TIRANA, A CITY RE-INVENTING ITSELF

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blloku tirana

TIRANA, A CITY RE-INVENTING ITSELF

Wait, what?! Why does anyone wanna visit Tirana anyway? Isn’t it like a run-down ex-communist stronghold ridden with ruthless mobsters running around guns a-blazin’?

Well no, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. From its controversial communist past to its colorful present, Tirana has re-invented itself to become a vibrant capital city that is super-affordable. It is the bustling cultural, economic, and administrative center of Albania with a very relaxed vibe, and Tiranians, or Albanians in general for that matter, are extremely friendly, hospitable and curious towards outside visitors so that’s definitely a big plus!

dajti cable car

Situated along the base of Mount Dajti, Tirana was founded by Turkish General Barkinzade Suleyman Pacha as a small settlement in the early seventeenth century, featuring little more than a mosque, a bathhouse, and a bakery. Since then the city has grown to become home to a population of over 800,000 people. Following German and Italian occupations during World War II, the country was under communist rule for over 40 years. After the collapse of the communist regime in 1992, many of its Soviet-era tower blocks have since been painted with bright pastel colors, transforming the city into a literal rainbow and a unique travel destination in the eastern Mediterranean.

If you’re planning on visiting Albania soon, I would recommend you to download the Albania CityInformation App which has plenty of info about the city. Anywho, here’s an essential guide to some of the must-see attractions of Tirana.

SKANDERBEG SQUARE – THE HEART OF THE CITY

Situated in the center of Tirana is the city’s main plaza, the Skanderbeg Square, featuring a statue of Albania’s national hero, George Kastrioti ‘Skanderbeg’, who led the nation’s revolt against rule by the Ottoman empire in the 14th century. Flanked by the 18th century Ethem Bey Mosque with its idyllic frescoes and the Clock Tower of Tirana whose 90 steps you can climb for panoramic views of the city, Skanderbeg Square is the pulsing heart of Tirana. It is the gateway to the city’s many historical attractions and cafes, where you can sit and enjoy a glass of Raki, a plum brandy popular throughout Albania.

Bunk Art 1

BUNK’ART – CONTEMPORARY ART IN A COLD WAR BUNKER

Originally a Cold War era bunker constructed by Albania’s communist leader Enver Hoxha during his reign of over four decades, the structure has since been converted into one of the defining cultural institutions of Tirana. Meant to give refuge to Hoxha and Albania’s political elite in the event of a nuclear attack, it has since been converted into a museum where you can roam different galleries featuring contemporary art and exhibitions depicting the modern history of the country.

tirana pyramid

PIRAMIDA – ALBANIA’S VERY OWN PYRAMID (ODDLY ENOUGH)

Designed by Enver Hoxha’s daughter as a bold testament to her father, Piramida was once a tiled pyramid housing a museum dedicated to Enver Hoxha’s reign. Since then it has been practically abandoned, opening only occasionally for temporary exhibitions. You’ll now find its formerly brilliant white marble exterior slowly crumbling and scrawled with years’ worth of accumulated graffiti. Although many proposals have been made to demolish the structure,  city officials still can’t reach a consensus on the issue.

BLLOKU NEIGHBORHOOD NIGHTLIFE

For almost 4 decades, Blloku was restricted to the communist political elite of Albania and the rest of the population was not allowed in. When communism fell, Blloku began its makeover into a glamorous and popular neighborhood filled with bars, restaurants, and cafes. The perfect place for a night out in Tirana!

River tirane

PARKS – EXPLORE TIRANA’S WILD SIDE

After spending hours exploring all the unique attractions of Tirana, the city’s parks offer a relaxing breather from the city’s dizzying traffic. Why not take a stroll through Tirana’s wooded Grand Park, with a large artificial lake constructed in 1950s as its centerpiece? The southern end of the park also features a zoo and botanical garden. Seeking something more adventurous? 25 km outside of the city you can take the cable car up to the summit of Mount Dajti in Dajti National Park where you can have a quiet picnic in the midst of scenic pine forests.

