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 an entire day exploring one in every of Europe’s poorest nations, the place there aren’t any shimmery Eiffel Towers, Mediterranean sunsets, or huge leafy boulevards lined with designer retailers – and I nearly couldn’t imagine I was 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 dwelling to 12 nations, which all share a standard tradition and an intertwined History. It can be my go-to vacation spot, dwelling to attractive seashores and UNESCO-listed websites, the tastiest meals, and exquisite, incredibly affordable cities but to be found, far-off from the Instagram hordes.

Having been to Croatia, Albania, and Western Turkey, I determined it was time to go deeper into the center of the area and discover what is maybe 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 are both totally, or partially Balkan, the small, newly-independent Kosovo was the one nation I saved avoiding as I country-hopped throughout the peninsula. While 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.

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

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

Why Is Kosovo Still 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 a lot of the twentieth century, these two nations fashioned the now-defunct federal entity of Yugoslavia alongside Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. Beginning 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, answerable 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 idea that Kosovo was by no means a constituent republic inside Yugoslavia, in contrast to Croatia, Slovenia, or the others. Fast 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 important the reason why the individuals of Kosovo don’t really feel hooked up to Serbia and will need 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 type 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
  • The most adopted faith in Serbia is Eastern Orthodoxy (69.9%); Kosovo is 95.6% Muslim
  • For a lot of the twentieth century, the Kosovar demand for extra autonomy inside Yugoslavia was largely missed and violently repressed by Serbian-controlled Yugoslav forces, giving rise to a robust anti-Serbian sentiment throughout the territory

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

Kosovo Is The Third Poorest Country In Europe

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

Due to its advanced latest previous, assuming that it’s unbiased from Serbia, Kosovo has been named the third-poorest country in Europe, with nearly 30% of the inhabitants, or 550,000 Kosovars, falling under the poverty line. In 2016, it had an unemployment price of 34.8%, and a majority of households earned lower than €6,000 per yr.

In addition to a low Human Development 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. However, they’re a unique taste of Europe, mendacity outdoors the Brussels sphere of management and sometimes resembling Western Asia when it comes to city planning, tradition, and infrastructure.

Ottoman Houses In Old Town Prizren, Kosovo, Eastern Europe

For probably the most half, there aren’t any huge, tree-lined Belle epoque boulevards to be discovered right here. Instead, it’s best to anticipate streets filled with overhead energy cables and overflowing rubbish within the model of Latin America’s run-down hoods. Additionally, Kosovo isn’t the perfect vacation spot for vacationers searching for the quintessential European sightseeing expertise:

Several 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 Churches, modernist condominium 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 value visiting?

Six Reasons Why Kosovo Should Be On Your Radar For 2023

Incredibly 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 was reminded why they’ve a status for being probably the most pleasant individuals in Europe. Whether 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 was touring there within the first place. Locals will exit of their approach to ensure 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 making certain vacationers have a very good impression is of their greatest curiosity.

It Is Home To Beautiful Historical Sites

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

Kosovo could 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 approach 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 History-charged area in all of Europe, and Kosovo is not any exception. One of the 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 Sites in Kosovo.

Serbian Orthodox Gracanicka Monastery In Kosovo, Eastern Europe

Yet one other 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 putting purple exterior. Elsewhere in Kosovo, guests also can 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 previous Ottoman bridge arching over a transparent river and imposing mosques glistening white towards the encircling inexperienced hills.

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

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

Kosovo Has A Burgeoning Art Scene

It should be one thing within the water… In latest years, Kosovo has been spawning a formidable streak of pop stars which are crossing over to the mainstream and making it massive in America. Two of probably the most simply acknowledged artists whose households hail initially from listed below 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, probably the most profitable feminine artists of the streaming period with a number of prime ten hits underneath her belt – with Don’t Start Now, Levitating, New Rules, and Physical to call a number of – and different profitable collaborations with world-renowned DJs and trade veterans like Elton John. Other than advancing the Kosovar trigger, she’s been credited for ‘putting Kosovo’s identify on the map‘ and reviving the country’s dying cultural scene.

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

It Is Incredibly Cheap By European Standards

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

Out of all 37 European nations I have set foot in, Kosovo needs to be the one the place my vacationer {dollars} stretched the furthest. Even if you happen to’re ready to splurge after being locked down at dwelling for almost three years, and also you’re ordering each potential appetizer on the menu, getting a invoice of greater than 20 euros per particular person at a mid-range restaurant can be just about unimaginable.

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

Main Pedestrian Street In Pristina, Kosovo

An essential piece of information: Kosovo has no official forex of its personal, they usually have adopted the euro unilaterally. It is by far probably the most broadly accepted forex within the nation, although it might be potential to seek out companies that settle for or alternate U.S. {dollars}, British kilos, or different well-liked currencies.

