Destination: Pristina, Kosovo

Pristina: A Quick Look

Language: Albanian; Serbian spoken by a minority
Currency: Euro
Drinking Age: no minimum legal drinking age
Public Transportation: Buses and taxis are common in the city, and between cities
Passport: Required for US citizens. US Citizens may stay in Kosovo up to 90 days without a visa
Vaccines: Routine vaccines, plus Hepatitis A. Hepatitis B and Rabies recommended for some travelers

Before you leave:

  • Pristina is the capital city of Kosovo, a small somewhat disputed nation in Southeastern Europe. It would be wise to do some research regarding the Yugoslavian civil war, which is still in very recent memory for many Kosovars
  • Avoid discussing Serbia if possible. Serbia’s control of the region for many years is not a pleasant memory, and no matter what your opinion of the conflict is, it’s best kept to yourself.
  • Kosovars are very warm and friendly. You will find that many are genuinely eager to be your friend. It’s not uncommon to be invited into someone’s home shortly after meeting them.

Once you get there:

    • The easiest way into Pristina is to fly into the international airport, or to rent a car and driving up from either FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) or Albania. Keep in mind that in the past, people have had trouble crossing the border between Kosovo and Serbia due to the border not really being formally recognized by Serbia. It’s possible to drive across, but research the immigration practices before attempting or you could end up with fines and unneeded hassle.
    • Public transportation can be a little hard to figure out in Kosovo. The easiest way to figure it out is to ask a local! You might have to try a few people before you find someone that speaks English, but they will point you in the right direction. Pristina is also rather walk-able, if you so choose.

1. Bill Clinton Boulevard

This is always my go-to fun fact about Pristina: there’s a 10 foot tall statue of Bill Clinton along “Bill Clinton Boulevard.” It was built in 2009 to commemorate Bill Clinton’s support of Kosovo during the Yugoslavian civil war. I remember being caught totally off guard when I was driving through Pristina and happened across a giant Bill Clinton statue next to the road. Good times…

2. Newborn Monument

The Newborn Monument is a must see. Unveiled on 17 February 2008, the day that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, it symbolizes Kosovo’s status as a new nation. The coolest part about it: It’s repainted every year, with the new design being unveiled on February 17th.

3. Skanderbeg Square

Skanderbeg Square marks the beginning of the pedestrian streets in Pristina. It’s also the site of a statue commemorating Skanderbeg, an Albanian hero. There are plenty of nice hotels in this area, and when the weather is good you can see lots of people out and enjoying themselves.

4. Kosovo Museum

The Kosovo Museum is full of artifacts found throughout the country. Its mission is to preserve the history and culture of the country. It is also the headquarters of the Kosovo Archaeological Institute. They’ve carefully preserved thousands of artifacts, some dating all the way back to the Ottoman Empire. It’s a good way to spend half a day if you’re into museums and history.

5. Natural Beauty

Travelling in Kosovo is not complete without also taking in the natural beauty. If you’re used to travelling in North America or Western Europe, Pristina might feel a little run down. If the city is getting to you, there’s tons of things to do in the surrounding countryside, oftentimes these things are also not in any guidebooks. All of the following are not more than a few hours by car from Pristina.

  • Summit Mt. Ljuboten
    At 8196 feet, Mt Ljuboten is the tallest mountain in Kosovo. Climbing the mountain takes most of a day unless you’re really fast, and in the summer it is nothing more than a steep walk and a casual scramble. In the winter, however, you’ll need proper climbing gear as it’s covered in snow and ice. The summit sits right on the border between Kosovo and FYROM. On a clear day, you can see incredibly far from the top. It’s a good place for a #kosovo photo op.
  • Mirusha Park
    Pictured above, exploring Mirusha Park is a great summertime activity. It’s a large canyon with all sorts of waterfalls and lakes to swim in. It’s a great place to cool off in the summer and meet other people. Don’t miss this one.
  • Brezovica Ski Resort
    Called “the most delightfully dysfunctional ski resort in Europe” by the New York Times, Brezovica is a fun place to learn to ski. If you’ve ever been to a ski resort in the United States, you might want to forget about that experience, as Brezovica Ski Resort is nothing like that. The lifts are rickety, the rental skis are well loved, and the kids will literally ski circles around you and laugh when you fall backwards on flat ground. If you don’t know how to ski, my recommendation is to just rent a pair, go up the slope right outside the hotel, and start riding down. You’ll figure it out!

In summary, Pristina (and Kosovo in general) is a good place to start if you’re looking to get off the beaten path in Europe. It’s safe, the people are nice, and the countryside is beautiful. Espressos and wine are fun, but there’s a whole other side to the continent most Americans never take the time to get to know. Kosovo is incredibly unique, you won’t find anywhere quite like it. After having lived there for 9 months, it sorta grew on me in a weird way. If you’re looking to break out of the old Paris-Berlin-Budapest route, hop on over to Pristina for a few days.

