and an intertwined Historical past. It is usually my go-to vacation spot, residence to beautiful seashores and UNESCO-listed websites, the tastiest meals, and exquisite, incredibly affordable cities but to be found, distant from the Instagram hordes.

Having been to Croatia, Albania, and Western Turkey, I made a decision it was time to go deeper into the center of the area and discover what is probably its least-visited state:

Welcome To Kosovo, Europe’s Youngest Nation

Young Male Tourist Posing For A Picture In Front Of The Newborn Sign In Pristina, The Capital City Of Kosovo, Eastern Europe

Out of 12 nations which can be both totally, or partially Balkan, the small, newly-independent Kosovo was the one nation I saved avoiding as I country-hopped throughout the peninsula. Whereas I had the chance to go to twice since first arriving within the territory all the best way again in 2019, each misinformation and misleading travel advisories at all times discouraged me.

Though it’s definitely not preventing a full-fledged war, at the least not anymore, Kosovo is but to ascertain amicable relations with Serbia, from which it declared independence unilaterally in 2007. The latter has repeatedly refused to just accept Kosovar sovereignty, and to at the present time, some maps embody Kosovo as a Serbian autonomous province.

However why does Kosovo’s independence declare proceed to be challenged by Serbia greater than a decade later?

Why Is Kosovo Nonetheless Claimed By Serbia?

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Kosovo And Albania's Flags Flying Side By Side In A Public Square In Pristina, Kosovo, Eastern Europe

For many of the twentieth century, these two nations shaped the now-defunct federal entity of Yugoslavia alongside Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. Starting within the 90s, Yugoslavia started to crumble, and one after the opposite, the federal republics inside it seceded, rejecting Serbian rule, although not with out battle.

Carrying the scars of the 90s struggle, liable for re-shaping Balkan borders and establishing at the least six new nations, and expressing a robust will to re-assert its Albanian id, Kosovo was the final former Yugoslav territory to carry an independence vote solely 15 years in the past: Europe’s youngest (partially acknowledged) nation.

Whitewashed Facade Of Nene Tereza Cathedral In Pristina, Kosovo

Regrettably, the Kosovar referendum was deemed unlawful by Serbian lawmakers on the premise that Kosovo was by no means a constituent republic inside Yugoslavia, not like Croatia, Slovenia, or the others. Quick ahead a decade, and the authorized imbroglio continues to have repercussions, with Kosovo’s worldwide recognition being restricted and disputes extending well into 2023.

There are 4 predominant explanation why the individuals of Kosovo don’t really feel connected to Serbia and will wish to untangle themselves from the persisting ghosts of the Yugoslav period:

Kosovar Albanian Girl Smiling At The Camera As She Wears Traditional Albanian Attire, Pristina, Kosovo
  • Kosovo is inhabited by Albanians, who kind the overwhelming majority of the populace (92%)
  • Naturally, probably the most widely-spoken language in Kosovo is Albanian, an Indo-European language markedly totally different from Serbian
  • Essentially the most adopted faith in Serbia is Japanese Orthodoxy (69.9%); Kosovo is 95.6% Muslim
  • For many of the twentieth century, the Kosovar demand for extra autonomy inside Yugoslavia was largely ignored and violently repressed by Serbian-controlled Yugoslav forces, giving rise to a robust anti-Serbian sentiment inside the territory

Now that you understand why Kosovo’s standing is disputed, it’s time we understood how really underdeveloped it’s as a nation standing by itself and why that got here to be:

Kosovo Is The Third Poorest Nation In Europe

Exposed Power Cables Surrounding A Red Brick Building In Prizren, Kosovo

On account of its advanced current previous, assuming that it’s impartial from Serbia, Kosovo has been named the third-poorest country in Europe, with nearly 30% of the inhabitants, or 550,000 Kosovars, falling beneath the poverty line. In 2016, it had an unemployment charge of 34.8%, and a majority of households earned lower than €6,000 per 12 months.

