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Showing posts from 2007


And now the end is near and so i face nanananana... Never did like that crappy song. But it's true nevertheless. Tomorrow in the wee hours of the morning we will be heading for the airport for the last time. I suppose it was too much to expect that I could have kept this going while getting ready to leave. So apologies for the lack of postings over the last weeks. This is post number 380 something so I suppose one post every two days is not a bad average. There were probably 380 more in my head or scribbled down on scraps of paper, but many of them are perhaps best left there. I suppose I should be penning - or typing - my final thoughts and reflections on two years in Tirana, but right now I don't have any. Maybe in a month or two though I might come back with something. Thanks to all of you who have read this blog - especially those of you who have become regulars. Thanks also for linking and thanks to all who left comments. As for the other stars of the blog, Bella now has h

Hotel California

When we first arrived it seemed that I heard it everywhere. Now, as we get ready to leave I'm hearing it everywhere again. In the last three days I've heard it three times - on Wednesday in Juvenilja, on Thursday somewhere I can't remember, on Friday at an open air festival in Mother Tereza Square. The latter was a kind of ersatz reggae version - pleasingly different. I tried it once myself at Flares on karaoke night, but I couldn't hit the high notes. Maybe I ought to give it one more go.

Miss Globe 2007

On Saturday, we were at the Rogner meeting with an expat friend who was leaving Tirana. It was breakfast time, and as our friend was finishing his tea the breakfast room started to fill up with over-dressed (or under-dressed) young women wearing blue sashes. These were the contestants for the Miss Globe 2007 beauty pageant being held in Tirana tonight at the Palace of Congresses. High heel boots and mini-skirts - or in a couple of cases micro-skirts, or possibly just belts - have never struck me as obvious breakfast attire, but the girls seemed happy enough tottering and wobbling around with their tea and toast. I'm not sure why they were wearing their sashes - perhaps in case they forgot which country they came from. As we were leaving they were boarding a large coach which I had seen a number of times around the city in the last few days for their next trip. I'm not sure how some of them made it up the steps, or how they managed to sit down, but perhaps these are the ki

The Real Thing

World Tourism Day

Apparently it's World Tourism Day and European Heritage Day. I only know this because the Ministry of Tourism, Culture Youth and Sports is organising a series of events to mark these. In Tirana, most of the events are taking place at the National Art Gallery on Thursday 29th. There is a exhibition of photographs running all day, and in the evening there is the 'Albanian Tourism Destination Mini-Fair'.

Crash (Again)

Middle of the day. No other traffic. Dead straight road. Boy in Mercedes decides to play with his brakes. Tyres squeal. Boy loses control. Car slides. Car hits parked lorry. Result: Mercedes 0 - Lorry 1.

Big in Albania

Ask me how much I knew about Albania before coming here and my list would be a short one: Enver Hoxha, bunkers and Sir Norman Wisdom. I have no idea when or how I acquired this extensive body of knowledge, but the association of Norman Wisdom with Albania was by far the most interesting part of it. I remember watching Norman Wisdom's old films on British television. My parents were fans of his wholesome, slapstick comedy, but apparently missed the ideological significance of Pitkin's relationship with Mr Grimsdale. Pitkin, the downtrodden and oppressed representative of the workers, triumphed every time over his capitalist oppressor, Mr Grimsdale - and he got the girl. It took a theorist of Hoxha's insight and profundity to discern this deeper political message. It always seemed tremendously unlikely, yet the story of Sir Norman's fame in Albania has been reported in worthy sources like the BBC , the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph . According to the Guardian, when Wi

House of Books

Albanian blogger Elvis Palku had an interesting announcement on his blog yesterday. He has set up an online bookshop making Albanian language books published here available for Albanians everywhere. There is also a dedicated blog with regular news on the project.