Many thanks to David Anthony for creating this guide to Pristina, Kosovo.

Did you like this article? Have you visited Kosovo? Tell us about it in the comments! Share via Facebook or Twitter, and as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Links:

Bill Clinton Boulevard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Clinton_Boulevard#/media/File:Bill_Clinton_statue.jpg

Newborn: http://pages.kiva.org/node/10892

Skanderbeg Square: https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g295385-d2476250-i131836377-Swiss_Diamond_Hotel_Prishtina-Pristina.html

Kosovo Museum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosovo_Museum#/media/File:Muzeu_i_Kosov%C3%ABs.JPG

Mirusha Park: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirusha_Park#/media/File:Unseen_Mirusha.jpg

NYT Article about Brezovica: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/travel/kosovo-ski-holidays.html?mcubz=3

Pristina photo: https://sk.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pri%C5%A1tina

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Destination: Montréal, QB, Canada

Montréal: A quick look

Language: French, but English is widely spoken
Currency: Canadian Dollar (Exchange rate is close to 1:1 with the US dollar)
Drinking Age: 18*
Public Transportation: Metro and bus
Passport: Yes!
Vaccines: Routine

*In Canada, the drinking age is set by the province. If you’re traveling to Montréal, but visit another province on your trip, please note that the drinking age may be higher.

Before you leave:

  1. Use Airbnb! I am in no way associated with Airbnb, but am simply a very satisfied customer. It’s a great way to stay in the city without paying sky-high hotel prices.
  2. If you’re driving, make sure you arrange to have a parking space. Parking is limited, and not guaranteed.
  3. Learn a few words/phrases of French. Yes, they speak English. Yes, they are nice about speaking English. However, the official language of Quebec is French. A little effort will go a long way; remember, you’re visiting someone else’s home town. If you learn to properly pronounce just a few simple things, the locals will be impressed. My suggestions are “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” “goodbye,” and “excuse me.” If you want to go a little farther, learn simple phrases as well. Duolingo is a good source for learning a language.

Once you get there:

There are many cool places to visit in Montréal!

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The best way to get around is public transportation. Montréal has a well-established metro and bus system and I highly recommend it. Parking in the city will be extremely difficult, and you’ll probably end up paying more and walking more to drive than you would to take the train or bus.

I have not visited everything I’d like to see there, but here are my recommendations…

  1. The Montréal Biosphere.

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    The Biosphere is a huge sphere with an environmental science museum inside. Great for kids, but fun for adults too; my husband and I had a blast and we’re in our 20s.

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    The biosphere was originally part of the 1967 World’s Fair, Expo 67. It is located on Saint Helen’s Island in the Saint Lawrence River. After being closed for 14 years (from 1976-1990) due to a structural fire, the Biosphere was purchased by Environment Canada, who turned it into the environmental science museum it is today.

  2. Mount Royal

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    Montréal is named for Mount Royal (French, mont Royal), which is basically a big hill. It’s a park now, with amazing views of the city! The public bus system takes you most of the way up the hill (mountain?) and into the park. When I visited, we took a picnic lunch, which we ate on a park bench, surrounded by tourists taking photos of squirrels. Then we trekked the rest of the way up the hill to the peak. You step out onto a huge marble stage with a guardrail and the best views of the Montréal skyline.

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    You can also visit several small museums dedicated to the history and environment of the hill (mountain?).

  3. The Olympic stadium

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    We didn’t actually go inside, but the metro stop next to the stadium has some memorabilia from the 1976 Olympics (we happened to be there for the 40th anniversary) and there’s a display outside the tower with facts about the Olympics.

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    The tower is very impressive (it’s the tallest leaning tower in the world) and just seeing it from the outside was good enough for us.

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  4. Old Port/Old Montréal

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    Old Port (Vieux-Port in French) is a neat area to walk around. I’m partial to old towns, and Old Port doesn’t disappoint; it has the old buildings, the cobblestone streets, and the historical sites (like the Notre Dame Basilica). Walking and cycling along the river is a popular activity, especially when the weather’s nice.

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    There’s also a stretch of your typical touristy shops and restaurants in the area, so it’s a good place to pick up some Canadian themed souvenirs. (If you’d like to get Canadian maple syrup though, I would recommend just stopping by the grocery store; it’s significantly cheaper, and they still have the cute little maple-leaf-shaped bottles.)

  5. Notre Dame Basilica

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    Well, it’s a beautiful catholic church. While it is impressive, it is very much like other Catholic churches of that time period (1820’s).

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    I don’t regret going, it wasn’t expensive, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. There’s also guided tours if that’s you’re thing. It’s a quick attraction that’s worth checking off the list if you have time, as it’s right in old town. While you do not have to dress up, I would recommend against wearing sleeveless tops, short shorts, or short skirts.