Along with a low Human Growth Index, Kosovars battle from:

  • Not being members of the European Union and having their motion in Europe severely restricted
  • Not being part of NATO, which places them at an elevated threat of assaults by neighboring belligerent nations
Old Bell Tower Surrounded By Power Cables In Prizren, Kosovo
  • Having the weakest passport in Europe; as of 2022, Kosovo passport holders want visas to enter most European nations, and they’re solely granted visa-free entry to 41 nations worldwide
  • Refused admission in nations that don’t acknowledge Kosovar independence and thus Kosovar-issued journey paperwork (Georgia, Moldova, Cuba, and others)

Kosovo, and the broader Balkan Peninsula, are indisputably European, being an integral a part of the continent’s multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-faith character. Nevertheless, they’re a unique taste of Europe, mendacity exterior the Brussels sphere of management and sometimes resembling Western Asia by way of city planning, tradition, and infrastructure.

Ottoman Houses In Old Town Prizren, Kosovo, Eastern Europe

For probably the most half, there are not any broad, tree-lined Belle epoque boulevards to be discovered right here. As a substitute, you must anticipate streets filled with overhead energy cables and overflowing rubbish within the model of Latin America’s run-down hoods. Moreover, Kosovo isn’t the perfect vacation spot for vacationers searching for the quintessential European sightseeing expertise:

A number of historic buildings in Pristina have both been destroyed or closely broken by bombing, and what’s left are a handful of medieval mosques and Serbian Orthodox Church buildings, modernist condo blocks evocative of the communist years, and struggle memorials paying homage to the Kosovar Albanians who misplaced their lives preventing for autonomy.

So why, then, is Kosovo price visiting?

Six Causes Why Kosovo Ought to Be On Your Radar For 2023

Extremely Welcoming Locals

Friendly Looking Old Albanian Gentlemen Playing A Card Game On The Street, Unspecified Location In Albania, Eastern Europe

The hospitality of Albanians precedes them, and upon arriving in Pristina, my first vacation spot on at the present time tour, I used to be reminded why they’ve a popularity for being one of the vital pleasant individuals in Europe. Whether or not you’re looking for souvenirs or just asking for instructions, you’ll really feel their heat and be greeted by real smiles.

From the few interactions with Kosovars I had throughout my tour, I felt as in the event that they have been as elated as they have been puzzled I used to be touring there within the first place. Locals will exit of their method to be sure you really feel welcome, be it eagerly sharing their customs and traditions, or pausing no matter it’s they’re doing to assist a vacationer in want of help, with out anticipating something in return.

We should remind ourselves this can be a new child nation internet hosting lower than 200,000 international vacationers on common per year, and guaranteeing vacationers have an excellent impression is of their greatest curiosity.

It Is House To Stunning Historic Websites

Cobblestone Street In The Old Town Of Prizren Lined With Restaurants And Cafes, Leading To An Ottoman Mosque, Prizren, Kosovo, Eastern Europe

Kosovo might have been ravaged by struggle, and it’s true a number of of its historic monuments are both present process reconstruction or have been razed to the bottom, giving method to modernist buildings that wouldn’t be completely misplaced within the bygone Soviet Union, however this doesn’t imply there’s no architectural magnificence to be discovered right here, or an inestimable cultural worth at that.

The Balkans are maybe probably the most Historical past-charged area in all of Europe, and Kosovo isn’t any exception. One of many details of curiosity within the nation is the lovely 14th-century Serbian Orthodox Gracanicka Monastery. Embellished by vibrant frescoes and atmospheric candles, it’s one in every of a handful of UNESCO World Heritage Websites in Kosovo.

Serbian Orthodox Gracanicka Monastery In Kosovo, Eastern Europe

Yet one more instance of Orthodox structure that’s been enlisted by UNESCO is the Patriarchal Monastery of Pec, positioned close to the town of Peja, well-known for its hanging pink exterior. Elsewhere in Kosovo, guests may also admire the remnants of well-preserved 18th and Nineteenth-century Ottoman homes.

Wandering the cobblestone streets of Prizren to the bewitching chants emanating from the close by minarets, you can be transported again to the Anatolian heartland of Turkiye. Distinctly oriental in character, Prizren options an outdated Ottoman bridge arching over a transparent river and imposing mosques glistening white in opposition to the encircling inexperienced hills.

