I have been trying my best to write about everything we have been doing chronologically and it has been unexpectedly difficult. Finding the time to sit down and write has not been as easy as I thought it would be. I have also found the process of writing about what we are doing to feel much more forced than I expected.
We are constantly on the go here. Every few days we are adjusting to a new city, or a new country (each with its own dialect, alphabet, currency, and road rules). By the time we’re adjusted, we’re off again to a new city. Al and I now (jokingly) fear that for the rest of our lives, we will automatically expect to be moving to a new destination every three days and get instantly restless if this isn’t the case.
It can be tiring at times, but on the flip side, I haven’t been bored for two months. We are still absolutely loving it.
Except when it comes to being able to write about what we are doing while it is still fresh. I have had difficulty motivating myself to write in the evenings after a long day of exploring. I have even found myself struggling with reflecting in general; I have surprisingly been unable to access the feelings, words and thoughts to explain and process everything.
Before leaving, I thought that once we were traveling, the words and thoughts would just flow freely from my brain to my hands. Instead, they are just slowly trickling down, letter by letter, with occasional bouts of blockage. But, I can’t let myself stop. I’m going to keep going. Like my best friend Christie says, I have to write anyway. I know that this is something I want to have so we can always look back on this amazing time in our lives, regardless of my current lack of motivation to document it all. No matter how many times it happens, it is always surprising when you expect things to go one way, and they end up being completely different.
Which, to get back on track, is exactly how I felt about the country of Kosovo.
Although right now I am sitting on a balcony watching the sun set over the Danube river in Belgrade, Serbia, I still need to write about our day in Kosovo. We spent 24 hours in this newborn country 9 days ago, and in travel time that feels like a lifetime ago, so bear with me.
When Al and I were planning our road trip, we knew we wanted to go to Macedonia, but our car insurance didn’t cover us driving through Albania, which meant that we had to pass through Kosovo, the second youngest country in the world.
We thought about driving from Kosovo -> Serbia first, until we found out that this is not possible. Serbia will not allow you to cross their borders through Kosovo, and if you try, they will consider you an enemy of Serbia and seize your passport.
As a result of the ongoing conflict in the region, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and is now recognized by most of the UN as an independent country. However, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent country and still claims ownership over the whole of Kosovo. Therefore, Serbia also does not recognize the international border between the two countries, and crossing it is currently considered illegal.
When I read this information while we were planning our trip, it was the first time I started to wonder what we were getting ourselves into. Before looking into Kosovo, I just naively assumed we would be fine no matter where we went. Reading about the border crossing conflict made me realize just how little I knew about the area, the war, and where the countries stand today. When pressed to think about it, I could come up with nothing but headlines related to war, bombing, and death connected to the name Kosovo. I started to doubt my own judgement and said to Al, “What are we thinking, booking a night in a place like Kosovo?”
So, we didn’t. We left a day in the middle of our schedule unbooked, so we could feel it out once we were actually here in the Balkans. Either we would book a night in Kosovo if we felt safe, or we would just drive straight to Macedonia, skipping the whole country.
As the trip went on, I focused on the day to day, but I didn’t forget about Kosovo. Every time we went to our excel spreadsheet to look at our next Airbnb booking, I would glance at the empty spot labeled Kosovo? listed next to September 15th.
About two days before the 15th, we decided to just go for it and book a night in Kosovo. The next day as we packed to leave, our host in Montenegro casually asked where we were off to next. When we answered Kosovo, she instantly had a slight look of terror on her face and just shook her head.
Not a good sign, but we weren’t deterred.
We drove two hours into Pristina, the capital city of Kosovo. My first reaction was of the city; it was large, chaotic, and slightly overwhelming. My second reaction was to laugh at myself, for ever thinking that it wasn’t safe to come to Kosovo.
There was nothing that felt unsafe about it. Not one thing. We felt extremely welcome right away. The locals had nothing but positive reactions when finding out we were from Chicago, and seem to particularly like Americans, which was a pleasant change.
We only had a day to spend in the capital, so we decided to spend it walking around the city as much as possible to get a feel for what it was like. I was surprised (only due to my own ignorance on the country) to see how trendy and young the city and its people were. There was beautiful artwork on the buildings, so many unique cafes and bars (with beers for only one Euro), and delicious and affordable restaurants on every corner. It sounds corny, but the city did have an electric feel to it, unlike anywhere I have experienced so far.
We also took a visit to the National Library of Kosovo. The library has a really interesting history. During the war between 1989 – 1999, it saw some shit. During these years of occupation, most of the books and information inside was burned as a way to discourage education.
It was then used to house hundreds of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia during the war.
Once NATO intervened in the war, the library became a secret command center used by the Serbian army. Once this was discovered, all of the materials and documents used by the army inside were destroyed. The library was evacuated and checked for bombs before being put back into use as a library, as it stands now.
After spending the day exploring (and really failing at taking pictures on my end) we ended our day by sitting on our balcony overlooking a quiet part of the city:
Our only regret is that we didn’t have more time to explore everything Kosovo had to offer.
In the end, I am glad that we didn’t let the opinions of others, or the media portrayal of a place stop us from going and seeing it with our own eyes. All the research in the world still can’t tell me what it is really like to experience a place for the first time. I can only learn the truth by seeing it for myself.
And the truth about Kosovo, is that it left us with nothing but amazing memories.