Holiday in Albania, Part I.


Another week-end, another trip; so far my hopes to travel two week-ends a month seem to be working out pretty well.   Monday was “Kosovo Constitution Day” so I took a road trip with some colleagues to Albania which is the adjoining country to the southwest of Kosovo and the place most Kosovars consider their ethnic homeland.

We left Pristina about 8:30 Saturday morning and drove south to Prizren. Once out of the immediate area of Pristina the road is two lanes without shoulders and the drive to Prizren meanders through a number of small villages, a few large towns and a couple of small mountain ranges (more like foothills).  The area around Prizren is wine country and the road goes through a of vineyards of varying sizes. In Kosovo the trees are just starting to leaf out and the grape vines still dormant. The weather was beautiful and everyone was outside tending to their gardens and fields.

Prizren is about an hour and a half drive from Pristina and the border is only about a fifteen minute drive from there. As you approach the Albanian border you begin climbing a high mountain range with what appear to be snow-capped, dormant volcanoes, based their conical shape and collapsed tops. We crossed the border with only a short delay and headed into Albania.

The ubiquitous Albanian “Pillbox” or bunker.

The first thing you notice about Albania is countless mushroom-shaped cement structures half buried in the ground.  We learned that during the communist era the government built hundreds of thousands of small bunkers all over Albania. Most of these fortifications are only large enough for one or two people and all have slits in them to shoot out of.  There seem to be more near the borders but they were pretty much everywhere we went. All are abandoned now, some have been dug up and sledge hammered into small pieces. Some are being used as root cellars or have been incororated into houses and barns. Most are just sitting on hills and in fields.  I was told the only use they ever really served was as a rendezvous point for young Albanian couples (I assume they still serve in that capacity).

Sheep grazing amongst fortress ruins in Albania

Once you get past the scars of its communist past you notice that Albania is a breathtakingly beautiful place. The north and central portions of the country are filled with high rugged mountains, numerous mountain streams and valleys filled with grape vines, olive trees and fields of crops. The buildings here are constructed mostly of stone and there are a lot of very old cottages and homes.  In the countryside even the newer homes are usually of stone construction and tend to blend well with the older homes.  That isn’t to say there are not many modern structures and lots of new construction.  There are and Albanians here tend to ignore any existing zoning laws with the same abandon as the Kosovars.

Unfortunately trash seems to be disposed of anywhere that is convenient and most of the otherwise scenic mountain streams are filled with plastic bags, bottles and other trash. Albania could be a tourism Mecca someday but they are going to have to get a handle on the trash situation before that will occur. Out first destination for the trip the town of Kruje, which is nestled in the mountains of Western Albania.

More to come….

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