Two Days in Gothenburg, Sweden: Day One

Things I did in Gothenburg, Sweden, day one:

  • Took the bus from the airport to my hotel.
  • Ate Swedish meatballs!
  • Took pictures at a cemetery.
  • Visited Liseberg amusement park.
  • Walked through a park.
  • Went to Myrorna thrift store.
  • Went on a long walk through the city.
  • Stopped at a cafe.
  • Stopped at Flying Tiger Copenhagen store.
  • Ate elk for dinner at Smaka.

(Keep reading for tips and observations about my first day in Gothenburg, Sweden.)

gothenburg sweden from plane
View from the plane
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Near my hotel … on the hunt for Swedish meatballs!
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Another view …
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Cute sidewalk display
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Svenska Kyrkan
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View of Liseberg amusement park from Svenska Kyrkan
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Halloween display at Liseberg amusement park
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Toblerone Roulet game
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Liseberg amusement park
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View of Gothia Towers
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More Halloween decorations at Liseberg Amusement Park
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Enjoying the last bits of fall color
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Walking through a park in Gothenburg, Sweden
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View of Feskekorka “fish church” (I ate here the next day)
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Cool building, Gothenburg, Sweden
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An actual violin maker … WHAT?!?
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Flying Tiger Copenhagen (similar to Five Below)

Some tips and observations about Gothenburg, Sweden:

  • For my trip, I created a custom Google map following this tutorial. It really helped me visually lay out the city and plan what I wanted to do based on proximity. This is probably the only time I’ve been on vacation where I didn’t get lost once.
  • Getting into Gothenburg from Landvetter airport was super easy. I bought a round-trip ticket at a kiosk at the airport ($23 USD), walked outside, got on the bus, and it took off. The bus driver was the nicest bus driver I’ve ever met. (I’m used to Chicago bus drivers, who are a bit … salty.) My hotel, which was centrally located, was near the third stop (Kungsportsplaten).
  • Since I was only spending two nights in Gothenburg, I splurged on a nice hotel, Hotel Royal (which I highly recommend).
  • Other than gettting to/from the airport, I did not use public transportation. I traveled everywhere on foot.
  • I had read about a food truck that served Swedish meatballs near my hotel. I went to one that didn’t have meatballs, and was kindly directed to another one nearby.
  • During the bus ride from the airport, I saw a beautiful old church and cemetery, so I walked back to take pictures. (I realize I post a lot of church and cemetery pictures to this blog … I don’t consider myself particularly interested in either, but maybe I am? They’re easy to take good photos of, I guess.)
  • Liseberg amusement park is a main attraction in Gothenburg. It is only open during the summer, Halloween, and Christmas. So, I got lucky and was able to visit. I was hoping to see kids in costume (struck out … no one was dressed up). I wanted to visit the haunted house but I was too wimpy to go alone. 😦 Instead, I rode the ferris wheel. 🙂
  • I try to avoid making sweeping generalizations about groups of people. But, MY GOD, Swedish people are beautiful! (Imagine being surrounded by friendly super models, and you’ll know what my life was like for two days.) The man who waited on me at amusement park ticket office was the most beautiful man I have ever seen. I wanted to be like, “Sir, why do you work here? You are better looking than any movie star I can think of.”
  • I visited Myrorna, a thrift shop I had read about in an online travel guide. I had visions of finding beautiful Scandinavian items at a fraction of the cost, but Myrorna was like the Salvation Army back at home. I guess no matter where you are in the world, other people’s junk is just … other people’s junk. A woman made a comment to me in Swedish about the merchandise. I pretended I understood her and laughed along with her. 🙂
  • I later walked by a store called Flying Tiger Copenhagen and ended up buying an impromptu gift for someone. If I were to compare the store to one in the U.S., I’d say it was similar to Five Below.
  • I was feeling extremely full after my lunch of Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and ligonberries. I’d made a reservation at a nice restaurant called Smaka in the hope of getting to eat reindeer (I had elk instead). I wasn’t feeling up to another heavy meal of meat and potatoes, but I am glad I made myself go. I had a really nice time. I re-read parts of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Myrorna was mentioned! Haha!) and enjoyed a nice meal alone. Elk is very mild. It almost has no flavor. My favorite part of the meal was the whipped butter with caviar that was brought out with my bread basket. Holy cow … I ate all of it (the butter, not the bread basket). I had heard that dining out in Sweden is super expensive, but the total cost for my meal (elk entree + a glass of wine + a tip) was about 320 Kronor (32 Euro), which I thought was reasonable. It was the fanciest meal I had during my trip.

Stay tuned for more about my trip!

My Favorite Photos from the Second Quarter

Without further adieu, here are my favorite photos from December 2017 until now. By my own method of counting, I have completed my second quarter of Peace Corps service.

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Peace Corps conference in December
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At the Po-E-Ze Competition

https://www.instagram.com/p/BOXEitZgMVc/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo

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Eiffel Tower

https://www.instagram.com/p/BOm8mCHgUDz/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo

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Chelsea and April, at a London Pub
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With Charlie, Chelsea, and Sierra, in Prizren, Kosovo

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPihRQdArE_/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPxznQpATnz/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo

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A walk in Pristina in February
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Happy kitty!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BRdWb64hqVW/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo

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Fortress/castle from the Ottoman Empire, Skopje, Macedonia
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Traditional Kosovar clothing
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Visiting the Ecological Museum

April in Rome Favorite

April in Rome Umbrella Pines
Umbrella Pines
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Inside the Roman Forum
April Nicole
April and Nicole at Costanza Restaurant, Rome
Brandenburg gate 3
Tim, Rachel, and April, in Berlin
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Easter Eggs
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Budapest

https://www.instagram.com/p/BTd5-grB_ja/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo

Kosovo village Catholic church
My village in Kosovo

https://www.instagram.com/p/BUCnrHWBIKv/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo

April Mirusha Waterfall
April at Mirusha Wateralls
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April, under a waterfall
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Anniversary dinner! Shay, April, Christian, Val, and Charlie

As always, thanks for reading! You can see my favorite photos from the first quarter here.

An Unexpected Trip to Hungary

I visited Hungary for the first time over this past weekend. I certainly wasn’t expecting to go on vacation so soon after going on vacation, but the opportunity arose and I took it. A friend asked if I wanted to meet there, and I said, “Yes,” and then, “Let me talk to Peace Corps.” One vacation request and 84 Euro later, and I was on a plane headed for Budapest.

I’m very close to my grandfather, and his mother was from Hungary. Visiting my great-grandmother’s home country was high on my to-do list while in Europe. I am so glad I got the chance to go!

Budapest (pronounced “Buda-pesht,” I learned), is a much bigger city than I expected. It is everything I thought Berlin would be (but wasn’t) — vibrant and artsy, with an edge to it.

My friend and I spent much of our time walking around the city. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you my favorite things about Budapest.

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Intermission during a dance performance of Dracula
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Palace of the Arts, lit up at night
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Morning walk along the Danube
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Food truck court
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I liked this deer.
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A 4-Euro lunch, and it was good! Yes, please.
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Cuteness abounds at the food truck court
Danube at night
The Danube in the evening
Szimpla Kert
A bad photo of Szimpla Kert … I encourage you to search for better ones on the Internet. Loved this space!
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Art Deco church on the “Buda” half of the city
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Museum of Applied Arts — so sad I wasn’t able to visit on this trip. Next time!

Tips and Observations About Budapest:

  • I wasn’t sure what to do my first night in the city, since I arrived before my friend did. After poking around on Google Maps, I discovered the Palace of the Arts was close to where I was staying. I went to a dance performance of Dracula, and really had a great time! Because it was a dance performance, I was able to (loosely) follow the plot, even though the speaking parts were obviously in Hungarian. And the dancers were wearing what I assume were traditional Hungarian costumes, which I got a kick out of seeing. Also, the price was right (only 11 Euro).
  • There is a little alley tucked into the city that leads to a court with food trucks. I got handmade gnocchi for lunch. 🙂 The food was good, cost about 4 Euro, and the atmosphere was really cute.
  • I had never heard of a “ruin pub” before my trip. I discovered that a ruin pub is a bar inside an old, rundown building, and that they are very popular in Budapest. My friend and I visited the largest, oldest, and most famous ruin pub — Szimpla Kert. My pictures of it stink because it was so dark inside (check out their website if you want to see more). It was HUGE and PACKED! There were so many rooms, with so many different options … a wine bar, a food bar, different lounges, and an outdoor space. The building was rough and decaying, filled with oddball trinkets and eclectic decor. While loud, busy bars are not my scene, I loved the space.
  • My friend and I tried to go to Szechenyi thermal bath (another thing for which I didn’t know Budapest is famous). We got there at about 3 in the afternoon. The place was packed. We would’ve had to wait for an hour or more to get in. Instead, we decided to buy a day pass at a local hotel, and use their thermal pool. It wasn’t much of a cultural experience, but we were determined to do something relaxing, and the hotel’s thermal pool was much less crowded.
  • We decided to have a traditional Hungarian meal on my last night in the city. Based on a local’s recommendation, we ended up at Mester. The food was excellent, and it reminded me of some of the meals my family makes. 🙂 (Nothing beats a hearty beef-and-noodle soup!)
  • Compared to other place I’ve visited in Europe (which, for the record, are Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Spain, France, England, Italy, and Germany), Hungary had the best crafts and homemade goods made by local artisans. We visited a little craft market, and I could’ve gone nuts buying things (I didn’t). I managed to rein myself in and only buy a few souvenirs for my family.

