Albania – Korça and Voskopaja

Tower of Korça with view

In the morning, we climb the rectangular tower in the city center to get an overview of Korça, located on 850m above sea level and surrounded by hills.


Korça developed around 1800 after Voskopoja had decayed.

Next, we drive to Voskopaja that is located on about 1160m.

Walk around to Voskopoja

Located amidst soft hills, Voskopja was a cultural and economic center of the Ottoman empire in the 17th and 18th century. Around 1800 and then again in 1913 it was destroyed. It is a village now. This is the central square.


We walk to the neck of Pasha, a hill on about 1600m above Voskopaja. We first follow a romantic creek that has made the path muddy. We find boletus…


… and parasol mushrooms.


If I were here with my camper, I would prepare a delicious risotto.

We reach a mountain lake.


Sad. There was a restaurant and guest house here that had been built with much love for details such as a children’s playground and a fountain, but now it is decaying. The owner has given up.

Ever once in a while we have a view of Voskopaja.


„By my memory, there is a path here”, Ben says and turns right. Yes, there IS a tiny path here, I would have never seen it. It is good to hike with a guy from the mountains that just feels, where he has to go. Ben now starts to pick up rubbish on the way… he wants his country to be cleaner. After about three hours we are back in Voskopaja.

Restaurant Taverna of Voskopoja

We are hungry and the Taverna is the obvious choice. We order Lakror (a pie with spinach and tomato/oignon)  and yoghurt from sheep milk.


Delicious… I will have to look for the recipe.

There is a group of Albanians that now start to switch on local music – very, very, very loud. They dance to the music and enjoy it. I am happy to see them happy, but it is just too loud for me. No coffee here, we leave as quickly as we can.

Church St. Nicolas with frescoes

The church of St. Nicolas is closed.  Eventually we  find the key… the wife of the orthodox priest has it. She opens the gate.


The church is beautiful with its frescoes.



Back to Korça and to museum of first school of Albania

Around 1880 the first school was founded in Albania. Korça has a museum for that. It is not open. Ben rings the bell and a young guy opens.  He takes us around and adds insights to the explanations of Ben. I feel how proud both are that this school has defended teaching the Albanian language against all odds of suppression. The young guy working as a volunteer shows enthusiasm of the relicts that the museum has collected to illustrate the history. My highlight Is Alexander Moisiu, an Albanian actor who now is buried near Lugano in Switzerland.


We later share a coffee with the young Albanian man from the museum. He makes a great impression on me. He is disabled, cannot walk well, but each morning he gets up at six to climb a mountain and train his muscles. He knows so much about world history, why is he not a teacher?

The park and the market of Korça

Korça is working hard to embellish their town. They have completed one of the most beautiful parks of Albania…


… even with a free open-air fitness center.


They are also refurbishing their bazzaar. Work is going on everywhere, even at night. This is one of the edges that has been almost completed.


I ask Ben, whether the people who have lived here before, can still afford to rent the renovated shops and houses. A Roma comes across us. He tells us the sad story of his people. They have lived here before, have sold second hand clothing, but now they will have to leave the market area and do not know yet, where to rebuild their business.

A light dinner at the Taverna of Korça

We wrap up our day with a light dinner, lime soup and salad, at the Taverna of Korça. “No, kos (yoghourt), I cannot serve you kos”, the waitor says. Last night he has given us his own kos, though it is not on the menu. But today he would like to eat his dinner himself… Very kind.










Albania – from Berat to Llogara Pass

Ardenica monastery – Skanderbeg’s wedding took place here

The Ardenica monastery is located on a hill near Fier. It is from the 13th or 14th  century. It is a romantic place: It is said that Skanderbeg got married here.

This is the church seen from the entrance to the monastery.


The iconostasis is beautiful – the guardian allows me to take a picture, before the group of Italians comes and sees it (quick, they can be heard already).


The pulpet is richly adorned.


After a coffee break in a nice place below the monastery we continue to Apollonia.

Apollonia – with Arian, the archaelogist

When reaching Apollonia, Ben hands mw over to Arian, the archaeologist. “This is your dessert”, Ben says. Arian’s father was already an archaeologist, and he ended up with the same profession after having started with history and geography. Arian takes about one and a half hours to explain this “magna urbs et gravis”. It is an Ilyrian/hellenistic town that has later been expanded by the Romans.

This is the Buleutorion or the house of the town council. It is the most famous structure of Apollonia.


This is the Odeon. I like it, it is small and cosy, just right for concerts.


The theatre with its round forms links the higher hellenistic with the lower Roman area of the city.


Apollonia lost its importance, when in 234 AD an earth quake diverted the river which resulted in the port no longer being accessible to ships coming from the sea.

Turtles walk around freely here. This turtle first hid its head under the shield, but after a few friendly words it looked at me again.


 Museum and St. Mary Church at Apollonia

Arian takes me to the museum. The orthodox priest stands at the entrance chatting. St. Mary church is again in use.


The layout of the iconostasis follows strict rules. E.g. first icon left is St. Mary, second icon is the person that the church is dedicated to. As this church is for St. Mary, the second icon shows her as well.


I light three candles for Ernst.


We move on to the museum. On the balcony, Arian explains this infograph to us. The wonan is losing her husband, and she tries to hold him back, but he has to go into the underworld, where he takes the boat and ends up sitting at the bottom mourning and thinking of his wife that has remained on earth. Yes, I know how this woman and her husband feel.


The museum is an excellent layout of the history of  Apollonia. From Illyrian times are this shield and the helmet.


The Greek vases are beautifully painted.


The Roman vessels are not decorated. I like this lamp.


We say good-bye and thank you to Arian.

The Hoxhta and the German bunkers

Next we stop at the German bunkers. In 1944, Xhemali was four years old  and he brought eggs to the Germans sitting in these bunkers, because he felt sorry for the soldiers. Now he takes tourists to the bunkers by leading them across the fields.


Still today, he is very hospitable and gives us two pomegranates. Here he is with his donkey.


Chatting over lunch… the owner has lost his cattle

We have an excellent lunch near the road to Vlora. Above all I enjoyed the warm goat cheese with herbs on tomato, cucumber and oignons. Something to cook at home.

We hear that the manager has built up a farm, and after a heavy storm he lost everything. He had no insurance and had to start over again, Now he runs this restaurant that he has rented. Thank you for the delicious meal.

Vlora… the city of independence

It was in Vlora that Ismail Quemali has proclaimed the independence of Albania in 1912. He was born in Vlora and he is also buried here. This is his memorial.


This is the mosque that some deem to have been drafted and/or built by Sinan.


Sinan was THE architect of Suleyman the Great in the 16th century and some sources suggest that he was Albanian. I have seen and loved his mosques in Istanbul and in Damaskus. I like the harmony of the construction, but inside I am disappointed. Ben reminds mee of the communists that might have destroyed the decoration inside the mosque.

We visit the building that the first government selected to rule Albania after its foundation. The rooms  of  ministers are in still in place, modest and functional. The members were from all religions existing in Albania – great coexistence.


The inviting hotel in the steep, rocky bay

I did not like Vlora. Too many high constructions have turned into “crying” houses  – skeletal structures that will never be completed. Dirt all over. At least they have started to redo the central square with tiles, trees and benches.

Then Ben shows to me, what an innovative guy has made out of a rocky bay: The Liro hotel and restaurant – does its bright yelllow color not look joyful and inviting.


I would love to swim here. The water ist cristal clear.


Continuing to Llogara pass

Now our car is climbing upwards to the Llogara pass.


We stop at the Llogara Village resort. It is a yougoslawian style hotel with playgrounds for children and a minigolf area that serves as a zoo for deer. Great for children. Ben was here for the first time and he prefers the hotel Alpina.


Tomorrow we plan to get up at six and go for an early morning walk to the pass and a nearby hill with a view of the Ionean Sea.




Albania – From Kruja to Berat

Our plan: Look at Kruja from above, visit Durres, taste wines near Berat and stay overnight in Berat.


Chatting with the Bektashi above Kruja

in the morning, we drive up to the rocks behind Kruja.


On top we reach a crying house that has been built by the Bektashi and then abandoned. They have a small house and a cave below the edge, the Sari Selltik Sanctuary. A priest and a member of the Bektashi looking after the site are sitting on this terrace with a view of Kruja.


