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Mountain views and more dark tourism

Tirana day three

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The view from Dajti Mountain

Dajti Mountain

I was woken around six by some rumbles of thunder, but when we got up a couple of hours later the sky was blue and the sun already carried some warmth. Despite the forecast of rain later we decided to stick with our plan to visit Dajti Mountain. So after breakfast we walked to Skanderbeg Square and the bus stop near the mosque. The bus was there and a conductor encouraged us to board, but it was another ten minutes or so before it left. The conductor came along the bus collecting fares – an easy job as it’s a flat 40 lek anywhere in the city. The route took us out through some suburbs with lots of activity to watch in the shops, cafes etc.

The conductor told us to get off at a stop prior to the one I’d expected but that turned out to be because the free shuttle bus that takes passengers uphill to the cable car station was picking up there. We were joined by the only other tourist heading that way, an elderly Swiss man with excellent English. He joined us too for the 15 minute cable car ride to the top and was very interesting to talk to.

View from the cable car

We learned that he was from Davos but that since his retirement he had been renting out his home and was living mainly in a motor home, travelling all over Europe. He had started this adventure with his wife and when she died five years ago (aged only 59) she had told him he should continue to travel. He seemed happy to be obeying her order! He spends winters in one place, usually Spain for the warmth, and for the rest of the year travels around sometimes in the motor home, sometimes as now by parking it up and flying somewhere further afield in Europe or the Americas. I admired him for following his dream.

At the top we went our separate ways. I was glad I had brought a jumper. It had clouded over as expected, although we could see some sun still shining on the city in the valley below. I was reminded of similar views we had had of Bogota and Medellín earlier in the year, but Tirana seemed tiny in comparison.


Views of the city

I was also taken by the many pretty flowers growing up here.




Some of the flowers

But as I started to photograph them the threatened rain began. We decided we had seen enough and taken all the photos we wanted to, so caught the cable car back down, this time with a car to ourselves.




Views on the way down

At the bottom we walked back down to the bus stop, where we waited only five minutes for a bus back to the centre. Down here it was still sunny, and we decided that rather than get too full at lunch time we would just have coffee and a pastry. We found what we were looking for in the pretty setting of the Millennium Garden restaurant in front of the cinema, where we enjoyed delicious slices of apple tart.

Apple tart

In the grounds

The House of Leaves

By the time we had finished the clouds had started to descend from the mountains but it was still dry as we walked to our next sight, the infamous House of Leaves. This 1930s villa was built as a maternity clinic and during the Nazi occupation of Albania became the Tirana headquarters of the Gestapo.

The House of Leaves

After the war the house was used as the Central Directorate of the Sigurimi (Albania’s Secret Police) until the collapse of the communist regime in 1991. The name comes from the climbing plants that partly cover its façade. Just as they hid the building, the building itself had its secrets. No one knew what went on inside, but they knew that it wasn’t good. As the museum’s website says,

By opening the doors of this house, presenting the activities that were conducted in it and many other things related to it, this museum will unfold simultaneously aspects of Albanian society in the conditions of a regime that aimed at the total control over the human bodies and souls.

The museum details the activities of the Sigurimi: spying, bugging, seeking out ‘enemies' of the state with the help of informers, torturing and imprisoning them. The museum also describes how they spied on foreign visitors to the country, bugging hotel rooms and secretly filming them.

The displays were interesting and at times unnervingly reminiscent of today’s North Korea. Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside. By the time we left the forecast rain had arrived, so we walked back to the apartment under umbrellas.

Another (mostly) great evening in Tirana

The skies had cleared again by early evening when we went out to dinner. We ate in Artigenio a couple of blocks from the apartment, an Italian restaurant that also serves local cuisine. We had traditional starters, vegetable kofte and feta cheese in filo with honey. Chris then had pappardelle and I had sea bass with potatoes and spinach. Both were excellent as was the wine. The bill was more than we'd paid to date on this trip but still less than £40 for two courses each, three glasses of wine and a small bottle of water. Oh, and we were brought shots of complimentary raki after the meal!

Sea bass in Artigiano

Talking of raki, on the way back we stopped off at the Whisky Bar for another raki as a night cap. I would have preferred less cigarette smoke, but the bonus was a small cat who was happy to be lured over and then spent some time sitting first on Chris’s lap, then on mine.

Cat in the Whisky Bar (and Chris!)

The experience was slightly tarnished by poor service, with Chris having to twice ask for a second drink. When he still didn’t receive it we gave up, said our farewells to the cat, left the money for the first round on the table (without a tip, naturally) and departed. A shame, but it had been a lovely evening nevertheless.

Posted by ToonSarah 14:59 Archived in Albania Tagged mountains flowers history views restaurants museum cats cable_car tirana albania

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The House of Leaves sounds like such a beautiful name. It doesn't sound appropriate for a place that did terrible things. Your food certainly looks very tasty.

by irenevt

Sarah, the funny monkeys sculpture "In the grounds" seems to be an illustration to the famous Soviet song "I don't hear anything, I don't see anything, I won't tell anything anybody" - a real epitome of the pathetic communist way of life...Thanks for taking along your superb route...

by Vic_IV

This is the original of the "harmless & funny" Soviet song (1966): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEPkYPfNh2A

by Vic_IV

You're right Irene, there's an irony in the name. But the locals used to say that the leaves didn't just cover the structure of the building, they also hid what went on inside. If you think of them that way it doesn't sound so beautiful.

Victor, the monkeys are from the ancient Japanese proverb - 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil'. We saw the originals some years ago on a shrine in Nikko. See the wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_wise_monkeys. . And I wrote about them in my other TP blog: https://toonsarahvt.travellerspoint.com/138/

by ToonSarah

So sad to read about the ending your day because the rest seemed really interesting (besides the rain that is!)

by Ils1976

Oh it was only a minor irritation Ils, and the cute friendly cat was more than compensation 😃 But we didn't drink there again!

by ToonSarah

Nice views from the cable car! And shame you weren't allowed to take photos inside the museum, it sounded interesting! Inauspicious, but interesting.

by hennaonthetrek

The views were good, yes, but would have been even better if the sun had been shining! I was frustrated that I couldn't take photos in the House of Leaves, especially as the Bunk'Art2 museum had allowed it.

by ToonSarah

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