Thursday, October 22, 2009

Learning about Albania

Pershendetje! That is how we say "hello" in Albania? Luckily many people speak English.

Can you find Albania on a map of Europe. Find the Mediterranean Sea. Connected to the Mediterranean Sea is the Adriatic Sea and Albania is on the East Coast of the Adriatic Sea. It is about the size of the state of Maryland.

Until about 10 years ago Albania was a closed country which meant they didn’t accept visitors and Albanians could not leave the country. It was one of the poorest countries in Europe. Then the government changed and today it is easy to visit the country. There is a nice new airport. Things are changing fast. Fifteen years ago there were almost no cars and people used horses but now there are many cars and new roads being built.

The capital city of Tirana is a nice safe city. In the center of the city there is a large statue to Skanderbeg, the national hero of Tirana. He is honored in many countries for driving the Ottoman Turks out of Albania and keeping them out of the rest of Europe. That was way back in the 1400s. We had never heard of him and were surprised to learn that a huge statue of him was put up in Rochester Hills, Michigan in 2006. We seem to know very little about most people’s history while they know a lot about the United States. We have a lot to learn. We saw a sign that said "Obama We Love You" and several American flags. Many Albanians have relatives in the United States. Satellite dishes, the Internet, and cell phones are very common here so it easy to stay in touch with the world.

One of the museums we visited was in an old house that showed how people lived one hundred years ago. Albania is quite mountainous so houses were often built on the hillside. The lowest level was for the animals and where people did their work like making olive oil. There are many olive trees in this part of the world. The second level had two living rooms, one for the men and the other for the women and children. The floor above was for sleeping and cooking. It was very comfortable and they had many beautiful handmade rugs and lace curtains.

We visited the city of Berat, which is considered one of the oldest cities in Albania. People have been living in the area for 4,000 years. Berat is in a river valley, which made it an important route for transportation including invading armies so they built a walled city on top of the high hill. From there they could see if anyone was trying to attack. Today the walled city of Berat is a beautiful quiet area with cobblestone streets and lovely old buildings. In 2008 the United Nations named the city a place of special heritage so it will be preserved. Our guide’s name was Flutura, which means "butterfly." We thought it was a very pretty name. We had lunch with her and she explained, "All our food it natural. We don’t use any pesticides or chemical fertilizers because they have to be imported which makes it too expensive for the farmers. Everyone loves our tomatoes because they have so much flavor." We agreed and enjoyed our lunch of stuffed peppers, lamb in yogurt, and spinach casserole. We are glad we had the chance to visit and learn about Albania.