Albania 0 - Holland 1

Bad result. Albania should have had at least a draw. If one of the two early efforts that were cleared off the line had gone in who knows what might have happened. I don't know what was wrong with the first disallowed goal, though the second one was definitely offside. I know some people have been blaming the referee - we all do and I've done it myself many times - but the biggest culprit on the night was the Albanian number 5, Cana. He went in with the head - twice - pushing past the referee on the second occasion to get to his man. You use the head, you get sent off - there's nothing controversial about that. (You can read Cana's excuses here .) So Albania, who had defended exceptionally well up to that point were left to face the last crucial minutes against a fired up Holland one man short in the midefield. Equal billing for idiot of the night goes to the fool who threw the firecracker at Melchiot. Should the referee have restarted the game and played the last 100 s

Where Are the Orange Hordes?

I had expected that the Dutch fans would have started arriving yesterday for Holland's game against Albania tonight, so I went out to find them. All I found was a group of seven drinking Heineken (home from home) at Taiwan yesterday afternoon. I went out again last night, but if they were in Tirana they were evidently staying in their hotel bars. I'm heading out again in an hour with my camera to see if I can track a few down today.

Crash - Bang

It's been a bad month on the roads. BIRN reports that 46 drivers were killed in traffic accidents during August. (In 2005 there were 308 fatalities in total. The statistics for 2001 indicate that 22% of that year's casualties were drivers of vehicles. This would suggest that the figure of 46 for August includes all fatalities, not just drivers.) It's a frightening number of deaths in such a small country, but watching how people drive in one sense I'm surprised it's not a lot higher. Driving back from Saranda we saw plenty of accidents and plenty more near accidents. One of these nearly involved us thanks to a moron who tried to overtake us on a blind bend. If you are reading this driver of Nissan SUV, CD 41-17 your bosses at EU-CAFAO will be getting the official complaint shortly. BIRN also reports on a spot of bother down south where villagers from Lazarat attacked a police station in Gjirokaster after some local criminal was shot dead by a special police unit,


Just a few pictures of Saranda, which was a disappointment having heard so much about it. We arrived on 1 September and everyone appeared to have gone home with very few people about and a lot of places nearly empty or closed. Like much of Albania there seemed to be a lot of uncontrolled building going on. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the whole of the hillside around the bay is covered. The beach wasn't nearly as nice as those we visited last year south of Vlora, though the beach at Ksamili to the south was very pleasant and we saw plenty of other more secluded beaches to the north of Saranda along the coast road that looked good too. Didn't have time to stop though.


Thanks to Venera for introducing us to yet another fine restaurant in Tirana. On Wednesday we were at Grepi i Arte, which is tucked away on a small, nameless street between Bulevardi Gjerg Fishta and R. Myslym Shyri. The restaurant is bright and spacious and tastefully decorated. More importantly the food is excellent as is the service. The owner, Niko, has made a real effort and it seems to be paying off, since the restaurant was well filled on Wednesday night and I'm told it is also very busy at lunchtimes. Well worth a visit if you are in Tirana. Pass the Elda petrol station on Gjergj Fishta heading away from Taiwan, then take the first right followed by the first left. The restaurant is about 50 metres away on the right. If you want to make a reservation - or if you get lost trying to find it - you can call them on 068 207 7804. look for the blue neon Niko, the owner, with a big fish take your pick

Mother Tereza

Ten years after Mother Tereza's death, Albania is holding a ten day celebration of her life , with a series of public events across the city. Large posters have appeared across the city marking the anniversary.

In The News

The latest article from IPS looks at the weakness of civil society in Albania. On RFE/RL Ismael Kadare discusses Kosovo . TOL joins the ranks of those discussing Albania's power crisis . BIRN reports on EU frustrations with the Albanian government's handling of police reform . BIRN is also anticipating fireworks in parliament as MP's returned to work this week. Apparently we had an earthquake yesterday but since it was at 7.08am I knew nothing about it. It would take more than 4.7 on the Richter scale to wake me up at that time. Saimir Strati, having already produced a mosaic portrait of Leonardo made from nails, has now produced a mosaic of a horse made from half a million toothpicks.


