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Serbian feminist activist: ‘Albanians and Serbs are so similar in their differences’

Serbian feminist activist: ‘Albanians and Serbs are so similar in their differences’

Albania-Serbia joint projects are rare, especially in arts and culture. Historical stereotypes, lack of sufficient exchanges and funding remain a barrier for the two EU aspirant Western Balkan countries. However, civil society activists have increased efforts to boost mutual understanding

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Animal cruelty, logging continue to challenge moratoriums, watchdog unveils

Animal cruelty, logging continue to challenge moratoriums, watchdog unveils

TIRANA, Oct. 11 – Illegal logging and animal abuse continues despite moratoriums in place to protect Albania’s declining forest areas and endangered fauna species. Environmental watchdogs have identified 25 cases of abuse during the past year, mainly related to illegal

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A buddy in need is a buddy indeed

A buddy in need is a buddy indeed

TIRANA, Oct. 1st – October is the month for Down syndrome awareness. In its context, the Down Syndrome Albania (DSA) Foundation, which is the only medical centre treating Down syndrome patients in Albania, organized the fifth Buddy Walk event in

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International Film Festival brings human rights in focus

International Film Festival brings human rights in focus

The International Human Rights Film Festival in Albania (IHRFFA) opened the doors of its 12th edition this Monday in Tirana, for a week of movies and documentaries’ screenings aimed at raising awareness among Albanians concerning human rights issues. The festival,

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German tourists in love with Albania, but scared by reckless driving

German tourists in love with Albania, but scared by reckless driving

TIRANA, Sept. 6 – German tourists are amazed at Albania’s stunning landscape, beaches, hospitality and food, but rather surprised by the poor public transport and reckless driving in the country. Albania is a country where German tourists find a variety

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Pellumbas Cave, Tirana’s hidden adventure travel gem

Pellumbas Cave, Tirana’s hidden adventure travel gem

TIRANA, Sept. 6 – Adventure tourism outside Tirana has received a boost with the establishment of a tourism cluster in the village of Pellumbas and its famous cave close to the Erzeni Canyon, some 25 km southeast the capital city.

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‘It’s not Antibes, but Drimadhes’

‘It’s not Antibes, but Drimadhes’

Although in Germany summer is a season that leaves much to be desired, in many other parts of Europe, especially south of it, the current temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, many southern countries lie next to the sea and

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Why Albania is among the top 10 holiday destinations for Poles

Why Albania is among the top 10 holiday destinations for Poles

  “Would you like to spend your holidays in a special way? Are you looking for a country to enjoy an extraordinary atmosphere, a country with cultural diversity? Are you dreaming about all-inclusive holidays in a warm coastline and a country

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France 2: Albania is the ‘Balkans’ Pearl’

France 2: Albania is the ‘Balkans’ Pearl’

TIRANA, July 27 – A country still neglected by tourists, Albania is a hidden paradise facing Italy and sandwiched between Greece and Montenegro with crystal clear waters, mountain landscapes and preserved nature. That is a how French public broadcaster France

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Forbes: Albania is world’s cheapest 2017 destination

Forbes: Albania is world’s cheapest 2017 destination

TIRANA, July 19 – U.S.-based Forbes magazine has rated Albania as the number 1 cheapest destination to travel to globally for 2017. In a video showcased on the prestigious business magazine portal, Albania is rated as the most affordable destination

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                    [post_content] => Albania-Serbia joint projects are rare, especially in arts and culture. Historical stereotypes, lack of sufficient exchanges and funding remain a barrier for the two EU aspirant Western Balkan countries. However, civil society activists have increased efforts to boost mutual understanding in the past couple of years through different projects, including arts.

The latest example is the “Kismet” documentary showcasing the challenges facing young women both in Serbia and Albania.

Minja Mardjonovic, an online feminist activist, columnist, freelance writer, who directed the newly released “Kismet” documentary, tells Tirana Times in an interview “Kismet is a story about love, understanding, connecting, co-operation, friendship and sisterhood among young Albanian and Serbian women.”

Her appeal to authorities in both Serbia and Albania is “Open your iron doors for all our ideas, because the youth from both sides really intend to build peace among Albanians and Serbs”.

Full interview by Monika Maric below:

How did you come up with the idea of making this documentary and why did you decide to call it Kismet, a Turkish word of Arabic origin meaning fate/destiny as mentioned in the documentary trailer?

