A newly-declared Republic proves its worth

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April 17th 2014
Published: April 17th 2018
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Welcome to Kosovo, one of the world's most recent additions to its list of separate nations. Despite a shaky past and lower ranking European economic standing, on this trip, Kosovo was put to the test to see whether it contained a sufficient amount of reference points to validate its place on a traveller's global itinerary. Truth to tell, despite the heavy rainfall during the entire stay, the Kosovan capital city of Pristina at first glance revealed little of the punchy urban terrain which characterizes the main bulk of European capital cities. Nearby Gracanica monastery is a sound enough piece of history which warrants at very least a flash visit, thanks to its accessibility and aesthetics, which make it worth the asking price. In central Pristina however, it appears as if modernity is becoming the order of the day, and attempts at establishing itself have come coupled with the appearance of modern shopping plazas (Albi shopping mall, for one), alongside tip-top tower blocks, seemingly straight out of the financial districts of more renowned cities on earth. The 'Newborn' lettering standing tall in a prominent area alludes to the nation's recent coming into being, and the graffiti scrawled over it is a sure sign that local Kosovans are keen to leave their mark on a much-photographed landmark, and perhaps play a bit part in this new nation's rise to prominence. The statue of Skanderberg (on horseback) is another of the city's landmarks, and although reference points of a similar ilk are dotted here and there, the main bulk of the enjoyment factor here may well be gleaned from the experiences to be had in the city rather than the aesthetic appeal. The bus network in Kosovo is reliable and sufficiently frequent to allow a circular day trip of the entire country become something of an easy prospect. On this route, an absolute must-see is the town of Prizren, which is essentially an enclave of history in the shape of Ottoman mosques, stylish churches, shops and restaurants either side of a river, with a fortress perched atop a hillside thrown in for good measure. Nearby Dracani monastery is most definitely a worthwhile stop-off point on this circular route, and the visuals of the monastery's interior and exterior make for impressive photo opportunities and then some. A 20-or so minute drive north brings you to the town of Peja, which is located right beside the Rugova valley, easily one of Kosovo's most captivating rural settings, the snow-capped mountainous backdrop at the time of visiting alluding to the level of beauty we are concerned with here. The town proper has a charming market area where stallholders selling their wares cannot help but lure you in, as is the tastefully collaged nature of the commercial district. Back in Pristina, and if you're looking for a Kosovan dining experience to end all others, then you could do far worse than paying a visit to Tiffany's restaurant where the quality of the food oustrips the charm of the decor by quite some way, despite having no menu to browse, and the necessity to trust the waiter's recommendation, which has to be said is a supremely safe bet. This was Kosovo, and a place which might easily garner a mixed bag of reviews and opinions. My advice is to let the cultural aspects seep in unhurriedly, and you might just find that Europe's newest nation packs more of a punch than your background reading might have led you to believe it would.

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