månadsarkiv: maj 2014

The Garden of Eden

Mehran and I were curious to try one of the few activities Gjirokastra offers to tourists. I told you the big problem of Gjirokastra are that there is nothing to do here for more than max one or two days. It is very important that they expand their tourist products if they want to attract more people here.
We knew nothing of this horseback riding business but when we did our interview with Denisa at the tourism service she said she knew someone, who knew someone that owned horses.

Mehran got a number and we book ourselves on a two days horseback riding adventure. I am not a horse person at all – a bit scared of horses actually. But what do you not do for science? We want to see what tourists can do here so on an adventure we went! And what an adventure! Best nature tour I’ve ever been to!

First we met Kristina and Illir for a coffee in town where we talked about the itinerary. Then they took us up to the beautiful landscape of Antigonea where we walked around with Kristina, our guide for the first day. Meanwhile Illir prepared our horses and then drove our things to the first. kristina told us a lot of interesting things about the park we haven’t heard before – things the posters there don’t tell you. Kristina has worked on BBC and was thus a perfect guide.

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An old measuring stone and pillars on Antigonea

We met with the horses. I was given a brown one called Baby – supposedly he’s so calm. But he was so calm I ended up way behind the others. So then I got Nelson instead. A black beauty with a blind eye. We fit together perfectly.

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It’s hard to write about this trip because my words can’t make it justice. It was a meditative stillness amongst the mountain sitting on the horse slowly rocking from side to side. The flowers bright yellow, blue, purple, white in contrast with the fresh green. The sound of the wind through the mountains and the swish of the horses’ tail chasing flies. The bumble bees buzzing around. The smell of flowers and fresh grass. The suns warmth on the skin and the coolness of shade. The taste of the mountain water – how do you describe such things in words?

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We stopped in a mountain village to visit an old couple. Old dancers. They showed us photos of their youth years and how it was to live in Albnia during the communism years. We were given honey from the mountains and walnuts to dip in it. This was served with raki and fresh made cheese. The honey in Albania tastes only flowers. It is also something you simply can travel here for.
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The day continued. We stopped for a picnic in an old church. Almost collapsing. There are so many really old monuments in Albania that nobody knows about or simply know what to do with them. No researcher comes here, not even the Gjirokastra people have been here. People don’t know about Albania – it is a hidden treasure, a treasure that needs help! Attention, research and restoration otherwise it will be lost in a few years time.

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In the evening we stopped in paradise. I say so because this is the best place on earth. I have travelled around the world but never found anything so peaceful and close to our roots. The Garden of Eden.

Here we were greeted by Ati and Julia. A retired artist couple from Tirana who bought a piece of land and built a home and guesthouse. Its organically build to shape after the nature and it was nestled here like a secret garden. Here we rested our minds and took a timeout from everything. Truly detoxifying.
We were served food only from the surroundings. Bread, cheese, fresh butter! Fresh butter is white and taste like heaven! Chicken, rice balls, salad from the garden, eggs, sugar peas, yoghurt, spinach.
Julia taught me how to make Byrek. A pastry with layered thin pieces of bread with a filling of feta, egg, olive oil and spinach

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In the morning we had breakfast in the garden. Tea made from oregano and mountain herb picked by Julia. The bread, butter and cheese made by here – same with the marmalade. The mixture of sweet and salty enough to make you cry.

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We left with heavy hearts

Next day we travelled to the oldest church in Albania from 545 AD. The tower is tilting and they think it will soon collapse. An architect has been here to calculate when it will. Even though it’s an important record of the human history nobody cares. The international attention is non-existent. It’s really sad. What can we say other then: please come here and help! Bring carpenters or restoration students!

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From there we made our way back to Gjirokastra – The tour ended way too quickly and I already have planes to come back to my little garden of Eden!

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Road-trip Albania

My parents came to Albania or a visit. Yay! After my trouble with the stolen things it was bliss to meet and greet them. (and they brought a camera that I can borrow for the remaining time). I also had a secret motive for them to come and visit me: I wanted to research: what does the normal charter tourist think about Albania? I travelled with my parents and watched their reactions intently, every opinion they had I wrote down in a little notebook.

Firstly my own observations about the airport in Tirana as I travelled to TIrana to meet them at the airport. It is very small and easy to find your way around the airport. The trouble is getting to and from it. Well, it is no trouble if you know an American Peace Corps volunteer like I do who can tell me that there is a bus and approximately where. But Tirana is the only capital in the world that doesn’t have centre. Even as I took a bus around town when I arrived one day before my parents I had loads of trouble getting around. Even finding my hotel was no easy task. I knew it was close to (what I assumed) the centre of the town. I asked a bunch of people “Centre?” “Central?” “Quender? (centre in Albanian) but they all shook their heads – there is no central in this town and thus no bus-central. Nobody even knew where the Opera house or National museum where at. A very strange first impression of this city. I finally found my hotel by asking at other hotels.

