Run for the Hills, Run for your Life!


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Europe » Albania » West » Tirana
May 24th 2016
Published: May 25th 2016
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Woolly says – our first bus of the day was rather like playing the game of sardines! As more and more people squeezed in I started wondering if the oxygen on board would last out for the journey, as though the lid had been removed we all poured out onto the pavement and the start of our second bus ride to Tirana. The municipality was first credited to Sulejman Pasha Bargjini, a native feudal lord from Mullet, who established the city in 1614. His first constructions were a mosque, a bakery and a hamam (Turkish bath.....hehehe I can still the remember the mud monsters from Feithye!) On February 8th 1920 Tirana was made the temporary capital by the Congress of Lushnje, before being proclaimed the permanent capital on December 31st 1925. Having navigated our way round the bus station and leapt into a waiting taxi which promptly swerved into the traffic before pulling up sharply before it hit another vehicle, I tried to take in the city itself. The overwhelming first impression was of cars, billions and billions of them, honking and belching clouds of fumes into the air, it didn’t look as though it was going to be a peaceful day!



Our first task was to cross the four lane road, taking a firm grip on Woolly’s paw and trying to work out which way to look we ran for it.



Woolly says – barely scraping onto the opposite pavement with my tusks still in tact I was very satisfied to see the huge mosaic called ‘The Albanians’ which is situated above the main entrance of the National Historical Museum in Skanderbeg Square. The work is the result of a collective of five Albanian artists and was completed in 1980 for the opening of the museum, it tells the story of how Albanians have fought against invasion and occupation throughout the centuries, it was a fine piece of work. As I trotted up the steps of the museum it appeared to be rather full of young people with stalls scattered around and as Jo paid for our tickets I caught a glimpse of a stage area outside.



Before the mammoth could consider auditioning for his musical career we entered the much quieter museum and proceeded to take in as much as we could.



Woolly says – being the countries largest museum I was very impressed with the layout and as we passed through the prehistoric area, bronze age through the Roman remains and into the modern history section it was just a pity that photo’s weren’t allowed. Strangely by the second floor all written information in English had vanished so we were left looking at pictures of possible rebel fighters and guns used during Albania’s many many battles. Having had our fill we made our way back through the happy youngsters and back into the madness of Tirana’s roads. I spotted the imposing statue of George Castriot (1405 - 1468) who was known as Skanderbeg a 15th-century Albanian warrior and nobleman who is a national hero having fought off the Ottomans and many more. Getting to the statue involved another toe curling exercise in crossing two roads and as Jo shouted run, I wondered if I could run to the hills instead of facing road after road like this!





Having managed to get through to the square and taken the required pictures we looked at the next road to get over to enable us to view the The Et'hem Bey Mosque.





Woolly says – what torture are they trying to inflict on me! Run came the cry and we ran for our lives, puffing and checking that I still had all my tusks, trunk and paws in place I surveyed the beautifully decorated mosque built by the cities creator. Closed under communist rule the mosque reopened as a house of worship in 1991 but without permission from the authorities. Ten thousand courageous people dared to attend and remarkably nothing happened. The frescoes outside and in the portico which depict trees, waterfalls and bridges were beautiful and something that is rarely seen in Islamic art. Standing tall next to the building was the Clock Tower built in 1822 by Haxhi Et'hem Bey, a Bejtexhinj poet, with 90 steps that go in a spiral fashion, I was rather glad that the door was closed and that my small paws wouldn’t be attempting that little feat! Having checked on an information board I set off to find the castle, its history dated back before 1300 and is a remnant from the Byzantine-era, it was the place where the main east-west and north-south roads crossed, and formed the heart of Tirana and according to board it didn’t involve crossing any roads, result!



As we walked past apartment blocks and street cafes the drone of traffic continued, as a particularly large truck went by and belched a huge cloud of smoke in our direction we considered that this wouldn’t be a city that you might want to live in!



