I took these photos a while ago but never got around to posting them. I visited a farmer’s market the last time I was in Albania. Fruits and vegetables abounded, but I was also surprised to see other goods for sale. I really wanted to buy an antique clock (isn’t the one with the owl cute?), but the 30 Euro price tag was too steep.
Though sheep’s head soup is a delicacy, I have never seen it or had it served to me (though my host family eats mutton). I was surprised to see sheep’s heads roasting on a spit (bottom row).
I’ve had chicken cooked in a clay pot (see below) in Kosovo, and it is really good!
I am not someone who visits farmer’s markets with any regularity, but Tirana’s is small, clean, not at all crowded, and had a variety of foods and goods for sale. I will definitely be back!
This past weekend, I visited the National History Museum in Tirana, Albania.
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.”
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.
As I posted yesterday, Albania was under communist rule until 1990. Today, its government consists of two parties, the Socialists and the Democrats.
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.
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.
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!
This is the second post in a three-part series I am writing about my recent trip to Tirana, Albania. — April
Disclaimer: Some of the images and descriptions in this post are graphic in nature.
When we were talking about things we’d like to do in Tirana, my friend suggested visiting BunkArt. I didn’t do any research on it beforehand, and kind of assumed it was an old bunker turned into a modern art museum.
While Kosovo’s population is largely ethnically Albanian today, Kosovo and Albania have had very different recent histories. Kosovo was a part of the former Yugoslavia and fought a war against Serbia, whereas Albania was not part of Yugoslavia and was under communist rule until 1990.
I am no historian. I can’t pretend to be an expert on Albania’s history. But here are some pictures I took at BunkArt, along with descriptions of those pictures.
“The weapons displayed in this room have been deactivated and turned into museum objects.”
This coat was used to train dogs to attack people trying to illegally cross the border.
From a posted museum description:
“Throughout the communist regime, police dogs were considered as a strategic element to the aid of the police: there were more than 200 dogs that were used along the border mainly to signal those trying to leave the country, or those trying to enter illegally … The use of dogs in the border was so important that, if one of them got sick the General Commander should be informed, until reaching to the level of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs.”
It is hard for me to begin to wrap my mind around such horrors. And Albania was under communist rule until 1990, which means it happened in my lifetime, not in some distant past.
I’d like to end this post with a quote from Mother Theresa (who was Albanian):
“Evil settle(s) roots when a man begins to think that he is better than others.”
This post is the first in a three-part series I am writing about my recent visit to Tirana, Albania. — April
Hi, everyone! I am back home in Kosovo after having spent the last three days visiting Tirana, Albania. Tirana was high on my list of places I wanted to visit here in the Balkans. I was thinking I would visit there for spring break. But then my friend (who has been to Tirana several times) asked me if I wanted to go for a long weekend, and I figured, why not go now?! We (the Peace Corps) have been on a travel restriction since we arrived in Kosovo in June. But the restriction ended this weekend, so now we are free to start using our vacation time. (If you’re curious, volunteers accrue 7 weeks of vacation for the 2 years we are serving. That sounds like a lot until you realize we don’t get weekends off … any travel done outside of Kosovo counts against our vacation time.)
My friend and I left Pristina, Kosovo on a 6 a.m. bus on Saturday. We arrived in Tirana at 11:30 a.m. After we ate lunch, we took a long walk through the city down the main boulevard.
Tirana is bigger than Pristina. The streets are much wider. The city was decorated for Independence Day (November 28).
Tirana is south of Kosovo and has much milder weather (it’s been freezing at home … I wore my winter coat last week.) I had debated whether to pack my peacoat or my winter coat for the trip, and am glad I opted for the former. We lucked out with the forecast, too. It was supposed to rain all weekend, but it only rained on Monday.
The weather still felt like autumn. In Kosovo, the trees are all bare, but in Tirana there were still pops of color everywhere.
As I said, my friend has visited Tirana several times in the past, and she was commenting on how much the city has changed since her visit 2 years ago. She said it was much cleaner than she remembered.
At the end of the main city boulevard, we reached the city park.
My friend was also telling me about the recent changes made to the park, which included the addition of an awesome playground.