I'm still working on the photographs. In the meantime the BBC have been in Butrint and produced a radio programme as part of their Heritage: The Balkans series on the World Service. You can stream the programme anytime or it is available as a download for the next week.


After too many weeks of hot days and humid nights we had a terrific thunderstorm last night complete with driving rain. This morning the sky was grey but bright, the temperature seemed to have dropped by 10 degrees, and the air was clean and clear. I took the chance to go for a walk in the park with the dogs and took in the sweet fermentation of long dead leaves, brittle from the heat, freshly soaked. Local people don't like this kind of weather so I had the park mostly to myself. It even started raining on the way back - just light gentle drizzle refreshing rather than soaking rain. I like this weather because it reminds me of home - summer walks in Northern Ireland are never complete without a rain shower. At the moment hints of blue sky are starting to appear behind the grey, so I expect it may start to warm up again. But it was nice while it lasted and I hope that the lower temperatures are here to stay.


On the menu at Sofra i Ariut: the Laura Bush veal fillet.


It took us nearly two years, but we finally made it to Saranda and the south this weekend. More photos - mostly of Butrint - to follow once I have sorted them out.



Two stories from BIRN: Andi Beli, the previous director of KESH who was sacked in March of this year (I think) is under attack by the Office of State Control, a financial watchdog. According to BIRN the OSC is calling on the State Prosecutor to start proceedings against Beli. BIRN also reports that Lulzim Basha, the Foreign Minister, has invited Crown Prince Leka II to become an advisor on foreign affairs. I have to confess that I did not know that there was a Crown Prince. A brief search uncovered an entry on wikipedia , and a video from Vision Plus. The Jewish Advocate carries a story about Bujar Veselaj, whose father, Refik, rescued Albanian Jews during the war and later founded the Albania-Israel Friendship Association. The son has been granted asylum in the US after expert testimony backed his claim that Muslim fundamentalists had threatened his life. I'm not sure what to make of this story. On the one hand I think many Albanians - and outside observers - are complacent abo

Nobody's Listening Any More

Walking through some wasteland near the lake, which also serves as a dumping ground, I saw some books abandoned with the rubbish. Normally I wouldn't wish this on a book, but after a closer look I understood.

More Reading

The Washington Post has a lengthy article on the phenomenon of sworn virgins . Elvira Dones , an Albanian born author and journalist has recently made a film on this theme. Also looking at women in Albanian society, Nicole Itano reports for Women's eNews on the experience of Roma women . MSNBC carries an FT report on the problems facing small businesses in Albania trying to cope with hours-long power cuts every day. The report quotes the Prime Minister's claims that Albania has reached a 'turning point' and that within four years the country will be exporting electricity. The Economist has a piece on President Topi . The author believes that the President will support measures to limit the term of office for the Chief Prosecutor, thus dealing with the Sollaku issue. In contrast to the Prime Minister's optimism, the Economist reports that 'plans for private investors to build new power plants are way behind schedule.' Forbes carries an AP story on US attemp

Some Articles

In the Guardian Benji Lanyado reports on his visit to the Albanian Riviera. More from IPS - an article on Gjirokaster , and one on marketing the remnants of Albania's communist past to tourists. The Times reports on artist Saimir Strati's latest project - a mosaic of a horse made from about one million toothpick. This is a follow up to last year's project, a mosaic of Leonardo Da Vinci made from half a million nails. I saw Strati working on the Da Vinci mosaic last year in the Pyramid and he is there working on the toothpick horse at the moment. His website has some good pictures of the nail mosaic.

Great Idea

It seems that our neigbourhood's improvised traffic calming system is much admired out there. I've found references to it here , here , here , here and here . Someone should work out a way to make some money out of this.

Arms Sales

One of the more unusual stories that has cropped up in the last few days concerns the sale of armaments by Albania to Armenia. It appears that a shipment of weapons was on its way to Armenia, but was prevented from reaching its destination by the Turkish authorities. The Azerbaijanis are complaining to the Albanians; the Armenians are denying that they ever bought weapons from Albania; the Albanians are searching for another delivery route that avoids Turkey. The issue is a sensitive one because of the unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh .

Poverty and Tourism

Thanks to ITS for drawing my attention to a disturbing article in the Christian Science Monitor on child poverty in Albania . Despite recent economic growth, a third of Albania's children live on less than $2 a day. And according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), a staggering 35 percent of children in rural areas are malnourished; in urban areas, 17 percent are. In terms of child malnutrition – measured by the percentage of children under age 5 who are underweight – the World Bank puts Albania just above Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. On a different note, the latest report from IPS discusses the new legal framework for the development of the tourist industry.

President Topi

Game, set and match to Berisha then. In the fourth round of voting the Democratic Party candidate - and vice-chairman of the party - was elected to the post of President with 85 votes. Neritan Ceka, the only other candidate received only 5. The key difference this time was the presence of 7 opposition MP's who took part in the voting and backed Topi. Ben Blushi, chairman of the Socialist Party in parliament, subsequently resigned from his post and Edi Rama denounced the 7 as 'treacherous.' Some commentators suggested that this was Nano's revenge. Unable to take the post of President himself, he undermined Rama's leadership in the most effective way he could, by getting his remaining supporters to back Topi. Was there a deal? In time it may become clearer. Certainly, Berisha was very confident after the third vote that there would be a result in this round and that Topi would win. Of course, that might have been no more than political bluff. Topi himself is working h

This Week's Articles

IPS has another couple of articles on Albania. One looks at attempts to manage biodiversity , the other at efforts to manage waste disposal . A list of all the recent IPS articles on Albania with links is also available . BIRN has a summary of the state of play in the Presidential election as the next vote approaches, and a report on criticism from PAMECA , the EU police mission in Albania, of the recent sackings of large numbers of police officers - many of them trained by PAMECA. The South East Europe Media Organisation has added its voice to criticism of the fine slapped on Top Media. Finally the Times has the articles on the death of Prel Marku , an Albanian living in London, who was the innocent victim of a conflict between Albanian criminal gangs in the city .

Eating Out

I've been trying to come up with a list of restaurants I've eaten at here in Tirana. I know I've missed some, and I'm sure I've got some of the spellings wrong, and there are others I've been to but I've no idea what they were called, but here they are in no particular order. If anyone has any suggestions of other places to try send them in. Carlsberg, Metropolitan, Green House, Piazza, Chocolat, Eastana, Efendi, Royal, Juvenilja, Lion Park, Sofre e Ariut, Serendipity, Amsterdam,Berlin, Lulishte 1 Maji, Casa di Pasta, La Tavernetta, Rozafa, Ujvara, Divjaka, Gloria, Shvjek, Vila 31, Floga, Pusi, Noel, Vinum, Emblema, Ashiana, Amor, King House, Alcora, La Cantinella, Vila Logoreci, Xhokonda, Bacchus, La Mediteraneo

Dy Kitarrat

Thanks to Albanian friends we found yet another superb restaurant. This one, Dy Kitarrat , is in Durres. We skipped the pizza and had plate after plate of superb fresh seafood washed down with good Sicilian wine. We also had live music from the two brothers who own the place and some of their friends. Highly recommended.

Parliament 2

I've been trying to find out more about the competition for the new Albanian Parliamentary comlex. The website at Europaconcorsi provides links to the websites of the competitors. Not all of these provide information on their entries for this competition, but it's possible to get an idea of their approach and to see some other projects they have been involved in. I have found photographs from three of the other entrants and reproduced one from each below. You can find more at the following links: Ishimoto and Francesco Scardaccione von Gerkan, Marg und Partner, RA Consulting srl and Vladimir Bregu Samyn and Partners . This is one of those annoying flash based websites. To find the relevant photographs go to Studies and Competitions then Public Services and select the photograph on the right. Samyn and Partners Ishimoto and Francesco Scardaccione von Gerkan, Marg und Partner and Vladimir Begu