NATIONAL HISTORY MUSEUM & NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART

Yes, yes, there is place in Tirana for you museum goers as well; and pretty valuable ones to. The National History Museum and The National Gallery of Art are filled with modern and ancient pieces of art and history that might take you at least half a day to explore. Make sure to plan ahead and buy tickets in time.

Dajti Cable Car

DAJTI EKSPRES CABLE CAR

For amazing panoramic views of the city, take the longest cableway found in the Balkans and enjoy a breathtaking visual experience. It only takes 15 minutes, so make sure to enjoy every second of it.

New Bazaar Tirane

THE NEW BAZAR

This newly established colorful space is a popular local spot and a great place to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from its market, or to treat yourself to some delicious local street food. Maybe even grab an espresso in the afternoon and enjoy some people-watching… Always an interesting way to take in a different culture.

Unfortunately Albania and particularly Tirana still have a stigma concerning their troubled history and lack of development, mostly compared to the liberal western powerful countries, but I having been there, I can say that slowly but surely, things are changing for the better and Tirana is becoming an established and recognized travel destination. Oh, and did I mention how affordable it is?? That is something that will play a major role in its development as a touristic destination, so hurry up and visit before everyone else discovers it!

True, you won’t find any mind-boggling sights in Tirana, but remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the beauty of Tirana can only be seen by those who don’t believe in stereotypes, and are curious enough to take on an adventure off the beaten path…

 

By Max (Drifters Guide to the Planet) On June 22nd, 2017


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albania communist

Exploring the Dark History of Communist Albania

Albania is hurtling forward into a future that looks brighter all the time, but as the most recent country to shun communism, it is haunted by a repressive past. This is true for many ex-communist countries of course, but for this one its entire post-WWII history is dominated by one leader: Enver Hoxha.

Some dictators get a softer image over time, or at least part of the population still views them as heroes (like Tito in Bosnia). You won’t find a lot  of Hoxha fans in Albania though, at least not under the age of 40. This is in stark contrast to the national hero Skanderbeg, who managed to defeat the Ottoman army for decades before he finally died and the country became part of that vast empire. Independence was a long time coming, but in 1913 Albania became a recognized free nation, though its Kosovo territory was ceded to Serbia. After the ravages of World War II, Hoxha rose to power in the Socialist People’s Republic of Albania, closely modeled on the oppressive Soviet system.

When Hoxha died in 1985, Ramiz Alia tried to keep the machine running, but the Iron Curtain was collapsing, the Soviet Union was breaking up, and he found (as Maduro is finding now in Venezuela) that you need lots of charisma to keep fooling people for decades. Eventually the economy is going to collapse due to the double lack of incentives and efficiency. When there’s nothing worth exporting and you can’t afford to import, you’re only going to stagnate or move backward. After a dark period of transition, Albania eventually opened up to the world and became a democracy, joining NATO and the World Trade Organization. It’s still one of the poorest countries in Europe, but its economy is more stable than some of its neighbors and inflation is low.

Visiting the Mega Bunker of Tirana

 

On your own you can visit several sites that give a peek into the reclusive history of the communist era, but it’s best to go with a local guide who can put it all in context. I took a Tirana Communist History Tour with Good Albania that visited several attractions, starting with the Bunk’Art Museum.

Albania’s history is on display all over the country in the form of its concrete bunkers. There were bunkers along the

bunker albania

whole coast and around all towns as the country became more isolated, to protect the citizens from the attacks that Hoxha scared people into thinking were just around the corner. From  the museum explanation:

In this period were planned to be built 221,143 bunkers, but were built “only” 173,371. More or less, one every 11 residents.

He obviously believed there was something to hide from because he built a huge secret bunker complex for the top government officials. It’s open to the public now as a museum. It’s partly a traditional history museum, with rooms displaying historical photos and artifacts from 1939 (under Italian rule) until 1990 (the end of the communist regime). The most fascinating parts, however, are the rooms showing equipment from the bunker itself, like the communication system to stay in touch with the outside world.