After walking through the park, we reached Tirana’s (man made) lake (which is still very pretty).
Stay tuned for more posts about Tirana this week! I’ll be writing about history, art, and the city as it is today.
Hi, guys! My friend Ingrid has gone on some very cool hikes, and I asked if she would write about her experiences for this blog. Read on to learn about her recent hike in Valbonë, Albania. All of these beautiful pictures were taken by Ingrid. –April
Since I’m from a state known for its mountains, I’ve been longing to see and experience the mountains of Kosovo and beyond since I arrived. In my 4 months here, I’d yet to see much of the wild parts of Kosovo, so a trip to Valbonë National Park sounded great. Even though I live near Prizren, which is in the south of Kosovo and near the mountains or right up next to them, it’s often difficult for me to get to any hiking. As a Peace Corps volunteer we’re not allowed to drive, and shuttles or local hiking buddies can be difficult to find. This trip was a charter trip with a tourist company called Eurotrip to Northern Albania … and while that’s not technically Kosovo, it’s just two hours northwest and over the border in a country that shares a common language and heritage with Kosovo. In fact, Kosovars are so linked to Albania that most of the time they use the Albanian flag at celebrations and not the Kosovar flag.
Leaving from Prizren early in the morning we headed northwest towards the market town of Gjakovë. Just after the city, as we traveled directly west over the border. 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 it’s rugged isolation, both of the environment and its native people, and until recently, few outsiders ventured there. Now it’s one of the gateways to the Peaks of the Balkans trail, where you can hire a guide traverse these pristine mountains through the countries of Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro.
As we wound our way up the narrow valley road that hugged the river between towering peaks, I gained abundant respect for the driver as he negotiated hairpin turns and one-lane bridges. Along the way fall colors erupted from trees sprinkled among the evergreens. We slowed often for cows and herds of shaggy longhaired goats. Most perplexing to me was the goatherder sporting a full suit but with a hobo bag on his back. Small villages dotted the landscape in the lower valley, hay stacked in formations that looked like giant beehives.
Our bus dropped us off literally at the end of the road into the park at Hotel Burimi I Valbones, a lovely and large hotel with a restaurant and most importantly, a bathroom! Which, of course, they graciously allowed all 60 or so of us to use. From the hotel the trail strikes out across a deep, wide glaciated valley. This part of the trail is along a very rocky blindingly white stony glacial moraine and goes for about 3 miles. Sturdy shoes with good soles are recommended. Even though it was October, the exposure and the rocky trail gave me a good feeling for what it would be like in the height of summer. It was hot. A backpacker couple told me later that the mountains don’t have much water and are extremely hot and dry in the summer. Even in October, they still carried water for overnight backpacking.
Along the valley are some abandoned old stone houses that looked interesting to explore. Towering peaks on both sides and ahead reminded me of the stony craggy peaks of California’s Sierra Nevada range. About 3 miles in we came upon a fully functional restaurant, bar and guesthouse. They served traditional Albanian food, salad, buke (bread), fried peppers, cheese and meats. This was at the end of the 4-wheel drive tourist road that some took instead of walking. The sweeping view from this restaurant allowed you to see for miles down the valley. Directly in front of the restaurant, across the valley, the mountain rose up like a great wall several thousand feet up. The granite tops looked white, and at first I thought it must be snow, but then I realized the rocks on top were streaked white.
After this restaurant the trail narrowed and was not accessible by vehicle. About a mile after there was another small café and as I passed by a woman was in the process of making flia, a very traditional Albanian dish that consists of multiple crepe-like layers brushed with cream, oil and flour. It looked like it would be ready on my way back. She smiled as I asked if I could take her picture.
After that, I followed the trail steadily upward through forest and deeper into the canyon. In a couple miles we began to climb steeply and then for the last 30 minutes we clambered over tree roots and stones to our final destination, a waterfall.
As we savored the cool spray, some ate and splashed in the water. One devout hiker laid out his prayer rug on a flat rock at the bottom of the falls and pointed downvalley – apparently the same direction as Mecca – and with a view that went for miles, began to pray.