The hostel has free breakfast so I enjoyed some fried eggs, bread and cheese. Then I went to meet up with the free walking tour of the city. We started at the national museum that has a huge mosaic depicting communist propaganda built during the communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha between 1978-1991. During this time, the borders of Albania were closed and very few people were allowed in or out. It was a similar situation to present day North Korea. The only information the citizens received was communist propaganda that talked about how great Albania was and how terrible the rest of the world was. Our guide was born in 1976 and his personal stories from his communist childhood were really interesting. Now, in hindsight, he can say that communist was a terrible time for his country, but he wouldn’t say he suffered during his childhood. He had a home and never went to bed hungry and none of his family tried to escape, which would have brought shame to his family and they’d be imprisoned and/or killed. But he knew families where a member did try to escape and the rest of the family was never seen again.
Skanderburg is the country’s national hero and there’s a large statue of him in the middle of the city center. He was taken by the Ottomans when he was young to be a soldier for their army. In his twenties he left the Ottoman Empire and returned to Albania where for over 20 years he fought the Ottomans and was able to successfully keep Albania independent. His family’s crest of a two-headed eagle is on the country’s flag.
During the communist regime, Enver Hoxha destroyed all of the mosques and churches throughout the country. Luckily he did preserve the Et’hen Bey mosque which is over 200 years old now. We also saw a new Orthodox Church that was built in 2014. The country is about 60% Orthodox, 20% Muslim and 20% atheist and is very proud of its religious tolerance. There are Mother Theresa statues and monuments throughout the city. She was born in Macedonia to an Albanian family so Albania likes to claim her as their own.
Enver Hoxha’s daughter built a concrete pyramid in the middle of the city as a museum dedicated to her father after his death. When communism fell, the museum was taken down, but the pyramid remained. It was used as a NATO base during the war in Kosovo, but now the city is debating whether they should tear it down. These days you can find children climbing up it and sliding down. While ugly, I think it’s a unique piece of history that the city should keep. After a facelift it could be turned into a cool historical museum. Albanians like George W Bush as he was the first US President to come to AlbaniaPart of the Berlin Wall
After the tour, I got lunch at an Italian restaurant. Italian influence is very prevalent here and most people speak Italian as it’s a close neighbor across the Adriatic. While I was in the middle of eating these three older women come up and I thought they asked for the other chairs (I was at a 4 top) and I said yes, but then they all sat down…even though there were other empty tables around. They are from Denmark and seem nice enough, it was just a little weird.
After lunch I was headed back to the hostel when another guy started following me. We passed on the street and he was like “Lena!” while pointing at me and I just kinda shrugged and was like no? and kept walking. And he followed me for like 5 blocks being like “Lena!! Lena!!” And finally he was right next to me and was like “Lena! Alberto (pointing to himself)!” And I was like “no….not Lena!” And he was like “yes, Lena. America?” And I said no and walked off and luckily he stopped following me. I’m glad I’m not spending more than 2 nights in this city!
When I finally got back to the hostel alone, I researched where I should go next. Lake Ohrid in Macedonia and Berat in Albania were my best options. Both seemed like nice places, but going to Berat would mean a long bus ride either to Skopje or Ohrid. I’m trying to keep my bus rides as short as possible so I choose Ohrid.
I asked the lady working for help on how to get to Ohrid and there were 2 options. One would probably be quicker and less expensive, but you had to take a bus to a city in Albania then catch a taxi to the border, walk across the border and then catch a local bus to Ohrid. The other one you caught a bus to Struga just over the Macedonian border and then caught a taxi to Ohrid. The latter seemed easier and meant I wouldn’t have to walk across the border so I chose that one.
Then I went out and got some more money and some snacks for the trip. I came back and packed some and then decided to go get a drink at the Sky Tower Bar which is a rotating (like the Space Needle) rooftop bar. I got there as the sun was starting to set and it was beautiful! It was a cool way to see the city. The bar didn’t have serve any food, only dessert so I got some ice cream.
When I got back to the hostel, Erion, the owner, was about to head out with some guys to get shawarma and invited me to go. Since I didn’t have a proper dinner I joined. I ended up getting an “ala cream crepe” which came with cheese, ham and cream cheese. Needless to say it was delicious.
Then it was back to the hostel to shower, finish packing and go to bed.