We joint them and have a coffee. In Kruja, about 90% of the population belong to the Bektashi. This branch of shiit Islam emerged in Iran in the 13th century, and Ben is proud that they respected women’s rights already then.  They have Tekkes or temples in Kruja amd their world center is in Tirana.

We walk along the ridge and the view of Tirana up to Durres on the sea is very clear after the rain.



The hidden valleys around Kruja

Behind the ridge is the world that, in the 14th century, Skanderbeg had defended with his army. It must have been here somewhere that, according to legend, Skanderbeg sent a herd of goats with candles on their horns to. The Ottomans believed, the army of Skanderbeg is retreating and followed the goats. Of course, they were attacked by Skanderbeg and his men from behind, which led to another of the more than 20 victories of the Albanians over the Ottomans.


On the way down, we enter a narrow valley. Ben shows me the memorial of the 86 women who threw themselves to death, because they did not want to be raped by the Turks after Skanderbeg had died.



Driving to Durres

The road to Durres leads through a plane that must have been fertile, but now houses are scattered all over. “There is no plan”, Ben comments. I think we should teach the Albanians, how to plan regional zones – for living, for agriculture, for small houses and for higher houses. All the crying houses along the road that will never be completed!

While driving, Ben tells me this story: A sheep, a goat and a dog take a taxi. The sheep gets out first and pays. Later the goat reaches its target point and runs away, without paying. The dog is the last to leave the taxi. He pays too much, and the driver gives him no change. Even today we observe this behavior, when a car comes: The sheep stay (having paid correctly),  the goats run away (having left the taxi without paying) and the dogs bark (having paid too much, they want their change back).


Durres – a city in uncontrolled growth, but with an old history

Durres shocks me with a large number of “crying” houses – ruins that will probably never be completed. They seem to have been built after the 90’s. Here is one example.


The museum would show the old history of Durres, going back to Illyrian times. But the museum is closed. It is Monday again. I thought we have had Monday with closed museums already a week ago… but right, Mondays come back every week.

We visit the old townwall (destroyed only in 1913 and 1915)…


… with the Venetian tower…


and the amphitheater with the small Byzantine church sitting in the middle (covered with a white roof now).


This alley has been tastefully built during the Italian occupation in the 1920s/30s.


Durres has white sandy beaches. During communist times there were two storey houses at a distance from the coast line. Now there is a line of multistorey buildings along the water front, many uncompleted. What happens, when the sandy coast line recedes or when the next earthquake hits? These houses are literally built on sand.

We have lunch in a small Italian restaurant at the beach. I think that Spaghetti have always been normal in Albania, because the Italians ruled here in the 1920s/30s. Hence Spaghetti must have been known all the time. “Oh no,” says Ben, “in communist times you were in trouble, when you knew, how to prepare Spaghetti.”

As a dessert, Ben takes me to the 15th floor in one of the sky scrapers, near the port. We enjoy a great view over the city and to the mountains behind Durres – up to Kruja.



From Durres to Berat

As we are getting closer to Berat, the landscape brightens up. No incomplete houses any more (that will never be complete). There is agriculture… olive groves, corn, fruit trees, green houses.


Shortly before Berat, we stop at the Çobo winery. As the house shows, the owners – two brothers – are making good business. A tasting is going on in the garden.


One of the two brothers guides me through their cellar. There are metallic tanks and barrels from French oak.


The wines are made from the autochthon grapes Shesh i bardhë (bardhë=white, reminds me of Chenin Blanc) and E bardha e Beratit (in Johnson 2006, reminds me of Verdejo), Shesh i Zi (reminds me of Cornalin, fruity nose, tannic on palate, 2013, Zi=black). We also try Kashmer (70% ich Shesh i Zi, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, 1 year oak, 2010) and E kuqja e Beratit (grape crossbred in communist times, 2011, soft, 25 Euro). They also have Raki me arra (Walnuss, brown, walnut can be felt) and we buy a bottle of Raki.


Arriving in Berat

From the winery it is only a  short drive to Berat, the white city of the 1000 windows and Unesco World heritage.


I walk up to the castle. Then we have some light yoghurt in the restaurant Tomori (called after one of the mountains near Berat)… and another interesting day is over. I look forward to discovering Berat tomorrow.

