Yesterday seems like such a long time ago when I get up this morning. I don't have any grand plans for Pristina - there are a few things I've jotted down to check out, but mostly I just want to have a bit of a wander around and see what the city's really like.
A lot of people looked at me like I'd sprouted a second head when I told them I was planning on coming here. I think for most people it's a place that still brings to mind images of conflict, violence, and poverty. Not entirely unreasonably - a quick look at the FCO travel advice will tell you there are still issues, places where it may not be safe to travel. Mostly in the north of the country, Mitrovica for instance.
I have come to Pristina, which is fine, and will be travelling through the southern half of the country to reach Montenegro, also fine. My travel insurance covers me for any country, as long as I don't go to any areas to which the FCO has advised against travelling.
As I explained to my brother, I don't have any intention of travelling anywhere I might be shot, kidnapped, blown up, etc. "I'm going to leave those places until last, once I've seen everywhere else I want to visit", I added, by way of qualification.
He looked at me, and pointed out with an amused smile, that I could always just not visit places like that.
Yes, I suppose that would also be one approach.
Back to today and Pristina, and I'm strolling along 1st Avenue. It's not at all how I imagined Pristina would be - and I had actually done a bit of research before I arrived. I wasn't expecting the war zone some people perhaps thought I was visiting, but in truth I imagined more concrete, based on the few photos I had seen; shabby, dreary, soviet style tower blocks hovering around the newer development of the city.
There's some of that around, but not here: a tree lined, pedestrianised boulevard with fountains that children (and teenagers) are playing in, cafes and restaurants lining either side. People walking along eating ice cream (and I have no hesitation in joining them on that front).
There's a taste of the familiar here too: brands and shops I recognise from earlier countries; the popcorn stalls that lined Belgrade's streets are here; and there's some Serbian language again. There are new things too: the Albanian language looks and sounds very different; my newly learned zebra crossing technique meets with mixed success here; the music has a distinct Turkish influence; and the audio signal accompanying the green man at pedestrian crossings sounds bizarrely like a ringing phone - at one point someone pretends to answer the phone as we cross the road.
Oh, and Orange/EE seems to be using a very different map of Europe to me, because the usual new country welcome text I received from them yesterday welcomed me to Slovenia. This is handy for me as it means EU text rates apply, but nevertheless I had been expecting a correction to follow. It hasn't. I suppose this is one way of not being drawn on whether to recognise Kosovo as independent or not - just pretend it's another country entirely! And one that doesn't even come close to sharing a border with Kosovo. Novel approach.
I'm also treated to an impromptu "unguided" tour of Pristina's suburbs from the taxi driver tasked with returning me to my hotel this evening. It wasn't really a good sign when, despite having put on what I assume were supposed to be reading glasses, he held the card with my hotel's address on it upside down to read it. I probably should have gotten back out at that point, but it was raining, and I was feeling lazy.
After having stopped twice to ask for directions, pulled up outside one wrong hotel, and driven me around the hill I can see from my hotel room window (at least I got a closer look at the mosque I suppose), we eventually make it to the right hotel. And I thought the bus part of my trip was going to be the challenge.
Other lessons learned today: check the ketchup bottle doesn't have 'hot' emblazoned on it before you smother your food with it, not after. You can't really send your meal back because you've been a muppet. Or I wasn't prepared to anyway; my Albanian definitely doesn't stretch to that.