Some name it the prettiest metropolis in Kosovo, and one of many prettiest in Southeastern Europe.

@vinigoesglobal Prizren is totally gorgey 😍 #kosovo #balkans #europe #prizren ♬ original sound – Vini | Travel Blogger

Kosovo Has A Burgeoning Artwork Scene

It have to be one thing within the water… In recent times, Kosovo has been spawning a powerful streak of pop stars which can be crossing over to the mainstream and making it large in America. Two of probably the most simply acknowledged artists whose households hail initially from listed here are the multi-platinum British artists Dua Lipa and Rita Ora.

Writing On The Wall Of A Modernist Building In Prizren, Kosovo

Dua is, actually, one of the vital profitable feminine artists of the streaming period with a number of high ten hits underneath her belt – with Don’t Begin Now, Levitating, New Guidelines, and Bodily to call a couple of – and different profitable collaborations with world-renowned DJs and trade veterans like Elton John. Apart from advancing the Kosovar trigger, she’s been credited for ‘placing Kosovo’s identify on the map‘ and reviving the nation’s dying cultural scene.

Now, guests to Pristina can attend an annual worldwide music pageant held in summer time organized by Sunny Hill Basis, headed by Dua Lipa herself and her father, Kosovo-born businessman Dukagjin Lipa. Whereas she’s on tour, the singer is often included within the line-up, which options different worldwide acts and native Albanian artists.

It Is Extremely Low-cost By European Requirements

@vinigoesglobal That’s it I’m transferring right here bye ✌🏼 #kosovo #offthebeatenpath #balkans #food ♬ Aesthetic – Tollan Kim

Out of all 37 European nations I’ve set foot in, Kosovo must be the one the place my vacationer {dollars} stretched the furthest. Even for those who’re ready to splurge after being locked down at residence for practically three years, and also you’re ordering each doable appetizer on the menu, getting a invoice of greater than 20 euros per particular person at a mid-range restaurant shall be nearly unimaginable.

Moreover, entry to cultural sights is, on common, €2 to €5 (such because the Gracanicka Monastery), making it extremely inexpensive to discover over a couple of days or perhaps a longer time period. On common, the cost of living in Kosovo is 61.68% decrease than in america, with month-to-month bills with out hire estimated at €359, or roughly $382.

Main Pedestrian Street In Pristina, Kosovo

An essential piece of information: Kosovo has no official foreign money of its personal, they usually have adopted the euro unilaterally. It’s by far probably the most extensively accepted foreign money within the nation, although it could be doable to search out companies that settle for or alternate U.S. {dollars}, British kilos, or different common currencies.

It’s Each Foodie’s Thought Of Paradise

Albanian Food Set On The Table At A Restaurant In Albania, Eastern Europe

Albanian meals ranks amongst my favourite in Europe, primarily as a result of it resembles different ethnic dishes concocted by the Turkish or the Greek, with components which can be at all times contemporary, melt-in-your-mouth meat rolls, soup wealthy in spices and distinctive Balkan condiments, and a large assortment of locally-sourced fruit and salted, mushy cheeses.

Whether or not you’re in Kosovo, Albania, or another Albanian-majority area of North Macedonia or Greece, relaxation assured you can be nicely sorted by your Albanian hosts. A few of my favourite picks are:

  • Fergese, a flavorful paste made primarily of tomato sauce, cottage cheese, inexperienced peppers, and garlic, served historically with bread
  • Byrek (the Albanian equal to the pan-Balkan burek), a flaky dough pastry stuffed with potatoes, spinach, meat, or cheese
a waitress takes a food order from two people sitting at a table
  • Tarator, a chilly soup containing bitter yogurt, shredded cucumber, a couple of squeezes of lemon, and a number of other teaspoons of salt
  • Speca te mbushura, rice-stuffed inexperienced peppers. In some Albanian areas, chopped lamb and/or tomatoes may be added
  • Qofte, meatballs that may be grilled, fried, or baked
  • Tave kosi, lamb baked in a melting pot of do-it-yourself yogurt, rice and eggs

Kosovo Is A Distinctive Nation To Discover

Having traveled Albania extensively, I had the impression it borrows closely from Italian and Greek cultures, resting cozily in its Southern European, Adriatic nook. To all results, the Republic of Albania effortlessly suits all of the Mediterranean standards: pristine seashores, freshly caught seafood, Greco-Roman monuments, and laid-back vibes all through.

