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Published: November 14th 2019
We Always Are Glad To See Wind Turbines
being used - many seen along the coast here
When we left the magnificent Bay of Kotor, we headed south and stopped at the town of Bar, still in Montenegro as we needed to check out of the country and this broke up the trip to the next country we will visit, Albania. We had heard that it was quite easy to check out in Bar which is always a plus when dealing with the bureaucracy of various countries. We pulled into a large marina in Bar and were pleasantly surprised when we were given a side tie – always much easier for getting on and off the boat. We were helped by a very kind marina staff member who you could tell knew his way around boats by the way he dealt with the lines - he was an older gentleman that stated that he spent a large part of his life on fishing boats so he definitely knew how to tie up a boat! One of the pluses we had read about this marina was that it had a laundry which we could definitely use as we didn’t get to one while in Albania. We do quite a few things by hand washing, but it sure helps when
Not The Best Photos But Trying to Show
items we have seen floating while sailing
we find a machine. Well, the advertisement was correct that they had machines for laundry, but found out that they weren’t working. Oh well… As we didn’t have shower or toilet facilities in Albania, we also were looking forward to having a Hollywood shower whenever we are checked into a marina. Well, got ready to take a shower but as I closed the door to the shower (and thankfully before I undressed) I saw a dead mouse behind the door! I went and told the office staff and they were very apologetic and said they’d get someone to take it out, but it definitely turned me off as it indicated that they didn’t do too good of a cleaning job here. Oh well number 2. We weren’t offered a discount from our 62 euro per night slip for either of these “problems” but didn’t really expect one nor did we ask.
Well, the main objective of stopping here was to do the official paperwork to check out of Montenegro. Fortunately the office staff knew where the harbormasters office was located (again, not at the harbor!) and it was a quick walk there. This was a dry run as
View of Durres As We Are Nearing the Harbor
a closer look later we see this is a restaurant
we will have to come back on the day we want to leave to get the paperwork stamped. In some countries you can have 24 hours after you officially are stamped out to leave the country, but we found out that we could not complete the paperwork until we actually move the boat over to the port police and customs dock on the day we leave. The irony is that the office is just on the other side of the marina office and you can easily walk to it, but we were told we must bring the boat over in the morning. Oh well, the rules are the rules. We wanted to leave early the next morning so checked to see how early they open their office and were told they were open 24 hours a day so it just means we have to get up extra early. At least that first afternoon we figured out where all the offices are located so it should be easy the next morning.
We didn’t take too much time walking around but noticed that there seemed to be much more graffiti here and things seemed “tired and run down” than other places
we have been. We knew the next day would be a long one, so didn’t take a lot of time wandering around in Bar. We at first thought we would stay here a day or two as there were a few places we could visit by public transportation or renting a car, but decided against doing that. We were getting to the point of being on a mission to get to our next country, Albania.
I noticed that there was a Canadian flag on a sailboat on the next dock so stopped over to meet them. They are lovely people and after talking for a short time at the dock, they invited us over for dinner – always nice to have a chance to meet others and compare notes of where we have been and what we will be doing. A nice ending to the day!
The next morning worked out fine for the check out process. We left the marina dock at 5:50AM, motored around to the port police dock, walked over into town to the harbormaster office to get our paperwork stamped first, then searched to find someone at the port police office. We had to
wait a little time for the officer to arrive, but not too bad. We went to the office and the official stamps were executed and we were off the dock of the port police by 6:40AM – not too bad.
The weather cooperated and we actually made better time than we thought we would which is always a pleasant surprise. As always we were on the lookout for dolphin and turtles when doing a passage, but unfortunately all we saw were pieces of Styrofoam, kiddie pools and even a large rubber duck! We had a bird visit us for a short time as well – guess it needed a rest for a while and our railing provided that for a time.
We made it to our port of entry in Albania, the city of Durres at 4:20PM. This is quite different for us though as there is not an actual marina here for pleasure boats, we will stay in the commercial port where they have now set up a few places for pleasure boats with lay lines. This is actually an improvement as we had heard from others that in previous years there weren’t any lay lines!
