Category Archives: Albania Days

June 4, 2012 (Homeward Bound!)

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The sunrise as seen from my seat on the plane waiting to take off in Tirana (@ 5am)

Today there’s not much to report except that after 26 hours of travel and hardly 8 total hours of sleep I finally made it home. 🙂 We played cards in the Rome airport (we had a 5 hour layover… & then our flight was delayed another hour), and rushed through customs. Then I made Elijah come to the hotel with us in Orlando, because I refused to allow him (or anyone) to stay in a dark, deserted airport by themselves for 6 hours to wait for their flight home. I then got up 4.5 hours later to drive him back to the airport. Luckily Feagin and Cady came with me so when I got lost on the way back to the hotel I wasn’t alone 🙂 I’m so thrilled to have been given this opportunity and I’d repeat it in a heartbeat. I would also like to recommend these countries to anyone looking to travel off the beaten path, but I’d bring a guide with me or get to know someone from there as its not set up for tourism or people who don’t speak the language and don’t already know their way

June 3, 2012 (The Rooftop Day)

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Our last day in Albania! Its so sad… I’m really going to miss it, but I can’t express how great my desire to be home is. I don’t know why, but this last week I’ve grown to miss the United States and my home/family more and more everyday. Its not that I dislike Albania or that I want to leave it. I want to be able to stay in Albania during the day and teleport home for the night (is that too much to ask?).

We had a pretty uneventful morning, really we didn’t have to leave the hostel until lunchtime! I took full advantage of the extra sleeping hours 🙂

The rooftop restaurant where we had our final Albanian lunch

We had lunch at an amazing rooftop restaurant and then met with the LDP, a new political party in Albania. They have high hopes and goals for Albania’s future and I really wish them the best. I hate to say it, but I’m not sure their goals are going to be met anytime in the near future without a miracle… Luckily a majority of the Albanian population is young and ready for change and hopefully they will be receptive to and supportive of the LDP.

The office of the LDP, a new political party in Albania

After that we went to Lori’s apartment for our going away party. Eni made some delicious food, I spilled Eni’s drink, Lori knocked over her own glass, and fun times were had by all. Throughout the trip I had been randomly recording snippets of conversations and silly interactions between the group and at the party we were finally able to watch the videos (Thanks Gona Boo! :)) Around 10 o’clock we bid everyone adieu and went back to the hostel a final time to make last minute preparations for our trip home and to get as much sleep as possible before waking up tomorrow at 3am! Ugh… I’m dreading it already.

The amazing view of Tirana from Lori’s rooftop balcony

We had some fun times our last night… (Molly, Ashley, & Elijah)

… and some strange times 🙂 (Molly, Ashley, & Elijah)

June 2, 2012 (Masquerade)

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We left Shkoder today, but before or final departure, we visited the Venetian Mask Factory. It is owned and run by a man from Venice who moved to Albania (so they’re legit). We only got to see the store but that was more than enough! I was very surprised that they allowed us to take pictures of the merchandise but I wasn’t going to complain 🙂

All of these are handmade…

… and one of a kind!

Each one unique and beautiful.

I was so enamored with all the gorgeous masks that I bought 2! I took photographs of them incase they didn’t make it back to the States in one piece. 😛

I purchased this one for my sister

And this one for my Mom

Our afternoon in Tirana was laid-back and open for interpretation. Dr. Weigand, Cady, Kelsey, and Feagin got pedicures while Molly, Elijah, and Ashley explored the city. I relaxed in the hostel with a book 🙂 I ventured out briefly to accompany Kelsey and Feagin to their pedicure to get some fresh air and a change of scenery. My ulterior motive was procuring some 80 leke gelato 😉 (that’s about $0.80). Later that evening we met up at 100 Vila Restaurant and had another fantastic dinner.

