When time showed 0354 in the early hours of morning of 26 November 2019, we would wake up to our longest day in our stay in Tirana. Not knowing what was happening, we woke with screams of our children that later we realized that we were going through one of the strongest earthquakes in my life time, but also in the the contemporary history of Albania. It is very difficult to describe the tremor that we felt. Apparently, it was felt all around, even until the borders of Central Europe. The complications were not clear in the beginning. As the day started, the real picture of the quake was uncovered gradually. It was 6.4-magnitude quake, that struck to the west of Tirana, more specifically around the region of port city of Durres and Thumane, leading to dozens of victims, hundreds injured, damaged buildings and thousands of people becoming homeless. The history of Albania has seen many other tragedies, but this one will probably represent a critical juncture in the contemporary history of Albania. We are all sad these days, with hope that the cities of Durres and Thumane recover quickly. My condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones and wishes for quick recovery to injured people.
Central coastal area of Albania has interesting combination to offer: national park, history and sea. In this light, heading to Divjake, Bashtove and Spille is a good idea for a day trip. For us, the day started with visit to National Park in Divjake, which has a lot to offer, including forest and sea with couple of restaurants and hotels in offer. Then, we headed to Bashtove, which is half an hour drive from Divjake to the north. The most important landmark in Bashtove is the fortress that dates back to 15th century as an important trading spot for those times. Following the visit to Bashtove Fortress, we headed to Spille, which is summer destination for many locals and foreign tourists. Increasingly, it is becoming one of the important touristic destinations in Albanian riviera. Its beauty comes from the thick forest that is adjacent to the coast.
Albania’s south, waited so long to be visited by me :). It is culmination of everything what you see in the whole of Albania: sun, history, nature, food, landscape. You forget everything what you have seen elsewhere in Albania. We made it in five days. Here is a tip how to make it: 1: Drive to Tepelene and stop in “Uji i Ftohte” (Cold Water). 2. Continue to Gjirokastra, and enjoy this historical and amazing old town, full of history. Hometown of Ali Pasha, Enver Hoxha, Ismail Kadare. 3. On the way to Saranda, stop in “Syri i Kalter” (Blue Eye) to watch the spring of the water. 4. Continue to Butrint, the ancient town, a former Roman city. 5. Stop in picturesque beach town Ksamil for swimming. Enjoy the swimming between islands. 6. Drive northwards towards Saranda, then continue towards the north, via the coastal road. On the way, you will see all the famous places for beach holidays: Lukove, Borsh, Qeparo (stop here in the famous Olive Oil family factory; its on the main road; try the more expensive oil; you will not regret it); Porto Palermo; Llamani; Himare; Vuno; Gjipe; Jale; Dhermi. 7. After Dhermi, you are facing one of the steepest hills in the country, Llogara. Once in Llogara, stop in a designated place for panorama view of the Ionian see and then stop in Llogara at the top of the mountain for a rest before your travel back home. Tiring, but very enjoyable trip.
Agroturism is in rapid growth in Albania. There are couple of them that is in offer. Among the most famous is the one that is in the village of Fishta, near Lezhe. It is two hour drive from Tirana. After some kilometers from Lezhe, there will be sign on the right towards Fishta village. It is the village where famous Albanian poet was born and lived. Once in the village, it will be very easy to locate the agroturistic restaurant. It has become a major attraction for those travelling to Albania. Reservation couple of days in advance is must. They would cook things according to a season. Once there, seek the advise of the hosts for what is the best for that season of the year. Prices are average and probably cheap for this type of restaurants. It is must go place in Albania. We went and very much enjoyed it, including the children.
If it happens that you are anywhere in Albania; you can plan a day tour to Berat. This is probably the nicest touristic cultural place in Albania. It is place where you return back to earlier centuries where old houses and the castle stand as witnesses for glorious history of this cute place. It is a place where you hold your breath. Strongly suggested. In an hour and half drive from Tirana you reach Berat. Head towards the historical center of the town and there you have have places where you can park your automobile. Once you are in the town, stroll through the main walking street overlooking the castle. For a nice panoramic view, try to go to castle where you can either go by foot or take a taxi.
