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Published: September 14th 2018
I have been looking forward to today; we are going to Albania. Most of what I know about Albania comes from a project I did at university in 1986, so I’m not really sure what to expect.
First, the slightly surreal experience of breakfast in a wine cellar. The lack of natural light causes me to mistake jam for chutney and smother it all over my cheese and sausage. It tastes surprisingly good.
A last wander along Lake Ohrid then it’s time to check out, which entails this cringeworthy conversation between the old man and the receptionist:
Her: How was your stay?
Him: Very nice except the shower leaked.
Her: I’m sorry, I’ll get a lady to take a look at it.
Him: It’s beyond that, it needs a man.
And with that, we depart Ohrid with a lung busting hike to the car, which is parked at the top of the old city by Car Samoil’s Fortress. Built in the 10th Century, this huge fortress sits above Ohrid. You can walk along the ramparts and admire the ancient fortifications and the lake glistening down below.
Today’s journey takes us along the north shore of Lake
Ohrid to the Albanian border and on the Tirana.
When I was planning this trip, it was hard to find information about taking a hire car across 7 borders. However, Hertz have made it very easy. The ‘green card’ was included in the price and we have a wallet full of documents verifying the vehicle’s credentials and permission to take it abroad. The border crossing is easy and we are soon in Albania, zigzagging down the mountains witnessing a combination of spectacular scenery and insane driving.
We stop on the outskirts of Tirana at Bunk’Art. Former president Hoxha was obsessed with building bunkers to defend his population from an attack from the West. In Tirana, his personal bunker is now a museum.
Google Maps excels itself en route. First it takes us along what is allegedly a road, into a gated compound where we are surrounded by security guards. Next we are sent down a narrow gravel path the width of the car. By the time we reach Bunk’Art, nerves are somewhat frazzled, not helped by the fact the temperature has reached 31 degrees.
It’s a relief to be in the cool of a nuclear bunker.
Bunk’Art is part museum, telling the Story of Albania’s communist past, and part art gallery with a range of topical installations. One exhibit (I’m not sure if it was museum or art) depicting a child going to school to combat illiteracy, was so scary it looked like a scene from Bride of Chucky. The old man swears it moved while I photographed it.
Before continuing to Tirana, we take a ride on the Dajti Express; an 18 minute cable car ride over a lake and a valley and finally up the side of a cliff to a park in the mountains. The views are stunning but it’s not a ride for the faint hearted.
We continue to Tirana, check into our hotel, have dinner and the obligatory local beer. We round off the evening with a wander round Blloku, a block once only accessible to senior party officials. Among the trendy bars and restaurants stands Hoxha’s former villa, which lies empty as if no one really knows what to do with it.
On the corner where the checkpoint once stood is Postbllok; a collection of the relics of communism comprising a bunker, part of a labour camp
and a chunk of The Berlin Wall. We head back through the park to our hotel. It has been an interesting first day in Albania.
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