What makes a city ugly, is it the architecture, the people, an undercurrent of crime or just the general feel of the place, with two days in one of the ugliest capitals in Europe, I set to find out why Prishtina (Pristina) has such a reputation.
Let’s start off with the first and most immediate reaction, the architecture, this, to be honest, is one of the first things we see about a city when we first arrive. Some cities immediately strike you with their grandness, like for example New York, others such as Podgorica, really don’t.
Pristina (Prishtina) is much more similar to Podgorica in that regard, as my first impressions where ‘these communists really don’t get pretty do they?’
I know this is really an unfair way to gauge a city, and I try my best to avoid doing so, but at times you really can’t help it. Especially as tourists we usually arrive in the city through the ugliest areas, bus stations, railway stations, etc… This doesn’t help with Pristina (Prishtina) as its bus station is really one of the ugliest, I have ever been to.
Side note, from the amount of time I spent hanging around in them, maybe I should start a blog called the ‘bus stations of the world’. Anyway, back to Pristina (Prishtina) the first thing I noticed after I had dropped my bag off at the hostel, was a general unfinished-ness to the town, brand new blocks of flats rose into the sky, surrounded by waste-land and expensive, yet very cheap restaurants. (I’ll explain this in a minute.)
This was my second impression of the city, walking down from my hostel into the centre, or somewhere that was up and coming but had not quite made it yet. You also sort of have to remember, less than 20 years ago, this place was a war zone, something that you can’t help but notice by the UN camp on the outskirts of the city, and of course, UN cars driving through the centre.
Also, somewhat surprising there were a lot of foreign cars, German, Swiss etc, driving about. This I later found out was due to the conflict and general lack of work opportunities. a lot of young Kosovians head out to Western Europe to make their fortune and judging by some of the cars they were driving, some had certainly struck gold.
Back to Pristina (Prishtina) though and as I made my way through the city, pass the obligatory sights of the Newborn monument…
Another thing to bear in mind is this isn’t exactly a big city, around 200,000 people, so just an average sized European city. This is a great thing to remember as it sorts of manages expectations, yes Pristina (Prishtina) might not be as stunning as Barcelona, but compared to Leipzig in Germany, it comes out pretty well.
The centre of town features a long-pedestrianized street, which in the swing of summer was packed to the rafters with people. It was also incredibly cheap, by western standards, and as the warm sun shined on the back of my glowing neck, I felt a warm tinge of excitement about this city. It reminded me of Spain in one very distinct way. The cafe culture, everywhere I turned there were pokey little cafe’s full to the brim of people laughing and chatting, the way people do.
It is though, pretty low on sights, how low I hear you ask? Well, one of the most popular and recognizable things in the city is the library…
It is a pretty spectacular library to be fair. Over the other side of the road, there’s also the Cathedral of Saint Mother Teresa, which is equally as impressive.
But let’s be honest, you’ll not exactly going to fill an Instagram feed with photos of Prishtina, not unless you like taking pictures near busy crossings and concrete flats. Sorry, once again I am actually being rather unfair, there’s still actually plenty to do, from visiting an old small mosque on the far side of town.
To exploring the city park up on the hill, which once again was absolutely packed with people, I truly believe travelling in summer gives a place a completely different atmosphere to travelling in the winter.
Heading up from behind the park I came to a small hill overlooking the city,¡. there were a few shallow graves around and due to my inability to speak or understand Albania, I had no idea what any of it was for. It did offer a beautiful view of the city though. This meant someone with my ineptitude when it comes to cameras, could take a pretty decent shot, like this one:
So, in the end, I come back to the question about the merits of whether Pristina is truly an ugly city. The fact of the matter is, in the eyes of the rest of the world probably yes, it is short on sights and has a general unkept feel to it. The architecture isn’t exactly going to give Paris a run for its money, but if you dig a little deeper and give the city some time it may surprise you. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder…