Monday, April 13, 2009

Kruja Albania

On 1 Apr 09, our second day in Tirana, we went to Kruja (pronounced Kru-yah).

The day started out with coffee, of course. My husband has really taken a liking to Espresso, though I hope he will never get to I's regular 10-12 Espressos a day.

The drive to Kruja was relatively quick. It's about 32 km from Tirana. That's not really what made the trip so short. Driving in Albania is an art form and requires courage, a lot of courage. As "I" said when we first got there, "the only rule is there are no rules." There is only one main road, the "highway." The other roads are a crapshoot, some are OK and some are downright terrible. Most of the cars seem to be four-wheel drive or off-road capable types of cars -with good reason. No matter the condition of the road, they go fast. Very fast. And they take the art of passing to the next level. It doesn't matter if you can see the expression on the face of the driver heading toward you, if you want to pass the car in front of you, just go for it. The car you are passing will slow down enough for you to get in front of them, and/or the car coming toward you will swerve a bit to allow room for three cars while you're passing. This gets a bit trickier when there isn't enough room for the other car to swerve or make way. Not that this stops people from husband says he's ready to try driving the next time we visit - I don't think I'll ever be ready to drive in Albania.

On the way into Kruja, we drove past the cafe/bar where Pres Bush had coffee during his visit to Albania in 2007. The changed to name of the cafe to the "George W. Bush Cafe." V's husband wanted to stop and have coffee which would have been cool, but we were on a timeline so V could teach at 1400.

Kruja is a very historical city for Albania. It's over 800 years old and is considered to be the center of Albanian resistance to the Turks. It was the site of a huge battle, in 1450, between the Albanians (joined together by Skanderbeg) and an Ottoman army that outnumbered them 5 to 1. Skanderbeg is considered to have saved Europe and Christianity by keeping the Ottomans from crossing into Europe.

They took us to the Citadel in Kruja and the Skanderbeg Museum which is located in the castle. On the way up to Kruja Castle, built between the 5th and 6th century, we walked through the old bazaar. I really wish we had had more time so we could stop to look at everything. It amazed me that there was so much in the bazaar, especially since it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere on the side of a huge mountain. I could have happily bought quite a few things to remember this trip, but we didn't have time (or the available weight in our suitcase).
The Skanderbeg museum was built in 1982. It struck me as out of character for the communists to build a museum in memory of the man who gave Albania it's nationalism.Wouldn't it make more sense if the communists had tried to erase Skanderbeg from the Albanian mindset? Instead, it seems they realized that Skanderbeg was such a huge national hero and would only grow more popular if they tried to erase the memory of him.

We received a private tour of the museum with an English speaking guide. In addition, quite a few things in the museum had descriptions/explanations in English. It was very well set up and showed a lot of the history for the area. I was a complete geek and took a picture of the bathroom in the museum. It's probably not very cool to talk about bathrooms and toilets but I'm going to. If you don't like it, skip ahead.... Everything I had read about Albania before our trip talked about how it was still a bit behind the rest of the world and not to be surprised by hole-in-the-floor toilets (and to bring your own TP). As I had seen/used these before (during my trip to Bosnia and Serbia) I was prepared. However, everything we had seen so far was pretty modern (at least compared to holes in the floor) so I was surprised when the museum had the old kind of toilets. Despite the hole in the floor thing, it was very clean and no big deal...

Next to the citadel was the Ethnographic Museum. It was essentially the home of "rich" people from the 14-15th century and set up to show the visitor traditional Albanian life. We got to see tools they used for grinding corn, weaving and pressing grapes as well as how the home would have been set up at that time - bedrooms, eating area, etc.

After the museums, we drove back so V could teach her marketing class at the University of New York in Tirana while her husband, Tom and I went to lunch. We went to the restaurant where V and her husband met. It was a very nice, small Italian restaurant. We started with salad and these incredible sauteed mushrooms. They actually tasted like some kind of meat - very, very tasty. The "first plate" was three types of pasta. The "second plate" was "shoulder of beef" and potatoes. We finished with a fruit plate of sliced apples, oranges and kiwi. As usual, there was wine and water with lunch and followed by espresso for the men. As we were leaving, we were told someone who worked for V's husband, when he was the Minister of the Interior, had paid for our lunch. I didn't think stuff like that really was almost like being a celebrity.

After all that walking and food, all I wanted was a nap. So V's husband went to get some work done and we collapsed for an hour at the hotel. We met up again at 1800 and drove to Durres. Durres will be the next post...


  1. I was looking for just the right comment on this post but the only thing that keeps coming to mind is your toilet photo. In light of what you read in advance of your travels, I guess it's not all that bad since there does seem to be a roll of TP available. There are all too many bathrooms at home here that lack in that basic maintenance department.

    Of course, being a guy, I have to wonder...

    Was the paper over, or under?

    Looks like it would be over because of the flap. There is your proof of the lack of modernity in Albania!!!

  2. Hmm, maybe I should take the toilet part out - there was so much history in Kruja that I would hate for my toilet escapades to be the only part that stays in people's minds...

  3. You may want to take it out and add it as a comment, but then the photo is a waste (pun intended). No, it does not detract from the rest of the blog and I would suggest it stay.

    I'm impressed with the amount of coffee people drink there and had side thoughts about the cleansing of ethnic Albanians in Turkey. I had thoughts about the cafe's name and your point on Russia embracing the history rather than trying to squash it. The post is fine as it is. Pardon me for taking the easier, comic path.