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 international locations, the place there are not any shimmery Eiffel Towers, Mediterranean sunsets, or extensive leafy boulevards lined with designer retailers – and I virtually 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 house to 12 nations, which all share a standard tradition and an intertwined History. It can be my go-to vacation spot, house to beautiful seashores and UNESCO-listed websites, the tastiest meals, and delightful, incredibly affordable cities but to be found, distant from the Instagram hordes.

Having been to Croatia, Albania, and Western Turkey, I determined it was time to go deeper into the guts 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 international locations which might 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. While I had the chance to go to twice since first arriving within the territory all the way in which again in 2019, each misinformation and misleading travel advisories at all times discouraged me.

Although it’s definitely not combating a full-fledged war, at the very 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 this present day, 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 international locations shaped 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, accountable for re-shaping Balkan borders and establishing at the very least six new international locations, and expressing a robust will to re-assert its Albanian identification, 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, not like 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 essential explanation why the individuals of Kosovo don’t really feel hooked up to Serbia and should 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, essentially the most widely-spoken language in Kosovo is Albanian, an Indo-European language markedly completely 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 ignored and violently repressed by Serbian-controlled Yugoslav forces, giving rise to a robust anti-Serbian sentiment throughout the territory

Now that you recognize 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 complicated current previous, assuming that it’s unbiased from Serbia, Kosovo has been named the third-poorest country in Europe, with virtually 30% of the inhabitants, or 550,000 Kosovars, falling beneath the poverty line. In 2016, it had an unemployment fee of 34.8%, and a majority of households earned lower than €6,000 per 12 months.

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 international locations
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 international locations, and they’re solely granted visa-free entry to 41 international locations worldwide
  • Refused admission in international locations 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 infrequently resembling Western Asia when it comes to city planning, tradition, and infrastructure.

Ottoman Houses In Old Town Prizren, Kosovo, Eastern Europe

For essentially the most half, there are not any extensive, tree-lined Belle epoque boulevards to be discovered right here. Instead, you need to anticipate streets filled with overhead energy cables and overflowing rubbish within the fashion of Latin America’s run-down hoods. Additionally, Kosovo isn’t the perfect vacation spot for vacationers on the lookout 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 combating 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 this present day tour, I was reminded why they’ve a popularity for being one of the pleasant individuals in Europe. Whether you’re searching 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 solution 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 overseas 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 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 solution 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 essentially 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 stunning 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 hanging purple exterior. Elsewhere in Kosovo, guests can even 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 in opposition to the encompassing 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 Art Scene

It should be one thing within the water… In current years, Kosovo has been spawning a formidable streak of pop stars which might be crossing over to the mainstream and making it massive in America. Two of essentially 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 profitable feminine artists of the streaming period with a number of high 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 title on the map‘ and reviving the country’s dying cultural scene.

Now, guests to Pristina can attend an annual worldwide music pageant held in summer season 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 international locations I have set foot in, Kosovo needs to be the one the place my vacationer {dollars} stretched the furthest. Even for those who’re ready to splurge after being locked down at house 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.

Additionally, entry to cultural points of interest 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 hire estimated at €359, or roughly $382.

Main Pedestrian Street In Pristina, Kosovo

An vital piece of information: Kosovo has no official foreign money of its personal, and so they have adopted the euro unilaterally. It is by far essentially the most extensively accepted foreign money within the nation, although it might be doable to seek out companies that settle for or alternate U.S. {dollars}, British kilos, or different widespread 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 substances which might be 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, smooth cheeses.

Whether you’re in Kosovo, Albania, or another Albanian-majority area of North Macedonia or Greece, relaxation assured you can be nicely taken care of 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 full of 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 several 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 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, alternatively, is landlocked, and never solely its delicacies however the locals’ lifestyle as a complete is completely outlined by its geographical options. You won’t discover an abundance of seafood right here, although the standard meat-heavy shqiptarë weight-reduction plan stays a defining trait, as does Albanian folklore and ethnic apparel.

@vinigoesglobal Did you recognize 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 international locations has given rise to a singular Kosovar identification that’s intently associated to Albania’s, however not completely 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 the United States or Canada. Reaching Pristina from the Americas, U.S. vacationers should change flights at the very least as soon as. When it involves one-stop connections, choices are limitless: most of Europe’s main transit hubs, equivalent to London Heathrow, Vienna, and Frankfurt, have established year-round air hyperlinks to Kosovo.

Geographically, the closest nation Americans can fly into is, satirically, 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 through land to the disputed territory (which Serbia continues to say 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 costlier 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 through Pristina Airport or another border crossing factors with North Macedonia or Albania, and proceed touring onward to Serbia, shall 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 no legitimate Serbian stamp on their passports could 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 might be planning on visiting Serbia after Kosovo, you shouldn’t fear about these border disputes and sophisticated technicalities. However, for those who’re backpacking throughout the Balkans, and also you would like to not get on the flawed facet of a Serbian immigration officer, it’s essential to guarantee you might be stamped by them first.

To one of the best 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 workers, who might 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 through a land crossing level. The expertise was fairly easy, and my unimaginable information, Smile, from Skopje Daily Tours, dealt with all border formalities so I may fear about appreciating the surroundings as a substitute.

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 proper name:

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

Prices for a non-public day tour of Pristina and Prizren, two of Kosovo’s essential 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 common, Western international locations 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, specifically the cities of Pristina and Prizren, cellphone in hand and talking English unashamedly, I felt as secure 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 operating right into a overseas visitor as I was 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 mentioned, I kept away from touring North Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan, the place confrontations between Albanians and Kosovo’s ethnically Serbian residents have been identified to erupt with little warning and restricted my actions to Pristina’s metropolis middle and the Old Town in Prizren, widespread sightseeing areas.

On high 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 approach. Unless you might be immediately concerned with paramilitary teams or extremist organizations, and also you’re not actively on the lookout 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 not a prerequisite for entry
  • There is not any testing regime in place previous to, upon, or after arriving
  • Travelers usually are not 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 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 numerous unexplored potential to appeal vacationers who often flock to Western Europe.

Yes, it has considerably of a popularity for being somewhat tough across the edges, however Kosovo is a lovely place to discover… If you recognize the place to look.

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