I loved Budapest, and feel like I could return and have new things to explore the next time around.

Spring Break: There was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany …

After planning to spend the first half of spring break in Rome, I debated what to do for the second half of the week. Before joining the Peace Corps, I hadn’t traveled around Europe much. Looking at the prices of flights from Rome left me feeling dizzy and giddy. I could go anywhere, for less than 100 Euro!

I thought about doing some city-hopping, but that just seemed overwhelming, given the little time I had. I finally settled on Berlin, because:

  • I had always wanted to go there.
  • I knew some other volunteer friends would be there, so I wouldn’t be totally alone.
  • There was a cheap flight directly back to Pristina (rather than having to fly to Skopje or Tirana).

Again, I like to travel with only a loose itinerary. Here’s what I ended up doing in Berlin:

  • Wednesday: Arrive in Berlin at night
  • Thursday: Free walking tour through SANDEMAN’S. Best thing I did in Berlin! We hit some big tourist spots: Brandenburg Gate, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Checkpoint Charlie. Dinner with friends at a German restaurant (cannot recall name)
  • Friday: (only day with okay weather) Walk through Tiergarten Park (behind the Brandenburg Gate), and visit the Berlin Wall. Dinner with friends at an Indian restaurant.
  • Saturday: Visit Deutsches Historisches Museum. Dinner with friends at Leander.
  • Sunday: 6 a.m. flight back to Pristina!
Memorial to Murdered Jews
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
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April and Rachel: At the end of our walking tour!
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Rachel, Tim, and April: Smiling despite the cold!

Trying beer in Germany, just to say I did it:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BS1YryqBqA8/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo

Brandenburg Gate at night
Brandenburg Gate at night
Brandenburg gate 3
Tim, Rachel, and April
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Visiting Tiergarten Park
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Rachel, April, and Tim, at Tiergarten Park

At the Berlin Wall:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BS649nzhYcX/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo

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Entrance to the Deutsches Historisches Museum
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Inside the Deutsches Historisches Museum
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Learning about the American influence on German culture

One interesting new thing I learned:

Hilter medals for women
Hitler’s medals for women
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Hitler’s medals for women

Sierra and Chelsea arrived on Saturday. It was nice to catch up with them and hear about their travel adventures.

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Last night in Germany! April, Sierra, and Chelsea

Tips and Observations about Berlin:

  • I’m going to be honest — Berlin is one of my least favorite places I have visited. To be fair, I had just come from a beautiful, Roman spring to cold, rainy Germany. Every day, I would put on as many layers as possible and go out into the wind. I tried to like the city, but I just couldn’t. I had pictured Berlin as this young, hip, vibrant, grungy city. But it is quiet and empty. I learned from our tour guide that Berlin is the only city in Western Europe that has declined in population, from 4 million residents to 3.5 million. Walking its wide streets and long blocks, I got an eerie feeling. Where were all the people?
  • I know Berlin has a reputation as a big party city. It’s the city of Cabaret! It’s the city of Hedwig and the Angry Inch! I cannot remember the last time I went to a club, so maybe if I had participated in the nightlife scene, I’d have a different opinion of Berlin.
  • Berlin is a very clean city. (As a friend pointed out, there are no people to mess it up.)
  • The subway system was extremely easy to navigate. I was able to get around with no problems.
  • My favorite part of my trip was the free walking tour. I’d definitely recommend it if you plan to visit.

Oh, well. I’m glad I was able to see Berlin, and check it off my list. I am also glad I visited while I am living in Europe. Had I paid a lot of money to fly over from the U.S., I probably would have been more disappointed.

(Thanks to Rachel for allowing me to post some of her photos here.)

The Food in Rome

I am usually against taking pictures of food. But, my friend Nicole and I had some truly awesome meals while we were in Rome. I wanted to share a few of our best experiences.

1. One night, Nicole wanted to check out Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. I did a Google search for the best restaurants in Trastevere, and came across La Prosciutteria. I was all, “Look at the pictuuuuures! Please can we go thereeeeee?” And Nicole said yes. 🙂 So, we went.

food in rome
La Prosciutteria

It was a fun experience. The restaurant is small and busy. We managed to find a table in the basement. The food came quickly, because there isn’t anything to cook. Also, it was a reasonably priced meal. We each had a glass of wine, and we still paid less than 20 Euro per person.

