The View From Your Window Contest: Winner #238

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 13 2015 @ 1:00pm

VFYWC_-238

Chini comes clean:

Canada. My first guess was Canada. That’s how bad my gut is at this. It’s as if my subconscious took one look at the image and said, “Well, let’s see. Lots of snow. Looks real cold too. Probably north of here. Yup, definitely Canada.” Having disregarded that brilliant bit of instinctual wisdom, I got down to the business at hand. And what a fascinating set of clues to work with …

Another reader’s brain explodes

Too many conflicting clues, and no clever detail I can seize – I am pretty sure it’s in the USA, in an area that doesn’t get snow all that often, but is not in a hot zone either; mountains look like Western arid ones; houses with brick chimneys and hip roofs whisper “east”; evidence of abandoned building sites; I can’t quite settle on exactly what the sports complex is (the lighting with those two towers on one side only??); strange combination of urban density and urban sprawl (along with the odd-shaped lorries in the parking lot) almost give hints it’s not even North American.

My wild guess, with a pretty broad stroke – somewhere in the Logan-Salt-Lake-Provo corridor of Utah. Or Tennessee. Or West Virginia. Or Kentucky. Or . . . Portugal.

Or Idaho?

A hunch that might just be a wild hair, I believe this is a photo of a section of Boise.

Or maybe it’s in Mongolia:

Ulaanbaatar is my best guess, though even if I’m right, I’ve not been able to narrow it down any more than this and have now stayed up *way* past my bedtime trying.

Another ended up closer to target, guessing Sofia, Bulgaria “because of the mountain skyline and VIP Massage sign.” Another adds that “it doesn’t take long before that search turns NSFW”. Regardless, the parlor did end up leading many readers to the right city:

The soccer stadium, weather, English, and mountains pointed to somewhere in Europe, but there seemed to be little to indicate precisely where.  The best clue was something that forced me vip-massageto do my research from my smartphone rather than my office computer, a small sign that appeared to say “VIP Massage.”  It took some time to realize that the sign was in fact a reflection of the roadside billboard rather than a sign on the building, meaning searches for an establishment named “VIP Massage” were unlikely to bear fruit.  Eventually I came across a Relax Center VIP Massage located in Pristina, Kosovo (I don’t remember exactly what search provided this and was searching incognito) which seemed legit enough to have a billboard, so I took a look at the city.

Another notes a trend:

Minarets. Again. I could not believe my eyes. Antalya. Then Dakar. Now this. However, as luck would have it, this time there was no need to review one hundred mosques, nor to look for stadiums in Islamic countries, thanks to the Relax Center VIP Massage and to its easily readable shop sign.

And a correct guess of the building:

So … we’ve got mountainous terrain, snow, and lots of minarets. Where do you have Muslims in cold mountains? Latin letters instead of Cyrillic rules out the former Soviet Union, so I spent a long time looking at soccer stadiums in forlorn inland regions of Turkey. That got me precisely nowhere.

Then I tried something else. A billboard in lower left looked like it read “VIP massage.” Googling that got me to Pristina, Kosovo, and I felt VERY good about my chances. That would explain the vaguely Austrian / Alpine look of much of the architecture. The Wikimedia picture from inside the Pristina soccer stadium, taken on a much nicer day, overlapped with lots of the buildings in the picture and I was home and dry:

Interior of stadium

We’re about a kilometer west-south-west of the Pristina stadium, looking at the back of the main stands at the stadium. The funky curved roof building to the right is the Palace of Youth and Sport. We’re across Ahmet Krasniqi street from a couple of hotels (the Denis and Adria) and the US Embassy. Now, what the building actually is proved a little tougher. No Google Street View, Google Maps doesn’t tell us much, no obvious hits from tourist sites. I can see the building from above:

OverheadView

And in a city panorama:

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But can’t say what it is, aside from that it’s on Ahmet Krasniqi.

A few readers passed along photos of the exterior of the Palace of Youth and Sport, which though obscured in the view, was another key clue:

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Another adds:

Constructed in the late 1970s, it now features a large portrait of Kosovo Liberation Army commander Adem Jashari. Quite the beard on that one:

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This reader used the roads to help zero in:

A traffic warning sign not found in the western hemisphere, where our warning signs are diamond shaped.  And NOT an English speaking country either, because the cars are being driven on the right:

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And a former winner takes us on a trivia tour:

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This week we are in Pristina, Kosovo just south of NATO Kosovo Force’s (KFOR) headquarters and about a 25-minute walk to the Statute of Bill Clinton on Bill Clinton Boulevard.  Given the hills, snow, and mosques, I looked at every football stadium with a 10,000 to 30,000 seating capacity in Turkey, Bosnia, and Albania.  Then I checked the ones in Kosovo.  The stadium in the center of the picture is the Pristina City Stadium, home to FC Prishtina.  The weird roof encroaching on the view from the right is the communist era Palace of Youth and Sport.

As for the window’s location, I couldn’t find a street address.  The best I have is Street Ahmet Krasniqi in Prishtinë’s Arbëri neighborhood (or coordinates 42.660684, 21.150451).  (The street is named in memory of Colonel Ahmet Krasniqi who defected from the Milosevic’s Yugoslavian army and organized a militia group fighting for Kosovo’s independence before internal purges led to his 1998 murder in Tirana, Albania (see NYTimes article here)).  The window is on the northeast side of the northeastern most building within the City Front Apartments development, a series of five mostly residential buildings.  Alternatively, this zoning map of unknown provenance shows the City Front development as Arbëri 3, Prishtinë, Block C1.  That means the construction in the contest picture’s foreground is the Redoni Apartments.