Woolly says – we seemed to be walking for rather a long time and having asked twice for directions didn’t seem to be making any progress at all. Finally having had enough I sat down and refused to budge until someone could tell me the actual way to the castle. It was at this point that two lovely Albanian ladies asked if we wanted some help....help of course we wanted help! Having enquired about the castle they both shook their heads and informed us that no castle existed, hmmm no wonder we couldn’t find it! Celjeta and her most helpful friend did however volunteer to show us another tourist site, as Jo and Zoe chatted away to them they led us over a small river and into a large concreted square before presenting us with Hoxha’s Pyramid, once the International Centre of Culture that opened on October 14th 1988. Formerly known as the "Enver Hoxha Museum”. the pyramid-shaped structure was designed by the daughter and son-in-law of the late communist leader and served as a museum about his legacy but after 1991 became a conference centre and exhibition venue. During the 1999 Kosovo War the museum was used as a base by NATO and humanitarian organizations, now it lies abandoned with broken panes of glass and barbed wire gracing it’s peak. Having thanked our two new friends profusely we looked further around the square, a lovely bell, the Peace Bell which was installed in 1999 as a memorial to peace by the children of Shkoder , hang rather forlornly from it’s support. The metal for the bell came from thousands of bullet cartridges fired off during the 1990s during the fight for freedom. Everything looked neglected and in need of a major overall.



Feeling that a sit down and an ice cream might brighten us somewhat we once again braved the road system.



Woolly says – having given up on the ‘run for the hills or run for your lives’ exercise I pronounced my inability to get through more traffic unless carried which seemed to do the trick. Having sat watching the horrendous congestion whilst licking an incredibly good kiwi ice cream we wandered back towards what we hoped would be the centre of the city. I noticed that Jo had suddenly stopped and hurrying back to make sure she hadn’t turned into one of the many statues that the place holds I realised she was looking at a piece of German history.



A strange place to find a segment of the Berlin wall but there it was in front of us complete with graffiti.



Woolly says – given to the people of Albania I was even happier to find a bunker next to it that had guarded the main entrance to the home of Enver Hoxha from 1945 to 1991, it was tiny inside and hardly enough room to swing a mammoth, I knew for Jo that this was probably the highlight of her day adding to her lifelong fascination of what life might have been like during communism. Having taken our pictures we continued onwards, when my beady eye spotted a sign for the castle! A short walk led us to the remains, no wonder our wonderful ladies hadn’t known about it as we peered at the tiny remains of a tower! Setting off once more we found ourselves in front of the newest and whitest building we had seen, the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral was completed in 2012 and is the third largest Orthodox cathedral located on the Balkan Peninsula. It’s stunning clock and bell tower soared above our heads where we could just make out the gold gilt at the top, jumping up the front steps I was even more delighted to be able to go inside and view the beauty that they had created. Having seen so many wonderful religious paintings on our recent travels it warmed my heart to see that the skill and artistry is still alive and being used in modern places of worship. Jo snapped away before we silently left the wonders of the place, feeling weary and with more roads to cross it seemed a good time to attempt to re-find the bus station so hanging onto my scarf we ‘ran for our lives’ once more!


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25th May 2016
Inside the Cathedral

Cathedral
Beautiful
26th May 2016
Inside the Cathedral

Better in person!
So wonderful to see the old splendour and artwork still being used in the current day...far better in person though
27th May 2016
The Peace Bell

Fine political art!
I love the story around the Peace Bell--bullets to a bell--good for them! And the woman and man marching side-by-side outside the historical museum was unexpected and wonderful--I dislike those historical monuments when it's just a bunch of generals. The unusual floral details on the mosque and the colored buildings were all lovely. Glad you made it through the wild traffic!
27th May 2016
The Peace Bell

Could have done without the traffic!
Like you I loved the concept of the bell, everywhere we seem to go here depicts the young and non military in their memorials ...recognition of the people, is always a good thing.

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