2. Nicole and I got a million suggestions on places to eat/things to do in Rome. A friend of mine had suggested visiting Costanza, which is a restaurant in an old cave where the gladiators used to practice. We went for lunch, and I am so glad we did. The food was outstanding. And the ambiance was great — a quiet place, prompt and friendly service, and did I mention its a cave?

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Costanza Restaurant
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Costanza Restaurant
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Costanza Restaurant
April Nicole
April and Nicole at Costanza Restaurant, Rome
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Gnocchi

3. On our last night in Rome, we were tired from so much walking. We decided to check out a restaurant in the neighborhood (Pigneto) where we were staying. Nicole found Qui Se Magna.

My family will tell you I am capable of eating my own weight in spaghetti. While Qui Se Magna was a small, neighborhood restaurant, the food was outstanding. I loved my spaghetti!

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Spaghetti dish at Qui Se Magna, Rome

If you are planning a trip to Rome, I would highly recommend these three restaurants.

Spring Break: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

April in Rome Favorite
My favorite photo from the whole trip!

Hi, Everyone! I am back in Kosovo and so happy to be blogging again! I missed writing while I was away. This week, I’m going to be sharing photos and experiences from my recent trip to Rome and Berlin.

I spent the first half of the week exploring Rome with Nicole, my friend from Boston. We had a loose idea of what we wanted to do while we were in Rome, but mostly, we played things by ear. Below is what we ended up doing.

Rome Itinerary

Saturday: Arrive, have appetizers at Necci, meet our airbnb host, and settle in. Eat dinner in our neighborhood.
Sunday: A walk around Rome, including all the major tourist spots — the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, and the Roman Forum. Eat dinner on our patio.
Monday: the Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica. Eat dinner in the Trastevere neighborhood.
Tuesday: reading/snack at Piazza Navona, lunch at Costanza, a long walk through the Villa Borghese. Eat dinner in our neighborhood.
Wednesday: Quick brunch in our neighborhood and then, goodbye, Rome! 😦

Triumphal Arch
Triumphal Arch
Colosseum
Colosseum
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Because you can never have too many photos of yourself at the Colosseum …
Nicole and April
Nicole and April at the Colosseum
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
April at Trevi Fountain
Spanish Steps 2
Spanish Steps
Looking down Spanish Steps Rome
Looking down from the Spanish Steps
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Pantheon
inside pantheon
Inside the Pantheon
inside roman forum
Inside the Roman Forum
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Inside the Roman Forum
Orange House Rome
Orange Glow
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Vatican City
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Vatican Ceiling
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St. Peter’s Basilica
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Piazza Navona

Tips and Observations about Rome

  • We downloaded the Rick Steves’ free walking tour app for the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. It provided a context for what we were seeing, and despite the cheese factor, both tours were informative.
  • We went to the Colosseum first thing in the morning, and planned to visit the Roman Forum right after that. But, the line was very long and didn’t appear to be moving. I suggested we hit all the other major tourist spots and return to the Forum in the evening. When we came back, there was no line at all, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
  • I learned taking photos of the Sistine Chapel is not allowed. 😦 But, I saw it! 🙂
  • Rome is dirty, compared to other major cities I have visited.
  • I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that all of this was real, and not some American, Chuck-E-Cheese approximation of history. As Rick Steves pointed out in his tour of the Roman Forum, “You are walking on stones Julius Caesar walked on.” WOW.
  • I loved the trees in Rome as much as anything else, and learned (from Rick Steves) that they are called “umbrella pines.” They remind me of a child’s rendering of a tree — long, bare trunks with a mass of squiggles at the top.
April in Rome Umbrella Pines
Umbrella Pines

Stay tuned! I’ll be posting about food in Rome, Berlin, and thoughts/tips on travel this week!

