Albania, North Macedonia, and Kosovo

Hello frieeeeends!! I’m finally back after two years. No, Covid didn’t take your favorite blogger away, but every time I started planning a trip I found myself overwhelmed by so many restrictions and bureaucratic mess that I always gave up until now.
And maybe you are right in saying that the pandemic will be remembered by posterity especially for having stopped, temporarily, Dekaro Diario! Ok, this is a little moment of self-exaltation, perhaps due to the joy of writing after so long.
So, let’s stop nonsense. I’ll tell you about this short trip, a little less than two weeks, to Albania, North Macedonia, and Kosovo

Map of the visited places:

Me and Riccardo, now a regular guest of Dekaro Diario, arrived in Durres by ferry from Bari. We rented a car and went down to Butrint. From there we went up towards Lake Orhid and entered North Macedonia. Then up to Pristina in Kosovo and from there back to the south, returning in Albania until Tirana.

 

On the road again! The rainbow greets us for this new journey.

Albania has made extraordinary progress since the collapse of the isolationist communist dictatorship, in 1991, and year after year it is opening more to tourism, thanks also to new infrastructures, especially the roads.
Today it is a country with great energy and a very hospitable young population with great optimism towards the future. But, of course, not all that glitters is gold. Systematic corruption, unemployment, severe inequalities, organized crime, financial mafia, and all the other disasters that accompany capitalist liberalism are the new challenges that the country now faces.

 

Rainbow over the mountains.

 

Riccardo and some Albanian guys.

 

Berat, the first city visited. It was founded in the 6th century BC. by the Illyrians, from whom the Albanians descend. It is nicknamed the “city of a thousand windows” because of these white Ottoman houses that climb the hill towards the castle.

 

Tension and concentration in this chess endgame in a Berat’s park.
 

Across the Osum River is Gorica, the Catholic neighborhood of Berat.

 

The coastline, going south. During that journey, we also visited the ruins of Apollonia, an ancient city of Illyria and later an important Roman city, and Valona, a large tourist city.

 

To the far south are the splendid ruins of Butrint, a Greek and later Roman city located on a peninsula.

 

The crystalline waters, blue and green, of “Blue Eye”, formed from a spring that flows from under the river. The colors remind me the painting ‘Ophelia’.

 

Ottoman-style houses in the center of Gjirokastra.

 

Traditional dance in the streets of Gjirokastra.

 

Cat waiting hopefully on the pier in Ohrid, a charming Macedonian town on the same name Lake Ohrid.
North Macedonia (please remember to specify ‘North’ otherwise the Greeks get very upset) was formed as a province within Yugoslavia after the First World War. During the breakup of Yugoslavia, it was the only country to have achieved independence without suffering even a day of the war.
Macedonia as a historical region includes also part of Greece (which, as I said, is very touchy about it), Bulgaria, and small parts of Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia.

 

One of the most photogenic places on the trip: the Orthodox Church of Saint John at Kaneo overlooking Lake Ohrid.

 

It was built in the 13th century.

 

Orthodox monk walks thoughtfully in a world of futility.

 

“Warrior on a Horse” statue in the main Skopje square.
But is it not by any chance Alexander the Great!? Don’t say it!!… you would unleash the fury of the Greeks who have imposed this statue to be called “Warrior on a horse”, without mentioning him. They look like kindergarten children, it’s mine… no it’s mine…
Even the name “North Macedonia” instead of simply Macedonia has been imposed by Greece after an international campaign of political and economic boycott carried out with surprising stubbornness.

About the statue, a free tour guide told us that it cost a disproportionate amount, around 10 million euros and that there is a real mania to build statues everywhere in Skopje, probably, apart from chauvinism, a way to steal public funds.
The new buildings in the center of Skopje are mostly white, with colonnades and statues around, usually quite kitsch. A trend that I had already noticed in the new buildings of the capitals of the Central Asia countries, even if to less extent.

 

The most beautiful area of Skopje is the old bazaar, one of the few areas to have survived the terrible earthquake of 1963 which destroyed almost completely the city.

 

A street of the bazaar.