MV Metis Came In to Durres to Fuel Up
notice the size compared to the fuel trucks!
To check into Albania you need to hire an agent to help with the official paperwork therefore we had lined up someone beforehand. It worked out well as our agent was at the port to meet us and take our lines and hand us the lay lines. Typically you just hand over all of your boat papers and passports to the agent and they go to the various offices to get the official paperwork done. We were told that it is not normal to stamp the passport, but we really wanted that done as we want a record of being in Albania in our passport. It is not just to have it as a souvenir of our travels, but to show that we are in a non-Schengen country. Those of you that have followed the blog have heard that we can only stay 90 days in a 180 day period in any of the Schengen countries. As Albania is not a signer of the Schengen agreement we want proof that we are now out of Schengen so it doesn’t count within our 90 day allowance. Our agent stated that we can request the passport be stamped if we wanted it
and that I could even come with him to do it. I figured I would go with him as it would give me a chance to get oriented to the city and Bob time to get things set up on the boat as we would be staying for a few days. It worked out well as we had to wait at the police office as they were busy so Ilir Gjergji (Adetare Agent), our agent, bought me a cup of coffee and we had a chance to talk. He provided me with a map of the city and some information on places to see, where the grocery stores are located and other vital information for coming into a port. The bonus was that he also answered other questions I had about Albania. For those of you that may not know (or knew but don’t remember the details) Albania had been part of the country of Yugoslavia. The people here were under communist rule from 1978-1991 and were completely isolated from the outside world. No one could get out or get in to the country – that meant the movement of people as well as information, complete isolation. During this time
all religious activities were banned as well and as our agent stated many now are atheists as a result.
Albania is not part of the EU and as a result they have their own currency, the Leke. This meant that we needed to get some local currency but before going to the ATM we had to figure out what the conversion would be as well as what the prices of things are to know how much to take out. We stopped at a store to look around to see the prices of the items that we would typically buy and found that it looked that things were quite inexpensive. We decided as a result to only take a little out the first time as we knew we could always get more later. We weren’t sure how long we would be in Albania and definitely didn’t want to have leke left at the end of our time here. We found 100 leke is equal to approximately 90 cents so we would have to get used to seeing very large numbers, but that it would be a pretty easy conversion to do in our head. You definitely feel quite rich when
you have a 50,000 note in your wallet, but realize it is equal to less than $50. When we went to the ATM we got a 50,000 note rather than smaller denominations so figured we would try to break it before heading over to the store to pick up some yogurt and fruit. Our thought was that we would stop at a café attached to a large hotel to get some coffee thinking they would be able to break the bill. When we went to pay and handed the wait staff the 50,000 she gasped and said that it would take some time to get us change – so much for being at a large hotel! Most things are paid for in cash here so getting smaller denomination bills will be important or we could have problems buying only a few items. Another stop we typically make is to buy wi-fi access. We do have a Google phone that gives us data and the ability to make phone calls, but it is more expensive sometimes than local access. We checked it out and found that we could get 100 GB of data for 15 Euros for 14 days which would
work out fine for us. We did mention that we were surprised by the amount of data being exceptionally large, but they told us they knew that was the case and that people would not be able to use all of that within a 14 day period of time but was a good marketing strategy. The best part was that we had great strength with our wi-fi connection and that is what is most important as we depend on it for our weather updates, planning out our activities and just general communication with others. We have noted that many prices here are in Euros and they are always happy to accept that over the local currency of lekes, but we always prefer to work in the local currency.
Durres is the main commercial port city for the country of Albania so is a busy place. It was an interesting city to explore with its combination of historic sites, numerous religious centers and plenty of places to shop. It is somewhat ironic to think of how far commercialism has progressed in a short period of time (since 1991). We found that there were numerous stores and a few shopping centers
For Only Being Recently Opened Up
there was plenty of capitalism alive and well here
that always seemed to be quite busy. Who would have thought that in just a few years since the communist regime ended that commercialism would be so common here!