Albania – from Prizren to Kruja

A short morning walk in Prizren

We say good morning to Prizren. The Hamam is being repaired.


Nearby, in the parking lot of a tiny house, there is a car from Berlin. “Ick bin een Berlinaa..?” No, I do not think that this car is owned by a guy from Berlin. It is not “een Berlina”, but might be a Kosovian living in Berlin.

There is the star of the Jews at the minaret… I love the coexistence of religions.


This small cobbled street leads to the Ottoman bridge.


Back in the hotel Central, the owner invites us for a coffee… he wants me to meet two Swiss “girls”. They are ladies of my age. The daughter of the first lady is here with Kfor and has asked her to come. Her sister-in-law has just become widow 3 months ago; she loves to exchange with me, as I know, what she senses. We review our experience in Kosovo enjoying the relation of Switzerland to this country. “Have you read about the mass collision after a local car has overtaken?  Six Swiss cars were caught. Well, we do not think that there were Swiss inside those cars… “, we laugh.

On the motorway to Kukes

We take the motorway towards Albania. “Look, how well everything is made here, there was a proper quality check”, Ben says. Indeed, the motorway is perfect. On the Albanian side, the terrain is more difficult. Most bridges are only half completed. Kukes is where Ben comes from (actually from a mountain village two hours away- on foot). A car stops entering the motorway on an unpaved path and the driver shouts “hello Ben”, as he saw us taking photos.


In Kukes, we visit the bar and garage of a relative of Ben.


We have Boza, a local drink from Kukes, made with milk, wheat, corn and some sugar. Delicious and refreshing!


Kukes to me looks like a sad town. During communist times, it has been far more prosperous, but now the city has lost some ten thousands inhabitants. Many houses are decaying. “This is the city center”, Ben says. I see an empty, unorderly area that they are planning to refurbish.


When the plans are completed, it will look good… I keep my fingers crossed, because the scenery of Kukes  is great. The black (and deeper) Drin is joining with the white (and less deep) Drin . In the background are the Alps of Albania.


A huge hotel is overlooking this scenery.  Ben has been in his hotel during communist times. But now the hotel has joined the large number of crying houses with dark windows.


Ben dreams of opening up the shelter tunnels for tourists and offering hikes to the mountains.  Also the hospitality of Kukes could be of touristic value. It has hosted something like one million of refugees from Kosovo in 1999 and was named for the Nobel prize for peace, Ben tells me proudly. A memorial reminds of that.

On the motorway to Kruja

We continue on the motorway to Kruja. It pours with rain. We cross a tunnel that is about 5.5km long.

In lower Kruja, there is a memorial for George W. Bush. He has visited this town and supported the local industry. At least here they like this president.

Arriving in Kruja

Our car climbs uphill. Kruja lies on a “terrace” On about 1000m. Ben is happy and recites: “Kruja, oh blessed city, wait and wait for Skanderbeg, so he’s coming to liberate the motherland where he was born and where he was grown.” I can imagine now, how much the Ottomans attacking Kruja in “les tambours de la pluie” hated this place sitting in their tents (novel by Ismail Kadaré).

The Panorama Hotel has a great view of the Skanderbeg castle.  The rain has stopped and we have lunch with pepper.  There is a wedding on the ground floor. People dance in their traditional dresses.


We walk through the Bazar that has been renewed with the help of European funds.


We reach the castle and visit the Ethnological Museum in the house of The Toptani. Workshops are on the ground floor,  the living rooms for women and men on the second floor.


Next we visit the Skanderbeg museum. We follow the story of this great leader that Skanderbeg was withstanding the Ottomans for 25 years, supported by his men and his favorite sister Mamica.

In the evening I enjoy sitting on balcony of my room with a phantastic view of Skanderbeg’s castle. With me is a glass of white house wine from the region.


Albania – from Valbona to Prizren in Kosovo

On the road to Kosovo – chats and stops

Ben stops. “Great morning light – I have to take a photo” … and he disappears in the river bed.


I like that enthusiasm. Shortly afterwards, we stop in the middle of the road. A cousin of Ben enjoys seeing us. He gives us walnuts. We continue our way chatting and chatting.

