This Bus Goes to Kosovo

The border crossing looks new and partly unfinished. In different corners there are exposed wires and lamp fixtures that will probably soon find their permanent place.  It is the middle of the afternoon on a quite holiday afternoon, the border guard in his nice new blue jacket and pants saunters onto the bus looking at each person’s passport.  As he approaches a few other western passengers seated in from of me, I notice the nice blue patch on his arm featuring the yellow outline of the country, “Its your first time in Kosovo?” he asks each of us, “Just visiting?”

The whole process takes less then a minute and soon we’re passed the customs area, passed the 4 construction workers staring at an open hole in the ground, and back on the two lane highway.  The mountains here are steep and drenched in red, yellow and orange autumn colors.  Occasionally we pass a little hamlet and I notice a newly completed bridge or road, even the lonely single track railroad seems to have been recently renovated.  As we drive into the heart of this infamous part of the world, I can’t stop thinking of how much it reminds me of mining country in Eastern Pennsylvania.

The towns we passed may have some new pieces of construction, but they don’t look like happy places.  The typical unfinished houses look vacant and what becomes even more clear as we get nearer to Prishtina, is that there is an overabundance of empty office space in Kosovo. One after another we pass shiny new warehouses and storefronts that look abandoned before they could ever be occupied.  This one would probably be good for selling tractors, that one over there looks more like a furniture outlet, neither has a single sign of life.  We drive on slowly, passed the Greek KFOR military base, the speed limit reads 60kmph, I find myself thinking of how different this place is from my dear Portugal, where no one respects such speed limits on country roads.

The beautifully vast and empty horizon finally changes after what seems like an hour, there is clearly a city up ahead, and I think it is Prishtina.  The two lane highway becomes 4 shiny new lanes, and the slow pace speeds up some.  On either side of the road its a mix of motels of small scale commercial operations.  Each one making heavy use of the following flags in this order: Albanian, Kosovar, American, followed by a hodgepodge of European Union  member state flags.  The favorite seems to be the French followed closely by the German flag.  “Made in Germany” several of the advertisements for machine parts along the road read in smaller print.  Pulling into the quiet bus station and it seems like the entire city could be on vacation. “Prishtina is quiet” is the first uncontrollable conclusion I make in my head.  I could not have been more wrong.