Monday, March 17, 2014

Kruja: full of contradictions

On our last full day in Albania, we made a day trip to Kruja, another continuously inhabited fort/castle.   After the forts we've seen on this trip, this one is a let-down.  The claim to fame for Kruja is the many battles won over the Ottomans here led my national hero Skandereg.  Never mind, the most dominant structure in the fort is the circa 1982 museum, and the handful of architecturally significant buildings in the fort are all Ottoman.

Before Communists forced atheism, Albanians were traditionally 70% Muslim, 20%  Orthodox, and 10% Catholic.  All three have/are building shining mega-shrines in central Tirana.  Albania seems to be ripe ground for religious conversion.  Just yesterday I had wondered why we had not seen any Mormons in the running.  John thought imprudent to proselytize in a Muslim country.  At Kruja, we spotted with a group of six or seven young foreign tourists.  Since a couple of the guys were donning shorts, I immediately placed them as Americans -- there is no easier giveaway.  When we passed them, my suspicions were confirmed;  it was John that spotted the name tag  "Elder...".   God's calling supersedes prudence?

This was the first place we have come across a mass souvenir market.  Considering the number of tourists they get in Greece, souvenir selling seemed rather restrained to me.  I was surprised to see that they were selling more or less the same stuff from 18 years ago.  Here in Albania they their souvenirs from China.  Some pass them off as locally produced handicraft;  others don't even bother to take off the packaging with Chinese characters.  Nevertheless, for every vendor selling Chinese goods, there were ten working age men sitting in cafes or standing around visiting with each other on this Monday morning.

Our GPS map showed a steep trail going up the mountain behind the Kruja Kala (Castle).  If we had been skeptical before, as soon as we stepped out of the bus, what might have been a small possibility dropped to zero.  The climb looked very steep.  If there were any views to be had, they would be hazy.

Getting back to Tirana was even easier than going, even though we still had to switch in Fushe Kruja (a town on the main road).  We have been told since our second day in Albania that the government is making an effort to have regular bus services rather than ad-hoc shared transport.  Since Albania's per cap GDP is under $5000 and gas is $7.5 US/gallon, I am very happy for the people to have public transportation.  Yet, every other car we see on the road is a Mercedes, maybe every third.  In the last nine days in Albanian, I probably have been passed by more Mercedes then in my previous 46 years combined.  Since Albania does not otherwise feel like a country with a particularly high gini coefficient, is there another explain other than car stealing mafia?
The Bazaar in Kruja is "For Tourists Only". How about those white felt hats?
Kruja, Albania

The Kruja Kala (Castle) is at the foot of a cliff and is dominated by the Skanderbeg Museum.
Kruja, Albania

Donkeys at work inside the Kala.
Kruja, Albania

View over a Bektashi tekke...
Kruja, Albania

... with these tombs inside.
Kruja, Albania

One of the new Mercedes-Benz articulated urban buses in Tirana.
Tirana, Albania

Inside the old Et'hem Bey Mosque in Tirana.
Tirana, Albania

Mosque Dome Ceiling - Tirana, Albania

Tirana, Albania


Crash Eddy said...

gini coefficient? Sent me off to wikipedia again, eh?

john said...

Yep. We are big fans of gini. ;-)