Among other things, Ben tells me that as a small boy in the eighties, he was watching the airplanes in the sky followed by their white stripes, and he wondered what that was. Well, Albania was still locked up. In those days, each family was entitled to one portion of milk, bread and portions of more selected food. His uncle was alone, and they merged the portions; this was, how they had more to eat. Imagination helped to survive, in the mountain village near Kukes.

The monuments for partisans and heros from the 1940’s are omnipresent.


Crossing the border to Kosovo and reaching Gjakova

Crossing the border to Kosovo is easy. Ben laughs: “Look, when they see a Swiss passport, they do not check it. There are so many Kosovo Albanians in Switzerland. Just think how many of them play in your football teams.” Yes, I know Shaqiri, and Ben corrects me: “no, no, he is not called Shakiri, but Shatschiri, “q” is “tsch”, also in Kosovo.”

Soon we reach Gjakova (gj to be pronounced dj). This town has suffered much in the 1999 war.

We stop at a catholic church that has recently been built with European support.


Construction is still going on.


The construction consultant is full of enthusiasm and tells us, e.g. where the organ will be located, where the tiles come from (Italy), who contributed funds (Europe) etc… The bells ring: It is eleven.

Near the church, there is an old Ottomoan bridge.


The clock tower seems to have been built by a Jewish architect, as the sign at the base suggests.


The town has perfectly rebuilt their bazar and city center – a pedestrian zone with cobbled streets.


The shops are modern – we are parked in front of Apple and Android.


We have a coffee at one of the bars. It is so modern that it only serves espresso and  no Turkish coffee.

Continuing to Prizren

The landscape is no longer rough mountains. It is flat and at places hilly. I see a sign pointing to the Stone Castle winery in The Rahovic valley. Something to try tonight.

There is also some industry such as Swiss Pelet producing pellets.


Discovering Prizren

Prizren has a beautifully restored city center. There are many bridges, and one of them is an old Turkish bridge. Above town there is a castle.


Along the river side and in the cobbled streets there are many restaurants and bars.

The Orthodox church and monastery are closed. Taking photos is forbidden. Policeman keep every one off the ground. The Roman Catholic church is being renovated, with European funds.


The Bajrakli Gazi Mehmet Pasha mosque from 1561 allows me to go in after the prayers. This is the cupola – beautiful.


We walk up to the castle and meet Kfor soldiers from Germany. This reminds me, there has just been a cruel war here, in 1999. When walking through Prizren I forget this… so well restored is the old town. However (other than in Albania), there are many women wearing scarfs and long coats, some even only showing eyes. Though I see the black Skanderbeg eagle on red background in all souvenir shops, the flag of Kosovo is a star with six points, because Kosovo consists of six ethnics (Albanians, Serbs, Turks etc).

The museum of of the League of Prizren

Prizren played an important role in the formation of Albania. Kosovo was one of the four communities or Vilyats of Albania under Ottoman rule. In 1877 the League of Prizren was founded in Prizren. It defended the creation of an Albanian nation in the congress of Berlin, in 1878. Without success. When Albania was eventually founded in 1912, Kosovo with Prizren ended up with Serbia. In the second World War the Germans made it belong to Albania again. After the second World War, Kosovo was again given to Yugoslavia (that now also encompassed Serbia). In 1999 there was the cruel war with Serbia that ended with the creation of the nation of Kosovo.


The league of Prizren had been founded in a building that later became the museum of the League. It was destroyed by the Serbs in 1999 and then has been carefully rebuilt. The museum shows the history of the League. Here are three men driving it (Unknown to us, Ymer Prizreni and Abdyl Frashëri).


I understand that this League fought for Kosovo and for Albania. But… now they are two countries. After all that has happened, I hope for peace for the two  vibrant cities that I have seen in Kosovo, and for Kosovo.

The Beska or “Promise

We finish off the day with dinner in the Beska. This restaurant is called “Promise” and it lives up to its promises. It deserves an entry in Tripadvisor. Why do we not, have any Kosovo Albanian restaurants in Basel? These paprika dishes, pita and yoghurt are simply delicious.



I have a small bottle of Stone Castle Cabernet Sauvignon which is a good match.

Great is the pond in he courtyard. Children love to watch the ducks that swimming and walking around between the tables.

