Pritam Rohila Travels

Reports of my travels along with some pictures

Nov 24, 2007

2007 Albania, Tirana

September 27-October 14, 2007
October 5

We reached Tirana early in the afternoon. The whole city was lit up by bright sunlight. The streets and squares were crowded with people, many on their way home form work, school, or a shopping trip. Some were out with their families.

As capital of Albania, Tirana has experienced a cultural boom, in the last few years. It has become a bustling metropolis with many restaurants and cafes. As a part of its mayor’s campaign to beautify the city, many buildings have been repainted in bright colors.

Our visit to Tirana began with a guided tour of Skenderberg Square, a large open space bounded with many of the city’s important monuments.

In the southeastern corner is the equestrian statue of Skendrberg (George Kastrioti). He is Albania’s national hero. He led the Albanian resistance to the Ottoman onslaughts. Starting in 1443, he fought and won 25 battles against them. But finally in 1468, the Ottomans succeeded in overcoming the Albania resistance and conquered the country. They ruled it for about 450 years. Beside the statue are some of the government’s administrative offices.

Just north of the statue is the cupola and minaret of the 18th century Ethem Bey Mosque. Some of the nation’s best artisans were employed to build, when its construction started in 1729. But it was not completed until1821.

Besides the mosque stands the Clock Tower. It was installed in 1821. In 1928, it was fitted with a modern German clock and its height was raised.

On the east of the square is the Palace of Culture.
The National Museum of History is on north of the square. Built in 1963, the museum is believed to be the country’s largest and finest museums. It was a gift from the Soviet people. Its facade is adorned with a Russian style mosaic mural.

On our way to Sheraton Tirana Hotel and Towers, where we stayed for the night, we had a

walking tour of the downtown. We came across saw some unusual sights.

And a vehicle on sale (Shitet).

Near our hotel, on a large platform, there was a life-size statue of Mother Teresa. Although she was born in Skopje, Macedonia, apparently she is venerated in Tirana also.

On account of a concert and entertainment for the city’s youth,

the police had blocked off a wide boulevard near our hotel. Loud music continued till about midnight.

The dining room at the hotel was very chilly. I blamed it for the cold which bothered me for the next several days.

Nov 22, 2007

2007 Albania, Elbasan

September 27-October 14, 2007

October 5

Following our breakfast, we left Ohrid, Macedonia, at 8:30 a.m., on our westward journey toward Tirana, the capital of Albania.

Located in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula, Albania is a mountainous country, and not easily accessible.

For more than 600 years, until 1912, Albania was a part of the Ottoman Empire. Currently about 70 percent of its people are Muslim in origin. And there are mosques everywhere.

In 1946, Enver Hoxha deposed King Zog. He made Albania a communist country. To counter the increasing influence in the neighborhood of Marshal Tito, who came to dominate Yugoslavia by 1953, he aligned with Soviet Russia. As a part of his resistanceagainst, he built thousands of concrete bunkers, which were never used for the purpose they were intended.

After breaking off relations with Russia in 1961, Hoxha flirted with China, and initiated a Mao-style cultural revolution. Administrative workers were transferred to remote areas, and younger people were installed in positions of leadership. Also agriculture was collectivized and organized religion was banned.

After remaining a closed communist country for about 45 years, Albania had a democratic revolution in 1990. But in 1996, collapse of a private pyramid scheme, in which about 70 percent of Albanians lost their savings, led to nationwide disturbances and violence.

In 1999, about half a million refugees poured in from the neighboring Kosovo. A substantial amount of international aid money flowed in to assist the refugees. The money helped stimulate Albania’s economy. Situation has continued to improve since then.

On the way we came across closed factories and many roadside fruit and vegetable vendors.

For lunch we stopped at the industrial city of Elbasan, located in central Albania.

There was nothing grand about the Grand Hotel, where we had lunch. But it was a clean place to eat and use toilet facilities.

Across the street were some fruit and vegetable shops.

Also we saw children returning from school. Being a Friday, probably the school was out early

today. On the sidewalk two adults were playing a table game.

Nov 16, 2007

2007 Macedonia, Ohrid
September 27-October 14, 2007

October 4

After lunch at Skopje, we left for Ohrid. We reached there around 5:00 p.m.

A World Heritage site, and the country’s most beautiful city, Ohrid is located in southern
Macedonia, on the western shore of the immense and lovely mountain lake of the same name.

In the lakeside park, stands a statue of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, who developed the Cyrillic script, translated the Bible in the Slavonic language, and evangelized the Slavs.

Boris Kidric is the main street leading from the lake into the center of the town. It is lined with major hotels, cafes and travel and tourist oriented businesses.

Town’s people reflect considerable diversity.

President of Macedonia had at one time stayed at Flamenco Donco, where we spent the night. It was a small hotel, but well equipped in modern amenities. Its dining room was on the first floor, and the reception desk and rooms were on the second floor. We found a unique arrangement of

towels on our beds. Also, the bathroom was euipped with a speaker making it possible for us to
listen to the TV.

Nov 15, 2007

2007 Macedonia, Skopje
September 27-October 14, 2007

October 4

At 7:30 a.m., we left Sofia on our southwest journey toward Macedonia. Isolated from its neighbors be mountain ranges, much of it is a plateau.

The heart of the Greek Empire in the 3rd century, BC, and later a Roman province, Macedonia was invaded several times starting in the 4th century AD. In the 14th century Ottoman Turks conquered it, and ruled it for almost 650 years. Then after passing under the control of various other nations, it was incorporated in Yugoslavia in 1929. Macedonia declared its independence in 1991.

Trade embargo imposed by Greece since its independence, Macedonia has severely affected its manufacturing industries. Currently it is the least developed of the former Yugoslav republics, and suffers a declining standard of living.

We stopped at Skopje, the capital and the largest city of Macedonia. Much of it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1963.

A castle atop a hill dominates the old town.

It is surrounded by the Turkish quarters including a busy bazaar. In the central square is a 15th century mosque.

Nearby is an old Turkish building, which now houses an art gallery.

The area has many eating places. We had lunch there. But to sit at a table to eat our packed

sandwiches, and to use the restroom, each of us was required to buy a beer, soft-drink or coffee at one Euro each.

On our way out we met students from a local school of architecture. They had come to there to

sketch some of the architectural details of the area. Two girls we talked to were able to converse with easily in English.