The next day I tried to find the airport bus. On the airport page it just says “bus from Tirana centre” since there was no centre – what does that mean? Finally I google-found a private blogger who had drawn a map. I ran the streets bumping around with my hand luggage and followed another girl doing the same thing. I took a chance and secretly stalked her around town and she was running for the airport bus: oh joy!

Well I picked up my parent at the airport where we had rented a car. It took about an hour to pick up the car as nothing in Albania is prepared. The car where somewhere else and all papers and insurance and had to be filled in once more. I suppose they don’t trust anything to be settled until hands have been shaken in this country.

We drove out from the airport and made our way to Kruja – an ancient city with a marvellous market. I bought a carpet for no money at all from an old lady. It was a beautiful little town and my parents were so impressed by this unexplored beauty. To me it was still the most touristic place I’ve been to here – with shop owners acting the same way they always do “Yes, come to my shop” “Just look, ok” special price for you”  But we were the only tourists there!

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After that we drove down to Elbasan – a lovely tow too and my parents had their first experience with Albanian food. They were out of words – dad immediately said he would come back to the country just for the food. My mom said “I don’t like food but here I can’t stop eating” Yes it was marvellous and I was proud to share with them my last month’s joy.

We slept there in a hotel with the usual interesting architectural details…

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The next day we drove to Korca – where they make the local Albanian beer and also famous for their church.

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We drove around the lake Orhid and its beautiful landscape. All the time we shouted to dad “Stop! Photo time!” He started calling us “photo-maniacs” Albania is just breathtaking beautiful

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The rest of the time we drove around in the mountain, in the low clouds. We ate, drank and celebrated the beautiful life. We swam in hot springs, climbed rocks, stopped for sheep and made our way to Gjirokastra.

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My lovely little town – mom was all joy over the old bazaar – she simply loved it!
We drove to Saranda, Ksamil, Butrint and the Blue eye. It was 5 busy days and we only managed to see a small part of all what Albania has to offer.

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Conclusions by my parents
– Incredible – but why does the Swedish company Apollo bring the Swedish tourists to the worst spot in the whole country. The destroyed city of Saranda?
– There is no information, promotion, and maps whatsoever. Happy we had a daughter here who knew where to take us
-Road signs needs to be put up. It is kind of difficult asking for directions when no one knows English
– The hotel breakfasts could be improved. With all this amazing raw material: fruit, dairy products, vegetables – why does the hotels then serve you white bread and marmalade???
– Menus in English please!
– More activities please! If we didn’t have a car there is so much that could be developed: hiking trails, guided tours, daytrips
– If they want people to stay in Gjirokastra they need to build pools for hot summer days

Etc etc – My parents were the perfect object to study as they are the typical Swedish middle-aged couple who usually go on charter trips or road trips. Their inputs were very nice to hear as it also confirms my ideas of what is great and what can be improved. And I was very happy that they loved it and want to come back! Word-of-mouth people!

Trouble in paradise

Hi everyone!

I’ve been slow on my updates lately so that is why I am now posting 3 at the same time. I’ve been on a lot of different adventures from hell to heaven and I will now tell you why… starting at the bottom

This blog post is an analyze of one of the tourism services you might not think about in the first place but is very important for a tourist to feel comfortable in the visiting country. This blog post is about: The Police

Stranger Danger!
On my trip up to Tirana that I made last weekend to meet up with my parents visiting me from Sweden my camera bag was stolen on the bus. Someone managed to unclasp the bag strap (that I had wrapped around my legs for protection) from the bag while I was sitting on the bus so when I stood up to leave the only thing left was the strap around my legs. Inside I also had my Iphone and cash. Panic, sadness, annoyance, anger, sadness, anger etc emotions followed and repeated themselves again and again. Theft. ARGHHHH

Anyway…this blogpost is about the actions that follows afterwards and how it is to be a tourist in Albania in another sense (not common at all I have to add). In Albania they have this custom called Besha “honoured guest” and theft is very rare – but Tirana is a capital so of course it is more international in that way.

So, I stood up – noticed the bag was lost and hurried to find and check in to my hotel to turn on “find my Iphone” app. Unfortunately and not so surprisingly the phone had been switched off. I then asked for directions for the police station and hurried over there. When I came in I told my case to three different men in the reception and one of them finally understood and led me to an office upstairs. I told an important looking man the story and he listen and nodded and after 10 minutes he said “You’re in the wrong office – this is customs and taxes office”
I was surprised that he had listen to my story all the way through and wondered why I was taken there to begin with?

Does anyone actually understand English or do they just pretend?