Some colorful graffiti gracing the walls outside 100 Vila

My and Molly’s Neuron/Tree made of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I’m sad to realize that we’re going home in two days…

June 1, 2012 (Down and Dirty)

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Ura e Mesit (Mes Bridge) an Ottoman Bridge that dates back to the 18th Century. Over 100m in length, it is one of the longest Ottoman bridges in the region.
Its now used as a pedestrian path (yes, we crossed it :))

Some children playing in the river that runs beneath the Mes Bridge

Today we got “down and dirty” with the archaeological students from Mississippi. We spent a few hours helping them excavate their site and then headed over to Drisht “Castle” after lunch.

Bessie!
(I swear, we were NOT near any livestock on our trip abroad…)

The precarious path leading to the archaeological dig site. I wonder how they get the trucks out there…

The archaeological dig crew from a small liberal arts university in Mississippi. They’re hoping to uncover a burial site. The owner of the land bulldozed over the grave marker in an effort to cultivate more of his land. He “changed his mind” and called in an archaeological crew to excavate the site. So far they’ve yet to find any human remains but they have found lots of pottery (because we certainly need more of that in museums ;))

Some fields on our way to Drisht Castle

Awesome mountain scenery on our way to Drisht Castle

Turns out Drisht is more of a run down village than a castle. The area dates back to before the 10th Century B.C.! Today it is little more than 18 or so structures, loosely termed houses, surrounded by piles of rocks with no real remains of the castle aside from parts of the wall and a few towers.

One of the houses in Drisht

Another Drisht house. People still live in these homes, as hard as that is to believe, often with their livestock on the first floor and their families on the second. On of the students from Mississippi researched Drisht and found nearly every home to be inhospitable and very dangerous places to live in. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, these people have been living here for hundreds of years and are very accustomed to the state of their homes and do not seem to be negatively affected by it. I say, if they’re happy more power to them! 😀

The house where famous Anthropologist Edith Durham lived while she visited Drisht.

A very nice old man called to Marigona inquiring as to the nature of our visit. They chatted a bit and then he invited her eagerly up to his house to see an old stone he’d saved from the construction of the new museum. We obligingly trouped up to see it. It turned out to be a stone with the numbers 1437 carved into it. We think its probably a date since the town dates back to well before then. We also had the fortune of encountering an adorable puppy in their yard so thanks old man for inviting us to your house 🙂

This is that old man’s home.

We walked the short distance from one end of the village to the other. This is the view of the valley from the “other” side.

That night some of our group went to party with the archaeologists at their hotel. I stayed behind and got some much needed sleep as I’m pretty sure I’m coming down with something 😦 At least its the end of the trip and not the beginning.

May 31, 2012 (Oh Goody! More Trauma and Torture)

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Beautiful mosque in downtown Shkoder. Its located in the main pedestrian shopping area.

Today started off with a bang… well maybe a whisper. We went to speak with some elderly men who worked with victims of the Communist regime. They told us heartrending stories of their own torture, one man was bound and dragged behind a car, while another was arrested and imprisoned for “dressing wrong”. They repeatedly assured us that they were not seeking revenge, merely closure and healing. They also help other victims with their legal problems and lobby for human rights. Their office walls are covered with the faces of the dead, Albanian flags, and Abraham Lincoln quotes.

After that, we needed a little break, and decided to further investigate the pedestrian walkway of shops we had seen yesterday. I bought an autobiography written by a man imprisoned during the Communist Era, and Elijah searched in vain for an English copy of Mein Kampf. We had a wonderful lunch and relaxing rest of the day.

A fabulous restaurant owned by an Albanian who lived in San Francisco, Ca for 10 years but had to return to help his wife’s aging parents.
We learned that last week there was a sort of riot out in front of his restaurant in the pedestrian shopping area, and he went out to get the protesters to leave because a film crew had shown up and he didn’t want the bad publicity. A policeman approached him, threatened him and told him to leave Albania.
We also learned that every cafe/restaurant with tables outside had them there illegally (including our San Franciscan friend) because whenever anyone tried to apply for a cafe permit they were denied.

The Amazing Clydesdale Pigeon!

