Albania - Formerly Very Paranoid, Still Slightly Strange

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Europe » Albania » South » Sarandë
June 28th 2008
Published: July 19th 2008
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Ferry approaching Agio Saranda, AlbaniaFerry approaching Agio Saranda, AlbaniaFerry approaching Agio Saranda, Albania

Beach resort town on the southern tip of Albania
For 2 decades we have sat on the island of Corfu and wondered about the little country of Albania, just a short ferry trip across the Adriatic. Now that it is finally allowing visitors, we decided to take the day trip and check it out. Before going, we read Tony Wheeler's account of it in his book entitiled "Bad Lands". What a strange little country it is!

We were only able to visit the coastal resort town of Agio Saranda and the Roman ruins of Butrint. Our time in the city was very limited due to the hour long drive to Butrint. Agio Saranda has sprung up into a city from the little village that it was during the dictatorship of Hoxha. The construction got a little chaotic with developers claiming land and building hotels and apartment buildings without legal permits. So, the current government finally stepped in and forced the builders to demolish some of the structures. As you drive through the city there are buildings standing in piles of rubble and large boulders. It's difficult to determine if the building is being built or being destroyed.

Another puzzling feature of this beach resort is that nearly everyone is driving a Mercedes. This is one of the poorest countries in Europe, so how do they afford a Mercedes? Rumor has it that they are stolen from other European countries, brought to Albania, and sold to the locals. We don't know if this is true, but all we saw on the road the day we were there, were Mercedes.

An hour south of Agio Saranda is the World Heritage site of Butrint. These are Roman ruins dating back to the 3rd century BC. The signs on the ruins don't use that dating system due to the atheistic communist rule. The dating of the ruins is counted back from the beginning of Hoxha's dictatorship. The ruins are situated along a river and were covered with layers of mud and silt. They are still excavating large portions of the ancient city.

Hoxha was an extremely paranoid dictator and was sure that the rest of the world was going to invade Albania. He commissioned the construction of 800,000 concrete bunkers that could withstand a tank assault. Some of these bunkers are shaped like round domes and others are basic square buildings. They are located throughout the country and especially along the coast line. Today, many of them are being used as storage sheds, animal shelters, or bars. As our ferry departed, we watched the bunkers pass for approximately 40 minutes as we cruised along the Albanian coast. What a country!!

Additional photos below
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City construction of deconstructionCity construction of deconstruction
City construction of deconstruction

The city is in a building frenzy. However, the buildings that were built on land that wasn't purchased legally, are in the process of being torn down. It's hard to tell if the building is going up or coming down!
Rural county car ferryRural county car ferry
Rural county car ferry

We were glad that our tour bus didn't plan to cross the river!!
A rural roadA rural road
A rural road

Most roads outside the cities are still dirt
The infamous concrete bunkersThe infamous concrete bunkers
The infamous concrete bunkers

There are over 800,000 bunkers throughout the country. Some are shaped like mushroom tops and other are called pill boxes. This was our departing view as we left Albania.

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