Prishtina, Kosovo (also Prishtinë and Priština) is not a city included on most travelers’ itineraries. It doesn’t rank as a top destination in Europe, Eastern Europe or even the Balkans, for that matter. It held the honor of being the ‘World’s Newest Capital City’ from 2008 to 2011, but even that title was scoffed at by the nations that don’t recognize Kosovo as a country. As Prishtina – population 205,000 – evolves into its new role, there are obvious growing pains. However, propelled by our fascination of former Yugoslavia, we were intent on visiting Prishtina, Kosovo to see the city for ourselves.
There’s just something about a capital city; a palpable energy. People dressed in business attire walk with purpose, there is constant movement of public transportation, and a sense of real life is happening all around us. And, so it is true with visiting Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.
One-sixth of Croatia’s population call Zagreb home. They work, eat and play in the area spread from the historic center to the far-reaching urban sprawl. Bustling cafes are around every corner and line every square. Bread shops and grocery stores occupy space on every block. On weekends, Zagreb’s parks are packed and so are the pews at church.
We bounced through Split on our 2011 Croatia vacation, using it as a springboard to get us to the island of Hvar. We stayed just long enough to get from the airport to the boat, briefly pausing at a café on the Riva for a beer and harbor view. I poked my head through one of the unofficial gates into Diocletian’s Palace, only taking in the square I had walked into and snapping a picture before it was time to board the ferry.
This time, our arrival to Split was via bus from Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina along the scenic route that followed the coastline. While the views were stunning, a rainy storm had blown through the area the day before, leaving more than a few strong gusts of wind for our driver to manage. (And, just like during our Adriatic Sea ferry crossing, I wished we were on a plane instead of on the ground.) When we rolled into the Split bus station, which is conveniently located next to the harbor at the edge of town (read: within walking distance), I was more than glad to have my own two feet on the pavement again.
Throughout our journey, there have been certain places that have captivated us – Mostar is one of them. In so many ways it resembles the other fairytale European cities we’ve visited, with the quaint historic center so appealing draped across the Old Bridge and down both sides of the Neretva River. But with the recent war and differing religions, it felt oddly foreign for Europe. As our mini-van bus rolled out toward Split, Croatia, we reflected on our week in Mostar and were glad we spent more than the average half day most tourists give the city.
There are three miles of protective walls that wrap around Kotor, Montenegro, completely fortifying the triangular, medieval town from the sea-facing entrance up into the hills above it. Building the ramparts took more than 1000 years and include lookout towers and a castle. Looking up from the harbor, we could see the outline of the walls, a series of paths, a church that clings to the side of the mountain and the expansive castle at the top.
We were anxious to hike up into the hills tracing the path that follows the walls, but with a forecast of grey skies, we were holding off in hopes of better weather. By the afternoon of our third day, however, our curiosity got the better of us. The stairs that lead to our apartment are part of the walls; short flights, like switchbacks, pass several homes before passing under a gate and connecting to the main walking path that leads all the way up to the fort.
Long ago, when we were deciding the route of our year-long journey around the world, we didn’t get specific about the end of the trip, we only determined the general destination of Europe. Even now we have only booked accommodation through the beginning of March and the remainder of the trip is open. The one thing we have to mind – and a small, but quite significant, detail we nearly missed – is our cumulative time in the Schengen Zone.
What is the Schengen Zone?
Many of the countries in Europe have banded together in alliance allowing the borders to be crossed without immigration checkpoints. Those aligned countries, growing in numbers each year, constitute the Schengen Zone and visitors can only stay within the zone for 90 days. We assumed this meant we could skip to Croatia or Turkey for a week or two and re-enter the Schengen Zone, starting our 90 day period again. Here is the detail we missed: Visitors can only stay in the zone for 90 days out of 180. We learned this after booking accommodations for 62 days in the zone. Thus, our research on non-zone countries commenced, as we intended our journey to last a few more months, at least.