Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Day 264 – Fairy lights and frost. (Kosovo)

After the pile of snow that was the roads in Albania, we were surprised at the relief that the road into Kosovo brought. Largely supported by overseas aid, the roads and general infrastructure in Kosovo, and most notably the capital city Pristina, was far more impressive than we had expected. Oddly, it suddenly got foggy as we crossed the border, but the wide motorway was perfectly cleared and in immaculate condition. As we headed towards Pristina, we passed a series of petrol stations, all brightly lit up with flashing lights, ribbons, flags, Christmas decorations and television screens. At first we thought it was a particular company’s form of advertising, or perhaps it was just for Christmas, but then we realised that this is just what petrol stations in Kosovo look like. We really can’t figure out why this is the case or where the style has come from.

Dropping to -17 °C overnight in Pristina, our tour of the frozen Balkans continued. Even with clear, sunny days, the temperature didn’t rise high enough for the snow to even think about melting. We could tell the snow hadn’t actually fallen for a while, but the ground was still thickly covered in the sandy, brown powder that snow becomes when not given the opportunity to melt for an extended period of time.

We had been advised that Pristina was a nice city, but we weren’t quite sure what to expect. As it turns out though our advisors were correct – it really is a very pretty, modern city. Without meeting any locals, it’s hard to know what the real state of life is, but funded by aid from predominantly the EU and the USA, you could never tell from the surface that Kosovo isn’t another well-to-do Western European country. The pedestrian mall in the centre of town was wonderfully lit up with a breath-taking ceiling of fairy lights and the buildings were glowing with their own light displays.

Besides being clean and pretty, there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Pristina. The Bill Clinton statue, mounted on a podium beside an American flag, a poster of the man towering over the intersection that it’s located at, is one of Kosovo’s main attractions. The National Museum mostly housed the usual array of ancient artefacts, and as stated clearly on several signs inside the small museum, disappointingly a large proportion of the exhibits from this museum are held under force by Serbia. The bazaar was little more than a group of fruit and veg, socks and thermals, and fireworks stalls, but the night life was surprisingly active, especially considering the weather.

Walking along the pedestrian mall in the afternoon, Ben and Tunkles lagged a few paces behind and when they caught up they were very excited to tell us the story of what they just witnessed. A pigeon lay in the snow, limp and clearly lifeless, and an elderly man walked upto it and lifted the bird into his hands. Lifting his hands to his face, he breathed on the pigeon, and after a couple of strokes the wings fluttered and it took off from the palms of this man’s hands.


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