Day three in the Balkans

Day three was in Albania where we had a local guide called Kledi who explained some of the dramatic recent changes in his country. Under the dictatorial rule of Envo Hoxha from 1944-1985, Albania was the most closed and poorest countries In Europe. Following the collapse of communism in 1991, great efforts are being made to accord recognition to the four main religious groups in the country: two Muslim (Sunni and Sufi) and two Christian (Orthodox and Catholic). 

The main visit of the day involved a two-hour coach ride from Tirana to Berat in the south of the country.  The town is known for its historic architecture and scenery and is known as the “Town of a Thousand Windows“, due to the many large windows of the old decorated houses overlooking the town which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our first visit was to a location called the Cathedral of Dormition of St. Mary.  The Dormition of the Mother of God is a great feast in the Orthodox tradition. It celebrates the “falling asleep” (death) of Mary the Theotokos (“Mother of God”) and her being taken up into heaven (bodily assumption). The iconostasis of this church is simply magnificent. Inside the church is the National Iconographic Museum “Onufri”(named after two generations of famous painters). 

The second visit was to the National Ethnographic Museum. This opened in 1979 and contains a diversity of everyday objects from throughout the history of Berat. There are photographic reminders of the town’s famous bazaar of over 800 shops which was razed by the communist regime in 1945. 

The weather was glorious and the temperature had now risen to 27C. After a short break for a snack, we were off back to Tirana – another two hours on our small coach. Well, that was the plan.  

I had fallen asleep when I was woken up to find that our coach had broken down in a long tunnel and we were being assailed by hooting and screaming. We had to abandon our vehicle, dodge passing vehicles, and take refuge in a service porch. I had visions of us being there for some time, so I pulled out my bag of fruits & nuts and gave each of the group a carefully measured ration. In fact the problem was solved in half an hour, we reboarded our coach which had now been cordoned off by cones by an emergency team, and we resumed our return to Tirana. 

In fact, this unfortunate accident meant that, by the time we reached Tirana, the National Museum – next on our tour – was closed. Our local guide came up with an alternative plan: a visit to what was before the collapse of communism the nuclear war bunker for members of the Ministry of the Interior and is now a museum called Bunk’Art explaining the terrible repression of the Hoxha regime. Here we saw exhibits describing 36 forms of torture and listing 5,500 victims of the regime.

Back at the hotel, one of the group Toby Screech gave a talk on his visits to Albania in 1988 and 2002 which highlighted just how totally the country has changed. Finally, six of the group plus our guide Miku went out for dinner at a lively modern restaurant called “Tartuf Shop” before wandering round the main square which was hosting a very noisy rock concert. This was not the Tirana that any of us had expected: colourful and vibrant.

One Comment

  • Hanna Khabbaz

    A Bright Sunny Day in England, my Good Friend and Ex Neighbour Roger. I sincerely hope that the Balkans’ weather is as good.

    You are a walking Encyclopaedia and a World Reference, and I do appreciate your ongoing enlightenment.
    Take Care Roger, and Stay Safe.


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