Lesson from Kosovo

March 27 2011

A wrap up to my posts about last weekend's drive through the Balkans.

Since our primary motivation in driving around the Balkans was "stamp collecting", simply visiting countries to say we'd been there, Lewis and I had relatively few interactions with other humans. Almost all of the people we encountered, though, were really friendly and helpful.

The Balkan hospitality started right away at Pristina airport. The clerk from the rental car company walked us out to our car, talked with us to validate our plans, and even took our luggage cart back to the terminal. Actually, things started even before that -- a day earlier, the manager from the Wind Rose Resort had called to ascertain our arrival time and ensure they would be ready for us.

The five restaurants we ate in over the course of the drive also were extremely welcoming. Even in the two places where nobody spoke English, we managed just fine. In the oddly-named Villa Amsterdam restaurant in Tiranë, the Italian food was excellent, and we stuffed ourselves silly for about 20 Euro. Our only complaint was the constant cigarette smoke.

On the flight from Pristina to Vienna last Monday, I sat next to a very nice Kosovan man. He had lived and worked abroad, and it seemed like his work was in the defense industry. He spoke five languages (Albanian, Serbian, Russian, German, and English) and clearly enjoyed his life. He was connecting in Vienna on his way to Dubai.

Our flight arrived early, and he sighed at the thought of nearly five hours to kill in the Vienna airport. It looked like a pretty day in Austria, so I made what I thought was the obvious suggestion -- why not take the city-air train into Wien and relax? He looked me straight in the eye and responded, "You Americans, you take things for granted!" I did not know what I had stepped in. Without anger, he explained that Kosovans require a visa to enter the European Union, and that he did not have one. He said he applied for one once to try to spend a weekend on vacation elsewhere in Europe, but after more than 30 minutes of questioning by embassy personnel, he left and said "never mind".

He's right, of course. I would never have thought that a Kosovan would need a visa to enter Europe. However, as I have come to learn, many countries don't even formally recognize Kosovo yet.

The world is a complicated place. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity now to have visited 59 countries or territories, but there is always more to see...experience...and learn from.

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