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Kosovo

Kosovo
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"Kosovo" (Albanian: "Kosova", Serbian: Kосово и Метохија, "Kosovo i Metohija") is a disputed territory and "de-facto" independent country in South Eastern pe. After a lengthy and often violent dispute with Serbia, Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 and is recognised by 75 countries out of 193 around the world, despite heavy Serbian opposition. Kosovo"s far north along with two small regions elsewhere are under the local control of their Serbian authorities indicating a Serb majority in these parts. Kosovo is largely an Albanian-speaking and Muslim area (though secular), but there are also significant numbers of minorities living within its borders, especially Serbs. Kosovo borders Albania to the west, Montenegro to the northwest, Macedonia to the south, and Serbia (from its perspective) to the northeast; the latter frontier is viewed by Serbia as being an internal boundary separating Kosovo as an internal province with Central Serbia.



Understand
The population of Kosovo is about 92% Albanian, who use the name "Kosova" in their Albanian tongue. Although the official name in English "Republic of Kosovo" is approved by Kosovo"s Albanian-speaking authorities, the word "Kosova" still finds its way into the English vernacular of locals.

Many people in Kosovo can speak English and German; they are more than willing to help you and tell you their stories. As an outsider, you will get to hear both sides.

If you are interested in more than just seeing beautiful mountains and ancient ruins on your vacation to "the region", Kosovo strongly recommends itself.

*Seeing the UN and the international community in action (or lack thereof) is quite interesting.

*Speaking to people in a post conflict environment is an eye opener that tends to cause a person to stop thinking of people in countries of civil conflict as simply nuts.

*You"ll get a first hand view of more than 6 different cultures (Albanian, Serb, Roma, Ashkalia, Bosniak, and Turkish)

*You"ll gain an understanding of what happens when governments allow industry to function when both environmental regulations and solid, defensible property rights are scarce.

*You"ll come to enjoy a lot of coffee-shops around Prishtina.

*The Kosovars tend to be very friendly towards the USA for its support of their independence (ie: they have "Bill Clinton Boulevard" in Prishtina, as well as a large picture mural of him on the side of a building). They also are very friendly to Western pean and Middle Eastern countries.

Climate
The climate is continental, with very warm summers and cold and snowy winters.

Cities

Map of Kosovo

* Pristina (Albanian: "Prishtinë", Serbian: "Priština") — the capital; many parks and a lively downtown is to be found here
* Brod — one of the most spectacular villages in the Balkans
* Ferizaj (Serbian: "Uroševac") — local church and mosque are literally side by side
* Gjakova (Serbian: "Djakovica") — although heavily damaged in the war, this city currently features the best nightlife in Kosovo by far, as well as trips to nearby lakes
* Gjilan (Serbian: "Gnjilane") — city with uninspiring concrete blocks
* Kaçanik (Serbian: "Kačanik") — a peaceful and quiet town, with an ancient fortress
* Mitrovica — town divided into southern (Albanian) and northern (Serb) sides, with a wealth of ruined communist industrial architecture
* Peja (Serbian: "Peć") — town with much Ottoman as well as Orthodox (Serb) heritage; hub for outdoor sports in the spectacular surrounding mountains
* Prizren — another town with a well-preserved Ottoman quarter, and a Roman-built castle

Other destinations

Get in
Citizens of countries such as Albania, Australia, Canada, the pean Union, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and Turkey do not need a visa, but if you are planning to stay in Kosovo for more than 90 days you should, as in any other Balkan country, register at the Police Department for the Registration of Foreigners.

This is is next to the central police station in Pristina. Citizens of other countries that have significantly contributed to the rebuilding of the Kosovo probably also do not need visas either, although Kosovo is starting to implement a stricter visa regime. The 90 day rule for the registration of foreigners applies to everybody .



You can enter Kosovo through the northern border with Serbia through Kosovska Mitrovica or near Pristina. There are bus connections from Belgrade and Nis to Pristina and Prizren and from all the major towns in Serbia to the northern parts. Most used transport route is through Macedonia and Prishtina airport. Skopje is only one and a half hours from the capital city of Kosovo, Pristina. Travelling from Pristina to any other city of Kosovo does not take longer than an hour and a half. For instance, from Pristina to Prizren it takes an hour and a half, if there is no traffic, but the most that it will take is two hours. The distance to Peć is also similar.