  6. Jardins Gamelin

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    This is a very cool outdoor bar space. We saw all sorts of folks, young and old, enjoying being outdoors, listening to great music, dancing, and having a good time. Families, 20-somethings, and older generations came together to enjoy Saturday night. It’s also near a string of other bars, which were generally populated by the college crowd.

  7. Quartierdes speciales

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    Quartierdes speciales is a hip downtown area that’s popular with the college crowd. There’s an active nightlife, with pretty much any kind of bar you can imagine. You can find everything from a traditional Irish pub to a vegan organic bar.

  8. Get maple syrup ice cream.

    It’s delicious. It’s Canadian. You’re a tourist. Best place to go is Le Glacier Bilboquet.

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    There are several locations around the city, and the one we went to was a fun little shop near the Farmers Market. They also have plenty of other flavors if you’re not into maple syrup.

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  9. Les Délices de l’Érable is a maple themed shop that has a ton of different maple syrup flavored/scented items, but their biggest seller is maple syrup flavored gelato! It’s located near Old Port, so it’s an easy break from walking around all day. It can be a bit expensive, but it’s definitely worth a look!

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  10. The science museum

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    The museum was closed when I was there due to a worker’s strike, but it looks legit. It’s also located in Old Port, so it can be a break from the weather when you’re walking around.

Montréal is a cool city, and I would highly recommend it.

What city would you like to see a travel guide for next? Let me know in the comments below. Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter and follow me for more great content like this!

Sources:

Image, Mount Royal https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Royal

Image, Biosphere https://www.mtlblog.com/lifestyle/everything-you-never-knew-about-montreals-biosphere

All other images are my own.

6 Tips for Packing Light

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled with my 15-year-old cousin (who lives near me) to New England for a week to see her aunt, my cousin. I’ve traveled a lot, and lately I’ve been getting into backpacker style traveling. On my last trip to Europe I stayed in hostels and didn’t check any luggage. It mostly started because I’m cheap, but it’s become more of a hobby now (and I’m still cheap). I’ll share some tips for packing light so that you can also stop paying to check a bag!

“You don’t have a suitcase?” My younger cousin’s mom asked me when we met in the airport parking garage a couple of hours before our flight.

“Nope” I replied, and gestured towards my backpack. We trekked into the airport, my cousin, her mom, my husband, and I, chatting about school and work and traveling.

Later, inside the airport, when she was paying $25 extra for my cousin’s checked bag her mom turned to me and asked again “You aren’t checking anything?”

I shook my head and my husband chimed in “Once you’ve lost a bag, you’ll never go back” I’ve actually never had an airline lose my luggage, but I’m super cheap. Paying $25 on top of my $300 ticket AND risk them losing my belongings? No thanks.

We arrived in NY and when my older cousin came to pick us up, the first thing she said to me was “that’s it?” upon seeing my backpack. “I’ll tell you how, just keep an eye on my blog” I joked.

Tip #1: Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Despite impressing my cousins, my husband still accused me of taking too many toiletries. “Do you need all of this?” He asked as he watched me pack. It’s a good question to ask yourself. If you don’t normally need something, it’s probably best to leave it at home unless you know for a fact you will need it on your trip. I’ll admit, in a normal week I don’t need workout clothes (oops) but my cousin is pretty active, so I knew visiting her meant we’d hit the gym at least once. Just be adaptable and pack for your trip and yourself.

Tip #2: Wear your bulkiest clothes to the airport so you don’t have to pack them. Even if it’s going to be warmer and you end up carrying your coat/jacket, it’s a great way to save space in your luggage. Carrying a coat or jacket doesn’t count as a carry-on or personal item. You can also put stuff in the pockets if you’re really desperate, but I would recommend saving this for the return trip, since you’ll likely have souvenirs of some kind. Just be careful not to put anything “suspicious” looking in your pockets.

To the airport I wore:

A short sleeved top
A pair of leggings
A pair of boots
A warm jacket

Tip #3: Plan to wash and/or re-wear your clothes. I haven’t checked luggage in 3 years. You can pack everything you need in carry-on size luggage no matter how long your trip is. I’ve found that I need a certain amount of stuff, no matter how long I’m going away. You always need pants, shirts, etc, but the trick is to re-wear and/or wash your clothes. If you’ll be away for more than a week you’ll probably need to wash clothes, but if you were at home, wouldn’t you be doing laundry anyway?

Tip #4: Save and use small containers for traveling with small items. I’ve saved mint tins and plastic razor boxes for a while and they’re awesome for organizing bobby pins, jewelry, cotton swabs, and other small accessories.

