National History Museum, Tirana, Albania

This past weekend, I visited the National History Museum in Tirana, Albania.

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Front entrance
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Rendition of an Albanian home
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Front hallway
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Statues depicting gods
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Fortress
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Weapons
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Fresque mural by Fatmir Haxhiu
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“The stamp and the flag of the Albanian association”
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Onufri room

My friend was telling my about the artist Onufri, who is thought to be from what is now Berat, Albania. He is famous for the color pink. According to Wikipedia, “He was the first to introduce the colour pink into icon painting. The secret of this color was not passed on and died with him.”

Friday Gratitude: More Travel

This weekend, I am going to Tirana, Albania to attend a wedding. I am traveling with a bunch of Peace Corps friends, as it is a mutual friend who is getting married. While I’ve only been to three Balkan capital cities (including Pristina, Kosovo and Skopje, Macedonia), Tirana is my favorite. I flew out of the Tirana airport back in April, but I haven’t been to the city center since this time last year.

Again, I am so glad I was able to travel to Sweden this past weekend. It was a lot of travel packed into a short amount of time, but it was worth it to see Jose Gonzalez in concert. If you’d like to learn more about him, here’s a performance/interview I really like:

I am fascinated to read about the creative processes of my favorite artists, so I also really enjoyed this interview The Telegraph did with Jose Gonzalez.

When I was leaving Sweden last Saturday morning, I saw this bus go by. I was amused by the name. (This bus is “angered.”) 🙂

angered bus in Sweden

Also, I am glad to have some point of reference for Sweden beyond just Ikea and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Visiting did little to dispel my idea that it is utopia, though. Gothenburg is a beautiful, clean, bike-friendly city full of beautiful, friendly people.

Sweden was the ninth country I have been to this year. I hadn’t done much international travel before joining the Peace Corps, and I am so grateful I’m able to do so now.

On another note, my parents are on their care package game! I got this in the mail this week. 🙂 Thank you, Mom and Dad!

peace corps care package

Media consumption (a combo from the last few weeks):

  • My friend, Lisa, suggested I read Eleanor and Park. It’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. It is a teenage love story, which is not something I’d normally read. However, the characters were believable and likable. The story was great.
  • When news of a Billy Idol autobiography came out a few years ago, I got really excited. Then I forgot to read the book. I finally did! It was an interesting, honest account of his life and musical journey. He really does not pull any punches.

Okay, I am off to Tirana! If you’d like to read more about my previous trip there, you can read these posts:

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My friend, Val, and me in Tirana last November

 

Notes on Traveling Through Tirana

When doing research on flying to Rome, I discovered it was going to be much cheaper for me to leave from Tirana, Albania than Pristina.

At first, I considered renting an airbnb in Tirana the night before my flight. But then I would have to spend time/money getting back out to the Tirana airport (which is 18 kilometers outside the city center). Also, the bus from Pristina to Tirana stops at the airport on its way into downtown Tirana.

I had United Airline miles that were set to expire soon, so I decided to use them to book a room at the Hotel Airport Tirana. My cost for the room was only 16 Euro, after I used my miles.

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As my bus crossed the border from Kosovo into Albania, I looked out the window and thought, “Albania is so beautiful.” A second later, someone coughed on me.

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There isn’t much to do by the Tirana airport. I bought some snacks and spent the afternoon reading on my balcony (a fine way to begin a vacation, by the way). When I got hungry, I debated ordering room service. I’m not keen on eating in restaurants alone when I don’t have to, but room service is generally expensive. I’ve only ever taken one business trip (to Nashville, TN), and that was the last time I ordered room service. The fee was something like $16. Sixteen dollars is an obscene amount of money to order a mediocre cheeseburger, even if someone else is paying for it.

I called the front desk, and learned that the fee for room service at the Hotel Airport Tirana is 1.50 Euro.

WHAT?! SEND IT UP!

I ended up getting two room service meals during my stay, and the total cost for food + fees was 11 Euro. (Oh, Eastern Europe, how I love thee!) I got to eat dinner in my pajamas! In bed! 🙂

So, my total cost for traveling through Tirana, Albania was 10 Euro for the bus, 16 Euro for the hotel, 11 Euro for room service, and probably 3 or so Euro for snacks. (Free breakfast was included in the price of my room.) The 40 Euro I spent (plus my 70 Euro flight) was still significantly cheaper than flying to Rome from Pristina.

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The airport view from my balcony

The Tirana airport is across the street from the hotel, which makes this the only time in my life I have ever walked to catch a flight. 🙂

The Accursed Mountains

Last week, in a post about Istog, Kosovo, I mentioned Albania’s Accursed Mountains. One of my blog readers (hi, Mindyandy!) asked about the name.

The Accursed Mountains (or Bjeshkët e Namuna in Shqip [Albanian]) got their name because of their massiveness and density. My friend Ingrid wrote this guest blog post about her adventures hiking in Albania.

You could see the craggy peaks of the Albanian Alps in the distance. They looked imposing. Another name for them is the Accursed Mountains. This part of Albania is known for its rugged isolation, both of the environment and its native people, and until recently, few outsiders ventured there.— Ingrid Lantz

Albania (well, all of the Balkans) has a varied history. A book that’s on my to-read list (I first saw it in a bookstore in Tirana, Albania) is Albania’s Mountain Queen.