You also get to see where the government officials would have bunked down if they had to go underground. Hoxha had the best digs, of course, with his own living room.

 

 

bunk art

You have to duck a lot to get through the doorways that could be sealed off from other sections, but the place is surprisingly spacious. They put a lot of money into planning for disaster. The disasters ended up being slow-paced and internal, however, so the bunker never got filled with anyone except maintenance workers.

The “House of Leaves” Museum of Surveillance

house of leaves

It’s easy to chuckle about the bunkers, but the Museum of Surveillance shows the truly grim side of life under communism. The domestic spy operation was huge and invasive, to the point where nearly everyone was under surveillance of some kind. Virtually everyone was considered a threat, including those doing the spying. One room at this museum shows how people working there were turned upon on flimsy or fabricated charges, then tossed in prison or executed. Security agents were considered “secret microphones” and nothing you said or did had any promise of privacy. Even your own relatives could be informants.

A vast array of surveillance equipment is on display: listening bugs, video recorders, cameras with huge zoom lenses, and cameras hidden in coat buttons. One room shows videos filmed in peoples’ homes via hidden cameras, which another shows videos of sham trials where the defendant’s fate is sealed no matter what he or she says.

surveillance museum

One small part of the wall listing those executed by the state, mostly for “subversion.”

This was a land of paranoia. With no allies in the world—the country had cut off relations with both China and Russia—the rulers felt absolutely nobody could be trusted and they needed the party state to be omnipotent.

Much like the House of Terror in Budapest, this is not a place to go if you’re already feeling depressed. It shows you how easily a system can suck the humanity out of us and turn a whole population into paranoid, complicit drones who will do anything to stay out of trouble. Saying the wrong thing to the wrong person could mean a knock on the door in the middle of the night and you’d disappear into a labor camp.

Happy Communists in the National Gallery of Arts

You can’t have communism, facism, or a dictatorship without pervasive propaganda. So you aggressively slant the textbooks, brainwash everyone through state television and radio, and of course make sure that none of the art is subversive. Paintings must show the state in all its glory.

gallery of arts tirane

In Albania’s case this meant following the playbook set out by Mao and Lenin where the manual workers were glorified and they were all extremely happy to serve. In the National Gallery of Arts in Tirana, one whole section displays art produced in the Hoxha era. To us now it seems silly and laughable, but it was no laughing matter if you produced a work of art that didn’t meet their standards. It could literally get you killed. So you went along and depicted happy factory workers and farmers, all muscular and smiling, so overjoyed to be contributing to the collective good.

Tirana Has a Pyramid?

pyramid tirana

After the dictator died, his daughter Panvera Hoxha commissioned a grand monument in his honor. Co-designed by her, it’s a bizarre pyramid building that was planned as a museum but was short-lived since the country was moving on. After stints as a conference space and brief NATO headquarters during the Bosnian war, it’s mostly a ruin now. It’s covered in graffiti, some windows are broken, and it’s a favorite place for teens to either slide down or sneak off to smoke weed. (Hey, you can see anyone coming long before they get to you.)

A TV news station uses part of it as a production facility and there have been talks of putting it to use for various things, but eventually it’ll probably be demolished. It’s sitting on prime real estate in downtown Tirana…

See the GoodAlbania website for information on the communist history tour and other tours in Tirana and the surrounding areas. This tour starts at a very reasonable €29, including some food along the way.

By Tim Leffel On August 10, 2017

 


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Albania App by CityInformation

“Albania” app by CityInformation

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Finally Albania has entered the world wide platform for city app that CityInformation is.

With the “Albania” App you’ll always have all the information you need about Albania and over 1000 cities within reach. The local news, the weather, the best events, public transport information, the local radio and so much more; all in one App!

You can easily find cinema times and programmes for your local theatre or concert venues, and you can use the App to order tickets in just a few clicks! Catch up on the latest (sports)news or get tickets for their next match. Book a table in your favorite restaurant or order takeaway from the comfort of your home or hotel room! Also, check the best deals in town and use the convenient map function to get to your destination.
You can also check the status of flight departures and arrivals at your local airport and you can use the App to check the latest traffic alerts in town.