After giving up on finding the building’s street address, I searched for pictures taken nearby.  The presence of Five Star Fitness in the next-door City Front building caused one particular search engines to display an avalanche of beefcake selfies (like this guy; and, yes Sully, he has a beard).  But I did find a picture of the City Front buildings taken on Street Ahmet Krasniqi facing away from the Pristina City Stadium.  It shows that the development’s balconies have the same railings as those shown in the contest picture.  Looking for apartments for rent in the City Front buildings returned this Airbnb rental.  Although airbnb’s map places the apartment a couple of blocks away, I think this is the apartment with the contest window.  I’m guessing that Airbnb blurred the exact location.

A bunch of readers thought it was that Airbnb, or one of the nearby hotels, but in fact, this week’s contest was over a rare residential view. Another reader landed in the right region because he noticed the “relatively recent construction & the good condition of virtually all the buildings in the view, suggesting rebuilding after a catastrophe or war.” Of course, readers have stories along those lines:

This week’s photo took me back to 1988, when I took some time off from my job at the U.S. Embassy in Rome and drove through Greece and what was then Yugoslavia. It would be another year before civil war broke out and Yugoslavia fell apart, but there had already been demonstrations and violence and the country was tense.

Two memories of Pristina, Kosovo stand out in my mind: getting stopped by the cops, who seemed curious about what an American diplomat was doing driving around in Kosovo, and the bizarre and massive Palace of Youth and Sports, part of which is visible in the right-hand corner of the contest photo, which seemed both out of place and out of scale. Between my faux Russian and the cops’ faux English, I thought I satisfied them that I was just a tourist and not on some mission for the CIA. As I drove on through Kosovo and into Bosnia, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being followed. Later that night, in my hotel in Mostar, five uniformed officers of some sort materialized between the time I checked in and retrieved the luggage from my car, followed me up the stairs and planted themselves in the room next to mine. I couldn’t decide if they were spying on me or just needed a place to goof off and play cards. I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

This reader was in country around the end of the war:

I haven’t had the time to really look for one of these in a while. Work has been a lot more busy and with two kids under 3, I haven’t had much time on Sundays to search. But today, my wife was looking at The Dish on my phone and left the VFYW contest open. In about half a minute I recognized Pristina – the Youth and Sports Center roof was the give away.

I spent 12 of the hardest months of my life between Belgrade, Pristina, Pejë (Peć), and the Kukes border in Albania. I moved to Pristina in the ’90s, when things were heating up but it was still part of Serbia. Then we evacuated because NATO was about to bomb. Lots of memories. Two that stick with me: standing on the border on the Albanian side drinking a cola while watching NATO plans fly overhead and drop bombs. Surreal. And standing at the same border late one night and realizing the refugees were from Pejë when out of the crowd a refugee came up and called me by name. It made it a much more personal conflict.

I suppose those aren’t even Pristina memories. Ha. What do I remember about Pristina? Bone jarring cold in winter, excellent Turkish coffee. Cigarettes that smelled like 100% tar. Damn fine homemade raki – rice vodka if I remember correctly. I’ve been back a couple of times and my best friend still works there with the EU. I’m glad I worked there when I did, it taught me a lot about myself. But I’m still unsettled by it all, and still surprised I supported the bombing before it started.

Another reader can’t wait to visit, because trains:

I have not yet been to Kosovo but it is definitely on my list. I work for German Railways and my European travels are almost exclusively by train, but since Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 it is only accessible by rail via Macedonia — which suits me just fine, as those are the two countries I have yet to visit in the former Yugoslavia. Kosovo is much beloved by many in the railfan community, as it is the last country in Europe to operate so-called “NoHAB” locomotives – a 1950s American streamliner diesel locomotive design licensed and built in Europe:

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Nobody got the exact right window this week, but our winner, from the vaunted difficult-view-guesser-without-a-win list, only missed it by one floor:

Snow cover. Distinctly eastern European buses in the parking lot and socialist architecture in the angle-roofed building on the right. And then the key detail: a minaret (I missed one in the Turkey competition a few weeks ago). It looked like but didn’t quite match my recollection of Sarajevo (the Olympic stadium is different) and maps confirmed it wasn’t. Medium-sized city in former Yugoslavia with a large Muslim population? Next guess, Pristina. First picture showed the theater with the angled roof. From then on it was easy-ish. Found the right building. No streetview so had to use Google Panorama but found something close enough below. No addresses so I resorted to the Facebook Group “Why We Study Eastern Europe.” Success! Thanks to the members there for letting me post occasionally. The prize, if I get it, goes to the founder of the group and my new acquaintance in Pristina.

As for the window? Triangulation says the middle balcony of this bloc of flats. The floor depends on whether they added another floor since this picture was taken. I’m going to guess no but I may be wrong.

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The best part in exploring this was the accidental architectural typography.  There are whole projects devoted to buildings that look from above like letters, but I can’t imagine that the world holds a better “F”.  According to the Fontfinder at Whatthefont.com, the building was built in Luzaine Ultra:

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An A for this one. The correct window?

This view should be among the easier VFYWs given the neighbourhood it’s taken from. The shot is from my apartment balcony in Pristina where I’ve been the last few years. It happens to be a stone’s throw away from a few embassies, including the American one, so anyone who has passed through should quickly recognize the view of the city.  On the right side is a glimpse of an otherwise unmistakable Pristina landmark – the Palace of YouthIn any case, the location is across the street from Krasniqi Street peering out eastwardly, window on the corner, 4th floor:

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Thanks so much to all our players this week. And yes, Chini ended up guessing correctly, though he missed the window by one floor:

VFYW Pristina Actual Window Marked Revised Balcony - Copy