I'm used to chaos on the roads...after living in the Middle East, crossing a busy road can often seem a life-threatening experience, but at least you know the drivers will swerve to avoid you. In the Balkans, matters are confused by the addition of crossing points. Now, being from Britain, I tend to trust the little green man...when he's red, i don't cross, when he's green I assume it is safe to cross. In Kosovo, the meaning has been changed slightly...if the man is green, this means it is target practice for the local drivers. Cars already on the road you are crossing do stop, but you soon realise that the green man means nothing to cars turning into that road, who do their very best to mow you down once you reach halfway.
Green man or no green man, always look both ways before stepping out into the road! Forget what flashing green man may mean in your country!
Zebra crossings also mean very little...they give you a false sense of security, but you'll still end up running the last few steps to the safety of the kerb.
Take a torch! Prishtina is a city of potholes and frequent electricity cuts, and the two combined make for exciting escapades if walking around at night. The main cafes, restaurants, bars, shops and hotels all have generators (noisy ones, often), but some streets can be pitch black. It didn't feel particularly menacing or edgy whenever the power cut out and all went dark, but the chances of falling down a hole were raised up a notch or two.
Prishtina has a number of ATMs (cashpoints for us Brits) dotted around, most claiming to accept Maestro, Visa and Mastercard. In practice, only a few of them actually do, and nine times out of ten your card will be refused. Once you learn which ATMs accept your card, remember them!
Changing cash is more tricky than it needs to be. After being used to the sight of hundreds of exchange offices in Sofia and Skopje, I naively thoght Prishtina would be the same...it isn't. Close to the market, where the market spills into the main road, a huddle of moneychangers stand touting for business. I'm not sure how legal it is to change money with them, but they do stand outside proper exchange offices which will convert most currencies, including Macedonian and Bulgarian, and give you a receipt. However, this does seem to be the only location in the whole city where you can change cash.
Bring Euros. The Euro has been adopted as the local currency in Kosovo. Don't do what we did, and arrive at the bus station with a combination of dollars, pounds sterling, Macedonian dinars, Bulgarian Leva and various cards...the bus station has no facilities at all! No exchange office, no working ATM...which makes taking a taxi into town quite tricky, unless your Albanian is good enough to explain the situation. If you don't have too much luggage, walk out of the bus station and turn right until you pass a big supermarket complex after a few hundred metres...they have an ATM and taxis wait by the side of the road.
When traveling outside of Pristina, be aware of the numerous Serbian enclaves scattered throughout the province. Though Kosovo is very safe, these enclaves can prove to be the exception to the rule, as they tend to be high profile and the targets of isolated attacks. Often ethnic Albanians are not allowed to enter the Serbian enclaves.
To help protect the minority Serbs, Kosovo's Serbian enclaves are protected by NATO's KFOR forces.
Numerous people have informed me that western men often get themselves into trouble when flirting with Kosovar Albanian women at bars in Pristina. While the Kosovars have a deep appreciation for the efforts of western governments in developing thier country/province, they can also be quite traditional when it comes to male-female relationships.
My suggestion would be to not approach women in Kosovo before they approach you first.
For people coming to Kosovo from Serbia, there is not a problem. However, for people coming into Kosovo at the Pristina airport and then trying to go to Serbia, there are BIG problems.
The problem lies in that Serbia does not control the borders in Kosovo and travelers do not receive a Serbian visa or entry stamp when arriving in Kosovo. Instead they get an UNMIK stamp (if the border police aren't feeling lazy to get out the stamper!)
When attempting to enter or leave Serbia after coming from Kosovo, people without the stamp may face fines or even detention depending on current politics.
The best resolution for this headache of a problem is to enter Serbia from Macedonia by driving down to Skopje and then Kumanova. While it tacks on a few extra hours, it is well worth the trouble. If you plan on spending some more time in Kosovo, you can cross the border in Presevo.
The Serbian entry stamp is valid for three months.
Reports are flowing *har-har* in that Kosovo is going to run out of water in September 2007 unless there is a significant change in the weather and usage habits. Municipal authorities have stated that the water reservoirs are significantly lower than normal that water rationing will begin in September with only hospitals and emergency services being provided water.
Water conservation is a topic hotly debated in Kosovo as there are many illegal connections to the water network and the past winter was a very mild one with little snow. The local population is greatly criticized for running zillions of auto larje (car washes) as well as washing off patios and sometimes the street with garden hoses, wasting a good deal of water. The local goverment also pays for water trucks to go around at night and wash the streets...without first running a sweeper to clean up the dirt...it just makes things muddy for a while.