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Here’s a description from Amazon:

Young ladies in the Victorian and Edwardian eras were not expected to travel unaccompanied, and certainly not to the remote corners of Southeast Europe, then part of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. But Edith Durham was no ordinary lady. In 1900, at the age of 37, Durham set sail for the Balkans for the first time, a trip which changed the course of her life. Her experiences kindled a profound love of the region which saw her return frequently in the following decades. She became a confidante of the King of Montenegro, ran a hospital in Macedonia and, following the outbreak of the First Balkan War in 1912, became one of the world’s first female war correspondents. Her popularity in the region earned her the affectionate title ‘Queen of the Mountains’ and she is fondly remembered in Albania until this day. Marcus Tanner here tells the fascinating story of Durham’s relationship with the Balkans, painting a vivid portrait of a remarkable, if sometimes formidable, woman.

The book was nearly 30 Euro at the bookstore, so I didn’t buy it. But once I track down a (hopefully cheaper) copy and read it, I’ll post a review.

I hope this post answered your question, Mindyandy!

If anyone is interested to learn more about Albania, here are some links to previous blog posts I’ve written:

Fun Links (Kosovo and Albania)

Below are some links to articles I’ve enjoyed about Kosovo (and Albania).

  • Makeup is a big deal in Kosovo. Women, especially in the larger cities, tend to be much more made up than what I think is typical in the States. I got a kick out of Blonde Gypsy’s look at beauty routines in Pristina.

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    Photo credit: Blonde Gypsy
  • Heart My Backpack posted some gorgeous photos of Pristina during her trip to Kosovo. It was also fun to read someone else’s take on the city.

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    Photo credit: Heart My Backpack
  • This great post captures 23 “Day in the Life” photos of Kosovo from around the country.

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    Photo credit: Admir Idrizi via rferl.org
  • I loved visiting Tirana, Albania’s capital city. It’s got a mild, Mediterranean climate, a varied history, and a gorgeous public park. (I previously wrote about its nature, history, and the city today.) So I was super excited when this article popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. It’s a great, one-day itinerary for visiting Tirana.

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    Photo Credit: One Day Itinerary
  • I don’t cook much in Kosovo, for many reasons. 1) I think it would be rude not to eat with my host family. 2) I don’t like to cook often. 3) My village doesn’t have a grocery store. 4) My host family owns a wood-burning stove, and I have no idea how to use it. However, many of my friends like to cook, so I wanted to link to another recipe for traditional food. (I previously posted some good recipe links in this post.) In the One Day Itinerary article above, Oda was suggested as a good traditional dining spot in Tirana. I ate at Oda during my trip to Tirana and loved it. Fasule, a popular bean dish, was one of the dishes I ordered. I found this blog post (written by a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Albania) that lists a simple fasule recipe (in English).

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    Photo Credit: Albania Adventure

Friday Gratitude: Tirana, Albania

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April and Val, outside the National Art Gallery of Albania

This week, I am so grateful I had the opportunity to visit Tirana, Albania. I am grateful to my friend, Val, for suggesting we visit (and for putting up with me for 3 days straight).

I feel especially fortunate I was able to explore with someone who has a connection to the city, and who was every bit as excited to be there as I was. Thank you, Val. 🙂

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Val took me to a traditional Albanian restaurant (we ended up eating there twice). I’m not a food pornographer so I didn’t take any pictures of my meal, but we had eggplant, beans, lamb, bread, and rice-stuffed peppers. If you ever find yourself in Tirana, look for a restaurant called Oda.

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Like I said in an earlier post, Albania is a huge mix of influences … Mediterranean, Islamic, communist, western … and there’s a pyramid in the middle of everything. I can honestly say Tirana is the most thought-provoking place I have ever visited. I am still processing everything I learned on my trip.

This coming week, I am heading into Pristina for a 4-day Peace Corps conference. It will be the first time since our swearing in ceremony that my cohort will be together. Another friend and I were laughing about this: Why are we so excited for what is, essentially, a business trip? Welcome to life in the Peace Corps, where every little thing becomes exciting …

Tirana, Albania: Today

This is the third post in a three-part series I am writing about my recent trip to Tirana, Albania. — April

Monday morning, my friend and I were trying to decide how to spend our last day in Tirana. It was raining, but all of the museums were closed due to it being Independence Day. A man on the street overheard us and stopped. Turns out, he is a tour guide, and he took us on an impromptu tour of the city.

We made several interesting stops along the way, including the Albanian parliament. We were standing outside of the building, talking, when the guards invited us inside.

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As I posted yesterday, Albania was under communist rule until 1990. Today, its government consists of two parties, the Socialists and the Democrats.

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One thing that really struck me about Tirana (and Albania in general) is the mix of influences you see. Like Kosovo, Albania is largely Islamic (due to influences from the Ottoman Empire) and has a minority Catholic population. Our tour guide told us that under communist rule, religion of any kind was banned. The churches and mosques in the city today are all new.

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This mosaic of Mother Theresa is made with seashells.

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This pyramid is a famous source of controversy in Tirana. It was built by Albania’s communist ruler, Enver Hoxha, as a tomb for himself. He died in 1985. His body was entombed in the pyramid for only a few months, and was then moved to a cemetery outside the city in order to discourage protests. There has been much debate about whether to tear down the pyramid, or to keep it as a reminder of history. According to our tour guide, Tirana plans to begin restoration on the building sometime next year, and turn it into a museum.

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One thing to note, while our tour was interesting, our guide was evasive about the price until the end. My friend and I both feel like he overcharged us. So I would say if you’re a foreigner traveling in Tirana, use extra caution and insist on prices up front!