Posted by: ExperienceKosovo | August 24, 2010

Kosovo on EasyJet Travel Magazine


Weekend in Pristina

Marie Cleland goes in search of Europe’s newest country and its youngest population, and finds the up-and-coming, cosmopolitan city of Pristina

PHOTOS © MARIE CLELAND

FRIDAY

I’d heard that in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, wealthy Westerners involved in the country’s development mixed with cool young locals to create a vibrant social scene. Being a fan of Eastern Europe, I jumped at the chance to visit. Though, knowing nothing about the place beyond the news headlines, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Driving along Bill Clinton Boulevard (America helped liberate Kosovo in 1999), my taxi got stuck in roadworks. There are building sites everywhere and many of the historic monuments are being restored. While some might view this as disruptive, I saw it as an exciting sign that Pristina was on the up.

Sitting in Central Room Café (Rr Garibaldi) at knock-off time, the atmosphere was buzzing. Stylish young things had left the office for coffee dates or a beer with friends to kick-start the weekend. Svelte girls tottering on high heels negotiated the obstacle course of tables and chairs that crowded this trendy corner of Pristina. This was my first stop, the neighbourhood of Peyton, which I found thronging with the It-crowd on a sunny summer evening.

“It’s very dynamic here,” Fisnik Dragusha told me as we sat soaking up the atmosphere. A native of Pristina, he works as a local tourism consultant for USAID project KPEP (Kosovo Private Enterprise Program; www.kosovoguide.com). “Two years ago, this café was a supermarket.” Then the lunch money started flowing in from local suits and “Internationals” (foreign NGO staff and consultants) and Peyton and its businesses transformed into a cultural hotspot. Before dinner, I checked into Hotel Pristina (from €70, book at www.hotels.easyJet.com) a comfy Peyton pad with a rooftop swimming pool.

I was in Kosovo to sample the best of its contemporary culture, so I headed to Puro Restaurant (Veternik) for its slick, international aesthetics and Italian/Balkan cuisine. Located away from the city-centre action, it still welcomes a host of European A-listers through its doors, from Premier League footballers to a spot of royalty.

Glancing through the menu I found a sophisticated, quirky selection. Macchiato soup? I had to try this. Having heard about Kosovans’ love of the double espresso, I was intrigued at the prospect of a soup version. It was deliciously warm, and cleverly matched the creamy consistency of its caffeinated cousin. Beautiful crisp salmon followed with a superb Kosovan riesling.

I couldn’t resist going back to Peyton to soak up some of the nightlife, heading for sporty Bamboo Bar (17 Rr Garibaldi). Its futsall team – who play the five-a-side, indoor football game – are the Kosovan champions. With its party atmosphere, Bamboo was perfect for a taster of Kosovan hospitality. I was already feeling welcome, looked after, and most importantly as a girl travelling on my own – safe. And the weekend had only just got started!

SATURDAY

Being a Saturday morning, I had been looking forward to brunch and some sightseeing. But as local guide Naile Cekaj later remarked: “This is Kosovo – nothing goes to plan.” Which worked out well, because I ended up exploring a bit before sitting down to refuel.

I walked around the compact city, ticking off the landmarks of the new Pristina. At the university, I circled the weirdly cool-looking library – bold move that, wrapping the exterior in a chain-like mesh. I found Bill Clinton waving to passers-by – well, his statue anyway. It stands under a massive poster of him on, you guessed it, Bill Clinton Boulevard. And I wandered through the bustling bazaar, picking up on the city’s optimistic vibe, and a souvenir or two.

Pedestrianised Mother Theresa Boulevard (who knew she was Albanian?) is the place to promenade, and so, a perfect spot for people watching. I ordered a crêpe at Rings as the lunch crowd gathered and felt tatty in my travelling clothes while all around me walked smartly dressed young men and women.

I’d earmarked Dit e Nat café (Rr Fazli Grajqevci) for brunch, but I made it my afternoon pit stop instead, since the only food they served was cake. Relaxing among media types and macchiato mavens making use of the Wi-Fi, I browsed the books for sale, spying a title many had recommended: Kosovo: A Short History, by Noel Malcolm.

After dinner at Pishat (11 Qamil Hoxha), in which I tried local “delicacy” fli, a heavy dish of pastry and butter, I made a beeline for über-quirky Strip Depot (6 Rr Rexhep Luci). Buying drinks that amounted to a tip in the West, I relaxed alongside stylish Pristinians and the odd soldier. With a backdrop of comic strip-themed décor, it was just another characterful vignette of Pristina.

“Friday nights are when students go out, and Saturdays are for the 30-somethings,” Fisnik had told me. Not wanting to miss out on the after-dark action, I passed the Palace of Youth and Sports and found the beautiful people tearing up the dancefloor at Duplex. A few cocktails and thumping dance tracks later, I stumbled back to my hotel for some sleep.

SUNDAY

In the summer months, hip young things and families head for Germia Park and its lake-sized swimming pool to cool off. The national park is a short ride on the No. 4 bus from central Pristina and for nature lovers, it offers up an array of walking trails through the forested hills. While scaremongers like to talk about the landmines that used to pepper the area, it’s still best to play it safe and stick to the trails, even though most of Kosovo has been clear of mines for years.

On my last afternoon, I headed 20 minutes out of town to The Ranch (Gazimestan, tel: +377 44 555 003), where I got to exercise my love of horse-riding. An hour’s ride in the countryside was just €10. Catching panoramic views of the outskirts of Pristina and glimpsing the blooming city just over the hills, I said goodbye and wished it well in its rise to the top.

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