The best part is that you have access to a worldwide network of cities, all from within “Albania” App. Just tap the menu to switch to a different city and get access to everything you need!

So if you are looking for an App that has it all, download the free “Albania” App by CityInformation now and stay up to date with the best information on all your favorite destinations!

CityInformation: Your cities in one App!

Albania App by CityInformation


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Meet us at ITB Berlin 2017

Great chance to get to know Albania and our company better.

We are going to exhibit in ITB 2017 in Berlin 8th to 12th of March, 2017.
You can meet us at Hall 1.2, Albania National stand Booth No 213.

To arrange a meeting with our delegation or to get more info, please contact our:
Customer Support Center
Phone: +39 351 162 8334
[email protected]

or

Operations Manager
Erand Jucja

Phone: +355 6982 60 300
[email protected]


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Why traveling with locals is the best way to travel

Go Local!

Hi! My name is Geri, I am not a blogger but I needed to write something to help you understand what I just realized and to understand better how is traveling with us.

I will start this piece by a quote that I always say : “You really discover a place when you have lived in it” . I have stood by it even when our guests have expressed their approval, pleasure and positive surprise regarding information load that they got when touring with us. Usually, we have a sharing of ideas about how is better to discover a country and how to have some good, relaxing time when doing it. This, of course, at the last day of the tour. And it would result more or less, bitterly sweet, in the same idea of the initial quote here.

The last trip changed everything..

It was a private one. Driver ( one of my best friends ) , me and a couple from Bavaria, Germany.

Thanks to them that I truly managed to see our tour from our guest’s eyes. With a bit of customization , we managed to visit also Kruja and Durres along with cities included in Local Food & Unesco Heritage Tour.

We had our good share of fun, from making “Raki” in a village in Saraqinishte, listening to great questions like “ hmm, you seem surprised. How do you make Raki in Germany?” , to watching Albania – Spain at an all red&black bar in Tirana , to cooking byrek with chef Rita aka : “woman of the house” in the village of Bogove, to trekking in the wild to get to an amazing waterfall close to the same place, just to mention some highlights.

Being only in two, we managed to talk much more and the reason I say that they changed my ideas is that on the last day of the tour they told us that it was like we have been in Albania for weeks. The information, the experiences, the tales, the jokes, the cities, the landscapes, the “raki” drinking, all together told from a local prospective managed to make them see and understand our country and our people on a personal basis. It was, and I quote, a great experience and it really felt more like travelling with friends than anything else (which I guess is the best you could say about a vacation). Idem, always.

Our feedback has been great so far, but we needed this shared thought to reassure us entirely that this is the way to go and that it is true : Locals know best!

Thank you Rob and Franzi for your insights, see you soon!

Here are few pics of this trip :

 

go local albania

berat albania

cooking season goodalbania

antigone gjirokaster


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Luxury holidays on a budget in South Albania

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Dreaming about a paradise with virgin sand beaches, a warm sea, in the midst of the jungle, calm during the day and wild during the night, unspoiled by tourism but with WiFi everywhere? Yeah,I know. You are thinking about a Caribbean island with a resort in it. No need to travel that far..and to spend a fortune as well. There are similar, closer and cheaper heavens that you NEED to know of. Here is an example of what I’m talking about..

Beautiful beach in Albania

And there are so many more like this paradise beach spread all over the south coast. The only obstacle is getting a good deal for a plane ticket but with so many air-lines covering routs to the main and only airport in Tirana, you don’t need to be Tom Cruise to make it happen.

Most beaches are easily reachable by car and you could rent it for 20-30euros per day. The best way to visit the South though is knowing someone from the place. There are hidden virgin beaches every couple of miles but Albanians are not really keen on putting road signs to tell you where and how could you manage going there.

Even for an Albanian that is not from the south, it is almost impossible to get the right information without asking first three or four people. But once you know, this is what you get as a reward :

albanian beach

Now lets get on the luxurious side of the south gem. Big, fancy hotels are mainly located in the city of Saranda but you can find isolated, high buildings spread around the coast with swimming pools, WiFi and all other facilities of a 3 star hotel. If you really want top-notch lux, then Saranda is the place you have to get the hotel in.

