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Published: December 21st 2015
View of Prizren
"Tell the world that we are OK now, the war is over", the Kosovan guy told me. His name I can not recall, as I met him on the typical, quite shallow way you meet travellers and locals on the hostel trail. Indeed, the couple of Kosovan locals I was hanging out with for breakfast I had met earlier due to some Korean girls I met in the hostel, which, in turn, giggly appreciated my stories about "Pyongyang style cold noodles", soju, work pressure and "Caffè Pascucci".
Eventually I ended up having brunch with the Koreans and some Kosovan guys, choking on Balkanic meatballs and shots of Rakia at 10am in Kosovo's reborn capital Prishtina. A pretty weird way to meet the locals, but the end still justifies the means I guess. Anyway, over several shots of different types of Rakia I was getting more curious about the situation of Kosovo and promptly, of course, I got the explanation from a Kosovo Albanian point of view which goes pretty much like this: Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2006, although there are still some countries which do not recognize Europe's youngest state (and its passport). In particular, Serbia has
Albania to Kosovo
Drin River at the border
never accepted the independence of the (after the 90s war) 95% Albanian speaking territory from their country. Fellow travelers told me that the Serbian immigration staff would literally cross out Kosovo stamps in the passports and put their own Serbian stamps over it. Other countries with minority issues, such as Spain and Slovakia also don't recognize the young state for their own reasons. Luckily, Italy does not care enough about us 500.000 Tyrolean smartasses and accepts the sovreignity of Kosovo as a country. I was also told that most Kosovans believe themselves to be Albanians and would be in favor a possible reunion with Albania. As a matter of fact, I saw many more Albanian than Kosovan flags flying in the country! I was told that, if Albania anyhow would attempt to incorporate Kosovo, Serbia would probably react with force, claim parts of Muslim Bosnia, and this might destabilize the all too fragile Balkans yet again. We don't need any more of that I guess.
Although the war has left its psychological traces on the young nation, Prishtina is a living example of the financial benefits of NATO bases in your country. The city is pretty much a modern
not-so-European-style capital, although not particularly appealing in terms of tourism. Broad alleyways line the apartment and office complexes, shopping malls and 24 hour stores flank the countless coffee shops packed with UN workers rocking their pointy shoes and ties. The English level is surprisingly high, although German is more widely spoken for some reason. Prices are ridiculously cheap, 50 cents for a coffee in a nice shop, 1,5 euro for a simple meal. The 2015 atmosphere is peaceful and serene, the new independence monument spelling the word "newborn" in 3 meter high block letters is a stunning testimony to the strenght of this young nation.
However, trouble in the Balkans is always only one footstep away. The Serbian minority has built a similar monument spelling the word "missing", with pictures of the missing Serbian soldiers after the war. Also, Serbs still visit the north of the country to show their national pride and their claim on owning Kosovo. Prizren, a city I have visited in the south, also shows the complex faces of this small country. While Prishtina is pretty much a western standard city, Prizren looks like something out of an Ottoman fairy tale. Turkish minarets line the
streets, cobble-stoned alleyways and stone bridges remind of a tale out of 1001 nights, and prayer chants echo through the narrow walkways. Climbing the fortress and seeing all this beauty unfold from above was one of the nicest views possible: although the contrast with Prishtina makes me wonder how stable such a country with such diversity can be. Rounding up my trip in the Balkans, I took a low cost flight out to join my Montenegrin-Dutch friend for another couple of days in Amsterdam, enjoy what the city has to offer 😉 Like so often in life, good news do however not come alone.
As newborn as Kosovo is out of the ashes of war, as newborn I will have to be on the travels from now on. After periods of stomach issues and a highly uncomfortable intestinal biopsy I have been declared with coeliac disease this summer. In other words, I have an autoimmune disorder in which my body attacks my own intestine if I ingest gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. I honestly thought that all the gluten-paranoia was pretty much a product of modern-society anxiety (and largely it is), but coeliac disease is
for life and its not fun. It also pretty much resides in our DNA so its a chance that someone is born with. Failure to adhere to a diet of less than 2mg of gluten per kilo can result in other autoimmune disorders and worse, cancer.
If you have been following my blog you know about my passion for food. I am Italian, I love pasta, pizza, bread and beer. I love Chinese and Japanese cuisine (Soy sauce contains gluten). I love lots of things which I can't eat anymore and every travel will be a new struggle to eat safely. My worry free times as a foodie are over it seems. Anyhow, amor fati, I might bow but I won't break. There is a whole world of gluten-free options waiting for me and whole world of beauty and culture to explore. I apologize for this bitter after-tone of my entry, it was supposed to be a great summer, and it was.
Now I am back in Hong Kong, lost quite lots of weight since I cook at home, go to the gym and, all in all, feel a lot better. I see people being worried for me
here and back home, but there is really no reason to be. I have projects to visit some crazy places in the next months, Iran and Turkmenistan have been on the list for a while now. So, I am fine and I won't let my facticities stop me, not now and not ever. Whatever, however, keep on moving my friends, remember that Kosovo is OK and remember that I am too... and love gluten-free pasta 😊
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