UN-sign at the Kosovar border station of Deneral Jankovic welcoming visitors arriving from Blace, Macedonia

By plane

Several pean airlines have started to offer direct flights from their hubs to the International Airport of Pristina Examples are SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, SWISS, Belle Air, Croatia Airlines, Air Berlin, Malev and Austrian Airlines. During the summer, several additional charter flights are available for travellers.

By bus
From Montenegro, you can enter through Rozaje to Peja/Pec(approximately 2.0 hours).

From Macedonia, you can take a bus to Prishtina (approximately 2.5 h)

There is a border crossing in the Presevo Valley in Serbia.

There are a couple companies offering buses from Istanbul via Skopje.

From Albania, you can enter through Prizren on a nice new road; gone are the days of the "nightmare" 10 h mountain ride. The trip from Tirane costs 10€ and takes 4 h, with two stops.

By train
There are also trains crossing the Kosovo border. Two daily services connects Kraljevo in Serbia with all towns on the Leshak, Fushë Kosovë (Kosovo Polje). Connections from Beograd are possible but includes a long stay between train at Kraljevo, thus bringing the journey to more than 12 hours for 399 km.

Since March 1, 2006, an identical service, twice daily, runs from Skopje in Macedonia to Prishtina in Kosovo. It is hard to gets timings for these trains. Trains are very slow and convey second class only, but they give the opportunity to see a lot of the country and are a good value at approximately €4 each way.

By car

To enter Kosovo, the validity and acceptance of the International Motor Insurance Card is in doubt. At the border you will need to pay €30 for an insurance extra which will cover you throughout Kosovo for two weeks. Ensure also that you have your vehicle registration and a power of attorney from the owner if the car is not yours. During the summer holidays in Germany and Switzerland expect long queues at the border crossing in Merdare (up to 3h).

Get around

By bus
The best way to travel intercity in Kosovo is by bus. The buses are relatively cheap (Pristina to Peja, 4,00 EUR).

By train
Kosovan Railways (Kosovske Zeleznice - Hekurudhat e Kosovës) are currently (2006) running the following passenger train services: from Fushë Kosovë (Serbian: Kosovo Polje; a city near Pristina) to Leshak (a town North at the Serb frontier) three trains a day. From Fushë Kosovë at 07.35, 11.18 and 14.15 and from Leshak at 09.55, 13.19 and 16.50. The train passes through most of the Serbian enclaves that are strung up through the northern part of Kosovo. The system is seen as a way of helping to make the lives of the Serbs in the enclaves easier but also as a way to help integration. The service is free of charge to local people. Another service runs twice a day from Fushë Kosovë at 04.17 and 19.00 to Hani i Elezit (former General Jankovic) on the border to Macedonia, return journeys from Hani i Elezit starts at 05.53 and 20.44. A local suburban services runs from Fushë Kosovë to Grazhanica with departures from F. Kosovë at 05.40 and 19.17, returning from Grazhanica at 06.30 and 20.05.

By taxi


You can get a superb atlas of Kosovo from the OSCE that has detailed ethnic maps (before and after the war), vital statistics, along with navigational maps. To get the map, ask for the NGO Information office near the OSCE building in Pristina.

Talk=
Most people in Kosovo speak Albanian. Although almost everyone understands Serbian, it may result in hostile reactions from the mostly Albanian population.

English and German are languages that the majority of population speak especially by the younger population. Italian is also spoken but much more rarely than English and German.

The Turkish minority speaks Turkish and Albanian. Turkish is also spoken by some Albanians also, especially the older generations.

Most people in northern Kosovo is ethnics Serbs, so Serbian will come in handy there.

See
*Pristina is the capital city of Kosovo. Places that should be visited in Prishtina is the quarter near the National Museum of Kosova. In addition to visiting the museum where a lot of archelogical artifacts are presented, in both ways when you exit, you see the old mosques, since the Ottoman Empire.

*"Waterfall Of The Drini River" - Located north of Peja behind the Berdynaj village. During the summer, this place is fantastic, and the road to the river is an amazing, narrow road with wires on one side and the river on the other; this is a great part of Kosovo.

* "The Peć Patriachy." The Peć patriarchy lies 2km to the north west of the Peja (Pec) city center. This location was the seat of the Patriarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church starting in 1302 and for many Serbs is considered to be of extreme national importance. All of the Serbs who lived in Peja have either left or been forced to do so by Albanian nationalists leaving the Patriarchy to be heavily guarded by NATO troops, with a few remaining clergy. It is a beautiful monastery with many spectacular paintings. If you go, dress conservatively.