With more than a hundred welcoming, high-class hotels charging no more that 60euros per double room (except in the month of August)

hotels saranda

And what about the food! OMG! You could have a three-course dinner, drink cool, local wine or if you are courageous try Raki, all of this inside a castle, having the sea and the city for a view. I’ll leave you guess how much for that dinner! The amount will shock you..LOL!

To experience all of this without any worries about organizing check out our Tailored Tour for the Wonders of South Albania.

 

 


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Albanian local experience

Sustainable tourism in Albania..

 

In the past decade tourism has had a very positive trend in our ex-communist, ex-isolated country. Travelers from all over the world, hearing of this unexplored, cheap heaven with a wonderful coast, breathtaking highlands and rich cultural heritage, have flooded the main destinations and attractions mostly during the summer months.

Undeniably, it has been hugely liberating and profitable to realise that we are “on the map” for foreign visitors but for a trained eye towards environmental issues and local community development it has not been that “great” after all, using a Trumpism.

In our second year now of tour planning, we observe buses coming and going from cultural cities. How visitors discover heritage sites with their foreign tour guide, how they walk into a fancy restaurant (every place has one) and how they leave for the next stop in Albania. All of this, almost without any true connection with the locals. Don’t get me wrong, these travelers are of course a great help to the community but there are better and more interesting ways to do so.

It is a pity that these big groups, and they are the trend now in Albania, don’t experience truly local adventures, food and culture because they are just too big. There are the best hotels, the biggest restaurants and the “most touristic” spots that welcome them. Which is perfectly fine if you just want to have some pics and a broad knowledge of the country. In my traveling experience though the most memorable moments will always be the ones where you experience the authentic local life.

Tour operators insist on pointing out our natural beauties, amazing heritage and delicious food, all very true. But what they have failed to highlight so far, is the authentic cultural adventure that is exploring our country with locals and like a local!

Traditions of Albania

When we started, there was an immense temptation to follow their footsteps. Big numbers of tourists mean big money. For us of course! We figured a different way to introduce Albania.. Not our idea though, we just listened to people from North to South. Locals felt excluded from the tourists visiting their cities and the countryside was just not tasted by foreign guests of our country.

Albania has amazing cultural cities but trust me when I say that the true soul of the country is in the rural areas. I firmly believe that a combination of these two is the best tourism formula for the country as a whole.

The implementing of this scheme is not easy at all but well worthy. Travelers gain memorable life moments and also the local community is hugely supported. If you think of how many different ways are to explore a country and multiple that with the number of travelers wanting to, you can quickly see how many people are faced with a decision to support something that helps both the economic and societal sustainability of a country, or not.

But with some research and a little determination to really help local communities when traveling can and does make an impact on people’s lives.


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fans france euro 2016

Winning ♥ hearts ♥ in Euro2016

When winning goes beyond a football match..

Forget Russian and English hooligans..here come the Albanian fans!

Marseille was a different city game day. The calmness of the early afternoon anticipated noise, beer and brawls in the streets of this harbour town. After the chaotic russian den’, people where hesitant to interact with fans. You would listen to stories about the fear and nonsense of man fighting one another in a war-zone-like atmosphere, and what was left in the hearts and minds of Marseillais and Marseillaise was repugnant feelings toward football fans.

What happened that day I can only describe by “The sun always comes up afer the storm”

Albanian fans started pouring in the city and in a blink of an eye, you would see hoards of French and Albanian fans  singing, drinking and having genuine fun together. Fan anthems were all over and by the time the game started, fans had their cheeks painted with red and black stripes in one and white, blue and red at the other.  The most used word in Marseille that day was “BONNE CHANCE”!

albanian french fans

At the very end France won the match but that day Albanian fans gained much more. With our attitude, enthusiasm and positiveness we won the city and the fans in France and in Euro2016.

 

 


Na ndiqni!