20 October 2015

Albanian road trip: history behind the bunkers

Albania is becoming a new tourist destination and is making its way into European Travel itineraries. Lonely Planet is writing again for our beautiful country, this time suggesting for tourists a trip in 4 amazing cities, Shkodra, Kruja, Berat and Gjirokaster, with plenty of castles, museums, Unesco Sites, and unique archaeology. Here is a summary of the Albanian Road Trip in Tirana from Lonely Planet

"Having spent nearly half of the 20th century isolated from the rest of the world, Albania remains somewhat a land of mystery, only recently making its way onto European travel itineraries as an offbeat and budget-friendly destination.
While ‘the land of eagles’ may be better known for its stormy communist past (with some 750,000 concrete bunkers still scattered around to prove it), it has a rich and diverse historical and cultural legacy. The best way to take in Albania’s ancient castles, lived-in World Heritage Sites and ethnographic museums is on a road trip, especially if you have limited time or aren’t keen on working out the country’s bewildering bus system.

Start your cultural exploration of Albania in the north. Once an important trading town due to its favourable geographical position at the meeting point of two rivers and very close to the Adriatic Sea, Shkodra is considered the country’s cultural capital thanks to its music and literary traditions.

Head south from Albania’s cultural capital to its historical capital, Kruja. No trip to the country is complete without a stop in this town synonymous with Skanderberg, Albania’s national hero who led the defence against the Ottomans some 500 years ago. For a period Skanderberg was based here, and Kruja is regarded as almost a holy site for Albanians.

From Kruja or Tirana, continue south and inland towards Berat via Lushnja and SH4. You can also get there passing through Elbasan, though note this route takes a good hour or so longer regardless of how it looks on the map. Known as the ‘town of a thousand windows’, Berat has become a major star on the Albanian travel scene thanks to its impressive Ottoman ‘sprawl’ up the hills on both sides of the Osumi River.

The final stop on this north-to-south cultural tour of Albania, Gjirokastra was inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List in 2008 as another important Ottoman town along with Berat. Your best bet getting here is to head back north to Lushnja and continue along the SH4 through the spectacular Tepelenë District and Drino Valley, famously described in Lord Byron’s Letters on Albania.

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/albania/travel-tips-and-articles/albanian-road-trip-history-behind-the-bunkers#ixzz3p69H1FeJ



13 October 2015

Tirana- a city of contrast, a great travel destination

By Bart van Eijden

"Tirana is a city of contrast, therefore a great travel destination". Here how a dutch photographer describe the city of Tirana. He writes a blog about his impressions after spending two weeks in our Capital. The Communism past, bunkers and pyramid, the cheap food, lively people, sleepless nights, colored building in contrast with poverty, damaged benches and road traffic etc- are the focus of his article. Here is a summary of his impressions:

"The Pyramid is one of the main attractions to those visiting Albania’s capital. Used as a NATO base during the Kosovo war, it now sits as a reminder of communism in downtown Tirana. Youth often climb it and hang out on top as a perfect place to smoke marihuana while staying our of reach for police.
He mentioned our "Visit Tirana" page in Twitter

Climbing this former museum to dictator Enver Hoxha is not difficult at all. While some say that going down is much more difficult, I never found that. Just make sure you take the slopes on the sides, as they are least steep.

Weekend or not, there is always a party somewhere in Tirana. Also, if you go to Block/Blloku, you can drink so much great coffee for cheap (<€0.50) that you will never be able sleep.

During the terror regime of dictator Enver a lot of money was wasted on building communist bunkers all over the country. At the highest period there were about 700,000 communist bunkers or one for every four persons. After the fall, these concrete structures became redundant and some find different use these days. Where until recently there was short supply of cars, people for example lost virginity in these things.

If you don’t want to be bothered by searching for them, just go and visit the bunker at the east entrance of Block (located right here). It sits there as a checkpoint monument to the former secluded Blloku neighbourhood where dictator Enver Hoxha once lived. You can also find a piece of the Berlin wall there.

Happy coloured building emerged all over Tirana after reportedly the mayor told residents to give their homes a fresher non-communist look. Locals claim there was a fair share of corruption involved in this move, but all I know is that some of the use of colours is pretty hilarious.

Tirana is a city that never sleeps, a city where most youngsters hook up and where they can earn more than in any other Albanian city. On the other hand, it is also incredibly crowded, loud, congested and as a pedestrian you don’t have much to say in traffic.

Asking around a bit, some seem to love Tirana while others don’t. One thing is for sure: it’s a city of contrast. After having been there two weeks myself I can say it’s therefore a great travel destination. If I could live there is question that will remain unanswered, but I definitely had a great time there! A must-visit while you are out in the Balkans!

Bllok area

Colored buildings

Read the full article here:

07 October 2015

This Nation Banned George Michael, Now it’s a Tourist Paradise

This Nation Banned George Michael, Now it’s a Tourist Paradise . Albania is far from perfect.. However, I’m writing from the perspective of a tourist. For short-term visitors, Albania is a land of ridiculously scenic beaches, postcard-worthy mountains, historic castles and towns, ancient fortresses, Roman-era ruins, the oldest lake in Europe, and a cool European capital city relatively devoid of tourists. The photos speak for themselves ... . For tourists, it’s a bit of a paradise here. Compared to almost any other country in Europe, Albania is inexpensive. Hotels are great value, and if you think about staying longer, you could purchase a new ocean-front apartment for about the same price as a Volkswagen. The Albanian Riviera was described to me, by an older man from France, as “Spain in 1970”.

Quite the contrary – to date, the changes I have seen in Albania are great, and seeing a little more financial security in one of the poorest regions in Europe can only be good. But, I already feel a little selfish nostalgia knowing that the future will inevitably bring more and more crowds to Albania, and more of the raw natural landscapes will be blighted by the over-development of apartment blocks and hotels. For better or worse, it is, what it is.

Things are changing in Albania.. But, it hasn’t always been this way. Freedom of speech, religion, cars, foreign travel, foreign investment, George Michael, and even beards, were all forbidden. Albania became the most isolated and poorest country in Europe, a land where citizens were more likely to know of someone living in a concentration camp than have a neighbour that owned a colour TV.

Long story short, Albania isn’t like that anymore.

Apart from regular concrete-bunker sightings and the occasional fading communist-era propaganda artwork, the casual tourist wouldn’t realise such tumultuous events occurred so recently. However, after experiencing around sixty years of grief, many Albanians got tired of waiting for “things to get better” and over the last couple of decades, they left the country, en-masse. The exodus hasn’t stopped – for example, in May of this year, more Albanians than Syrians sought asylum in Germany. The Albanian diaspora around the world is now larger than the number of Albanians living in Albania. Given the history, it’s not hard to understand this exodus – sixty years is a very long time to wait for a bunch of promises that never actualised.

So, Albanians continue to leave, just as tourists are really starting to arrive.

Read the full article here from Yomadic: