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Kosovo is a country that is recognised by 66 other states, including the USA and most countries of the European Union. On the other hand it is not recognised by important countries like Russia. Serbia claims Kosovo as a province of Serbia, and has appealed to the International Court of Justice over this claim. The process of this appeal is still ongoing. Be aware that traveling from Serbia to Kosovo is no problem, but traveling from Kosovo into Serbia with a stamp of Kosovo in your passport will give you problems.
In antiquity, the Dardani - a Thraco-Illyrian tribe, inhabited the territory roughly corresponding to present-day Kosovo. In Late Antiquity, the region witnessed considerable migration and ethnic flux. Subsequently, what used to be Dardania became part of the Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian and Serbian empires. Following the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, it became part of the Ottoman Empire; this brought the region into close contact with the Middle East and subsequently introduced Islam to the population.
During the late 19th century, Kosovo was the centre of the Albanian national awakening. In 1912, the Ottoman province was divided between Montenegro and Serbia, both of which became part of Yugoslavia in 1918. During World War II, the majority of Kosovo was part of the Italian occupation of Albania, followed by a Nazi German Occupation before becoming an autonomous province within Yugoslavia.
After the Kosovo War and the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, the territory came under the interim administration of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), most of whose roles were assumed by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) in December 2008. In February 2008, the Assembly of Kosovo declared Kosovo's independence as the Republic of Kosovo. Its independence is recognised by 69 UN member states and the Republic of China (Taiwan). On 8 October 2008, upon request of Serbia, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution asking the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the issue of Kosovo's declaration of independence. A non binding verdict was reached in July 2010, which ruled that the declaration of independence was not illegal.
The county is landlocked, between Albania on the west, Montenegro in the northwest, Macedonia in the South, and Serbia to the north and east. The country is almost 11,000 square kilometres big and most of its terrain is mountainous, the highest peak being Đeravica at 2,656 metres above sea level. There are two main plain regions: the Metohija basin located in the western part of the Kosovo, and the Plain of Kosovo in the east. The main rivers are the White Drin, running towards the Adriatic Sea, the Sitnica, the South Morava and the Ibar in the north. The biggest lakes are Gazivoda, Radonjić, Batlava and Badovac. Almost 40% of Kosovo is forested and over 50% is agricultural land.
Kosovo can be divided in 7 districts and 30 Municipalities.
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A national holiday of great importance to all Kosovans is Independence Day, held every February 17 in every town and village to honor the fledgling country’s long fight for autonomy. Expect street celebrations, parades, and a great deal of national pride.
This fascinating folklore festival is held every May in Gjonaj village, about 10 miles from Prizren, and is a celebration of traditional music and dance. Featuring 20 ensembles from all over Kosovo, exhibitions of traditional Hasi costumes and crafts are on display, attracting thousands of international and local visitors alike.
Held every year during the August/September month of Ramadan, the Cultural Fair begins after sunset around 8:15 p.m. and concludes at midnight. The courtyard of the historic 15th century Turkish Hammam is the venue, and visitors can expect a plethora of food and drinks stalls, as well as handicrafts, traditional clothing, musical instruments, and much more. Local Muslims come here to break the fast and the atmosphere is totally Kosovan.
September in Prizren sees the bank of the River Lumbardhi lined with exhibitors for the annual Bridge of the Arts festival, celebrating Kosovo’s cultural diversity. Artists set up easels and paint their version of river and Prizren city scenes, with visitors onlooking as the work develops.
The Pristina Film Festival kicks off in September with a competitive showing of international movies in front of a jury of famous actors and screenings of popular films, some of which have been nominated for Academy Awards and prizes at the Cannes Film Festival.
This ever-popular event takes place annually in October/November, with international as well as local jazz musicians and singers performing at various venues across the city.
Although Islam is the major religion in Kosovo, the Eastern Orthodox traditional Christmas Day celebrations are a national holiday, giving everyone a chance to participate. Orthodox Christmas occurs in January, about two weeks after Christmas in the US, and is feted with candle-lit midnight masses, family parties, processions from the churches, gifts, and special meals.
Welcoming in the New Year at midnight on December 31 is great fun in Kosovo, with all the usual parties, fireworks, eating, drinking, and family reunions. Hotels and restaurants put on special events, and January 1 is a national holiday.
Kosovo, like most of the Balkan countries, has a moderate continental climate. Summers are usually hot and dry with temperatures frequently hitting 30 °C or (much) more. Winters are usually cold, with frost at night and snow common for a few months. Still, warmer winters might see temperatures above zero for weeks on end.
Pristina International Airport (PRN) is the main gateway by air to Kosovo.
Around 20-25 airlines (a few of which are charter airlines) serve the airport. The main destinations are Ljubljana, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Geneva, Zürich, Vienna, Stuttgart, Tirana, Rome, London, Zagreb, Berlin, Cologne, Budapest, Podgorica, Copenhagen and Istanbul.