Full of impressions I sleep well, despite the noise that comes from the river board… all Prizren is out on this warm and sunny Saturday evening.


Albania – hiking in the Valbona valley

The friendly guest house in Valbona

We sleep quietly in this small hut belonging to the Kol Gjoni guesthouse.


The breakfast is delicious. Pancakes with home made honey and marmelade, eggs freshly collected from the hens and a Turkish coffee.

Walking in the Valbona river bed

We leave around nine o’clock and get some drinking water at this well.

We turn to the marked hiking path,


… and walk on the paved road and then in the stony bed of the Valbona river – ahead of us we see our target, the pass that connects Valbona and Teth.


Upwards to the pass, with a surprise… Simoni’s bar

After about one and a half hours, our ascent starts on a narrow path.

After another half hour, Ben whistles loudly to announce to Qsimoni that we are arriving. Qsimoni runs a coffee bar on a meadow in the middle of nowhere.

Simoni’s Turkish coffee is delicious. He spends the summer here serving hikers. Why here? “Oh”, he says, “I once had a dream that I want to serve the public here. My elder brother helped me build the bar. And now I am here.” We love the place, chat with a Dutch couple, and then continue upwards.

On the pass to Thet

Around one o’clock we reach the pass (Ben calls it “the neck”). There is a lot of activity here. Quite a few hikers came from Teth and now have lunch here. One group came with horses that carry their luggage. Brave animals. We climb to the highest point above the “neck”.

We eat our picnic (generous and delicious from our guesthouse) and enjoy the view down to the Teth valley and to the Valbona valley.


Same way back to Valbona

We go back down, following the group with the horses.

Simoni’s bar is now busy. It is just the right place for a stop. I am astonsihed that so many people cross the mountains from Thet to Valbona. This is a secret to be passed on, when I am back home.
I have another Turkish coffee and now I also take a Raki. Qsimoni is happy. It has been a good summer for him and he might look for a volunteer to help him next year, he says.

Around four o’clock we are back in our little hut. The farmer offers two large bowls of fresh yoghurt to us, and she spreads a blanket on the ground. Ben sits down legs crossed – this is how they do it here.

This has been a wonderful day walking for about five hours. Valbona is at 1000m and the pass at around 1800m.

Tomorrow, we will continue to Kosovo.


Albania – from Shkodra to Valbona

The Khomani ferry does not work, but there are small boats

From Shkodra we had planned to drive to the Komani ferry. But the ferry had stopped working. Not enough water in the Komani lake. But, where there is a problem, there is also a business opportunity that the locals catch: We find a bus transport to the ferry station, and from there, small boats take us to Fierze. With a couple from England, I jump into the bus, while their guide, Miguen, and Ben drive their cars to Fierze, the end stop of the ferries and now the boat.

Our bus takes a bumpy road through the mountains. As we overtake another bus, both drivers stop next to one another and have a chat, while blocking the road. Also, our bus driver never forgets to wave, when he meets a pedestrian or a worker along the road. I like that.

Onboarding to Annika

At the ferry station,…
… we are directed to the boat Annika.


It is already pretty occupied. In the middle of the boat are some bicycles and motorbikes. One mixed French-English couple bike around Albania with their two year old son. Courageous.

Three and a half hours – great scenery on a polluted lake

Three and a half hours we enjoy our boat ride along the Komani Lake. Here are some impressions of the beautiful scenery.


If only this lake were cleaner. Plastic bottles and tins. A dirty foam spreads a smell that my nose does not really like. Some small fish jump across the water surface; they seem not to care. Is it true that all this mud comes from Kosovo? Perhaps we need some knowledge transfer from Switzerland to clean this lake?

The Komani lake has some critical spots, in particular, when it was narrow. An alarm would go off ever once in a while and we all had to sit down. I did not feel fully comfortable then. I could not fancy swim in this dirty lake, in case we hit a rock or a sand bank.

After three and a half hours we reach Our target port, Fierze. Ben and Miguen are waiting for us. We continue to Baijmar Curri for lunch at the Caka. I eat river trout. Ben gets a huge plate full of joghurt topped with the cream from cooked milk. The joghurt tastes sourish, almost like kefir. At the next table I observe, how two men and one woman receive a huge glass of Raki.

