Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fond Farewells

::Hannah (6/14)

It’s absolutely amazing how quickly these two weeks have gone by—it’s already our last day in  Kosovo! We started off by driving to the US Embassy to meet with some staff and talk about our thoughts on our trip and the program. After going two by two through security, we all donned our visitor badges and were led by escort through the Embassy. We passed through barred gateways and thick metal doors with heavy locks and went up a stairway and through an atrium before finally arriving at a large conference-style table. The meeting was brief—we recounted our favorite parts of the trip, learned about a variety of Embassy-sponsored programs, and even were informally quizzed on any knowledge of the Albanian language that we picked up while we were here. We were all excited to see the inside of a US Embassy and meet some of the employees there!

After the meeting, the afternoon was all ours. We had a lovely lunch at a cute café called Amelie,  then shopped, packed, and made patriotic cards for our Kosovar friends thanking them for their unmatched hospitality, kindness, and warmth. Finally we met up with all the Kosovar alumnae and people involved with the project at one of our favorite restaurants for one final dinner together. We had some high-ranking visitors take the time to attend, as well, including the head of the Olympic Committee and a top-ranking ministry official. In an act consistent with the incredible Kosovar generosity, each of us was presented with a full Kosovar national team uniform, among other wonderful gifts. Aside from exchanging gifts, we also shared feedback, laughs, and of course a bunch of pictures to post on Facebook!

Tonight we’re laying low, packing, and getting to bed early in preparation for our 4:00am wake up. Tomorrow we ship back out to the states!

Sightseeing in Prizren

::Tori (6/12)

By this morning, everyone is completely in tune with our regular schedule: get up, eat breakfast, and follow Visar to wherever he leads us. Today our destination was the lovely Prizren in southern Kosovo! The drive to this foreign place was absolutely majestic. The mountains were bright green, colossal, and bountiful. Emily even compared the scenery to that in "The Sound of Music," but bigger and more beautiful. The entire group spent the hour and a half long drive staring in awe of the magnificence.

When we arrived, we exited our vehicles and instantly felt our sweat glands activate. It was extremely hot outside, and we were all already languid from the ride. The entire group begged for macchiatos, and Visar took us to the nearest café to happily indulge us. From there we saw the largest Mosque in the Balkan region, which we unfortunately could not enter because we were all in athletic apparel. Though bummed, we examined the external aesthetics, and started to climb the huge mountain ahead of us. We were on our way to a castle! Though we do not know the historical significance yet, the view was absolutely breathtaking.

After the hundreds of pictures and the entertaining exploring, our group headed down the mountain towards the town. We visited an old bathhouse-turned-art-gallery that housed many photos of modern Kosovar life. After this, we walked towards an exhibit that had traditional clothing of Kosovo, which was very fun to see.

As a group, we then went to lunch. The drive up the mountains was again, amazing. When we  reached the restaurant, we sat down to a mountainous landscape in the background, birds chirping around us, and water rushing to tantalize both our eyes and our ear buds. I, for one, ate entirely too much at this beautiful restaurant and passed out in my bed as soon as we reached the hotel. Playing soccer twice yesterday and being in the sun all today completely wiped me out! At around 7, our group plus Lumi, Albinna, and Sanije all went over to Nora's for a delicious dinner. The night was filled with meeting new friends, watching wonderful soccer, and plenty of laughter for all.

This day was definitely one to remember. Not only did we see beautiful things, but we also met some more beautiful people. This day reminded me how wholehearted and wonderful the people of Kosovo are, and why it is so important to help them through sport and this project!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


::Cassidy (6/11)

Today we visited Gjilan, the home of Fatjona who was the youngest Kosovar chica to travel to the States, 16 years old. Gjilan is smaller than the other sites we but it had the most advanced soccer programs within schools. We briefly visited a primary school to see their newly built gym while being swarmed by smiling kids. We had a meeting with the mayor of Gjilan who expressed his support for women sports in Kosovo. This was followed by lunch and macchiatos! I have now drank a total of 22 macchiatos in Kosovo and may be officially dependent on them. 