There are also trains crossing the Kosovo border. Two daily services connects Kraljevo in Serbia with all towns on the Leshak, Fushë Kosovë (Kosovo Polje). Connections from Beograd are possible but includes a long stay between train at Kraljevo, thus bringing the journey to more than 12 hours for 399 km. This service has vanished from Kosovo Railways' timetable but it is reported that Serbian Railways run a twice daily service from Zvecan (just after Mitrovica) all the way to Kraljevo. Check their homepage for details. No passenger trains currently run between Fushe Kovove/Kosovo Polje - Mitrovica - Zvecan.
Since March 1, 2006, an identical service, twice daily, runs from Skopje in Macedonia to Prishtina in Kosovo. It is hard to gets timings for these trains. Trains are very slow and convey second class only, but they give the opportunity to see a lot of the country and are a good value at approximately €4 each way. This service has been reduced to once daily, leaving Prishtina at 7.10, arriving in Skopje at 09.52 (return leaving Skopje at 16:35). The timetable is available at the Kosovo railways website.
To enter Kosovo, the validity and acceptance of the International Motor Insurance Card is in doubt. At the border you will need to pay €30 for an insurance extra which will cover you throughout Kosovo for two weeks. Ensure also that you have your vehicle registration and a power of attorney from the owner if the car is not yours. During the summer holidays in Germany and Switzerland expect long queues at the border crossing in Merdare (up to 3h).
International buses serve much of Europe, including Skopje, (1½ hours), Tirana, (6 hours), Istanbul, (20 hours), and Sarajevo, (10 hours), mostly from the capital Pristina. From Peja there's an overnight bus to Podgorica (seven hours). Alternatively minibuses and taxis go to Rožaje in Montenegro from outside the Peja bus station. Buses to Serbia include the one from Prishtina to Novi Pazar (3½ hours, 4 times daily) and Belgrade (two times daily). There are also buses from Prizren to Tirana, now taking just around 3 hours along good tarred roads.
In addition to the traffic jams on the highways leading to Pristina, and narrow roads full of turns through the craggy mountains elsewhere, Kosovo has furious and careless drivers who like to use their horns constantly - it's best to park your car somewhere safe and pick up public transportation or settle with a taxi driver for a price for the day.
Regular buses operate between Pristina, Prizren and Pec on a half-hourly basis.
Citizens of countries such as Albania, Australia, Canada, the European Union, CIS, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and Turkey do not need a visa, but if you are planning to stay in Kosovo for more than 90 days you should, as in any other Balkan country, register at the Police Department for the Registration of Foreigners.
Serbia officially states that it will block passports containing stamps or visas from Kosovo. As of 7th July 2012, Serbian authorities deny crossing to passports with only a Kosovan entry stamp. If you are just visiting the region, visit Serbia first. You will not be given a Serbian exit stamp if you enter Kosovo from Serbia.
The Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) is defacto used as the currency in the country. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
Most people in Kosovo speak Albanian. Although almost everyone understands Serbian, it may result in hostile reactions from the mostly Albanian population. Many people in northern Kosovo are ethnic Serbs, so Serbian will come in handy there.
English and German are languages that the majority of population speak. Italian is also spoken to a lesser extent.
The Turkish minority speaks Turkish and Albanian. Turkish is also spoken by some Albanians also, especially the older generations.
Best restaurants to eat at are those that are located in the villages near by big cities; they tend to have the best meat dishes and the best sea food. Trout, seabass and salmon fish are very common and popular and are kept fresh in their pools and are nearly always fried when you order. Prices are pretty average and, for some European countries consider, cheap.
Lots of great burek (baked pastry stuffed with cheese, meat or spinach). Try the drinkable yogurt (Ayran) - it's superb. Lots of kebabs and other Ottoman Turkish style food. As far as you are in an Albanian territory, you could try Albanian food as well. Fli, a very good pastry, can be found in different traditional restaurants.
Accommodation in Kosovo can be expensive in hotels, but in Prishtina and Prizren cheap accommodation (hostels or apartments) is very easy to find.
Kosovo has strong Islamic/Turkish/Albanian influences, but alcohol is still widely available. Strong liquor like raki is usually available at most restaurants and bars, as is wine. A very good beer is Peja (made in the city with the same name, also called Pec). It is a light lager beer and is great on those hot sunny summer afternoons on a terrace in Pristina, Pec or Prizren.
Other drinks include the famous yoghurt drink Ayran, which is a little sour, but goes well with pastries.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Kosovo. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Kosovo. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.
Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
Kosovo keeps on ringing a bell of unsafety, but nowadays there are no problems at all and travelling around is as safe as elsewhere in Europe, if not safer. Recently though, there were some small problems along the border with Serbia, so check beforehand if crossing the border. Otherwise, the cities, countryside and roads are generally safe and there are no problems whatsoever.
See also: International Telephone Calls
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