Kosovo only seriously appeared on my radar earlier this year when my brother shared a photo of Pristina that surprised me. It looked a whole lot nicer than I had imagined! When researching flights (as I am often known to do), I found a £30 flight to Pristina and a £12 flight back from Ohrid. So a trip to both Kosovo and North Macedonia came into being.
I hardly knew anything about Kosovo. I knew it was the newest country in Europe, declaring its independence from Serbia in 2008, but I didn’t know what language they spoke (Albanian) or what currency they used (the Euro) until after arriving. I was amused to learn that it was a country three time the size of Shropshire – the county I grew up in.
Pristina certainly isn’t going to win any prizes for beauty, with numerous abandoned buildings, austere concrete structures and traffic clogged streets. However it does have its charms. It has a laid back vibe, a youthful population and everything is extremely good value. Another thing I hadn’t anticipated was that mosques would greatly outnumber churches, despite the people here looking and dressing like your average western-european.
I did a couple of loops of the city centre (it’s not very big) and took in all the main sites. The highlight was probably seeing the view from the Cathedral of the Blessed Mother Teresa – itself quite an impressive structure. I also visited the Museum of Kosovo hoping to learn more about the country’s journey to independence. Sadly, it was very sparse with exhibits and there was hardly any English descriptions. I left with my curiosity unsatisfied. I had to Google the history later to learn what happened here!
While I’d had a good day sightseeing I hadn’t left myself much to do for my second day in the city. After worrying about whether it was possible or not, I eventually caught a 2 hour bus (€4) to Prizren for the day, an old town near the Albanian border. The ride took us through the countryside; it started bleak and flat near Pristina but it wasn’t long until it gave way to forested mountains further south.
I spent a few hours in Prizren and was blown away. Perhaps because of my low expectations, I was delighted to discover how beautiful the town/setting was. I grabbed some lunch next to the Stone Bridge and after filling up on meat, cheese and bread I tackled the absurdly steep and poorly signposted path to Prizren fortress. The climb was well worth the effort. The castle itself was brilliant and the views of the town and surrounding country were truly spectacular.
The following morning I checked out of my hostel in Pristina and returned to the bus station for my journey to Skopje, the capital city of North Macedonia. I’d heard that Skopje was full of wacky architecture and monuments – and it definitely didn’t disappoint. There are huge statues everywhere of historical figures nobody’s ever heard of and improbably grandiose buildings that are nowhere near as old as they’re intended to appear. I walked along the battlements of the fortress and meandered through the streets of the old bazaar. I even made it to the zoo which cost £1. It was just as sad as you’d expect for a zoo that costs £1.
On the final day of my trip I headed to a town named Ohrid, famous for its location on the lake of the same name. We trundled south past snow dusted peaks that marked the borders with Kosovo and Albania. With its calm pace and fresh air it was clear to see why Ohrid was a popular holiday destination. I spent my time here finding increasingly beautiful views of the lake, the best one clearly being from the St. John the Theologian church. The vistas were genuinely breathtaking. After a couple of hours taking it easy in the atmospheric old town, I headed to the airport and home.
To say that Kosovo and Macedonia had surprised me was an understatement. These countries are seriously underrated. I had thoroughly enjoyed my 4 days on this trip; seeing mountains, castles, monuments, mosques and lakes. Add in the friendly people, extremely low prices, ease of getting around and interesting history/stories then you’ve got a winning combination. Yet again I’d had a wonderful time in the Balkans. I can’t wait for an excuse to return!