Bajmir Curri (to be pronounced “Surri”) was a partisan that had been killed by king Zogu. Hoxha had Topovka renamed after him. We quickly stop to greet Bajmir Curri.

The road to the Valbona valley has been newly made. We learn that “val” means “wave” in Albanian. Many girls are called Valbona in Albania, as Ben and Migen explain.

We stop at a mill from Chinese-communist times and at a second mill, nicely located on the wild Valbona river.


The welcoming Kol Gjoni guesthouse is a bit like a mountain hut.


We stay in a small wooden hut which is good, because the main house is full with two tour groups that plan to get up early to reach one of the peaks here the highest being Jezerca.

Gjoni is actually pronounced “Jonny” (gj=soft dsch). Jonny and his family welcome us with a cup of mountain tea.

Refreshed we go for a walk. Some more guest houses and hotels have been built here. One of them claims to have five stars. Another hotel planned on five floors, but only two have been completed. A ghosty look.


Johnny and his family serve local food. Dinner is a young goat that has been roasted by the neighbours. We enjoy it with a tasty salad, joghurt and potatoes.

Tomorrow we will go for a five hours’ walk. The weather is beautiful. I look forward to the hike.

Albania – from Tirana to Lezha and Shkodra

On my third day in Albania we travel from Tirana to Shkodra. Let me share a few impressions.

The Roman mosaics in Tirana

First we visit a small Roman excavation site in Tirana. The entry is free.


I like the Roman mosaics…


… and the fine reliefs.


Driving to Lezha in the north west

Lezha is the place where in 1444 Skanderbeg united the leaders of North Albania to fight the Ottomans for 25 yeras. He has been buried here in St. Nicolas church. The church has decayed and is a memorial for him.


Inside is a bust of Skanderbeg…


… and along the walls are the emblems of the leaders that allied with him.


Shkodra, surrounded by water and protected by the Rozafa castle

There is a nice legend about the Rozafa castle. A young mother agreed to be buried to support the construction, but not totally – with one eye she watched her baby, with one breast she fed it, with one hand she touched it and with the leg she moved the cradle. Ben buys a souvenir plate showing that for me.


From the top there is a great view of the rivers joining here and of the lead mosque, now a ruin.


Shkodra is overlooked by mountains.


In a small restaurant on the border of the lake we eat carps.


The mosque, the orthodox and the roman catholic churches are within 30m distance. This is religious coexistence which is usual in Albania.


The first fotos of the Marubi museum are from 1858. Marubi had emigrated from Italy to Shkodra and founded the Marubi studios that were later taken over by locals.  The museum will soon move to the pedestrian zone and show more of the 500’000 fotos.  This is Marubi.


After having visited the Marubi museum, we turn left, and are fined with 1000 Lek. There may be no sign, but turning left is forbidden here. We pay 800 Lek t the post office later. Paying immediately entitles for a discount. Interesting.

While Ben is paying I notice this sign… and I am proud to understand the second part: The clients are king. This is what the post strives for.


We stay in the Hotel Tradita Geg&Tosk. The ambiance is a bit folksy. They are roasting a lamb in the fireplace. The garden is full with guests, the meals seem to be good.


The guest are from all Europe. Some are from France and they came in their Deux Chevaux, driving all the way through Italy, Croatia and Montenegro.


The Mesi bridge north of Shkodra is a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture.


It stands next to a concrete bridge built in communist times… an ugly piece of architecture with a broken railing and iron “needles” standing out.

In the evening we visit the  pedestrian zone, with beautifully renovated houses  in the Italian and Austrian style, obviously with European funds.


Matching the Italian style is the restaurant San Francisco that serves pasta. We finish the day enjoying the meal and the view from the balcony.






In Albania – the National Museum

The National Museum… a good place to get a feeling for Albabian history and pride

All my guide books recommend to visit the National Museum that overlooks the Skanderbeg square. Already the huge mosaic indicates that Albanians connect the roots of the present independent nation back to Ilyrian times. The museum has been built in 1981 and hence the mosaic ends with heroes from communist times.


Scanning the milestones of emerging Albania

Ben, my Albanian guide, is proud of the museum and of his nation. I quickly understand… this visit will not be about updating details in my history table, but about feeling the milestones of the emergence of the Albanian nation, looked at with the eyes of the Albanians.