*"The Rugova Gorge". The Rugova gorge is also to the north west of Peja and can be found by following the same road that leads to the Pec Patriarchy. Just drive further. The canyon has extremely steep walls reaching possibly up to 300 meters.

*"The Gjakova Old Bazaar". A very beautiful old "shopping center" from 17th century. It was burned down during the war in 1999 and reconstructed recently. Also in the center of the bazaar is located an old mosque that was built in the 15th century.

*"The Mitrovica Bridge". An interesting symbol of the division of the population in Kosovo. This bridge is the dividing line between Serbs and Albanians in Mitrovice/Mitrovica. It will almost always be safe to approach the bridge and look at it, although the French soldiers who guard it may not let you cross if the political situation is worse than average (average not being so good).

*"Dečani Monastery." A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important monasteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo. It is famous for its elegant and peculiar architecture. As an orthodox monastery from the 13th century, it successfuly mixes western and eastern church building elements to form a particular hybrid style only known on the territory of old Serbia. This monastery is particularly noted for some of the world"s finest medieval frescoes adorning its walls.

*"Gračanica Monastery." One of the most beautiful examples of Serbian medieval (14th c.) ecclesiastical architecture. This monastery was built by the Serbian king Milutin in the serbo-byzantine style, reportedly its shape being inspired by a cloud. It is noted for its frescoes, and being the only medieval Serbian monastery found in an urban setting complete with an old school and archives. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

*"Prizren". The most historical city in Kosovo. It has plenty of examples of beautiful Islamic architecture.

*"The Roma quarter (mahalla) in Gjilan". Gjilan is located to the South East of Pristina.

*"Brezovica Ski Centre" - Old infrastructure but great slopes, located in Southern Kosova.

*"Novo Brdo" (in Latin documents written as Novaberd, Novus Mons or Novamonte; and in Saxon miners" documents as Nyeuberghe) was mentioned in the historical documents as early as 1326. Novo Brdo was a metropolis at the time, with a huge medieval fortress built on the top of an extinct volcano cone, the remains of which can be visited today, and residential sections sprawling all around. In the outer wall of the fortress, a large cross is visible, built into the stones. The castle, or fortress, was thought at one point to have dated back to the Byzantine Empire.

Novo Monte Fortress

*"Ulpiana", one of the oldest cities in the Balkan peninsula, is just 20-30 minutes away from Pristina towards Gjilan and that is the city that is known to have been re-constructed by Justinian I emperior.

Do
Visit a coffee shop in Prishtina, and have a macchiato.

Buy


The Serbian dinar is the official currency in the Serbian-ruled four northern municipalities as well as in larger enclaves with Serbian majority such as Gracanica and Strpce. Exchange offices are found almost everywhere. Note that while s are accepted generally, however all prices are listed in dinar.

Eat
Best restaurants to eat at are those that are located in the villages near by big cities; they tend to have the best meat dishes and the best sea food. Trout, seabass and salmon fish are very common and popular and are kept fresh in their pools and are nearly always fried when you order. Prices are pretty average and, for some pean countries consider, cheap.
Restaurant Ibri & Restaurant Qetsia (Kushtov – Mitrovica) are also in Vermic near the border with Albania and are just a few of the examples of many other through out the country; they are very luxurious and fine dining restaurants, but the prices are very modest and some consider them cheap.

Lots of great burek (baked pastry stuffed with cheese, meat or spinach). Try the drinkable yogurt - it"s superb. Lots of kebabs and other Ottoman Turkish style food.
As far as you are in an Albanian territory, you could try Albanian food as well. Fli, a very good pastry, can be found in different traditional restaurants. One of the most notable "Pellumbi" offers different kinds of traditional food in a very nice traditional atmosphere. Lots of pizza in restaurant pizzeria "SAN REMO" in city of Peja has the best meat you can eat in Country House. But there are other cities as well to visit, not just Peja.

At the bakery, you can buy a fantastic loaf of bread for under one .

The grocery stores have a plentiful supply of Western food.

Drink
Beer at Peja is a pretty good brew. It is brewed in Peja (Pec). Peja Premium is a slightly stronger beer from the same brewery but less widely available. Wine is also widely consumed when eating out, some local wine and also Vranac from Montenegro are the most common ones. Even though the Albanians are predominantly of Muslim heritage, drinking is quite liberal.

Raki is also another alcoholic beverage in Kosova. It is made from local fruits (the most common one is from grape) and can be best described as a hard liquor similar to vodka. It can be quite strong so if you have a weak stomach or do not often drink liquor avoid this beverage.

