What to truly expect when traveling Kosovo
What we loved…
Peja (aka Nature Galore)
Maybe it’s that I had no idea to expect such gorgeous and rugged nature when traveling Kosovo, or maybe it’s truly that special. Either way, Peja and it’s surrounding nature should be added to everyone’s bucket list. Whether you day hike, take a multi day trek, or just road trip Rugova Canyon you are guaranteed splendid views all around you. Waterfalls, caves, mirror lakes, rolling hills with occasional adorable cottages, what else could you want? Adrenaline? No worries. The Iron Trail is always on offer. Built by Italian soldiers as a way to quickly traverse the Cursed Mountains in WWI, The Iron Trail is a series of bolted in ladders, cliffside trails and tunnels, climbing bolts, etc. You decide, see Rugova Canyon comfortably from your car, dangle from the cliff on the iron trail, or hike up above it on one of the many trails in the area.
The Spirit of their Nation
There is this wonderful sense of pride, togetherness, and joy exuding from Kosovians. Despite having just come out of an atrocious civil war, and still being in the process of rebuilding, there is so much hope in the air. It is awful to think of what they have been through, but it is awesome to see that they are focusing on building a happy future rather than focusing on their sad past.
Stoked to have Tourists
It’s always nice to visit a place where they are genuinely happy to host you. Everywhere we went we met locals with welcoming smiles. Anyone who spoke good enough English to converse with us wanted to tell us about their country, what we should see, how they can help us, and even just about us. Traveling Kosovo is like entering Disneyland in the sense that everyone you encounter welcomes you with open arms.
What we didn’t love…
There is not a lot of tourist infrastructure in place in Kosovo. While there is some public transportation it’s not the greatest or the easiest to figure out on your own. We had our own car so we thought we’d be free from transportation problems, but we were wrong. The roads are not in great shape, and signage is lacking. And if that wasn’t annoying enough, you can’t depend on your GPS. Neither our car’s GPS nor Google Maps was correct. We went down more super whack backroads that led us nowhere than I can count. But hey, we did see a lot more of the country than expected. Also, Perhaps a holdover from soviet times, the cities feel very cold and grey and a bit chaotic.
Yes, Kosovians are taking their newfound independence in stride. They are trying their best to pick themselves up and put themselves back together. But it’s still depressing. Nearly 10,000 people died and over 1600 people went mysteriously missing during the 1998-99 war. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to have a loved one killed in war, let alone to not know what happened to them or wonder if they are still alive. In addition, many of their historical/religious landmarks are in a state of disarray. In fact, there are armed guards at some of their ancient monasteries. You have to show your passport, turn over your camera, receive a pat-down, etc. Why? Post war, extremists have launched attacks on these precious sanctuaries because of their Serbian Orthodox affiliation. Thus, extreme measures are necessary to protect them.
I get it, Kosovo was in need of help. The UN stepped in. The US came to help. But the war is behind us. Thank you US for often being the world’s smaller countries’ bodyguards, but is that all your doing? I’m not sure why the US remains so heavily involved with Kosovo. My best guess is that it’s to be have a stronghold on a central location in case anything stirs back up in that part of the world. Once upon a time Yugoslavia was one of the strongest countries in the world. It simply would not be in the US’s best interest to let that happen again. Don’t get me wrong. The US involvement is not in your face when traveling Kosovo, I just can’t help but question it.