månadsarkiv: mars 2014

Let me take you on a tour

Good Morning to you all!

Today it’s been a week and two days since we arrived in Gjirokastra but it feels like a year already. Even though we still haven’t been around the city or the castle we know our little world around the bazaar and the office as our own “back pocket” This we mean literally because at night it is so dark and there’s no street lights that in the beginning we would stumble over the cobble stone but now we know the way without falling once!

This has been a busy week with a lot of impressions, so many in fact that we are overwhelmed and a bit tired at the moment. It is also tiring and inspirational all at once the possibilities of tourism we see and experience every day. Let me in this blog focus on two examples: The Skandali house and the Ethnographic museum.

Let’s do this by pretending that you are a tourist who has made our way to Gjirokastra because you heard it was a world heritage city. You sleep a night in a hotel and in the morning you want to go explore. Surprisingly enough there is no information center. Hmmm… You ask in the hotel and they might say, follow the signs. So you go out and somewhere in the town you see a sign saying “ethnographic museum” and “Skenduli house” You follow the signs and find these huge old stone houses next to each other.
Ethnographic museum has a simple sign outside saying “ethnographic museum”, Skenduli house a sign with some more information, but it is so far up you need binoculars to see it.

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Skenduli House and Ethnographic museum 

The Ethnographic Museum
Luckily the ethnographic museum is open when you arrive. (the door is open so you assume it is anyway). You might enter carefully as you don’t know but you are met by an old lady coming down from the second floor. She smiles and asks you for 200LEK (in english!) which is about 12 SEK for the entrance. She then follows you around this labyrinth of an house and tells you about each room. If you start asking question you realize she xan answer them all but that is only if you ask, otherwise it is a very “free guided tour” up to you interest and time. The museum is actually just 40 years old and  before it was the the birth place of the communist leader Enver Hoxa, but nothing is said about this if you don’t ask (communism still being a somewhat sensitive issue). But the house is amazing! It shows the folk costumes and cultural artifacts typical of a wealthy Gjirokastra family of merchants or Ottoman administrators living in the 19th Century. And there is no information, ropes, glass boxes, no reception or souvenir shop or anything else touristic. Can you then call it a museum? It’s more the feeling of stepping into this old lady’s house with the exception of a couple of handmade socks for sale that hangs from wooden beams. It is very cold inside and together with the lack of tourist information it makes it feel as if time has stood still and the owners just stepped out. In a good way that is, even though it’s not the intention –In the money was there for investments information boards and other typical tourist comfortableness is likely to appear for better or worse. Definitelythe authentic feeling and uniqueness would be affected.  

But the lack of money takes dramatical forms as we enter a room where another lady sits (awaiting better times?) She sits on the edge of an old sofa. Water leaks from the roof and a black bin bag has been positioned to create a pond in the sofa. The most natural thing in the world one would assume from her expression. Even in that perspective time stands still, a little dripping is all you hear. With this in mind you leave the Ethnographic museum and move on to Skenduli house.

The Skenduli House 
A little old man greets you saying something that sounds like “Chkemi”- Hello! He speaks no English. A brochure is placed in your hands as you pay 200LEK for the entrance fee.
Then you are left alone. To wonder and exhale an “aaaaahhh” for this beautiful house- one of the most beautiful examples for vernacular Gjirokastra architecture, as the brochure tells you. It is a kind of kulla house from 18th century which is a tower house. What this means you have to find out for yourself. The brochure gives you some basic information on other details as seen is the picture.

What the brochure doesn’t tell you are the hidden things, the use of the details, which I know since I went there with Albert, the director of Gjirokastra regional directorate of culture and monuments. He told me the old man is the owner of this house and he runs it all by himself nowadays. It used to be the ethnographic museum but it moved to Enver Hoax house. Albert shows me the inside a cupboard where a hatch can be pulled to secretly lock the door from the inside. In the kitchen he explained what kinds of food would be cooked and how using the kitchenware. The kitchenware, which at first in my mind only were labeled and appreciated for their esthetics, suddenly got another dimension of interest as their use were presented to me. Appreciation and information which for the regular tourist would be lost! An important part of the soul of the Skenduli house would pass you by, lurking in the description of these details, hidden by the simplest thing as a translation represent.

As you go home to your hotel room you Google both of these houses but there is no information to be found. Some general on architecture of the city but they have no webpage or links to sites on the houses. Check for example what Wikipedia has to say about the ethnographic museum here

And these are just two examples where you creative student mind goes wild with imagination about what could be done. Simple things like an English guide, signage improvement, websites etc. What opportunity here lies! And Gjirokastra is full with them.  Fantastic and at the same time so far away because the money issue and the mentality here, to most of the suggestion I provide I am answered ”Really, Would tourist be interested in that??” I really wish and hope I can help with some of this in the next following weeks. Maybe and hopefully just being here, showing our interest, we can change this and make them see that their cultural heritage in well worthy of more exposure and pride.