Kosovo, then again, is landlocked, and never solely its delicacies however the locals’ lifestyle as a complete is fully outlined by its geographical options. You’ll not discover an abundance of seafood right here, although the standard meat-heavy shqiptarë eating regimen stays a defining trait, as does Albanian folklore and ethnic apparel.

@vinigoesglobal Do you know that regardless of being British born Dua Lipa’s household is from Kosovo? #kosovo #dualipa #travel #funfacts #trending #europe #popmusic #popculture ♬ original sound – Vini | Travel Blogger

On the similar time, it has included different Turkish and Slavic influences, having spent centuries underneath Ottoman rule, and later in a state union with the South Slavic communities. The fixed redrawing of the borders and inflow of immigration from neighboring nations has given rise to a novel Kosovar id that’s carefully associated to Albania’s, however not solely Albanian.

This small, ignored territory is, in essence, the Balkan Peninsula and all of its contrasting identities in a nutshell.

How To Get To Kosovo In 2023

us passport airport

Notably, there are no direct flights from america or Canada. Reaching Pristina from the Americas, U.S. vacationers should change flights at the least as soon as. In relation to one-stop connections, choices are limitless: most of Europe’s main transit hubs, resembling London Heathrow, Vienna, and Frankfurt, have established year-round air hyperlinks to Kosovo.

Geographically, the closest nation Individuals can fly into is, paradoxically, Serbia. Belgrade is served by direct Air Serbia flights leaving from New York (JFK), with one-way fares beginning at $618 this winter. Touchdown in Serbia, Kosovo-bound vacationers are required to journey by way of land to the disputed territory (which Serbia continues to assert as its personal).

Public Buses Stuck In Traffic In Belgrade, Serbia

Alternatively, worldwide buses to Pristina depart from Skopje, in North Macedonia, and Tirana, Albania, in addition to different choose cities within the Balkans. Timetables might change relying on the date of the week, and tickets are usually bought from the ticket workplace at bus stations. Fares vary between $25 and $30 for return journeys, although they are often dearer relying on the transportation supplier.

In case you’re planning on taking the bus from Belgrade, the journey is often hassle-free for these coming into Kosovo after crossing into Serbia first. Individuals who first cross into Kosovo, both by way of Pristina Airport or another border crossing factors with North Macedonia or Albania, and proceed touring onward to Serbia, shall be barred.

The Downside With Coming into Serbia After Crossing Into Kosovo First

Custom Officer Stamping A Passport During International Border Crossing, International Travel Concept

As Belgrade considers Kosovo an integral a part of its territory, border authorities have dominated that each one non-Serbian nationals coming into from the latter and not using a legitimate Serbian stamp on their passports may have crossed into Serbia illegally. Individuals trying to do ought to anticipate to be turned away on the border unceremoniously.

In sum:

  • Touring from Serbia into Kosovo with Serbia because the preliminary entry level: completely authorized in Serbia’s view (the identical applies to re-entering Serbia after visiting Kosovo)
  • Touring from Kosovo into Serbia with out an preliminary Serbian entry stamp in your passport: unlawful on Serbia’s half
Old Town Belgrade Seen From The Danube And Sava Rivers Art Night, Serbia

Except you might be planning on visiting Serbia after Kosovo, you shouldn’t fear about these border disputes and sophisticated technicalities. Nevertheless, for those who’re backpacking throughout the Balkans, and also you would like to not get on the improper aspect of a Serbian immigration officer, you could guarantee you might be stamped by them first.

To the perfect of my data, earlier visits to Kosovo that didn’t contain an accompanying go to to the northern neighbor mustn’t pose an obstacle for entry into Serbia sooner or later, until you’re unfortunate sufficient to run into hostile border employees, who might take their time questioning you over a fading stamp.