Since being in Europe we have been reminded of how large an area the Roman Empire encompassed. One of the sites to see here in Durres is a Roman amphitheatre right in the middle of town. It is interesting that only part of it has been uncovered completely which gives you a glimpse of what it must be like for the archeologist to dig up and make sense of all of the details. It was built between 97-117 AD and is somewhat unusual in that it was built in the shape of an oval rather than the typical round found elsewhere. It is thought to have been able to hold 20,000 people and was one of the largest on the Balkan Peninsula. In combination of viewing the amphitheatre we visited the Archeology Museum. Currently they only have the ground floor open, but have other floors that they will be expanding in to. We were impressed with how the displays were done in chronological order giving us a better understanding of
Had To Laugh to See Monopoly Sold Here in Albania
especially with it being communist quite recently
the history of this area. They were all accompanied by excellent write ups in English. It is obvious that Albania is really trying hard to encourage tourism. We were told that last year Albania had 5.5 million tourists which has definitely been helpful to their economy, but they need to build that up to a much larger number. Let’s hope that it doesn’t grow too fast and outpace their infrastructure to support more.
The capital of Albania is Tirana and can be reached easily by bus so took a day trip there. We had checked online and found that we could sign up for a free walking tour so immediately did so. This was an excellent thing to do as it not only oriented us to the city itself and its sites, but even more importantly gave us more of an insight into some of the things that people had to adapt to when the communist regime fell here in 1991. Communism here in Albania was somewhat different in that they were completely isolated without any ties to the outside world – as he said some of the other communist nations had a connection to either China or Russia,
but here they didn’t even have that. As a result no information about Albania or the outside world came in or out of the country during their period of complete isolation from 1978-1991. Students started to demonstrate in December 1990 and that same month the government allowed the Democratic Party to establish itself. In March 1991 an election was held and the communist party remained in power, but a general strike led to the formation of a government that would allow non-communist to be included. The economy was collapsing and with lots of social unrest, the election in March 1992 put the Democratic Party in power. It has not been smooth going since then as the promises that were made were not being fulfilled. In 1997 there was widespread corruption in the military, but they now have a democratic government which is more aligned with the west. In fact they are trying very hard to become a signer of the Schengen agreement, they still have some hurdles to surmount before that will be allowed, but they are getting closer (which will be unfortunate for those of us that cruise the waters here!)
The guide was able to provide first
hand stories of living through this period and even more importantly his parents’ reactions to many things that have changed and the adjustments they made. This gave us a much better feel for what many of the people that we walked by on the streets here had gone through.
One of the very funny stories the guide told us was about the time that bananas started to be imported into Albania. He told us that his parents had no idea what they were or how they were to be eaten. His Dad refused for some time to try them, but eventually he did and now loves them so much he has a banana every day! Another fact we were told was that the first outside corporation to establish itself here was Coca Cola. The traditional bottle of Coca Cola with its distinct labeling became a status symbol to the point that people would buy one bottle and put it on display in their living room for others to see. As the guide said it was a sign that you were able to purchase such an item, but it also added the color red to a previously very dull colored
living room! This lead to the mention of the mayor of Tirana. He is actually an artist and with the dull color of all the buildings here built during communist rule, he had many buildings painted in vibrant colors. He said that it was needed to make people smile and it seemed to work. We only saw a couple of the brightly colored buildings, but know that there are some sections of the city that have many more and that area has that even become an attraction for tourist!
