Holiday in the Balkans (5): Albania

It was another long but interesting day (Wednesday) with collection from the hotel in Petrovac at 8 am and return towards 6 pm. It was a day of two halves: one in southern Montenegro and one in northern Albania. 

So the morning involved time in the nearby town of Ulcinj. This is the southern-most town of former Yugoslavia with a very long history. It was settled by the Illyrians and Greeks in the 5th century and regularly raided by pirates and used for a slave market. It was an Ottoman possession for over 300 years and today it is 70% Albanian and 70% Muslim.

We climbed steep, stone steps up to the Old Town to look around the Citadel which includes a slave square, a church-mosque, and two tiny archeological museums.

After over three hours on the go, the group rebelled and I negotiated with our guide that we would have a stop for drinks and toilets. Then we headed for the border with Albania. Our guide had asked us to bring our passports and warned that she had experienced delays of up to two hours going in and coming out of Albania. In fact, as she put it “We have the luck” because our passports were not examined and we were over the border in 5-10 minutes. 

Albania is a small nation with a population of less than 3 million, over a third of them living in the capital of Tirana. When communism ruled throughout Central and Eastern Europe, Albania had one of the most eccentric and xenophobic of all the communist leaders in Enver Hoxha. Our guide pointed out several of the more than 173,000 bunkers built in the country during Hoxha’s rule to protect against possible invasion from foreign powers.

We joined a local guide who took us round the remains of the Rozafa fortress located on the outskirts of the city of Shkodra on a rocky hill 130 metres (430 ft) above sea level. We were told that there have been fortifications on this site for some 2,500 years but what one can see today is mainly of Venetian origin.

Afterwards we drove down to Shkodra itself. This is one of the most ancient cities in the Balkans and was founded in the 4th century by Illyrian tribes. Today it is a significant centre in modern Albania with a population of around 110,000. 

At this stage, the group instigated another revolt when we challenged the plan to visit a museum before we had lunch. After all, we had had our breakfast around 7 am and it was now 2.30 pm, so it was agreed that we would eat first and visit the museum – a collection of historic photographs called the Marubi Fototeka Collection – after we had enjoyed the local cuisine. 

Leaving Albania took no more time at the border than entering. Although it was a very short visit, it was enough to see how under-developed the country is, although our guide assured us that “They are in good progress”.


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