After lunch we went to a new soccer facility to play soccer with a ten day old club that Fatjona established. The club consisted of girls of many ages who were incredibly passionate and happy to be playing soccer. Women's soccer in Kosovo is currently facing many financial barriers but the pure passion and drive I have seen in so many girls makes it hard for me to believe that women's soccer won't succeed. We then drove back to the hotel and had the pleasure to listen to one of Visar's song on the radio, and then had the additional joy of hearing him sing along to it!

At 6 o'clock we played pick-up soccer on a basketball court with our friend Fikret who is the assistant coach of the Pristina basketball team. It was a blast but everyone soon got hungry so we left for dinner. While eating our lasagna and chicken fingers we watched the France v. England game and later got ice cream at a lovely gelato shop. On our way back to the hotel we stopped by a big concert in the center of Pristina and the night ended while we listened to Red Hot Chilly Pepper cover songs and fireworks.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mountain City

::Kat (6/10)

As usual, we were greeted by Sanije and Visar's smiling faces this morning, as well as our new friend Fikret, the assistant basketball coach of Pristina. We embarked on our journey to Peja, where Rina and Ezana live. To say that the drive there was beautiful is an understatement. Tall, scenic, snow-capped mountains became visible in the distance, and as we drove we got closer and closer, until we were surrounded. I could not take my eyes off them! As we got closer to the city, it seemed as if we were going to drive right through them. And we almost did; the city of Peja is located in the middle of these gorgeous, looming mountains. Everyone looked with awe and wonder. When we arrived, we were greeted by Rina and Ezana. We went inside the building and met Mr. Valdet Shoshi and other municipality officials. After introductions and a little bit about the history of the club in Peja, we were invited to have coffee. But on our way out we strayed into an art exhibit, where a kindly elderly man showed us his gorgeous paintings. They consisted of some history of the country, and some history of Albanians. We went around the whole room and Rina translated for us as he told the story behind every painting. Among them included a woman warrior, the iconic Mother Teresa, and a former president of Kosovo. After our coffee break (at a restaurant ironically named Restaurant California), we had lunch at another beautiful restaurant with a great view of the mountains. During lunch, the director of Youth and Sport kindly joined us.

After lunch we headed to the stadium for the clinic. We were very impressed to see around 80 girls come out to play! All were energetic and enthusiastic about soccer. The clinic was divided up into different stations, and we all split up to help. Tori and I were given the job to come up with some drills for the girls, so we did a mix of dribbling races, a small scrimmage, and passing drills. All the girls were eager to learn, and it was a blast watching them play! We left tired but happy. After the clinic, we went to visit another site where girls were happily practicing, and were excited to meet us. Then we went for another coffee at a beautiful restaurant that specialized in fish. There was water everywhere, with hundreds of cool-looking yellow and black fish swimming. Of course, the scenic mountains loomed around us. When we had finished our coffee and water, we all piled into the cars, and were led to Fikret's family home. We were greeted with warm smiles and delicious pie. We all dug in, and relaxed in the peaceful backyard, entertained by Fikret's adorable nephews playing soccer. Then we departed with many thanks back to Pristina. The drive back was beautiful as well. When we got back, we all watched Spain and Italy in the European cup games. Then we went to dinner on the eighth floor of our hotel, complete with a beautiful view and the Ireland versus Croatia game. Much to my disappointment, (but exactly what I expected) Croatia beat Ireland 3-1. Sanije and Lumi joined us, and we got to know each other better than ever before with a game of 20 questions, ending a great day with perfect people.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"In this country, a 'gwest' is a 'gwest'"

::Carly (6/9)

We have been overwhelmed by the Kosovar hospitality, and today was certainly no exception. Not only do we feel welcome wherever we go, but we feel wanted. Today was our first trip to a site outside of Pristina, and we traveled north to the beautiful city of Mitrovica.

View Larger Map

 Mitrovica is the name of both a municipality and a city. The city is divided by a bridge and a river, with ethnic Serbs occupying the north and ethnic Albanians occupying the south. The bridge represents the divide that still exists between north and south Kosovo, with the Serbian north still refusing to recognize the independence of Kosovo or participate in the affairs of Kosovo. We visited the football club Trepca '89 in the south.

Visar met us at our hotel, and Sanije arrived with an armful of newspapers featuring our group.  Our press conference from the day before was featured in the sports section! We laughed over the fact that none of us could read a word of what we had "said," and we piled into Visar and Sanije's cars to head to Mitrovica. A spirited game of "chicken," or "yellow car," ensued on our hour drive, and we even got Visar involved yelling "chicken" whenever he spotted a yellow car first.

Upon our arrival at Trepca '89, we met with Veton Citaku, the current men's team coach who we had seen win the Kosovo Cup just days before. Blerina and Sara met us as well. Veton gave us an overview of the history of the club. From him we learned that 2011–2012 was Trepca's most successful season; though, based on the number of cups and awards adorning our meeting room, it seems like the club has had their fair share of success before this year, as well. Bedri Sadiku, the director of sports for the Mitrovica municipality, joined us for our next meeting. He expanded upon the history lesson we had begun, and explained that 2012 was turning out to be the best year for the entire municipality in regards to sports. In our visit so far, we have seen a Mitrovica men's basketball team win the Kosovo Cup, men's soccer team win the Kosovo Cup, and women's soccer team get second place in the Kosovo Cup after a penalty shootout, so it's not hard to believe that what he says is true. Interestingly enough, the 2012 budget for Mitrovica sports clubs has nearly tripled in a year, standing near 70,000 Euros. This sounded impressive to us, until Bedri explained that he uses this to fund over 29 club teams. He was quite enthusiastic about having so much, and it definitely put things in perspective about the resources available to us for our sports programs in the states.

Meeting number two continued, much more informally, as we enjoyed macchiatos by the river with Bedri, Veton, Sara, Blerina, and a few other members of the Mitrovica and Trepca sports community. After our macchiatos, Visar and Sanije drove us to Qetesia Restaurant in nearby Koshtova for lunch...AMAZING! Our table was in a gazebo that was surrounded by water on all sides and connected to the main restaurant by a narrow walkway. We enjoyed some wonderful food and a beautiful mountain backdrop, and we laughed and laughed as we took pictures, fed the swans, and played with Visar's adorable two-year-old daughter, Ditea. We even got complimentary watermelon at the end of our meal as "thanks to Americans," another reminder to us that the Kosovo War is still on the minds of many Kosovars.

Next up was our clinic with the Mitrovica group: Albulena, Sara, and Blerina. We were thoroughly impressed with their professionalism and organization, and as well with the skill level of the young players in their club. Their session had it all—competition, fitness, skill work, small-sided games, and a scrimmage at the end. Our group had a great time playing with the Trepca girls, and we definitely got in a good workout, as well. Baeth and I took some time at the end to huddle up with Albulena, Sara, and Blerina and give them some feedback, and all of our Mount Holyoke group was presented with full Trepca uniforms. We all left Mitrovica literally beaming.

Already thinking the day couldn't get any better, we headed to Sanije's family's house for dinner. Wow! We kicked off our shoes, walked in the door, and were presented with a better dinner spread and more hospitality than we could have ever imagined. We immediately sat down to eat and were treated to dish after dish of Sanije's mother's fantastic cooking—cheese and spinach pies, chicken legs, rice, stuffed peppers, salad, homemade bread...yum! Sanije treated us to tea after dinner, and as we tried to help her clean up, she insisted that we leave everything, telling us that "in this country, a 'gwest' is a 'gwest!' We couldn't let her live that one down without a little teasing, but while we teased we obediently headed upstairs for—believe it or not—snacks, desserts, and the Portugal vs. Germany Euro 2012 match. Sanije also pulled out some photo albums for us to browse, and we had a truly enjoyable evening to cap off another amazing day in Kosovo!

Women in Sport: Mid-Trip Reflections

We took some time to reflect on the value of sport in our lives. Please check out our new page here!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Coach Baeth Learns Heading

Play Day

::Emily (6/8)

Today was another beautiful day in Pristina. We woke up to the sun shining and not a cloud in the sky. Visar met us in the Lobby around 10 am where we proceeded to the Kosovo Sports Department right next door to our hotel. Visar came bearing gifts—a box of chocolates from his daughter's  birthday that was celebrated the day before! Once we were finished eating the delicious chocolates, we met with Dona, Lumi, Nora, Albinna, and Sanije to go over the soccer clinic that was going to be held in a stadium later that day. It took us a little while to organize ourselves because we all had different opinions and ideas of how the clinic should be run. But, once organized, we had arranged a 2 hour soccer clinic including a game of log tag to start, warm ups, 4 different stations practicing different skills, and finally the much anticipated "Carly Cup" tournament. Check out our pictures here!

After the meeting, some of our group went back to the hotel to rest, while the rest of us went for lunch with the Kosovo girls. We ended up at a diner called Route 66. It reminded us all of home with the American styled diner and food. There, we talked about family and friends, while enjoying foods that reminded us of home such as cheeseburgers, hotdogs, french fries, and a quesadilla. We then headed back to the Department of Sports where there was a press conference being held for us to talk about what we are trying to accomplish here in Kosovo. Coach Carly, Baeth, and Cassidy, who we all chose to represent us in the interview, sat in front of a camera talking about our experiences, our  hopes for women's soccer in Kosovo, and the success of what the girls in Kosovo have accomplished thus far.

At 2:30, we all piled into Visar and Sanije's cars to be transported to the stadium where the soccer clinic was being held. Around 20 girls showed up for the clinic. Most of them had played soccer before, and only a few had never played. It was very hot outside, but everyone was very eager and ready to play. It seemed that our log tag was a hit among the Kosovar players, for there was a lot of laughter and smiles during the game. By the end of stations and our Carly Cup, everyone looking a little weary, we went into penalty kicks to decide the winning team. Holland's team made all of their shots, granting them the victory of the Carly Cup Tournament. Everyone then proceeded to head for home, a little sunburned but happy to have played soccer and to have met knew friends!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Soccer, Soccer, Soccer

::Hannah (6/7)

We had an earlier-than-usual start to our day today, which was fine because the weather was absolutely stunning and almost all of our scheduled activities took place outside. We met Visar and Sanije at 9:30 and caravanned to a primary school in the suburbs of Pristina, about 10 minutes from the city's center. Upon our arrival, we were warmly welcomed by two gym teachers and the school's principal, who immediately (and unsurprisingly) offered us macchiatos from the school's own cafe. After we downed our morning coffees (for some of us it was our second), we were led into a large, covered turf field where approximately 20 fifth grade girls and boys were eagerly awaiting the start of their hour-long soccer session that we were invited to participate in.

As soon as we got started with basic warmup drills it was extremely evident that these kids had a serious passion for soccer. Girls and boys alike were celebrating goals like their favorite players and pulling out moves that their older siblings had taught them the night before. They were brimming with excitement and when they didn't have their game-face grimaces on, they had ear-to-ear smiles plastered across their faces—the happiness and energy were positive and electric. It was so awesome to see this amount of excitement for soccer. The source of a lot of this energy could be traced back to the gym teachers who kept the class fun and engaging with their own zeal.

After leaving the school we went for a brief walk in the park that's a few blocks from the hotel, had lunch at a casual pizza/ice cream place, and then headed off to the stadium to watch the women's and men's Kosovo Cup finals. The women's game pitted Pristina against Mitrovica—between the two teams there were six girls from the project, so there were a handful of familiar faces to watch. The game was super physical and high-scoring. Neither team could find the back of the net in the overtime period that was forced after Blerina's clutch free kick conversion in the waning minutes of the game, and Pristina went on to win in dramatic fashion after PKs. The presentation of the trophy was lavish, complete with confetti, fireworks, and sparklers.

Like the basketball game, the men's soccer final was a display of Kosovo's most raucous fans. The roars from the stands were only outdone by the flares and colored gas that were thrown onto the field in protest and celebration. Despite the excitement of the game, we left early because our hunger got the best of us. Our group parted ways for dinner—Carly, Baeth, Kat, and Cass went to a cafe that apparently had delicious food and iced coffee, while Em, Tori, and I went to a new restaurant where we had great omelets and sandwiches. We're looking forward to our clinic in the stadium tomorrow, and hopefully some small-sided pickup after!

The Tori Show!

Sigal Pristina Fans

The Ultimate Fan Experience

::Baeth (6/6)

Today seemed to be a whirlwind of meetings and hilarity. For the first day since arriving, we all shed our sporting attire and instead, reverted to our 'fancy pants' for meetings with various ministry officials. We started off by walking into town – a whopping 3 blocks – to the Ministry of Youth, Culture, and Sport, where we met Malsor Gjonbalaj, political adviser to the minister. Gjonbalaj explained the steps through which Kosovo is attempting to found and rebuild a sport-for-all and elite sport system. The progress made thus far seems to be immense, though Kosovo is still struggling to establish itself within the international sporting community.

After our meeting in the ministry and several photos, Visar, in his usual momma-hen fashion, led us to the Department of Sport, or 'House of Sports' according to a small plaque outside, where we met with Mr. Fadil Vokrri, the president of Kosovo's Football Federation. In this time, Vokrri and Afredita told us more about the role of soccer in Kosovo and the ways they were attempting to develop better programming for youth soccer throughout the country, despite a lack of funding and an infrastructure with a fairly small capacity for growth, given the amount of interest expressed by Kosovar children, boys and girls alike, to play the sport.

Our last meeting of the day was over lunch (which included three different types of Kosovar bread) with the Director of Sports of Kosovo, Mr. Iber Alaj, and Mr. Fikret Shatri, the assistant men's basketball coach for the Pristina – the capital of Kosovo, which is also home to about 40% of the population – team.  After regaling us with several stories and opinions on former NBA stars, Fikret invited us to the fifth and final game for the Kosovo basketball cup. 

In the afternoon, Carly put together a mini circuit work out that we all completed in one of the hotel rooms. Push-ups, crunches, and wall sits abound, we spent most of the time simply laughing at each other.

Upon arriving at the basketball hall later that evening, we were shuffled between several of the entrances, finally being escorted to the back of the building, where we squeezed between several police officers in riot gear. The spectators were unlike any we were expecting…the hall, relatively small, was jam packed with thousands of shirtless men, waving blue Prishtina scarves, most decked out in aviator sunglasses.  

We were lucky enough to have seats of honor, right on the side of the court, next to the presumed wives of the Pristina players. An incredibly tense game between Sigal Pristina and Mitrovica's  Trepca ensued. Pristina, having been the reigning champions since 2005, and hosts of the game, certainly had a home court advantage. The crowd, complete with designated cheer-leaders (leaders of the cheers, not cheerleaders!) in front of each stand, had several songs and chants they would yell whenever Prishtina had possession, followed abruptly by high pitched whistles whenever the opposing Mitrovica had the ball. The chanting and whistling, I do not exaggerate, did not stop throughout the entirety of the game. Unfortunately, Pristina lost in the end by 12 points, resulting in a few cheers from opposing fans, and several empty water bottles being thrown onto the court.

The real highlight though was during half time, when Tori was invited to join several other fans, including a handful of very tall ex-basketball players, to a free throw competition. Please reference the upcoming video as it is beyond words.

While the day was filled with many meetings in which we discussed the theories and potential outcomes for sport, and women in particular, in Kosovo, it was certainly fun to see sport, and the culture of sport, in action. We are looking forward to seeing the women's and men's finals for soccer tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Plans and Presentations in Pristina

::Tori (6/5)

This morning was unusually difficult to wake up to. Not because we were not completely ecstatic about being in the lovely country of Kosovo, but because of our pure fatigue. Emily, Cassidy, Kat and I all drank macchiatos at around 9:30 last night and could not fall asleep until around 4 in the morning! But alas, our drowsiness did not slow us down for the eventful day ahead of us!

As Emily and I lifted ourselves out of our too comfortable beds, we yawned more than ever before. We put on one some of our best clothes and went to breakfast. We ate quickly and met Visar happily in the lobby. As usual, the larger than life smile that was painted across his face instantly broke our lethargic trance. We walked all of 10 steps into the Ministry of Sport. During this first meeting, we were able to listen to the extremely successful action plans of the Kosovar alumni, which also added to the newly energetic attitude we were all exuding. The action plans ranged from including 5 girls to around 70 in each region! The most concerning problems that were addressed in this meeting were where the financial aid was going to be from. Many of the girls explained that most families do not have the auxiliary funds to support a women's soccer club. Though this was rather upsetting to hear, we asked questions and discussed it at length. Before this meeting our group believed that many of the girls from Kosovo would have some unsuccessful stories or would be facing difficulties, so we were pleased to hear how much momentum they have and how much they have accomplished in the short time since they returned from the United States.

After this overall uplifting gathering, we had lunch then met with the two representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Pristina, Paul Engelstad and Aferdita Krasniqi, who were both extremely welcoming and informative. We all discussed the history of Kosovo and what we as a group and the United States can offer this wonderful country. It was such an honor to meet these two influential people and speak with them about their roles in this community. One of the more distressing facts about Kosovo is the unemployment rate. Aferdita explained that over the years the rate has floated around 50-60%. This says something about the spirit of the Kosovars, since the United States' rate is around 8.1% and citizens everywhere are upset. Overall we learned more about Kosovo than ever before and the experience was truly enlightening.

Towards the end of the day, our entire group walked back to the Ministry of Sport, passing many young people enjoying their macchiatos and laughing with each other—a beautiful scene to observe. We had a community presentation in which Lumi, Albina, Nora, and Dona spoke to their peers, friends, family, and other members of their community. Highlights included when Albina spoke about getting over her problems with sickness and becoming a part of the women's national team in Albania and how the community accepted them and praised the group for being strong women who are and will continue being amazing role models for young girls across Kosovo

I'm sorry if that post was a bit lengthy, but this day has been incredibly busy and filled with stories that we will remember and share with our friends and families.  Every moment of this trip has reminded us how important sport is to the women who participated in this exchange program and how important it truly is to spread what we are all passionate for.


::Cassidy (6/4)

Waking up this morning was the hardest thing we had to do but once we were up, we were excited for the day! We got breakfast at our hotel and had toast, strawberries, and cucumbers, we think. We then went to the Ministry of Sports to have a meeting with Aferdita, who is the coach of the Kosovo national team of women's soccer. She is one of the 14 Kosovars that came over to the U.S. In the meeting we were briefed on our itinerary for the next two weeks. Aferdita also gave a short speech about how much this program means to her. She compared the current condition of women's soccer in Kosovo to the state of the country after the war- building. Many Americans, including us, don't understand the magnitude of the hardship the people of Kosovo endured during the war. Visar, our guide and a very tall famous folk singer in Kosovo, told us that in his old neighborhood 13 of his friends are still missing. We also had the pleasure to meet the assistant coach of the Pristina Basketball national team who also has a high position in the Basketball Ministry. He was a very tall, charismatic, and friendly man. Visar said that his life during the war in Kosovo could be a movie and he encourages him to write to Spielberg. We weren't told his entire story, but he was imprisoned and escaped after three years by jumping out of the window of his third floor cell. He then ran to fight in the war again and later lost his brother to the war. Visar says that everyone in Kosovo has been in some way affected by the war. During the meeting we were served macchiatos that were delicious and I later had 2 others that day. I think that may become a daily occurrence.

We then had lunch with our Kosovo friends that came to the United States. The food was very good and it was really nice to see everyone. We talked about our long and eventful flight to Kosovo, our families and dogs, and the soccer programs they have established. Fatjona has recruited 40 girls and Ezana and Rina have recruited 70! The difficulty for their programs is that they don't have trained soccer coaches who lack the experience to impact the skill level of the girls. These coaches, though, are dedicated and excited for the direction women's soccer is going towards and everyone is grateful for the time they are putting in for these girls. After lunch I got another macchiato and then went to a Cup soccer game and saw our friend Dona play. Her team won and Dona scored a goal! They were young teams and didn't have professional coaches but you could see that all the girls had a lot of potential and loved to play soccer! After the game, our friend Nora led us back to our hotel and Emily, Tori and I worked out on the stairs and Kat and Hannah ran in a nearby park. They got many looks from people because women running are not a common occurrence in Kosovo. At 8 we went to dinner that was amazing and then I got another macchiato! We look forward to tomorrow!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Kosovo, Day 1

