While in Serbia, I stumbled upon an article written about Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. It was lacking a lot of relevant information but did include two photographs which caught my eye with a brilliance I just couldn’t ignore. I fumbled with and ultimately decided upon the idea of ditching former plans to go to rock formations in Southwestern Serbia, said to be a small scale version of Turkey’s Cappadocia. Instead, I took a bus to Kosovo.
Getting to Kosovo is an adventure in itself, as the rips and tears which occurred during Yugoslavia’s separation have left some neighboring countries better friends than others. Asking questions like “How do I get IN to Kosovo?” and later, “How do I get OUT of Kosovo?” left me hard-pressed to find confident answers.
As a new day dawned in Nis, Serbia, I once again packed up and shipped out, hoping for and expecting none other but the best. I went to Nis’s bus station, paid my entrance fee (this is the only time I’ve ever come across such a thing) and found the bus to Pristina parked in a far corner. Occupied by only five other passengers and a chain-smoking driver, the coach bus took us to the border.
The boundary between Serbia and Kosovo is marked as a dashed line rather than the typical solid line separating one country from another. Rome2Rio, my go-to route planner, told me traveling this direction was impossible and instead I would have to leave Serbia and enter Kosovo from Macedonia or Albania. Was this a dead end? Or would they accept this small town curly haired lady from America? It was time for the truth.
No questions were asked as I handed over my passport on either side. I was in! When I looked through its pages I noticed neither country had stamped it. It was undercover acceptance, but acceptance nevertheless. And as it turned out, the lack of passport stamp meant I had to leave via Serbia as well. We continued to Kosovo’s capital, and I was much closer to meeting those two icons I’d come across in photos, face to face.
The rucksack rules all, as its weight is currently at an all time high (though this will soon lessen as the Christmas season draws near). I dropped it off at the hostel reserved near the center of town. As I checked in, one of the guests noticed my passport’s origin and quickly shared that he too was American. Hearing the word, another guest lounging nearby stood and also introduced himself as an American. Then another came forward. And another! Five of us in all. Where was I? A thick accent told me one of these was not like the other, but apparently he’d spent time studying there so was, in his own mind, American. Hey, at least they’re accepting!
After resting and sharing stories with the chatty Americans, I realized my stomach was sitting empty and returned to Mother Teresa Boulevard, a street I’d noticed earlier lined with cafes and restaurants. I found one that looked less crowded than most others and ducked inside. Easily finding a spot to sit at a chest-high table, I was settling in and taking in the scene when an dark colored flag decorated with an orange football helmet caught my eye. Hanging on a side wall, it bore the words “Cleveland Browns”. I laughed out loud and pointed the flag out to a young waiter standing nearby. “Cleveland?” I asked, not sure how well he spoke English. “Yes Cleveland. USA!” he excitedly replied. His English was nearly flawless as he went on to tell me about one of their most popular customers, a man originally from Cleveland who has donated many items over the years.
I obviously jumped at the opportunity to pose with the flag, and immediately sent it off to my mom, who lives in a suburb of Cleveland. I got ready to push the send button as the image sat large on my computer screen. Meanwhile a man in his forties sat at the table next to me, dressed in a quilted winter coat and blue jeans. “Go Browns” he said before his butt hit the chair. “You’re the man, aren’t you?” I replied immediately, “The one from Cleveland they were telling me about?”
“Don’t you know it,” he replied with a laugh, as if the obvious was already so clear it didn’t need to be spoken. “Every time I visit my mom, she slips a piece of Cleveland memorabilia into my suitcase to bring back here. It makes it more like home.” Apparently, there will be a new Browns jersey hanging on the wall after he returns from Thanksgiving in Ohio. I typically like to keep my nationality under wraps, never knowing whether I’ll be accepted or shunned for coming from the land of red white and blue. It seems that, in Kosovo, American blood is not an issue and is in turn celebrated.
To further prove this point is one of the icons I had come there to find. Guests at the hostel showed me on a map where to go, highlighting the main boulevard I would need to keep an eye out for. It was a long walk but easy enough, taking me toward the bus station on the outskirts of town. Along the way, I passed shops selling any item you could ever dream of, dozens of Kebab shops, and streets with names I couldn’t correctly pronounce.
Eventually I came to the street I was looking for and stopped at the crosswalk. As I stood waiting for the light to turn, I held back laughter but couldn’t keep a smile from sneaking across my face.
This was too good to be true. “Bill Klinton Boulevard” I can pronounce that, no problem! Especially since they turned the “C” to a “K” in order to prevent others from taking Albanian language rules into consideration and mistakingly calling it “Bill SSSlinton Boulevard.”
The light turned green and I crossed the street. Soon enough, I saw just what I was looking for. That beaming face. The taught shoulders and hand held high as to wave at passerby’s for all of eternity.
A statue of former President of the United States: Bill Clinton.
Again, where was I? And more importantly, where was she? I retraced my steps and soon found her. Standing nearby in a black overcoat is the one who will never leave his side: Hillary.
Monica was nowhere to be found. At least not in Kosovo.