May 30, 2012- Day (Tears of Rosafa)

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View of Shkoder, Albania from Rosafa Castle

We started our day with a trip to Rosafa Castle where legend has it there were 3 brothers who were the princes of the castle. Each brother was married. For some reason they could not complete the castle and fully protect it so the Eldest brother went to a witch for a solution. The witch told him that he had to kill the wife who served him lunch the next day and that he nor his brothers could tell their wives. The eldest and middle brothers told their wives but the youngest didn’t. The next day the youngest brother’s wife served lunch and was told she was to be sacrificed for the castle. She accepted but asked that they remove one arm, one breast, and one leg so that she may hold, feed, and comfort her son even after her death. They agreed, she was killed, and her body embedded in the last wall of the castle thus completing it. It is said that in the place on the wall in which her body lay there is a milky stream on the stones that is supposed to be her tears for her lost son.

Leg 1 of the road to Rosafa Castle

Leg 2 of the road to Rosafa Castle
Believe it or not, this climb was one of the milder ones of the trip…

The view from the top was definitely worth the climb 🙂

Rosafa Castle
Shkoder, Albania

Rosafa Castle
Shkoder, Albania

Place where the two main rivers running into Montenegro converge

Rosafa Castle
Shkoder, Albania

While soaking up the peacefulness of the castle Lori asked us to do a character sketch of a person who’s story had touched us on our trip. I chose Marigona Dulaku. She also asked us to do a scenery sketch of a place that affected us greatly, I chose the Communist Tunnels in Gjirokaster.

After reluctantly leaving Rosafa Castle we toured downtown Shkoder, stopped in the post office to send some post cards, and had one of the worst meals of the entire trip. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t already become tired of the same cheese/meat/yogurt/olive combo that showed up everywhere we ate…

Inside a Catholic Church that was repurposed into a cinema during the Communist Era when religion was outlawed. It has since been turned back into a church and now houses scenes depicting Shkoder under communist rule and a memorial plaque for the many priests who were tortured and executed during the Communist Era.

Memorial Plaque of all the priests who were killed

May 24, 2012- Day 9 (Berat)

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We left Gjirkaster and headed for Berat, our last Albanian stop before heading to Kosovo for 4 days. We hit a slight snag on our way when we came across a road block due to repavement of the road. Luckily Zamir, our driver who we had come to know and love by this point, came to the rescue and got us through the block and back on our way. We stopped in for a quick bite, and potty break at a gas station. One cool thing about gas stations in the Balkans is they are HUGE and almost every one has a restaurant inside. We all packed into the elevator like sardines and predictably the light came on telling us we were too heavy. We pushed Elijah out and that seemed to do the trick because the doors closed and the elevator began to rise. However, a few short moments later the elevator jolted violently, we screamed, and Elijah cackled from his safe position outside as the elevator slowly inched its way back down. After a quick lunch and refuel we were on the road again.

Zamir comes to our rescue!

Horse drawn carts are a common mode of transportation in the rural areas of Albania.

We toured another Ethnographic House in Berat upon our arrival. This one, while very similar to all the others we’d seen thus far, was clearly set up to focus on the richness of the inhabitants rather than an accurate portrayal of their living quarters. Expensive looking dinnerware from a different time period and place was set out on the tables and newer “artifacts” were displayed on the walls and in the various rooms. It was beautiful if a little false.

Berat, Albania

After the house we went to an old Catholic Church, turned museum. There we encountered our first crowded tourist site. The area was flooded with young people on field trips. Right away we recognized that they were not Albanian due to their style of dress and some indescribable aspect of their appearance. Turns out we were right, they were Serbian and Kosovar.

Hordes of Serbian and Kosovar Students

Inside the Catholic Cathedral (we weren’t supposed to take photos… oops)

We next ventured into another castle, same old same old right? Wrong, this one still had people living in it! There are currently over 100 families living on the castle grounds. It was a very strange sight to see homes nestled in amongst the castle ruins.

The Inhabited Castle
Berat, Albania

The Inhabited Castle
Berat, Albania

After this delightful day we headed back to our hotel where Kelsey and Feagin discovered a kitten on the roof outside their balcony that they could hear but not see. They tried valiantly to rescue it but to no avail, I hope it made it off the roof safely…

My and Cady’s hotel room (very ’70s chic)
Berat, Albania