Tip #5: Utilize packing cubes. Organizing your belongings into packing cubes is a great way to save space. It seems counterintuitive to add items to save space, but cubes (or honestly, any small zip-up cloth bags you have) help you to smoosh items down. Bonus: they also help you to organize into outfits or type of clothing.

Tip #6: What you should pack.

What I packed in a backpack for a one week trip:

2 dresses
2 pairs of jeans
1 pair of leggings
2 cardigan sweaters
2 pairs of PJ pants
2 comfy T’s for sleeping
2 tank tops
3 short sleeve shirts
1 long sleeve shirt
1 pair of tennis shoes
1 set of workout clothes (shirt, shorts, sports bra)
Socks and underwear for a week
A laptop
A magazine
An (empty) water bottle
I also packed travel sized toiletries. You’d be surprised what you can find in under 3 oz bottles. I have everything from deodorant to hairspray to baby powder to body spray.

Places to find small bottles of liquids:

Target/Walmart
5 Below
Bath and Body Works
Big Lots

If you can’t find your favorite shampoo or lotion in small bottles, you can purchase empty airplane sized bottles pretty much anywhere (Target, Walmart, Big Lots, REI, Dick’s, etc.) just check the travel section. You can then fill them at home with your favorite product. But lemme warn you, it’s messy and not the easiest task to accomplish. I would recommend just purchasing products that are already in travel sized bottles, but I’m not your dad.

If you follow this guide, you too can stop paying to check a bag when you travel!

Did you like this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to my blog and keep an eye out for more packing tips. Do you have any packing tips? Share them in the comments below!

Travel Mistakes I Made (So You Don’t Have to)

So you just booked your first International flight and you’re thinking “what now?” Or maybe you’re a veteran traveler who is looking to save some money and travel backpacker style. Below are 5 mistakes I’ve made, and tips for traveling on a budget.

  1. Paying for a hotel
    • Hostels are not scary. If you’ve lived in a dorm, you can handle a hostel. The  biggest downside is sharing your space. The biggest upside is sharing your space! You’ll meet other travelers who are potential new friends.
    • Airbnb is your friend. You can rent anything from a whole apartment to a couch. You’ll have an opportunity to stay in areas you probably couldn’t afford a hotel in, and chances are it’s nicer. The hosts usually put more effort into making you feel at home than a hotel would. I’ve stayed in whole apartments and private rooms in someone else’s home. I’ll admit, staying with a stranger sounds pretty sketchy, but it’s not as weird as it sounds.
    • Couchsurfing. It’s not a service I’ve tried yet, but I know other people have and have had success with it. If you’re nervous about staying with strangers, you aren’t alone but the site verifies both surfers and those sharing their couch. The best part? It’s FREE. You aren’t allowed to offer or accept payment.
  2. Paying $1000s for a flight to Europe
    • I flew to Poland in 2014 and I booked a flight through regular* means. It cost me $1200 round trip and included a 12 hour overnight layover. In October of 2015 I flew to Denmark. I booked through Wow air and paid about $600 round trip (yeah, that’s HALF price). I booked both flights about the same distance out (6-8 weeks). One downside to Wow is that they aren’t in many airports in the US yet (I flew out of DC), but they’re all over Europe. Also, flights within Europe are super cheap ($99-200) so getting across the ocean is the most expensive part.
    • Another airline offering cheap transatlantic flights is Norwegian Airlines.  With Norwegian** you can fly from JFK to Oslo for about $400 (booking 5 weeks out). (Look for future posts specifically about flights!)
  3. Checking a bag
    • Checking a bag usually costs extra. You do not need that much stuff. I traveled with someone on study abroad who brought framed photographs for a 4 week trip. Don’t take stuff you don’t need. I haven’t checked a bag in years and I don’t miss it. (Keep an eye on my blog for a full post with packing hacks!)
  4. Not having appropriate converters/surge protectors
    • When I went to the UK in 2006 (pre-smart phones) I didn’t have appropriate converter/surge protectors. This meant my hair dryer just didn’t work! Make sure you look into everything you’ll need for your specific destination.
  5. Buying an international phone plan
    • Find free WiFi and use Skype, WhatsApp, or Facebook messenger. You aren’t traveling abroad to spend all your time talking to folks back home.
    • If you really NEED a phone for some reason, buy a cheap burner phone when you arrive.

There are so many things you can do to make your travel experiences cheaper and more efficient.  If you liked these tips, keep an eye on my blog for more in-depth posts regarding flights, packing, and more.

Have any good travel hacks of your own?  Share them in the comments below.  If you liked this post, share it on Facebook and follow my blog for more content like this.

*I flew JetBlue, then Lot airlines on my trip to Poland.  I had good experiences with both airlines, however, there are cheaper flights out there!

**I have flown Norwegian within Europe, but have not traveled from the US to Europe on a Norwegian flight.