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.
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.
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…