 

The “Newborn” monument in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. This monument was inaugurated on the day of Kosovo’s self-proclamation of independence, February 17, 2008. Still today, many countries don’t recognize the Republic of Kosovo, beginning with Serbia which considers it as its own province.
It has a very young population and there is optimism for the future but even here, perhaps even more than in Albania, all that glitters is certainly not gold. Suffice it to say that last year the president Hashim Thaci, one of the main political figures of the last twenty years, had to resign on the obvious accusations of war crimes, international drug trafficking, torture, killings on commission, and even organ trafficking of Serbian prisoners. So, you can imagine where are flowing the international investments into this land which is, in the end, one of the last conquests of the Western countries’ wars.
Pristina is a very modern city, full of cafes, shops, and clubs, even if seems one of those places made with the mould of globalization, with the exact same chains of shops and restaurants.

 

Prizren, the second largest city of Kosovo and historical capital. On the left you can see the Sinan Pasha Mosque, on the right the Old bridge.
Its demographic composition, with continuous repopulation and escapes between the Albanian and Serbian ethnic groups, reflects the troubled history of the centuries-old tensions between these populations in Kosovo, with continuous atrocities and attempts at ethnic cleansing from both sides. A shameful campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Serbs was one of the main causes of the outbreak of the Kosovo war in 1998. During the war almost all Albanians were forced to flee this city. After the war, it was the Serbs who suffered violence and reprisals and were forced to flee. At the moment only about twenty Serbs live in Prizren and only 5% of the population of the whole of Kosovo is Serbian, the rest almost all Albanian.

 

Girls crossing the main square of Prizren.

 

Back in Albania, we took a journey of about 3 hours on a ferry from Fierze to Koman (in the map above it’s the stretch between points ‘A’ and ‘B’). It’s a spectacular route inside a dam surrounded by overhanging rocks.
Unfortunately, the sky that day was cloudy and did not enhance the colors.

 

Panorama near Koman.

 

An elegant street in Shkoder. It had several dominations. The Venetian one probably influenced the style of some parts of the city.

 

Museum built inside the Kruje castle in honour of Skanderbeg, who from here defended Albania from countless invasions by the Ottomans. Only after his death from malaria, the Ottomans managed to conquer Albania in 1478, remaining until independence in 1912.
He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history and his statues are ubiquitous in Albania and Kosovo.

 

A building in the center of Tirana. The whole downtown area is full of lively clubs, cafes, bars, and restaurants. A very pleasant place.

 

The disquieting tunnel that leads to Bunk’art, a formerly secret underground bunker, built in the seventies and now converted into a place for art exhibitions and a museum of the recent history of Albania, with particular attention to the abuses of the dictatorship. Some rooms, as for example those reserved for important politicians of the time, have been left as they were.
At the end of this tunnel, there is a hill under which was dug the several floors bunker.
The dictator Enver Hoxha had developed a kind of paranoia and believed that the invasion of Albania was imminent. Bunkers are scattered throughout Albania, most of them very small, which can still be seen today.

 


I made a video that makes better understood the place, also because part of the atmosphere is created by the music and sounds inside the rooms.

 

This was the room reserved for Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu.

 

An exhibition.

 

Well, it was a great pleasure to meet you again, and let’s hope we don’t need to wait two more years now! Actually, I reveal you that I’m already planning a short trip very soon… as fast as possible, before the arrival of the next variant! I’ll let you know soon! :-)

St. Petersburg and Finland

Hello friends! This time a very short trip to Saint Petersburg (Leningrad, for the nostalgic) and Finland. Unfortunately, after a couple of days my camera stopped working, maybe for taking too much rain, so I didn’t take many photos. I took some pics with mobile after.

Anyway, let’s see them.

In a coffee. Behind the window, the Kazan Cathedral. Saint Petersburg is a majestic city, with broad avenues and huge buildings.
Founded in 1703 in a marshy and inhospitable area, as a military and commercial outpost on the Baltic Sea, it expanded in a few years at the request of the tsar Peter the Great, who for its construction brought together serfs and workers from all over Russia. At least 30,000 workers died in those years due to terrible working conditions.
The city took on a European, modern, imperial aspect, and the Russian aristocracy soon began to prefer it to old Moscow. Already in 1712 it became the new capital. It will remain until 1918.
In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, the name was changed to Petrograd, because St. Petersburg sounded too German. In 1924, a few days after Lenin’s death, the name was changed again, this time to Leningrad. In 1991, following a referendum, it took back the old name, St. Petersburg.

 

Inside the cathedral in the fortress of Peter and Paul, the place of the first settlement. Almost all of the tsars following the founding of the city are buried in this cathedral.

 

Little sailors.

 

Some metro stations are so deep that seems like a descent into the underworld. They are very elegant.