Need To Keep away from All These Complicated Border Guidelines? Think about Reserving A Non-public Tour Of Kosovo As a substitute

Travel Off Path Senior Writer Vinicius Costa And Tour Guide Smile From Skopje Daily Tours In Skopje, North Macedonia

As I booked a non-public day tour of Kosovo leaving from Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, positioned a brief one hour and a half away, I entered by way of a land crossing level. The expertise was fairly clean, and my unbelievable information, Smile, from Skopje Daily Tours, dealt with all border formalities so I might fear about appreciating the surroundings as an alternative.

I’m not an fanatic of guided excursions myself, significantly these involving a gaggle. Personally, I want exploring new locations at my very own tempo, and often with sufficient time to have a few days at leisure. Sadly, this time spherical, I’d be flying out of the Balkans on the very subsequent day, and being so quick on time, reserving this non-public go to was the proper name:

Patriarchate Of Pec, Cultural Landmark In Kosovo
  • It’s significantly dearer than an tour, however you might have extra freedom to personalize your itinerary and get to know your driver/information a bit of higher
  • Guides working for Skopje Every day Excursions are Historians, or Geopolitics consultants with intensive data of Kosovo – and also you’re free to ask them any questions you might have in regards to the Balkan battle
  • Touring by automobile with a certified information, there may be much less ready at land borders – buses are usually checked completely to make sure there are not any smugglers and that they meet sure requirements till they’re allowed to cross
  • No stops on the normal vacationer traps or overpriced memento retailers: your information will guarantee time is optimized and that you’ve got the absolute best expertise, consuming in cheap eating places and seeing really related websites

Costs for a personal day tour of Pristina and Prizren, two of Kosovo’s predominant cities, begin at €55.

Security

View Of Pristina, Kosovo

Studying journey advisories on Kosovo, I’d be shocked if anybody determined to go to in any respect. Normally, Western nations make notes on the unsolved Serbo-Albanian quarrel, warning their residents of upper crime ranges, ‘excessive tensions’ alongside the border with Serbia, and the specter of terrorism and violent demonstrations.

Kosovo is certainly a rustic with deep-rooted points that’s but to totally obtain peace and normalize relations with its Slavic neighbor, however visiting the principle vacationer zones, specifically the cities of Pristina and Prizren, cellphone in hand and talking English unashamedly, I felt as secure right here as wherever else (within the Balkans).

Strolling in Pristina, my restricted data of Albanian was my solely concern being approached by pleasant, smiling natives at native cafes or retailers, who appeared as delighted to be working right into a international visitor as I used to be for visiting. One should keep in mind Kosovo is unquestionably not one in every of these European hotspots affected by overtourism – quite the opposite.

Wide Angle Camera View Of A Street Scene In Pristina, Kosovo

With that being stated, I avoided touring North Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan, the place confrontations between Albanians and Kosovo’s ethnically Serbian residents have been recognized to erupt with little warning and restricted my actions to Pristina’s metropolis heart and the Previous City in Prizren, common sightseeing areas.

On high of that, I used to be accompanied by an skilled information who ensured I’d not deviate from the touristic path and put myself in hurt’s manner. Except you might be immediately concerned with paramilitary teams or extremist organizations, and also you’re not actively searching for bother (e.g. wandering closely patrolled borders), bother is not going to come to search out you.

Guidelines For Coming into Kosovo In 2023

Mirusha Waterfall, Natural Wonder Of Kosovo

Kosovo has eliminated all of its Covid entry necessities since May 2022.

  • Vaccination is not a prerequisite for entry
  • There isn’t a testing regime in place previous to, upon, or after arriving
  • Vacationers aren’t anticipated to remain in isolation for a time period after arriving
  • There are not any on-line types or pre-flight registrations to be made flying to Kosovo

Bottomline

Gracanica Monastery, Kosovo

This tiny, newly-independent state, tormented by ethnic conflicts and that’s but to totally recuperate from a bloody struggle, is lastly discovering its footing as an off-path tourism hub. Though it’s fairly a way-off from different extra developed neighbors, it has numerous unexplored potential to attraction vacationers who often flock to Western Europe.

Sure, it has considerably of a popularity for being a bit of tough across the edges, however Kosovo is a fantastic place to discover… If you understand the place to look.

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