It’s Every Foodie’s Idea 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 elements which are at all times recent, 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 you’re in Kosovo, Albania, or some other Albanian-majority area of North Macedonia or Greece, relaxation assured you can be properly sorted by your Albanian hosts. Some 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 crammed 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 number 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 could be added
  • Qofte, meatballs that may be grilled, fried, or baked
  • Tave kosi, lamb baked in a melting pot of home made yogurt, rice and eggs

Kosovo Is A Unique Country To Explore

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 matches all of the Mediterranean standards: pristine seashores, freshly caught seafood, Greco-Roman monuments, and laid-back vibes all through.

Kosovo, however, is landlocked, and never solely its delicacies however the locals’ lifestyle as an entire is solely outlined by its geographical options. You won’t discover an abundance of seafood right here, although the normal meat-heavy shqiptarë weight loss plan stays a defining trait, as does Albanian folklore and ethnic apparel.

@vinigoesglobal Did you already 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

At the identical 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 intently associated to Albania’s, however not solely Albanian.

This small, missed 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 the United States or Canada. Reaching Pristina from the Americas, U.S. vacationers should change flights at the least as soon as. When it involves one-stop connections, choices are limitless: most of Europe’s main transit hubs, corresponding to London Heathrow, Vienna, and Frankfurt, have established year-round air hyperlinks to Kosovo.

Geographically, the closest nation Americans can fly into is, sarcastically, Serbia. Belgrade is served by direct Air Serbia flights leaving from New York (JFK), with one-way fares beginning at $618 this winter. Landing 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 could 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.

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

The Problem With Entering 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 getting into from the latter with out a legitimate Serbian stamp on their passports may have crossed into Serbia illegally. Americans making an attempt to do ought to anticipate to be turned away on the border unceremoniously.

In sum:

  • Traveling 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)
  • Traveling 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

Unless you’re planning on visiting Serbia after Kosovo, you shouldn’t fear about these border disputes and sophisticated technicalities. However, if you happen to’re backpacking throughout the Balkans, and also you would like to not get on the flawed aspect of a Serbian immigration officer, you should guarantee you’re 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 shouldn’t pose an obstacle for entry into Serbia sooner or later, until you’re unfortunate sufficient to run into hostile border employees, who could take their time questioning you over a fading stamp.

Want To Avoid All These Confusing Border Rules? Consider Booking A Private Tour Of Kosovo Instead

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

As I booked a personal 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 somewhat easy, 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 am not an fanatic of guided excursions myself, significantly these involving a bunch. Personally, I desire exploring new locations at my very own tempo, and often with sufficient time to have a few days at leisure. Unfortunately, this time spherical, I can be flying out of the Balkans on the very subsequent day, and being so brief on time, reserving this personal go to was the fitting name:

Patriarchate Of Pec, Cultural Landmark In Kosovo
  • It is 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 Daily Tours are Historians, or Geopolitics specialists with in depth data of Kosovo – and also you’re free to ask them any questions you’ll have in regards to the Balkan battle
  • Traveling by automobile with a licensed information, there may be much less ready at land borders – buses are usually checked totally to make sure there aren’t any smugglers and that they meet sure requirements till they’re allowed to cross
  • No stops on the common 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

Prices for a non-public day tour of Pristina and Prizren, two of Kosovo’s important cities, begin at €55.

Safety

View Of Pristina, Kosovo

Reading journey advisories on Kosovo, I’d be shocked if anybody determined to go to in any respect. In normal, Western nations make notes on the unsolved Serbo-Albanian quarrel, warning their residents of upper crime ranges, ‘high 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 completely obtain peace and normalize relations with its Slavic neighbor, however visiting the principle vacationer zones, particularly the cities of Pristina and Prizren, cellphone in hand and talking English unashamedly, I felt as protected right here as anyplace else (within the Balkans).

Walking 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 was for visiting. One should keep in mind Kosovo is certainly 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 mentioned, 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 Old Town in Prizren, well-liked sightseeing areas.

On prime of that, I was accompanied by an skilled information who ensured I wouldn’t deviate from the touristic path and put myself in hurt’s means. Unless you’re immediately concerned with paramilitary teams or extremist organizations, and also you’re not actively searching for bother (e.g. wandering closely patrolled borders), bother won’t come to seek out you.

Rules For Entering Kosovo In 2023

Mirusha Waterfall, Natural Wonder Of Kosovo

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

  • Vaccination is now not a prerequisite for entry
  • There is not any testing regime in place previous to, upon, or after arriving
  • Travelers aren’t anticipated to remain in isolation for a time period after arriving
  • There aren’t any on-line kinds 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 completely get well from a bloody struggle, is lastly discovering its footing as an off-path tourism hub. Although it’s fairly a way-off from different extra developed neighbors, it has a number of unexplored potential to appeal vacationers who often flock to Western Europe.

Yes, it has considerably of a status for being a bit of tough across the edges, however Kosovo is a wonderful place to discover… If you already know the place to look.

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