Good evening and welcome to this blog

My name is Sara, and together with my classmate Mehran I have travelled to the world heritage city of Gjirokastra in Albania to apply my knowledge from my Swedish education to a real life case. What we have study during these three years in Halmstad University is a bachelor called sustainable development of tourism. This means we study courses in culture, economic, and nature science all which are components in the concept of sustainability. This spring we write our bachelor thesis and choosing a topic was not easy. We went around to our teachers asking them if they knew some interesting case that we could take on. Our head of program Hugo Palmsköld are a part of a network between universities in Sweden called Heritage Development that incorporates cultural heritage and cultural tourism; they are now working on a joint case in UNESCO world heritage town of Gjirokastra. When Hugo presented this place to us I took a leap of joy! My goal so far in life has been to try and combine conservation and tourism together under the concept of sustainability. A couple of years ago I studied a bachelor called Building Conservation Programme in Visby and I left after two years as I felt that conservation only brought me more questions than answerers, one question in particular kept coming back to me: What is to become with all the buildings we restore, what is the future for them after the conservators have left? The answer that came to me was tourism! Sustainable, respectful cultural tourism. And that is why I changed directions of my studies and decided to leave Visby for Halmstad University. 


 IMG_3263   two happy students on their way to Gjirokastra

Well, that is the explanation to the question people around me keep asking: Albania?? Why?? But of course we said yes, what an opportunity this could be for me to combine both of my educations! After we decided, our supervisor Hugo helped set this trip into action and things started happening quite quick. We search and were granted a Minor Field Study (MFS) scholarship for this project by SIDA- Swedish international development cooperation. Hugo also got a supervisor scholarship and he traveled here two weeks prior our arrival to met people and organizations for us to contact upon arriving. An important actor here in Gjirokastra is the CHwB; cultural heritage without borders. CHwB is an independent Swedish non-governmental organization dedicated to rescuing and preserving tangible and intangible cultural heritage affected by conflict, neglect or human and natural disasters. Here in Gjirokastra they work with tourism, heritage management plans and restoration camps.


                The CHwB office in the middle of the old bazaar (old town) Gjirokastra

Now you may start wondering: so what are we here to do? To tell the truth we have not made our mind up yet. It is difficult to try and imagine the situation while in Sweden- to do a tourism project on a destination of course you first need to get a now the place, get a sense of the  place. So these first two weeks or so we try to keep our mind open to possible projects and people of interest, tourism problems we might encounter and so on. And of course getting to know our home for two months: Gjirokastra. So let me introduce you to city we’ve lived in for two days!

Firstly the trip, as we arrived by a rather time consuming route, train from Halmstad – Copenhagen. Flight from Copenhagen – Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf- Athens. Athens- Ioannina. A driver from CHwB came to pick us up and drive us over the Greek border into Albania and another hour drive to Gjirokastra. The first conclusion to make is thus that tourism infrastructure is not developed yet.
Finally arriving in Gjirokastra, the car climbed up the dwindling old stone paved streets up the hills where this city is situated. We entered the old town with picturesque small stone houses and finally stopped in a narrow alley. Here we were met by our new roommates Anastasia and Tyler who took us to our apartment for the time being. Anastasia studies a master in World Heritage Management in Germany and Tyler is an American Peace Corps volunteer here for two years. We live with them in an old house with an amazing view over the town from a large balcony.

IMG_3275                                                    breakfast on the balcony

As it was Friday night they took us out to a restaurant and we learnt our first Albanian word: falënderim! Thank you!
Saturday and Sunday we indulged ourselves in tourism activities together with our new roommates. Saturday we ate and ate: the food here is so tasty! We have mostly been eating greek salad: home-grown olives, tomatoes, gherkins, onion, cabbage all taste incredible sprinkled with Albanian olive oil and salt. Albanians love salt, luckily Swedes do to! We have hiked up a mountain with great view over the city and on Sunday we walked to a lake with crystal clear water.


It is only the beginning of the week but we have already set up our little camp here at the CHwB office. This week we will met a lot of contacts from the tourism organizations and try to pin down what we can create a project from that will be small enough to be done in the two months we will be here. Yesterday we met Eljena at the university where we will do two presentations of our project and Denisa from tourism service agency. Now we are on our way to meet Magdalena who is involved with the museum in Gjirokastra. So to be continued…