Another major change is in the amount of cars that ply the roads here. In the early 90’s there were only 5,000 cars mainly owned by only the elite, but now there are approximately 50,000. Three out of five cars is a Mercedes as it was well known that early on these were the cars that were stolen from other European countries and sold to be driven here in Albania. The guide mentioned that people would get cars and not realize that they needed to get a driver’s license so he teasingly told everyone in the group to be careful when driving here or even crossing the road as a
Religion was against the law during communist rule, but we were told that a few of the older people did still practice in secrecy. In 1967 religion was officially banned under the leadership of Enver Hoxha and Albania became the first atheist state in the world. All religious institutions were closed and many clergy were imprisoned or executed. Punishment for breaking this law was 3-10 years in jail or worse. After the death of Hoxha there was a relaxing of the laws against religion and in 1988 foreign clergy started to return but the official allowance of religious institutions wasn’t until December 1990. With the severity of the punishment of following religious beliefs, parents did not pass these down to their children therefore religion did not become an important factor in people’s lives. Even though organized religion is now allowed, Albania is considered a secular country with a very relaxed view on religion. We were told there is still a large part of the population that consider themselves atheist, but that a variety of religions are now supported here. The national heroine here is Mother Teresa as she was born in Albania and a statute of her is
located outside the large Catholic Church here. The majority of people that are religious are Muslim as this was the predominant religious group before communism came to power. A very large mosque is being built with funds from Turkey in Tirana currently. There were many other churches established within the city that were pointed out to us as well. After the tour we did stop into a couple of the churches, but there were other places we wanted to visit that were unique to Albania which I’ll get into soon. The population within Albania is 3 million people, with more Albanians living outside its borders as many escaped earlier and have not returned as they have integrated into their adopted countries. It is estimated that there are between 7-10 million Albanians world-wide. With the improvements here there is a hope that some of them will return to help build up the country again, time will tell.
The parents of our guide were born when communism was in power so that is all they knew until its downfall. When the guide asks older residents about their days during communism, many tell him that the country was clean and safe back
Durres Has Nice Beaches
that seem to be well used - a nice place to walk
then. As our guide pointed out, “if you don’t have anything , you can’t liter and if you are in a police state where you know you will be killed if you say anything against the government, then there aren’t any uprisings and it could be considered safe.” Good point…
There are a few US President’s that are honored here in Albania with some having a street named after them and some even have statutes. Two were mentioned by the guide, Woodrow Wilson and George W .Bush. Woodrow Wilson is honored as he was the first to fight to establish the borders for an independent Albania after WWI while President George W. Bush is honored as the first US President to recognize an independent Albania by visiting here and supporting them in their bid to join NATO.
While on our walking tour a place that was pointed out to us that we wanted to visit before the day was out was BunkerArt 2. This is now a museum but had been constructed between 1981-1986 as one of the last major works of the “bunkerizaton” project that had begun in the early 1970’s. By the end of this they
had building 175,000 bunkers throughout the country. There were various sizes and types of bunkers built with some being mountain sites, others as buildings and the pit type which is what this anti-nuclear bunker was. This bunker was connected to the Ministry of Interior and originally the entrance was only through that building, but since that time two entrances were created in order to allow for the creation of this museum. This underground complex consisting of 24 rooms, an apartment for the Minister of the Interior and a complete telecommunication hall. There is another museum called BunkerArt1 that is farther out of town that is an even larger complex. BunkerArt2 covers the history of the Ministry of Interior from 1912 – 1991 revealing the secrets of the political police that were the harsh prosecutors of the laws and dictates of Hoxha. There were many displays telling the personal stories of those that had been punished by this arm of the government and told of the numbers that were tortured and/or killed. The displays included the many facts and figures of this dark time within the Albanian history, but they also had numerous video clips of interviews with survivors of the
prison camps telling the real life details of their imprisonment. It was a sobering experience to learn of what the people here have gone through and how far Albania has come since those dark days. We would highly recommend anyone coming to this area to allow time to take in this part of Albania’s history as it is so little known by the outside world.
The main square of Tirana is named after the national hero here, Skanderbeg (1405-1468). We learned that there a combination of historic facts and myth about this hero. He is revered as the military commander that led the rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. Due to his national hero status, it is difficult for researchers to look into sorting out the facts from the myth. The importance of Skanderbeg is definitely monumental here in the actual monuments seen here, naming the square after him and having his town of birth a tourist destination which we visited as well.