Yogurt/Ayran is also a common local drink and is consumed with pastry foods. Boza is also another common sweet drink drank with cakes and pastries.

Sleep
Accommodation in Kosovo can be expensive, meaning it is probably the same as hotels in surrounding countries (starts at 25 EUR and goes over 100 EUR) and primarily is designed for people working for the development agencies. Your best bet on finding a place to stay is outside of Prishtina (if you"re with the car) and to have a contact there ahead of time (even if its just somebody you met over the internet) and stay with them. Or possibly contact some of the smaller development organisations, such as Balkan Sunflowers and online listing of Kosovo hotels http://hotelskosova.com/, and ask if they can help you with accommodation staying in a rural community or in the city for a higher price.


Skopje in Macedonia has some very cheap accommodation, so doing day trips to Kosovo from there is very much a possibility. But Prishtina now has many places; thus, there is no need to go and come back from Skopje just for a cheap hotel for a night.

Stay safe
Avoid getting too much into politics in Kosovo, although ask as many questions (within reason) as you like. They are very open about their hatred of each other and more than willing to tell you about it.

Don’t let the politics stop you from visiting; tensions have risen in a few moments in the past decade, but nearly all have been in the divided city of Mitrovica in the north of the country and with a 10,000+ NATO peace keeping force and a large international Police force, you are very safe from pretty much everything and the chance of a full out conflict is very low with such international supervision and even if one is to occur, all foreigners would be evacuated within 48 hours. You will most likely find peacekeeping soldiers from your own country to help you if you need it.

There is pretty much no physical or criminal dangers you need to worry about people in general—both Albanians and Serbs—are extremely friendly and hospitable to tourists. Kosova is a country that is used to having a vast amount of foreigners from all over the world.
Since the end of the war, there were more than 200,000 international workers from over the world came to aid the rebuilding and peace effort in the country and the locals are very used to people from outside and very friendly.

The corruption level is extremely low and the Kosovan police corruption is again very low thanks to the supervision of the EULEX international police, which means it is one of the only countries in Eastern pe were bribery is pretty much unheard of unless you have committed a major crime and are offering tends of thousands, but that’s is a different story between the police and organised crime and has nothing to do with regular people and tourists.

Use only registered taxies as they have fixed fares and you will not get scammed with unlicensed taxies; they are safe, but they will always scam you if you use the meter, so if you have to use an unlicensed taxi, make sure you come to a deal before hand so he does not use the meter.

Homophobia is some what of an issue and people don’t take kindly to homosexuals, but again, physical harm is not an issue unless you openly display affection or manners.

Land mines
Like much of the Balkans, land mines were heavily used during the Yugoslav civil wars. Though this was a major problem in the country in the first four years after the war, now it’s a very rare that you encounter them, most suspicious areas are listed in local tour guide books, most of the mined areas are places where conflict took place (Central Kosovo countryside and Kosova–Albania border region).

It"s very safe to go hiking and camping — just ask before you do so to make sure it"s not a suspicious area and most hiking and camping takes place in areas where war did not occur, like the Sharr mountains where there is a ski and camping resort.


Open manholes
Open manhole in Pristina
Likely stolen to sell as scrap metal, one should keep an eye out for this potential hazard. Whilst not an issue on busy city streets, walking even a few kilometres outside downtown Pristina can be dangerous - particularly when walking in tall grass beside roads or sidewalks. Local residents have been known to use a small pile of sticks and stones to cover an open sewer pit and care should be taken not to step on these either.


Rabies =
Don"t pet dogs — stay away from them!!!

Whilst most are not aggressive when they are in packs, they can very well be, so make sure you stay away and don’t run away from them either as dogs chase you when you run; some times, the best defence is an attack so charging at them a little usually scares them away.
But again, this is only a problem in the outskirts of the cities and at night, as during the day, you will hardly encounter them and they will stay away from humans.

Get out

There are direct flights from Pristina International Airport to London, New York City, Zurich, Geneva, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Vienna, Zagreb, Hamburg, Hannover, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Frankfurt,Podgorica, Munich, Stuttgart, Bremen, Rome, Milan, Verona, Ljubljana, Budapest, Tirana, Istanbul and Antalya. Soon, there will be direct flights to Sarajevo and other destinations.

There are direct bus links to most cities in Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Albania, Turkey, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Note that if you plan to go to Russia after Kosovo, you may encounter a bit of trouble entering the country as Russia still considers the declaration of independence of Kosovo to be illegal.






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