I live in DC, which is a great place to live and visit. I try to make the most of it. However, I also love to leave my home and see what the world has to offer. Come and join me!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sept. 1 (cont.) Arrival in Pristina, Kosovo

When we arrived in Pristina I had to go through Passport Control to get out. Kosovo has an unclear legal existence. Technically it is still a province of Serbia, but it is administered by the UN. It is expected to announce its independence in November, with the UN withdrawing within 180 days once it becomes an autonomous state. Russia is not in favor, nor is Serbia. Meanwhile, Kosovar passports are issued by the UN (marking UNMIK on the outside, UN Mission in Kosovo) and everybody has to get their passport checked. As soon as I landed I had a sudden gripping fear that I needed a visa to get into Kosovo and I would be detained at the airport. When I got to the front of the line there appeared to be some sort of problem with my passport, and the police officer took it and walked away. It is scary to see your passport walk away! Luckily, he only went to the next booth and got it stamped. Relieved, I walked past passport control and breezed through customs with nothing to declare. When I got outside I realized that perhaps I should have retrieved my luggage first.

Outside the airport was mobbed with hundreds of people awaiting arriving family members. K tells me that Kosovo has 60% unemployment, and most people survive on money sent back by a family member who has moved away. I was being solicited for taxis left and right and there were *no* airport workers anywhere. The snack counter was even closed. I was getting slightly worried and had no idea what to do. I don't speak any Albanian (most Kosovars are ethnic Albanians).

Finally I located a group of police officers. I uttered the Ugly American anthem, "Do you speak English?" and was so relieved that the answer was yes. I explained my situation and when they stopped laughing one of them led me back through customs and into the terminal. I had wondered why all those people were clustered at the far end of the terminal. I thought they were waiting to board a flight. They were clustered so thickly I couldn't see they were hovering around the baggage carousel.

I popped into the bathroom and popped right back out--no toilet paper and urine-soaked seats. I had peed about four times in the Vienna airport, luxuriating in what I knew might be the last of free, clean, real toilets. My luggage came out of the carousel pretty quickly. I went *back* through nothing to declare, dodged the endless taxi touts, and positioned myself in what I hoped was a conspicuous location. K was to meet me in a round trip taxi and there she was walking across the parking lot! I was so happy to see her! Not only because it meant the end of my travel day but also because I miss her. (hint hint, K, you better come home in February!)

It was about a 40 minute ride from the airport to the center of Pristina where K lives. An interesting thing about Kosovo's (lack of) legal status is that there are no chains. McDonald's, for instance, will only grant franchises in recognized countries. So it was strip malls for most of the way, but all the shops are local. Copyright infringement is rampant because there's really no way to enforce. My favorite was the Chanel beauty salon. Note the registered trademark symbol next to Chanel. That's the best part. As though nobody better infringe on the hair salon's copyright!

I carried my suitcase up the stairs to K's first floor flat (thank goodness she moved from the fourth floor walkup!). The building's hallway was very Soviet, lots of graffiti and grimness. I was quite amazed when she used her giant old-fashion key to open the door of her lovely, modern, airy, and large flat. I sat down on the couch. I lay down on the couch. That was a mistake. I sat back up.

K brought in a birthday cake! She had told me about the new Israeli bakery that had opened down the street in an email and described their wonderful cakes. And here one was! It was a rich chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache, and she had macerated some raspberries to put on top. I was very happy as Friday had not felt like a special birthday kind of day at all what with the bus woes and the non-sleeping airplane ride.

I had to walk to stay awake, so we went out to see Pristina. First stop was the University library, which has interesting iron webwork all over it.

Two little boys were playing soccer on the grounds. They saw my camera out and wanted in on the action. I was like that as a kid too, I looooved to have my picture taken. I needn't have worried about nobody speaking English at the airport because even the little boys could tell me in a little bit of English what they wanted. They are so adorable! While I took the picture their soccer ball was bouncing down and down and down the hill, but they didn't seem concerned.

Then we saw the Serb church. It was built during the war to prove how Serb Kosovo is. However, it was never consecrated and now stands an abandoned and uneasy watch over Pristina. In other church news, apparently a Catholic cathedral will soon be built in downtown Pristina. A beloved former president was Catholic, and the church was one of his plans. A cornerstone was laid but nothing else happened for 7 years. He died a couple of years ago (of old age, cancer, and smoking, not assassination). We ran into one of K's coworkers who told us the Cathedral was to begin construction soon.

Most Kosovars are nominally Muslim, but apparently it's more cultural than religious (kind of like Easter and Christmas Christians). There are a lot of minarets and mosques to be seen; the tall skinny minarets are quite striking.

Next stop was the old Communist Brotherhood and Unity monument. The monument stands in a plaza where little boys play soccer. From a distance it looks quite striking.

When you get close, however, you see that rolls of barbed wire have been laid on the ground around it, and there is graffiti everywhere. I don't know why they haven't demolished it; perhaps they prefer the message of letting it go into neglect to taking it down.

We also paid our respects to Mother Teresa, who is Albanian, which is a source of much national pride. The Cathedral is to be named after her. She is apparently on the fast track for sainthood, but I don't know if her canonization will be complete before the church is.

I was really getting tired, and I only make myself stay up until 7 the first night. We went to Home restaurant for dinner and each had the all day brunch special for 7.90E. I got the antipasti (artichoke, grilled bell pepper, and some sensational zucchini), pasta with bechamel and mushrooms; and a honey crepe. K had been telling me how good the food is in Pristina and she was right!

We went back to her flat and I was asleep within about 15 minutes.

You can see all my photos from Pristina, and all my photos from this trip if you'd like.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should come again. Pristina has changed a lot since then and I bet you'll be surprised!