Right now there are very few power outages (*knock on wood*). But it's good to know that sometimes the power will go out for a while (2 minutes, 20 minutes, 2 hours, 20 hours!) with no schedule. It's a really good idea to carry around a flashlight in case the power goes out and you are outside walking because the streets are pitch black when there is no moon!
However, winter 2005 KEK (Kosovo Electric Company) implemented a power-schedule with three zones - A, B, C - that was based on the percentage of bill-paying customers in the area. A-areas (payment above 55%, only Pristina that I know of) were to have 24/7 power, B-areas (payment between 35-55%) would have 5 on:1 off, and C-areas (below 25% payment) would have whatever power was left over. This translated into areas classified as a C-area, having 1 on: 5 off during the coldest parts of the winter. The plan was not popular with the local population because the C-areas were usually the most economically depressed and/or minority areas. There were several local protests and I think the schedule was scrapped and power was imported.
In the past year there are always rumors circulating that there will be severe power shortages starting because the power plant is going to run out of coal. If that happens, it won't matter how much of your bill you've been paying because there just won't be any power for anyone!
UN staff are prohibited from buying candy, Kleenex, or any other items from street children. Any person caught doing so can face disciplinary action and/or be repatriated. Too strict? Not really. The problem is that these children are basically slaves for unscrupulous parents and "street gangs" of child laborers. Buying items from them does not benefit them in any way other than further dedicating their life to the hardship they are facing through successful selling. No matter how pleading the eyes or how much the children beg you to take their gym, you must not do so.
Now that doesn't mean that you have to turn your back to the plight of these unfortunate children. Rather, if it is summer buy them a Coke to take with them. Or if it winter, buy them a hot chocolate. At least these small tokens will help them and cannot be taken away as easily as money. If you are feeling more generous, buy the child a meal...even if it just spending a euro for a bit of burek to give to a child laying on the cold ground.
Romas (Gypsies) are a problem in Kosovo. During the summer months there is an influx of them at many of the street corners and the women more frequently come by the cafes with children in tow begging for money. It is usually men or children toting children that you find at intersections. The children will bang on your car window demanding money while the men try to wash your windshield before the light turns in the hopes you'll give them a euro for the effort. Saying no to the window-washers does not always work and they will ignore your protests and go ahead and wash the window. It's my belief that you should not cave in and give them money for blatantly ignoring your wishes as it can be seen as a positive reinforcement of their bad behavior. The problem with giving one Roma money at an intersection is that once the others notice you have, they all flock to your vehicle and want a "piece of the action".
It's never going to be completely safe in a place where political and ethnic tensions are high, but Pristina is probably as safe as a place like that can be, at least as long as you aren't Serbian. There's no national police force here yet, but the people seemed pretty friendly. While I did get a lot of stares, there's enough UN and other political people around that foreigners aren't out of place in the city. The only slight edgy feeling I got from the locals was when I took the picture below. A group of young guys started getting agitated and pointing at me. I guess they weren't sure what my intentions were.
Unlike most of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the US Dollar is not accepted as a quasi-legitimate form of payment in Pristina. Oddly, money changers are also difficult to find in the city. Bring Euros with you to avoid international ATM fees.
I've lived in Pristina in 2002 and in 2004. The only warnings I can think of, are these:
1. Don't bother other people, and other people won't bother you.
Honestly, when I am in Pristina, I feel safer than I do in any American city I've ever been in. Just make sure not to do anything that contradicts common-sense, i.e. walking through a dark alley late at night, or wandering around late at night alone, and you'll be fine.
2. Don't go hiking without asking someone if there's a minefield. There used to be a mine awareness display in front of the UN jail in downtown Pristina, but not anymore.
Other than that, eat some burek and drink a pec beer for me!
I didnt fins any trouble getting there or in the city or running to Prizren....just this....once we stop in the border control coming from Skopje.... i was the last one in cross it... UN police was really amazed how a spaniard is trying to get into the region...so everybody hop off the bus and with his passport on hand cross one by one the border and wait on the other side the bus again....well i was 5 min talking with the polices...they just asked me why i want to get into ...my answer was (for me logical) im really interested to visit the city... lol i guess not much people try to visit a region like that...but why not..it wortth try it !!! lol
If you are a non-native speaker, one of the first advices you'll probably get en route to Pristina is to restrain from using Serbian or basically any Slavic lingo which can wrongly be taken for the former one.
Although majority of the people in Pristina are (likewise anywhere else in the world) pleasant and hospitable, you might encounter certain problems in the street, at the bar etc.
There are also certain fine places in the town where you can freely communicate in Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian without looking over your shoulder frantically.
Kosovo is not a stable area -- and some places are, of course, less stable than others. Even in Pristina you need to use good judgment about where and when you go.
My husband woke up one morning and found the UN vehicle across the street investigating something. The law that there is depends very much on international enforcement.