Well, the man led me to another building where he left me in another reception. I told my story to another officer behind the counter  – he nodded then disappeared- another man came- he nodded and disappeared etc etc finally someone said “come here” from around a corner. I was lead behind the reception and placed on a chair. On this chair I sat for a long time staring into a wall while a cleaner swept the floors. After a while the first officer came back and took me outside and placed me in a police car. Two other officers jumped in and the first one left. I waited for something to happen – if you are in a car usually you drive somewhere. A young officer walked up to the car and tapped on the window. I opened the window and he (of course) asked me to tell him why I was sitting there. I didn’t know why I was in the car but told him my story. He listened, nodded and then turned away. 10 minutes later he came tapping on the window again and asked me the same thing. Deja vu! Then he left and didn’t come back. Meanwhile the guys in the car just sat there waiting for something. After a while 5 other police man came up to the car laughing. They started pushing the car and I realized that we had been waiting simply because the car needed a push start. (really good car for hunting down criminals). Finally the car started and we drove off into Tiranas sunset rush hour.

We were stuck in crazy traffic and rain rain rain for a long time, I was very tired at this point. The whole “lost in translation” situation was getting weirder and weirder – the sadness over my stole things was replaced with annoyance over such a strange system. And where were we going??

We drove around Tirana and pulled up by another police station. Later I realized this was because this station was closer to the bus stop. The same procedure as before started over. I was placed on a chair in the reception and a lot of people stopped by asking me what I was doing there, asked me to tell them my story and then mysteriously they all left. Finally one man who actually could speak English showed up and told me that we were waiting for a certified translator. I waited 2 hours on that pin chair in a cold reception with only 3 broken watches covering a dirty splashed white wall. Broken chairs and paper peaces scattered about the floor, a receptionist parked behind a tilting desk typing on an old type machine, now and then answering a big old black phone while typing some more. It looked like a movie set from some old James Bond movie. I started to feel that I was in a time machine and thought I was dreaming. But that pin chair was too stiff to fall asleep on and the rain chill from the open door to cold to allow anything else than constant shivers.

Just when I thought about abandoning the whole idea of reporting the theft a woman showed up – the translator! I told her my story and she said “Ok – let’s go!” … Let’s go? Where? But she didn’t stay to listen to my questions – she rushed out the door and down the steps and into a police car. The other police was there to and I got in the back seat and we drove off.

Then they told me we were now in pursuit for the bus in which I had traveled. They said the bus driver must know who took my bag because he knows everyone in Albania. (What??) So we drove around and around and around Tirana while they pointed at different buses asking “Is it this one??” – No.”Is it this one?? – No.
I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry – the whole situation seemed like a joke. Like the thieves would just sit on that empty bus (probably on its way back to Gjirokastra) and wait for the cops to arrest them.

After some time the cops probably realized that we would not find the bus so they took me back to the station. Once again I was back on my favorite chair, in my favorite room. 1 hour I waited for something to happen. I started asking the woman hiding behind the desk but she only smiled and held up a finger ”wait” and continued typing. I gave up on her. To my luck someone finally decided to call the Swedish embassy as they figured that the official English translator woman wasn’t good enough – the report should be from Swedish to English to Albanian to be good enough. Mikael from the Swedish embassy finally showed. He wasn’t swedish but I couldn’t care less and I don’t think they did either in the end. Mikael asked me why I hadn’t called the embassy right away. Well, that thought actually never crossed my mind. Usually to file a police report takes 30 minutes at the station. I didn’t need a Swedish ambassador to help me with such a simple thing…or so I thought.

Mikael and I went upstairs to a room where two tired investigators were waiting. I told them my story again while Mikael translated. To my surprise they laughed at me and said I was lying. Why would anyone steal in Albania and who could steal a bag in such a way in a bus?? Mikael got mad and told them that they should keep their thought to themselves – this is what happened and you will write it down!! I was then beginning to see why bringing an ambassador was the right thing to do. We sat in the office arguing about my story and etc for a while. They wrote down three pages about my life, what I was studying, what I was doing in Albania etc etc. It went on and on and on. In the end, as a final drama, they didn’t want to give me the police report. The angry investigator told me he had paid for the paper and the ink for the printer himself. And then he added that they don’t give out police reports in Albania, they are not official and they only go to court. But Mikael somehow managed to convince them to print an extra copy for me and then he said “Ok – let’s go quickly before they change their minds”

And so we left this awful place and Mikael drove me to my hotel asking me If I had money to eat, If I needed more help, such a kind and helpful man. I was so tired i stumbled into my hotel room after buying loads of chocolate at the nearest shop. I probably looked like I had been in prison for a year – and so it felt.

7 hours later I had finally a report in my hand but none of my precious things. An awful day to say the least. I felt sorry for myself, ate a lot of chocolate and the fell asleep. End of story.