For food lovers, here is quick tip for a 1 day gastro trip around three cities in Albania. Drive from Tirana to Lushnje and stop there for exceptionally delicious Byrek (it is a restaurant in the entrance of the city, opposite to petrol station), then head to Vlore for a fish (any restaurant will work as they maintain fresh fish). Do not be surprised to get response that there is no fish due to bad weather. Then on your return to Tirana, stop in Kavaja for Ice Cream and Shampite in the city’s oldest pastry shop.
The communist history of Albania that lasted for 45 years starting from 1945 and until 1991 always evokes interest particularly to foreigners. It is due to its very different communist character that then communist regime exercised in the period of the Cold War. When you think of Albania’s communist history what comes to the mind is its total isolation from outside world, poverty and dictatorship. The legacy of this regime could be seen in early years of post communism, i.e. sometime in early 1990s. Currently, when walking in the streets of Tirana and in other cities there are elements that show this legacy of communist past, but increasingly they are being lost due to development that the country has been undergoing in the last 25 years. There is one place where the communist time of Albania can be best seen and that is Bunk’art, which is museum-turned former hideout of communist leadership in the event of a possible nuclear attack. It is located in Tirana suburb close to Dajti cable car. The entry costs 500 leks (around 4 euros) and it is open each day except on Tuesdays. From what I have seen so far in Albania, is by far the best museum of the country and probably the best in Balkan region. It includes rooms built for communist leadership including a parliament hall. The existence of this bunker was secret in communist time and became known to the population only in the post-communist times. Locals believe that there was a tunnel in the communist time linking this bunker with the government buildings in the center of Tirana.
What you do if it happens that you are in Tirana in a summer day? Here is my advise: (couple of times tried by author this summer).
Leave the city early in the morning and head towards a place called Gjiri i Lalzit, it is a coastal seaside place, 42 km west of Tirana. It is in the direction of Tirana – Durres, but north of Durres. You travel there on the highway Tirana-Durres, and on the 20th km, you turn right (there is a sign for Gjiri i Lalzit). There is another 22 km to arrive to Gjiri i Lalzit. It has plenty of sandy swimming places.
But before you arrive to Gjiri i Lalzit, I suggest that you stop for an ice cream in a village some 10 km before Gjiri i Lalzit. It is on your right when you drive towards Gjiri i Lalzit. You will see that all automobiles are stopping in that place; try to eat this fantastic and natural milk made ice cream in the morning as in your return in the evening you may not be able to do so due to crowd and due to police which is trying to ensure smooth flow of traffic.
Once in Gjiri i Lalzit, you may have your food and coffee there or you may try some of the fresh fruits that are sold by villagers.
On your return in the afternoon or evening, you may try a fish restaurant which is right in Gjiri i Lalzit or you may try a local Tava dish at the roundabout before you reconnect to the Durres-Tirana highway.
UEFA EURO 2016 (June) in France will be Albania’s first major soccer tournament. The first encounter will be on 11 June 2016 with Switzerland; and later with France, and Romania.
Albania together with Croatia are the only two western Balkan national teams attending the championship.
The football matches are best watched via TVs; but, for those who love atmosphere, being on the spot on the stadium is a feeling that you go through once upon your lifetime; not to be missed for those who had opportunity to obtain tickets.
There is growing recognition that Albania stands to be an important case study for many research theories in international affairs. Increasingly articles and books appear on Albania; and there are things that are yet to be explored. Although a lot has been written on break-up of communism in 1990-1992, civil disorder of 1997, the country’s economic and development progress, very little is analyzed on what it means from the perspective of theories of international relations.
When doing all of these, do not forget to have a piece of Shendetlie, an healthy local desert.