Dear fellow travellers
In the flatlands of the Kosovo Plain, temperatures plummeted this month to below minus 20 degrees. There was talk that in the mountains it was even colder. For ten full days in Ferizaj, the temperature never once went above freezing. But young people wearing too few clothes still lined up patiently waiting to be admitted to the Coco Club or to Diamonds - two staples on the local club scene, all glitz and flashing lights. Neither club would look out of place in Las Vegas.
On the main road out of town towards Liberty Park (yes, it's really called that!), a group of men found respite from the cold by huddling around an open fire outside the Bill Clinton Sports Arena. Clinton is big in Kosovo. In the fledgling state's capital city of Pristina, there is a huge statue of Bill looking rather jolly and improbably youthful. He holds a document which bears the date 24 March 1999. That was the day on which NATO planes started bombing Yugoslavia.
Pristina has roads named after Bill Clinton and George Bush. Ferizaj, being more provincial in character, doesn't aim quite so high. A minor thoroughfare in the town centre has been renamed in honour of Tony Blair.
There's a touch of the wild west about Ferizaj. It has a frontier feel. When the English traveller Edith Durham travelled through Kosovo in 1908, she stopped just briefly in Ferizaj, remarking that this was a community created by the railway. The line across the Kosovo Plain was constructed in 1873 and Ferizaj developed as a way station on the railway from Salonika to Mitrovica.
Edith Durham took the train from Mitrovica down to Ferizaj. Now that's a rail journey you couldn't do nowadays. Trains in Kosovo have been victims of the country's political divisions, so no longer are there any services from the predominantly Serb areas of the north (like Mitrovica) to the Albanian-dominated towns on the Kosovo Plain.
But the train from Pristina to the Macedonian border still runs, and it stops at Ferizaj as it trundles south across the Kosovo Plain. Just before that train reaches the station at Ferizaj, there is a remarkable sight just to the right of the railway. An Orthodox church stands in a compound right beside a large mosque. The twin minarets of the mosque dwarf the domes of the church. It is remarkable that, through all the dark days of the Kosovo War and the subsequent years of inter-communal strife, these two places of worship have managed to co-exist. During these cold winter days on the Kosovo Plain, the sight of that church and mosque is one to warm the heart.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)
In Issue 48 of hidden europe magazine, which is published on 15 March, we have a feature retracing part of Edith Durham's 1908 journey through Kosovo.
Did you know that we contribute a Route of the Month to every single issue of the European Rail Timetable? The route featured in the February 2016 issue of the timetable is the journey from Skopje in Macedonia to Pristina in Kosovo.