 

Mosaics on the ceiling of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, so called because it was founded in the place where, in 1881, the tsar Alexander II was assassinated by the revolutionary group, of anarchist and socialist tendencies, “Narodnaja Volja” (“People’s Will”). From the nineteenth century to the 1917 revolution, St. Petersburg was a crossroads of fervent philosophical and political disquisitions, as evidenced for example by Dostoevsky’s novels, which contributed to the flourishing of countless revolutionary groups.

 

Autumn trees stand out behind one of the city’s 340 bridges.

 

An old woman greets me from a bridge under which our boat was passing. But after she spat! (I’m joking :D )

 

The crusier Aurora. One of those cannons fired the blank shot as signal to the various Bolshevik groups scattered around the city to start the October revolution.

 

One of the few locals that has remained as it was from Soviet times, when workers used to come to drink a few glasses of vodka. On the wall, there are still portraits of Lenin and Marx.

 

At dusk. As I said, it is a very spacious city, with wide avenues.

 

St. Isaac’s Cathedral, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world.

 

Inside the Hermitage, one of the largest and most extraordinary museums in the world, perhaps the most elegant. It is located in the Winter Palace complex, the former palace of the tsars, among splendid rooms like this. Its name comes from the fact that paradoxically at the beginning it was born as a small place in which Catherine II wanted to stay sometimes by herself, in peace from the court pomp and just surrounded by some work of art. Year after year the art collection expanded immensely, until including all the greatest European artists.

Photo taken with the mobile, because as I said, the camera stopped working from now on.

 

And as you can see there is also Dekaro exposed at the Hermitage! On the left, instead, a modest sculpture by Michelangelo, moreover unfinished.

 

On a frigid and stormy morning we took the train to Helsinki from a station that is famous because there, in April 1917, returned from Europe Lenin, after 10 years since the last time he had fled.
He was welcomed by many people, testifying to the fact that the small faction of the Bolsheviks was gaining more and more support among the population. A few days later Lenin exposed the “April Theses”, with the famous “all power to the soviets”, in which he proposed the definitive break with the bourgeois, capitalist, aristocratic and reactionary forces of the current provisional government born of the revolution of February (the soviets were the workers’ councils, later including also peasants and soldiers, and were part of the provisional government). He asked also for the immediate exit from the “predatory imperialist war”. The further worsening of the Russian situation in the following months due to the absurd First World War brought most of the popular consensus towards the Bolsheviks who in October felt ready to take power.
For the full story of the revolution, I suggest to see one the great masterpieces of Eisenstein: October.

I did instead the reverse path. From St. Petersburg I arrived in Helsinki, where I exposed the “October Theses”, in which, synthesizing, I say: capitalism won, let’s give up and let’s watch football in tv. Ehhhhh … I’m kidding !! Nothing could be more false, indeed. Despite what they want us to believe, I see around more and more a great desire to fight against this disgusting system in a constructive way, especially since now is at stake the survival of the entire planet. And in fact, as I write right now, rebellions are igniting the streets of Chile, Ecuador, Catalonia, Lebanon, Hong Kong, etc. … etc …
The point is to converge our heterogeneous forces against the true common enemy: capitalism, especially in its most blood-sucker form: the international finance.

 

And here we are! You saw already Giamma in a couple of posts. About Riccardo, is now a regular guest of Dekaro Diary.
We were in Lapland, in northern Finland, on the parallel that marks the Arctic Circle, on a tour where we hoped to see the Northern Lights. But unfortunately we didn’t see them because, although it seems there was activity, the sky was covered with clouds.

 

I took this photo with a camera and a tripod kindly lent by the tour organizers, over a bridge where we stopped to take pictures. Even if appears a light in the background, we were completely in the dark.

 

Again with mobile’s camera, an autumn road in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland. The city is also known for stealing the birthplace of Santa Claus, who instead is, as we know, Turkish.

 

And in the end Helsinki, capital and largest city of Finland, with 650,000 inhabitants of the approximately 5.5 million Finns.

 

Internal staircase of the splendid Helsinki public library. As you see, it’s not really necessary to have expansive cameras to take interesting photos. It is just necessary that bit of intuition, artistic glance, creativity, aesthetic sense and experience.

 

Lastly, a group selfie where there is also Antonino, a Sicilian friend who was working in Malta and now has moved to Helsinki with the Finnish girlfriend, in this eternal precarious diaspora of us young, and not anymore young, Italians.

All power to the soviets!