We start with the prehistoric times (even some 100’000 years ago). Copper, bronce age and iron age… the raw materials were extracted here, and with that the Illyrian culture emerged. The Early Illyrian kingdoms traded with the Greek towns such as Apolonia. The sea was called “detti ion) which means “our sea” in Albanian. Great exhibit: The mosaic with the Beauty of Durrës. Emperor Augustus eventually overcame the restisting Illyrians and created the Roman province of Illyricum.

Next the maps show the invasion of the peoples, Goths and Slavs. I can see some slavic names on the map from those times and also Albanian names of places in today’s Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece. My guide tells me, how those Albanian places have been renamed today. I can feel his enthusiasm for those places, but also I am happy to notice that Albania does not want to restore old borders.

The times of the changing rules, Byzantine, Serb, Bulgarian and Italian, we almost skip. Important milestone now are the Albanian principalities that sometimes already bear the name “Albania”.

Next important milestone is the invasion of the Ottomans after the battle of the Amselfeld in 1389 (Fushë Kosova in Albanian). What matters now is the resistance, first of Skanderbeg, the leader that deserves admiration, and then all the later uprisings that eventually led to the Rilindja, the emergence of the Latin script, the foundation of schools teaching in Albanian and eventually the proclamation of Albania in 1912, by Ismail Quemal.

What follows now, are the times of more foreign rulers, the reign of mbreti (king) Zog I, the growing influence of the Italians, the colonization in the second World War… I suffer, when I see the SS-flag. The partisans freed Albania which led to the next milestone: Communism under Hoxha. The museum documents, how Hoxha killed every one in his way, the opposition, the religious leaders, his followers… I am horrified by all the evidence on display.

The last station is the emergence of the democratic state with its first bumps, e.g. under Sali Berisha.

Much luck, Albania

My head is full of the Albanian milestones. I hope I understood them all well. I am happy to see the pride of Ben, mixed with pragmatism (we do not fight for the “lost” Albanian areas). I do wish luck to this nation at the verge to their future to … now hopefully… independence, democracy and economic thriving.

Albania … hiking above Tirana on Mal Dajti

To the cable car, built by the Austrians, ten years ago

Doppelmayr from Austria has built the Dajti Express ten years ago.


The cabins are very modern and comfy for six to eight people. I just wonder, why they need boxes for snow boards and skis… perhaps this was just the standard model?P1080754

We enter the cabin and we have a view of Tirana with more than one million inhabitants.


Walking to the top of Dajti… romantic forest, then gorgeous view

From the top station we head to the peak of Dajti. We first come across the former hotel for super achieving workers that had deserved a rest during communist times. The house is now decaying, joining the community of skeleton houses that always seem to me to be crying. One  window without glass has curtains, in another window there is laundry drying,  a dog is barking and a sign says “private”. Someone has decided to live here.


We walk through the forest, steeply uphill, for about half an hour, until we reach this sign.


After another good half hour we reach the top of Dajti. We share an apple and enjoy the view of Tirana slowly being wrapped up in haze.


The area on top has been reserved to the military… and to pine trees fighting to survive.


Coming back down and heading for lunch

Coming back down, the bunkers catch my attention. Like mushrooms they are spotted all over in the forest. Hoxha has built 750’000 such bunkers, eager to protect Albania from invaders. Some bunkers are connected by tunnels.


Two soldats guarding the area tell us that it is forbidden to walk here. And after a few friendly words they say good-bye to us. We continue and reach the restaurant Gurra e Perrise, a very romantic restaurant with huge fish ponds and the tables scattered around them.


I have ordered a trout in salvia. My poor trout is being caught from the pond here…


… and then served to me with a local red wine.


Ben has the menu, lamb with potatoes.


We take drinking water from the gurra, the well above the fish ponds.

On the way back, we stop in the Hotel Panorama with a wonderful panoramic view and with great hospitality. While I “powder my nose”, Ben talks with another guide helping out here today… they exchange business cards and discuss the fotos of all the political leaders that had come up here.

We ride back down to Tirana and have a rest from our walk. Later we will head for the National Museum; it is Tuesday today and the museum is scheduled to be open.