When you come upon the Skanderbeg Square you are surprised by the size of it and its openness. We have visited many central squares in cities, but this was surprising as there were no buildings, no
walkways, and no grassy sections – just a very large square that people walked across to get from one side to the other. It definitely had impressive buildings around it which included the Opera House and the Museum of Natural History. One unique feature was the random areas of water that seemed to come from under the stones wetting the surface of the square. These wet areas would change locations and it was noticeable that the center of the square was raised up from the outside edges. The guide explained that this was a new feature that had been installed to cool down the area. As he said if you could imagine a very large stone area in the middle of the summer and how hot it can become, the idea was to be able to cool off people as they walked across it. An interesting solution …
Our next day trip was to the village of Kruja, the home of Skanderbeg. It is situated up in the mountains so the bus trip gave us chance to get to see a different area of Albania. The bus ride should have been a direct route, but all of a sudden
The Durres Archeology Museum
was well done & informative
we were being told to get off the bus by the driver, but we had no idea where we were. Fortunately we have found the people here in Albania to be very helpful and thankfully a couple that spoke enough English pointed us in the right direction to catch the next bus. Come to find out this change was a result of a bridge being worked on and the bus we were on couldn’t connect with the road finishing the trip up the mountainside. When we got on the next bus a gentleman started talking to us and told us that he does volunteer work at the castle in Kruja and he could show us around.
We definitely enjoyed the views of the valley from here with our ability to actually see all the way over to port city of Durres as well as to the capital of Tirana. Fortunately we had a nice clear day for our trip here. There has been a bazaar located here since ancient times and it still is functioning today. There were some lovely shops with craftspeople working, but with the number of tourist that come here now there were some of the
more typical souvenir places, but fortunately that was not the majority so many lovely crafted products could be found here. We were able to control ourselves and only indulged in a lovely embroidered table runner that will be easy to pack to take back to the US.
Our local “guide” took us through some of the historic areas where he volunteers while filling us in on some of the history of the area. There is a fortress here that we could have gone though as well as a museum, but we didn’t actually get a chance to go to either as he took us to his home providing us with a cup of coffee and then a gift of homemade “raki” (a very strong alcoholic drink). After our time wandering around Kruja we returned to Tirana and then caught the bus back to Durres. On the bus ride I had a chance to visit with a lawyer and he brought up politics and the US. It is always interesting to find out others opinions of your own country from what they have heard in the news. I was sorry the bus ride ended as it would have been interesting
Showing Amphoras from the 3rd C. BC
& how they were stacked in ships for safe passage
to continue our conversation.
Even though we are in the commercial port mainly with large freighters and fishing boats, at times large mega-yachts arrive as well as they need spaces like this to get fuel. While here we have seen a few that were so large they even had to be put in the same area as the freighter in order to have enough fuel trucks park nearby to “fill them up”! Sure glad we aren’t paying their fuel bills.
We had to actual move locations in order to allow enough room for the Yacht “Metis” to fit in as it was 63 meters (206 feet) long and they just had enough room to squeeze in. It was quite the feat to watch it maneuver in to the spot they created for it. Guess when you are a luxury yacht you have the ability to be able to almost turn “on a dime” and this yacht proved that point. If you have a chance check it out on Google as it is a very new yacht with all the bells and whistles to accommodate the 12 guest it can handle (yes, only 12 on a 206 foot yacht!)
Frescos from a Bathroom from the 2nd & 3rd C. AD
I have seen familiar designs in current wallpaper!
There were numerous other towns and villages that would have been interesting to visit, but with the number of miles to go before reaching Turkey we decided it was time to move on. As we needed to use an agent for checking into the country, we also needed paperwork to check out of the country so our agent did the honors for us. Without the language skills or knowing where the various offices are, it was well worth the fee to have our agent handle the paperwork. We informed him when we wanted to leave the dock and he showed up at Tsamaya with the completed paperwork as well as someone to help with throwing us our lines as we left. Having an agent here was definitely a benefit both on arrival and departure.
Many have told us that we should not stop in Albania as they are not ready for cruisers, but we are glad we instead listened to those that had been here and recommended coming. Yes, it definitely doesn’t have the luxury of the types of marinas found in other countries, but that is a minor factor to consider – it was much more important
to us to have a chance to meet some of the lovely people of Albania and learn more about this country that had been closed for so many years and are now trying hard to encourage tourism to help their economy. Our vote is a definite “yes” if you are in this area to have a chance to learn about this country and how they are developing.
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