Kosovo had been high on my must-visit list for a while, it was certainly one of the places that made me decide that a Balkan road trip was the best way to spend this summer, and I’m so happy I was finally be able to visit. Our time in Kosovo was short but sweet; driving a borrowed van in a country where you can only get 3rd party insurance and where everyone drives like a maniac is something that's best kept to a minimum and curiously there are also zero campsites in Kosovo meaning that we had to super splurge on a hotel with underground parking for our poor uninsured van leaving us with just under 48 hours to explore. We made the most of the time by exploring Prishtina, visiting a bear sanctuary and squeezing in a visit to Prizren, somewhere multiple people both outside and within the country told us we absolutely must visit.
Prishtina is a really fun city to explore on foot as walking is one of the main things local people do here. Unemployment in Kosovo is high, 60.2% for 16-24 year olds [ref], so going out isn't really an option for Prishtina's young population. An evening stroll on pedestrianised Nëna Terezë Street, where the pavement is lined with cafes interspersed with a very occasional big brand store or bank, is the thing to do and you’ll see families, couples and groups of teenagers enjoying this national pastime, getting some fresh air and mingling with friends. This definitely pushes people watching to the top of the list of things to do here of an evening but also up there is grabbing dinner at popular local spot Baba Ghanoush. Baba Ghanoush also happens to be the only vegetarian eatery in the city but thankfully the food is delicious so you could happily eat here more than once mixing together different small plates from around the menu. After a warm welcome from the owner Nick and I went big after a lunch of bananas, granola bars and Manner wafers from the local supermarket, and ordered a double order of falafel alongside hummus, potatoes, fried mushrooms, tabbouleh and bread.
This was definitely one of the most enjoyable meals we'd eaten in a while, the tabbouleh was heavy on the herbs and flavourful fresh tomatoes making it one of the best I've ever eaten and the smooth and creamy falafel is the stuff my dreams are made of. I've eaten slightly better falafel in my time but this was still at the damned good end of the spectrum and the portion size of both the bread basket and the thinly cut deep fried potatoes were spot on. I only wish we'd been able to go back!
Prishtina is a city of contrasts, one evening after an hour or so of strolling back and forth Nick and I headed from Nëna Terezë Street, past the Skenderbeg monument and the new government building and into the old quarter where we immediately felt like we’d stepped into a different city. A lack of generators in this area meant that a power cut had left this part of town with an almost post apocalyptic feel as people stumbled around on uneven and unlit pavements passing shops only aglow with the light of a mobile phone screen whilst fire engine sirens pierced the air highlighting their struggle to get through the gridlocked streets. It almost felt as if Prishtina is made up of two parts. During the day the area felt much more welcoming but it was still unmistakably different, we got lost wandering along residential streets before stumbling into the bustling bazaar that reminded me more of a Thai or Vietnamese market place rather than anywhere I’ve ever seen in Europe. Car parts jostled for space next to kitchenwares, vegetables and fresh cheese which, at first glance, I hoped was tofu before remembering where I was.
Oh yeah and then there's the Bill clinton monument. Strange but better I guess than the road named after Bush that we stumbled upon in another city!
You also must check out the super interesting university library which stands proudly atop a small hill on the way into the city.
Just outside the city down a dirt track alongside a lake just off of the main highway is the Prishtina Bear Sanctuary run by Four Paws, a charity who, as the name suggests, pour all of their energies into caring for animals including, but not limited to, bears.
Until November 2010 it was legal to keep a bear in Kosovo, not as a pet so much as for entertainment and to draw customers into your restaurant or cafe. Brown bears, often stolen from the forests of Albania or Kosovo, lived in terrible conditions in chains or shackles in cages outside such establishments but the fact that this is now outdated and illegal is just one example of how Kosovo is changing. The rescued bears are now living out the rest of their lives happily and in peace under the care of Four Paws. I was so pleased to be able to visit and take a peek at these magnificent animals living their lives in more natural conditions.
A long hot walk up the hill to the furthest side of the 15 hectare park was rewarded with a wonderful moment where Nick and I were able to watch three bears playing in a pool before coming over close to us to munch on some cabbage that had been left for them earlier in the day. It was a beautiful moment.
One bear gets through just over 15kg of food a day costing the sanctuary €3539 a year per bear. They're currently caring for 13 bears, you do the math! If you currently have any spare cash and would like to help pay for the cost of bear snacks - then please consider donating here.
Whilst Kosovo isn't going to be appearing on any vegan top ten lists anytime soon it's totally possible to eat there and I loved every moment of the short amount of time I was able to spend there. I'd recommend a visit to anyone with a sense of adventure looking to explore one of the world's newest and most fascinating countries.