Friday 2 September 2011

August 16-17 :: Albania

For our journey from Ohrid to Tirana we take a private minibus. It is another lovely day and as the temperature rises the weaknesses of the air-conditioning become evident and some our Aussie travel companions "become uncomfortable". Personally, I do not like a/c and would prefer windows that can be opened.
We head north around Lake Ohrid and after we cross the border into Albania we turn away from the lake and head west through the mountains towards Tirana, the trendy capital and largest city of Albania. Tirana is a relatively new city by European standards being founded in 1614 by Sulejman Bargjini and only became Albania's capital city in 1920.
Skanderbeg Square…,    from Balkans 2011

There is still a lot of the grey, dismal, communist era city, but there is also a lot of new, more colourful development. One example while we were there was the extensive improvements taking place in Skanderbeg Square.
Like most of the places that we visit on this tour our time is short. We spend the bulk of our time exploring the central area starting at Bulevardi Zogu I which takes in the National Historical Museum at the north end heading south on to Skanderbeg Square and numerous public buildings followed by Bulevardi Deshmoret E Kombit which is bordered on both sides by green space and takes in Rinia Park and the now rather delapidated Pyramid of Enver Hoxha.

Bunker…,    from Balkans 2011

Even here in the heart of the city and the seat of government you can still see remnants of the past, just off the main Boulevard, beside a bus stop, is one of the 700,000 bunkers built during the Communist era.
We decide that we've seen enough of the centre and take a taxi back to our hotel. We are staying a couple of kilometers northwest at Hotel Ferari, probably the best hotel on this tour with nice rooms and a pool. The local area provides a contrast from the grandeur of the city centre and we explore the small shops and cafes. Later in the evening we return to a small restaurant and enjoy a nice meal. The proprietor spoke English and tried to talk me out of the Albanian dishes on the basis that "foreigners do not like Albanian food", but I insisted and he was pleased to hear that I enjoyed it. A slight rephasing of the famous saying: When in Albania, eat Albanian food and drink Albanian beer!
We have one more stop in Albania and that is at Krujë, a small town about 20km north of Tirana in the mountains. We spent most of our time in Tirana at two museums, the Skanderbeg Museum and the National Ethnographic Museum.

Krujë Castle…,    from Balkans 2011

The Skanderbeg Museum is housed in Krujë Castle which is built on a hillside in the south of the town. The Museum honours George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, whose namesake square we visted in Tirana, a national hero of Albania. It is quite a small museum but is quite interesting and well worth the 200ALL entrance fee when we visited.
The Ethnographic Museum is just a short walk from the Skanderbeg Museum and is housed in an old merchant house and consists of perhaps a dozen rooms depicting life in the 18th century. There are english speaking guides to describe the rooms and their usage. Strangely you pay when you leave, assuming that you aren't the sort of person to save a few lek and sneak out the way you came in. We both found the museum interesting.
Cultural activities done it is time to find somewhere for lunch. There are lots of shops aimed at the tourists in the Old Bazaar which we walked through trying to find an interesting place to eat. We didn't find anywhere very interesting but did manage to get a reasonable pizza.
That's it for Albania, all we have to do now is head north for Montenegro, still in our private minibus.

Map of the route.

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