On display at the Ethnographic Museum in Kosovo’s capital of Pristina is a lady’s wooden shoe, its sole covered with intricate carvings and rich inlays of mother-of-pearl. The shoe dates from the 18th century, but any woman would be proud to wear it, then or now.
The museum, in a former 18th-century manor house that once belonged to a wealthy Albanian family during Ottoman rule, also exhibits sumptuous textiles, jewelry, and furniture, and includes a birthing room as well as a death room. If the enthusiastic volunteer guides are in the mood, they’ll play you a wistful ballad on a lute as you take in the cornucopia here that thankfully survived the war, heightening the impression that before there was violence in Kosovo, there was civility, not to mention elegance.
This was just one lesson I learned when I visited Kosovo in September. Like many Americans, I had barely paid attention to the war; I also knew little about the 1999 peace accord and still thought of the country as possibly dangerous.
The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, though Serbia still claims the land as its own. Of 193 U.N. member states, 110 (including the United States) have recognized Kosovo as a legitimate nation.
I quickly saw, too, how very far my money stretched in Kosovo, buying me generous and flavorful four-course meals for the equivalent of a few dollars at places such as Pishat, a shaded and appealing bistro in Pristina. A cross-country bus ticket cost me about $2; a room at a clean and simple guesthouse in Pristina run by a friendly retired professor and his wife, about $15 per night.
Kosovo is still struggling mightily to put its economy in order and to convince tourists that the country is safe and open for business. But now may just be the ideal time to visit Kosovo, before mass tourism takes root, before too much development makes it less edgy and exotic.
On my first day in Kosovo, I caught a bus from Pristina to Prizren, which I had heard was home to fortress ruins straddling the Sar Mountains and overlooking a picturesque plaza and the Lumbardhi River. It being September, I’d unfortunately just missed DokuFest, the international film festival that takes place in Prizren every August, drawing thousands of local and international visitors.