Guest Blogger: Andrew Bivins (Outdoor Sports and Ecotourism in Kosovo)

A while back, I asked my friends and family members to send me questions to answer on the blog. My Dad asked about sports and the outdoors in Kosovo. Since I’m not exactly Sporty Spice, I decided to outsource his questions to someone more knowledgeable than I. My friend Andrew has participated in a lot of outdoor fun since he moved to Kosovo. Without further adieu … –April

skiing kosovo
Andrew Bivins

Përshëndetje! I am excited and honored to be taking over April’s blog this week. Apparently I have gained a bit of a reputation for loving the outdoors, especially in Kosovo. In fact, the nature here is so beautiful that I started documenting it, which led me to discover another passion of mine, photography.

waterfall Kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

Back in the U.S., I was just getting into hiking and kayaking before I moved to Kosovo for my service. I am from Atlanta, so it was quite common for my friends and I to flee the city for the weekend for some fresh air on the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. I wasn’t sure what to expect once I found out I was moving to Kosovo. I had read that Kosovo was mountainous and forested, so I knew there was potential, but I wasn’t sure how accessible outdoor activities would be.

rock climbing kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

During my first year, I went on a lot of hikes with other volunteers and we usually found some great trails on our own through trial and error. The town I live in is pretty flat, so I usually relied on my friends who live in the more rugged areas to ask around and get an idea of where we should go. Unfortunately, unexploded landmines from the war are still a concern, especially in the mountainous border regions. It’s best not to get too adventurous, unless you really know where you are going and that the area has been confirmed to be free of mines. Luckily, there are many public and private organizations in Kosovo that are actively working to rid Kosovo of mines and other unexploded ordnance. There are also a lot of resources available, such as maps and local tour guides, that will allow you to safely enjoy the nature here.

mountain skiing Kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

I was talking with a local friend the other day and we were discussing how we have both noticed the recent increase in opportunities to take part in organized outdoor events. It has been amazing to watch Kosovo develop in this way during my nearly two years of living here because I truly believe that Kosovo has an incredible potential for ecotourism. Seeing that potential slowly turn into reality is pretty cool. Every week you can see new tour companies popping up on your newsfeed, advertising organized group hikes, bike rides, rock climbing, cultural tours, etc. These offers are usually at a pretty low price and they include transportation, food, and an expert guide. I recently took advantage of one of these opportunities and I went snowshoeing for the first time. We started in a village called Restelica and walked 10+ km over a mountain to the village of Brod. This was in one of the most remote regions of Kosovo and I never would have felt comfortable to do this without a guide, especially in the snow when visibility is so low and avalanches are such a risk. It was certainly a challenge, my legs are still burning three days after the fact, but it was an amazing experience. The guides were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful and I was able to learn the basics. My only disappointment is that it is the end of winter and I only just now discovered that I love snowshoeing. Next winter I plan to snowshoe as often as possible. I am also hoping to pick up skiing. I went once when I was in high school, but I would hardly call myself an expert. Kosovo is definitely a great place to learn! Depending on where you are, you can find slopes for beginners, or more challenging ones if you already know what you’re doing. I’ve also seen a lot of snowmobiles during my visits to Brezovica (the main ski resort in Kosovo) and I think it would be awesome to learn how to do that as well. With that said, PCVs aren’t allowed to drive cars or motorcycles, so I assume there is some sort of rule about snowmobiles. If you are currently serving, it’s probably just best to wait until you close your service before you give that a shot.

snowy mountain kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

I think a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers in Kosovo will tell you that winter is tough. My first winter was the most difficult part of my service. I didn’t know how to deal with it and I spent far too much time sitting inside and feeling sorry for myself. My second winter has been the exact opposite. Yes, it was still cold, but I got out as often as possible, enjoyed myself, and stayed busy. Winter was still there, it didn’t change, actually it was colder this winter, but my perspective changed and it made all the difference in the world. My family and friends back home have been shocked to see me enjoying the snow so much. I was never really a winter-type of guy, but I suppose you can count it among the MANY things I have learned to love during my almost two years in Kosovo.

April’s Note: If you enjoyed Andrew’s beautiful pictures, please follow him on Instagram: instagram.com/seekosovo

Read posts by other guest bloggers:

 

A Walk Around Pristina, Kosovo

I’ve visited Pristina, Kosovo’s capital city, probably dozens of times now. But I tend to follow the same path through the city, sticking to streets and places I know.

I mentioned to a friend who lives in Pristina that I wanted to explore the city a bit more. She offered to take me on walk up through a part of the city I’d never seen.

We climbed a steep hill and reached a neighborhood filled with beautiful homes.

house

gate-pristina

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We ended up at a large cemetery.

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graveyard-entrance-pristina

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Many of the tombstones displayed pictures of the deceased.

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It is common for graves in Kosovo to have “cages” around them to keep stray dogs away.

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grave-kosovo
.

new-grave

We walked further.

xhamia

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Next, we came to a small park at the very top of the city.

park-pristina

When we came down from the hill, we visited the Newborn sign. Here’s what the new design looks like, in person.

newborn-new
New …
newborn-born
born

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQoBf4wlZ8B/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo