But Pristina is actually a wonderful, friendly, safe, lively city with modern restaurants, lots of fun cafes and bars and smiling people. Given a chance, it's endearing and deserves many more tourists than it gets.
Pristina certainly has a more wealthy and showy center strip, where university students parade and wealthy women tap at iPhones. It also has lots of makeshift barber shops and kebab shops, haphazard tenements and dormant construction sites. But it all blends together with a universal energy and general contentment.
The effect has been interesting - in some ways, Prisitina feels more outward looking than most Balkan cities, even more so than places like Belgrade or Sofia. In those places, there is a national identity to be upheld and mulled over, an urban self-examination. Pristina is more open to the gusts and currents of the outer world, shaped as it has been by the whims of other nations and the newness of its independence. There are bookstores that sell magazines in English and restaurants that serve what might - in another place and time - have been called "new American cuisine." There are English pubs with actual Englishmen inside and coffee shops with actual Italians sitting outside.
Amid all the ruckus there are plans for two huge new squares, carved out of old communist blocks and bomb-damaged buildings. The city says that these public places are to become the focal point of downtown Pristina, and work has already begun. Unfortunately, there isn't enough funding and some are worried that the construction sites will remain torn-up for years. Meanwhile, other parts of town need drastic work and rampant development has also threatened the city's charm - building codes are often ignored and real-estate deals tend to get awarded only to well connected people and, it is said, criminals.
And, in a wonderful twist, this nightlife is propelled by real locals, not by loud tourists. In places as busy and cheap as Pristina is, it's nice to find that the stag parties and club-enthusiasts haven't yet arrived. In the warmth of late June, there are greetings shouted from table to table, kisses exchanged, a sense of community. Mother Theresa boulevard, the main pedestrian street, is a loud, pleasant mix of old couples and excited toddlers, high heels and scuffed sneakers. The strolling continues until late - later than we were prepared to stay up.
Pristina is a city with purpose. Our guidebook, published only two years ago, speaks of bomb damage and the lasting effects of war. Now, in 2012, those scars are hard to find and the city is, more than anything, moving forward. It's not as if the cobweb electric lines and broken paving stones can be fixed overnight, but it won't take long. In fact, within a few years, it's easy to think that this little capital could be a prime destination, something like Skopje is today - a place that people are no longer afraid of. Already, the recent past seems very distant.