::Kat (6/3)

We stepped off the plane in Prishtina as a tired and hungry group. We showed our passports, and proceeded to the outside world. As we approached the people waiting for friends or loved ones, we could see one familiar face hovering over all the people around him. Visar! We started to perk up...and when we got up to him I realized that some of the Kosovar Alumni were there to greet us! They awakened us from our drowsy state with a very warm welcome. It was so great to see them. They helped us with our bags and we all piled into different vehicles. The drive to the city of Prishtina was beautiful, to say the least. The mountains are tall, vast, and seemingly never-ending. There were flowers in the grass on the side of the road on our way from the airport. I marveled at the curious building structures. The architecture here is interesting and fun to look at. Some beautiful buildings were damaged and abandoned, most likely due to the war. We arrived at our hotel, which is located conveniently next to the Kosovo Sport department building, where we are going to be spending a considerable amount of time. Our rooms are huge and comfortable, and we found out later that this hotel is only about three months old. It certainly is nice! After we all freshened up a bit,  Visar and Sanije took us to a great restaurant that is close to the hotel. Actually, everything is pretty close to our hotel that we need to access in Prishtina, because it is about one street away from the town center. We sat outside. As we were waiting for our food, fireworks began to shoot off. "We're here!" Coach Carly said jokingly. We found out after that the fireworks were a celebration of the Kosovo men's team's victory. They were quite a spectacle! Then Visar took us back to our hotel, where we had a quick meeting, and then passed out for a well-needed good night's rest. It's great to finally be here! :)

Pristina, Kosovo


Pristina, Kosovo, a set on Flickr.

Our home for the next two weeks!

Freising, Germany

Freising, Germany, a set on Flickr.

A few photos from our quick stop in Freising and the Munich Airport


::Carly (6/2 and 6/3)

We have arrived—safe, sound, smiling, and sleepy! Kosovo is beautiful, and the Kosovars are wonderful, but I'll let Kat get into that in a bit. In the meantime, let me tell you about our journey so far. After a short delay for one nearly forgotten passport, we jumped in a van and were on our way to JFK in New York. Our flight to Munich was fairly uneventful, if you can get over the screaming, crying child in the row in front of us who kept us "entertained" for a majority of the flight. We arrived in Munich on Wednesday morning to face an eight hour layover. Not thrilled with the prospect of sitting in the airport for that long, we decided to explore the nearby town of Freising.

We jumped on a bus marked "Freising" and soon found ourselves in a quaint Bavarian town. After sitting for 8.5 hours, all of us were glad to get some fresh air and walk around, and, since it was early on a Sunday morning, we didn't have the choice to do much else. Unfortunately, when it started raining, we were forced to explore some indoor options. We followed signs for Parkcafe, which turned out to not only be open and dry, but also to be an amazing little brunch spot. Our waitress was extremely friendly and helpful, and soon we had croissants, espressos, a brunch buffet, and—naturally—hamburgers and fries. While waiting for the downpour to end, we enjoyed true European hospitality and were allowed to sit and linger as long as we liked. After that, we wandered down a few paths along a canal/stream and hopped on a bus back to the airport.

Once we went through security and collected a few more passport stamps, our tired crew found some chairs to spread out on, and most of us were asleep in minutes (the rest of us—me—took the liberty of creating some photo documentation to share with all of you, so check out the photos to come soon). Our crew got some much-needed rest, at least for a few, until we were once again overtaken by some loud, loud, LOUD children and their parents (aaaaaaaaaah!). Regardless, I think the excitement of Kosovo started getting to us, and we were in good spirits as we boarded our final flight of the trip. Now, we are here, halfway through our first day, and happily reunited with our fellow Kosovars. There are some exciting things happening in the soccer world here, so please stay tuned!