Back to SA (and a reading link)


After a week and a half in beautiful Lesotho, I've made my glorious return to South Africa.  I'm spending a day in Soweto before heading to Mozambique via Swaziland.  It's an interesting, and incredibly important, part of South Africa.  I've stopped into the Nelson Mandela House, Hector Pieterson Museum, and (unsurprisingly) Ubuntu Kraal Brewery.


Skiing Kosovo, Abandoned Lifts and All (NY Times)
It’s been years since done any snowboarding, but I can certainly appreciate a travel piece on Kosovo.  I loved visiting the Balkans and in my brief time in Kosovo I found a place that was quirky, inviting, and optimistic.  It also helps that “Americans are like Jesuses” to Albanian Kosovars, as stated by an Albanian Kosovar in the article.  (Probably not the phrasing I would have expected, considering that Albanians are Muslims.)  So for all my mountain sport enthusiast friends, make your way to Kosovo this winter.  You’ll love the place, the people, and hopefully you can take advantage of some budget time on the mountain.


In honor of my recent excursion:

Pristina: Europe's Newest Capital City


Kosovo is one Balkan country that most Americans are probably familiar with.  If they can’t at least place it on a map, they still remember the American-led NATO intervention to prevent ethnic cleansing initiated by the Serbian government.  In Balkan fashion, Kosovo has a complicated history.  For over five centuries the area was controlled by the Ottoman Empire.  Following the Balkan War in 1912 Kosovo came under the rule of Serbia.  It became part of Yugoslavia upon that country’s creation.  The early modern root of the Kosovo conflict could be the 1974 decision of the Tito regime to make Kosovo an autonomous region within Serbia.  When Slobodan Milosevic came to power in Serbia he revoked Kosovo’s special status, making it once again subordinate to Serbia.  Kosovo being ethnically Albanian and having a separate history and culture from Serbia resisted this.  Separatist Kosovars entered into armed conflict with the Serbian state in pursuit of independence in the early 1990s.  As the whole of the former Yugoslavia fell apart, Serbia was determined not to lose Kosovo.  The Milosevic regime refused to negotiate a settlement regarding Kosovo and maintained a genocidal policy.  This led to NATO air campaign that forced Serbian troops out of Kosovo.  A NATO peacekeeping force moved in to provide stability and remains there.  The military intervention and the narrative justifying it were not without their critics.  Kosovo’s status remained in limbo until it formally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, making it Europe’s youngest country.  This was and still is controversial.  Though the majority of UN member states do recognize the Republic of Kosovo, Serbia and others do not.  As a disputed territory Kosovo’s ability to join international organizations has been mixed.  However, for all practical purposes the country is independent.  Except for in a few Serbian pockets, the Kosovo government controls all of its nominal territory and has a functioning government.

Kosovo is not a big country.  To give you an idea, it is smaller than every American state except Delaware and Rhode Island.  Other than transiting, I spent my entire time (two days) in Pristina.  Pristina does not have a lot to draw visitors, so two days is plenty.

A Serbian Orthodox church left unfinished following the 1999 conflict

The NEWBORN monument in central Pristina is one of the city’s landmarks.  It was unveiled when the country declared independence.  A new design is painted on it every year on Independence Day, February 17.

NEWBORN monument

The National Library is a bizarre and eye catching building located on the University of Pristina campus.  The building looks like a series of concrete blocks wearing chain mail and rubber hats.  Its critics contend that it is one of the ugliest buildings in the world.

National Library of Kosovo from the front

The library from behind

Symbols of Albanian pride are everywhere.  One does not have to look far to find an Albanian flag.  Also, a large statue of Skanderbeg, the Albanian national hero, stands in a central Pristina square.

Pristina's Skanderbeg statue

I visited the Sultan Mehmet Fatih Mosque.  Built in the 15th century, it served as a Catholic church during a brief period in which Pristina was occupied by the Austrians.  It is back to being a mosque and friendly worshipers were eager to show me around the small building.

Sultan Mehmet Fatih Mosque

Interior of the mosque

I attempted to visit the Kosovo Museum, which is not far from the Sultan Mehmet Fatih Mosque.  Though the doors were open and there was no signage or people to indicate otherwise, the museum was most definitely not open for display.  I was able to walk inside and up several stairs without encountering anyone to tell me otherwise which was quite strange.

So maybe there were a few a signs this place was not totally operating

Rooms like this led me to conclude the Kosovo Museum was not open for business

A similar experience occurred at the National Art Gallery, though at least there it was closed in preparation of an exhibit opening the day that I left.

Like Albania, Kosovo is visibly pro-American.  Nowhere else in the world can you turn from George Bush Boulevard (Bulevardi Xhorxh Bush) on to Bill Clinton Boulevard (Bulevardi Bill Klinton) and then hang another right down Bob Dole Street (Rruga Robert Doll).

A large statue of Bill Clinton stands along his boulevard complete with the adjacent Hillary boutique.

He's kind of a big deal

Someone knows how to cash in on that Clinton mystique

Further, the National Library houses the “American Corner”.  With the outside appearance of post office, this room has American books, movies, and guides to American colleges.

American Corner

Guests of honor in the American Corner

Even though the city lacks major attractions, it is vibrant.  At night the streets are filled with people walking about and enjoying themselves.  Cafes, bars, and restaurants are filled.  It is hard to visit Pristina and not feel good about Kosovo for all its quirks and despite its difficult past.  It is a place you want to see thrive.

Looking down Bill Clinton Boulevard

I will conclude this post with this bizarre gem of a music video from Kosovo.

Tjeta from Kosovo


As I planned, my time in Macedonia was short.  It was a pleasant enough trip.  I probably could have spent another day in Skopje and then more time exploring the other areas of the country.  However, I need to be in Slovenia in about a week, so my time anywhere is limited.

In going between Macedonia and Skopje I took my first trains in Europe.  I cannot say that it was anything spectacular, but it was cheap and comfortable enough.  Going from Skopje to Pristina involves taking two separate trains (you switch at the border) and paying for each of them individually.  This is not a huge issue since you pay on the train, but it was slightly confusing at the time.  The train from Skopje to the border was 100 Macedonian denar (less than $2) and the train from the border to Pristina was €2.50 (about $2.75).

The views from the train are nice, but not stunning.  You get to see a mix of countryside and urban areas.  I also used it to catch up on some sleep.

The train from Skopje

Inside the Kosovar train car

Inside the Macedonian train car