TRACES OF THE COMMUNIST STATE
The notorious prison of Spaç, demolished factories, the overgrown narrow gauge along which “enemies of the state” were taken away without a care. These are some of the relics of one of the darkest periods in Albania’s history. You can see them appearing left and right in the often wonderful natural beauty of this beautiful country on the edge of Europe. The communist regime that lasted from 1945 to 1991 has not been forgotten here. The betrayal of the sanctuary wanders around like a ghost in some places.
In the 70s in particular, Albania was regarded by a Dutch group of Marxist-Leninists as the example of progress through collectivity. Writer and journalist Rudie Kagie belonged to this group. He made several journeys, left his long western hair behind meekly and continued to search for the economic miracle. Until he could no longer avoid it: the salvation state did not exist. It was an idea that was held up with hard lies by a paranoid dictator and his ruthless secret service, the Sigurimi. While colorful pictures testified to a blazing success, people were starving to death in their homes.
Kagie recorded his disappointment in ‘De Papieren Heilstaat’ (Amber, 1992). Now he accompanies you, along with Poli Loman, founder of TravellingAlbania, on this fascinating 8-day tour along some traces of the never extinct past. Cheerful is different, you say. But there is compensation: culinary fireworks! The tour takes you past some pearls of Albanian agrotourism cuisine, where a country-style reception awaits you. Like at the famous Uka farm, according to The Guardian the only place on earth where you get a glass of chilled ceruja on the table. A bit of work and a bit of fun. It will, of course, remain a holiday!
This tour suits you if:
- You are interested in history.
- You would like to know more about communism in Albania.
- You enjoy delicious food and good wine.
- You would like to get to know the culture of a warm and welcoming country.
- You would like to explore a country that has not yet been discovered by mass tourism.
Please note: The tour led by Mr. Kagie will take place only on April 24, 2020. For the other data, we will have other guides available.
At least 15 persons required to be guaranteed.
|START OF TOUR||TIRANA|
|POI’S||TIRANA – DAJT – LEZHË – SHKODER – SPAC – ELBASAN – BERAT – SAVER – CAPE OF RODON – KAMEZ
|DIFFICULTY||This trip is not physically demanding, but there is quite some walking involved, so take comfortable shoes with you. Some places that we will be visiting can be mentally intense.|
Day 1: TIRANA
Arrival at the airport and transfer to Hotel Millenium in the heart of Tirana. In the afternoon, after a short walking tour, we visit the impressive BunkArt2, the underground exhibition of photos, films and installations about the communist era, set up in one of the former atomic bunkers of the regime. We walk past the worn-out pyramid that was designed by Hoxha’s daughter as a museum for his legacy, to a former communist curiosity bar called Café Komiteti for a coffee or a drink. One, because we have to go. Via Blokku, the current entertainment center of Tirana where the regime once lived, we reach the place for our first culinary sensation on this journey: Mullixhiu. Dizzy with impressions and food? The van brings us back safely.
Day 2: TIRANA-MOUNT DAJTI
Today we visit the National Art Gallery, a spacious museum with an accent on socialist realistic art from the communist period. From there we go to House of Leaves, which is dedicated to the listening practices of the Sigurimi. This Albanian secret service had its headquarters in this house that was built in the 1930s as a gynecological clinic. The van drives us to restaurant Gurra e Perrisë, a special hunting hut-like restaurant located in the forest on the mountain of Dajt east of Tirana, for good food. And after a walk through the forest, we reach the station of the cable car that brings us down with a fantastic view of the city. Transfer to Mrizi i Zanave Agroturizëm, near Lezhë, where we will spend the night. Here you can get acquainted with delicious local products and the tasty local Kallmet wine.
Day 3: SHKODER
Transfer and visit to the Rozafa Castle of Shkodër and the museum on the citadel. From the high-lying castle, whose foundations date from the Illyrian period, you have a magnificent view of the city and the surrounding water-rich area. After this, we check in at our Hotel Tradita, where a nice traditional lunch also appears in front of you. In the afternoon a special meeting is on the agenda: a conversation with a former factory worker from one of the partially decommissioned factories from the communist era with which the Skanderbeg district is littered. If you are not yet exhausted, the bus will take you to Ura e Mesit, the 108-meter long intact bridge from the Ottoman period northeast of Shkodër. Or to the brand new Venice Art Factory, a factory where the most extravagant masks are made for the Venetian carnival. The white palace replaces the shabby factory hall in the east of Shkodër, where production took place until recently.
More information on Shkodër.
Day 4: SHKODER - SPAÇ - ELBASAN
We will pay a short visit to the Bishop’s Museum, which shows pictures and stories of various horrors that the cathedral and its users have endured, and / or to the former prison of Shkodër, now set up as a Site of Witness and Memory. Then we drive to Kantina Arbëri in Rrëshen for a tour of the wine cellar where, among other things, the Kalmett and Sheshi i Bardhë produced here are stored.
Take one, because in the afternoon an excursion to one of the grimmest places in Albania’s communist past awaits: the former prison of Spaç, where thousands and thousands of prisoners are even on the slightest suspicion of agitation and propaganda the state were sometimes imprisoned for 25 years and were buried in the nearby copper mines. It also happened to the uncle of tour guide Poli Loman. She tells about it against the backdrop of the dismantled building, which has been protected since 2015 as a monument. Perhaps after this, you are happy to have the hum of the van around you for a few hours. In the evening we drive to Elbasan, where we sleep in Hotel Real Scampis, which is beautifully situated in a corner of the old walled city.
Day 5: ELBASAN - BERAT
If you are early you can take a tour through the walled city where all sound is muted and where you will find the oldest mosque in Albania (built-in 1492) in addition to a beautiful sheltered Maria church. We leave around 11 am for a visit to the Kombinati Metalurgjik, the fantastic steelworks complex west of the city that in its heyday offered no fewer than 12,000 workers. Some buildings are still in use, but the production is minimal and the circumstances are at least shadowy.
After the visit, we leave for Berat, the photogenic city of a thousand windows, where we first eat in the Castle Park Hotel, a special building just south of the city. Afterward we check-in at Hotel Onufri, which is beautifully situated in the middle of the Mangalem district at the foot of the rock on which the castle of Berat is built. The streets here follow the whimsical pattern of the rock, which rises very steeply in some places and where car traffic is impossible. You will notice that the houses in Mangalem, just like in Gorica on the other side of the Osum, are very similar in style. This is due to an earthquake that struck Berat in 1851. Almost all houses had to be rebuilt in that year according to a then-applicable building decree.
In the afternoon we climb the path to the castle where hopefully we can visit the Onufri Museum, dedicated to the icons of the country’s most famous painter. At the setting sun, Rudie will tell something about the background of the letter NEVER that you can read in the west on the flank of Mount Spirag.
Day 6: BERAT
Your penultimate day is a (relicts) day off. Will you be ready by now? Berat is an attractive place to wander around. Besides the silent castle where a few dozen families still live, there is a medieval neighborhood with a number of tekkes and the famous King’s Mosque nearby, a little higher up you’ll find the beautiful ethnographic museum in a beautiful old Ottoman house and you just have to cross the bridge to get to the old Gorica district. A newer neighborhood is to the east. Here you can get acquainted with everyday Albanian life. People drag around with bags full of oranges and on the main street there is a lot of honking, but on the car-free Bulevardi de Republika people stroll and drink coffee as if there is no time pressure.
Various excursions are organized from Berat. To the wine cellars of Cobo and Nurreallari for example, to the Osum at Skrapar for rafting, or for a donkey tour on Mount Tomorr. You can go to one of the tour operators near the hotel, or at the Castle Park Hotel.
Day 7: SAVER - CAPE RODON - HUQI
Bye-bye Berat, bye-bye Albania. On this last day, we take it easy. We drive past Savër, wherein the communist era deported women who were kept working under harsh conditions. This happened to the family of Poli. She will briefly say something about this. More cheerful is the visit that follows to Uka Farm, a paradise spot under the smoke of Tirana and, according to a report in The Guardian, the only place where you can drink a glass of ice-cold ceruja, a white wine from a grape that grows along with mulberries and is harvested once every two years. ‘Gëzuar!’
We continue to the northwest to the beautiful Cape of Rodon, to catch a glimpse of the Albanian coast with a walk on the cliff. The paranoia of Hoxha reached a peak here with dozens of bunkers and defenses that he had built against the hills. In a small bay with a bar close to the sophisticated and fairy-tale medieval Saint Anthony church you will also see one of the places where pieces of rock were blown out to park submarines from the Russians with whom Hoxha initially maintained warm relations.
On the way back we visit Huqi Agrofarm for a very special meal. To finish it off, because it’s the last time. Late in the evening, we drive a little further, to moor in a pure white hotel with swimming pool, ahead, for once, Villa Bianca.
Day 8: TIRANA – TIRANA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Transfer to the airport and the flight home. We hope you had a great time and enjoyed this tour. We say goodbye at Schiphol. Hopefully, there will be another reunion and we will see each other again on a next trip!
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