Kismet is a part of one big story. It's an OSCE project about co-operation and connectivity between Albanian and Serbian youth - '' Enhancing regional connectivity among Serbia and Albania youth actors.''  Within that story, I got an opportunity to think about creating a small project with the Albanian team which will be regarded to the mutual issue - the status of youth and common challenges in both societies. As a feminist activist and artist, I believe in many ways of communicating and reaching people about some non-mainstream topics. One of them for sure is video, movie, film. So, from the beginning, the idea was: to create an immortal message for the future generation about Albanian and Serbian women who rejected all prejudices and stereotypes which are imposed upon all of us. Kismet is our daily life. It's a basic stereotype which arises every time a doctor tells a pregnant woman ''It's a girl.'' And our destiny, our kismet as women is to be everything in the common term of WOMAN: to be warriors, to smash prejudices, injustices, to raise our voices, to scream and cry, to refuse to give birth, or just to give birth, to feed, to live, to love and care, to tolerate, to persist, to exist and to die.

Kismet could be a strong metaphor for the imposed truth about how women are predestined just for one thing – the house and children. KISMET is a name of our common problem- gender-based injustice.

Also, besides these typical gender roles, I need to mention one more also so typical and violent example: the role women as sexual objects in the daily life of patriarchal and popular cultures.

What are some of the common challenges facing young women in both Serbia and Albania, are there huge differences?

For example, if you mute the documentary film for a second, you will notice how really it doesn't matter where all these women are from. That's the point. We can't see differences in the context where it is not possible to conciliate. Absolutely, we are smiling and crying in the same way. Conservative and patriarchal structures of our societies make us so similar, too. So, from my point of view, the treatment of women is the best indicator of the level of social and political progress within one society. In that regard, we can really maintain how much Albanians and Serbs are so similar in their differences.

What's the message of this documentary and what is your appeal to decision-makers both in Serbia and Albania about strengthening women's role in the society and fighting cases of abuse, gender inequality, and stereotypes?

Kismet is a story about love, understanding, connecting, co-operation, friendship and sisterhood among young Albanian and Serbian women who decided to express themselves and segments of their life stories through this ''destined'' visual project.

Love is a goal and the sense of everything. Peace in the world is not just a mantra or a stereotypical Miss World sentence; it's a real need and necessity for all human beings.

So, my appeal will be addressed to institutions of the system: “Open your iron doors for all our ideas, because the youth from both sides really intend to build a peace among Albanians and Serbs”.

What were your impressions of cooperation? Was it hard to cooperate with the peers from Albania?

When you have a mutual goal and clear ideas for realization, everything needs to be perfect. You need to listen to the others. And, I think that we did it in the best way! I really believe we finished this as best as we could - “together in co-operation with honest respect, friendship and huge support.”

Which were the biggest challenges during the shooting? Were there any obstacles?

Time is always a big problem. There is little time for a lot of big things. In that sense, the biggest challenge was:  Are we going to do all this for a given period, and how will it look like at the end. All the obstacles were of a technical nature, and it's so common when you are making a film.

What was the reaction of the audience after the documentary premiere in Belgrade and Tirana?

It really was remarkable. We didn't expect a lot of people in Belgrade, nor in Tirana. For both premieres, the film was viewed by more than 200 people, and that’s great success for this kind of movie. For me, it was a wonderful experience, and for sure we deserve all of these nice things that are happening to us now.

What are the general plans for the future? Do you plan to show the documentary in other places throughout Serbia and Albania?

Yes, of course there is a plan. After the premieres in both capitals, Kismet screened for the first time in Belgrade few days ago. We are expecting four more screenings in Serbia and five in Albania, until the end of October. After this, we want to continue the Kismet story through other projects, because we believe in its potential for regional connectivity and co-operation.

Do you have any other near future Serbia-Albania documentary projects?

For now, my kismet is Kismet. (laughs)

How did you find Albania during your stay and what's your message for Serbian tourists to Albania and Albanians who want to visit Serbia. How can knowing each other and direct contact help overcome still existing stereotypes?

Our kismet trip to Albania was a really safe trip, filled with love and adventures, unforgotten experiences and nice memories.

Practically, I am in love with Albania. It's a so wild and beautiful country. You can find everything that you need for pleasure: two undiscovered seas, a lot of unexplored mountains, perfect food and coffee, delicious cakes and perfect gelato, the fast and furious energy of citizens, good parties...

Many dear Albanian friends, attentive and happy people, open-hearted smiles and the recognized Balkans soul are enough reasons because this documentary in the end has one of the most pointful messages: “Go to Albania and meet Albanians, go to Serbia and meet Serbs.”
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_134161" align="alignright" width="168"]shqiponja Golden eagle caught in Albania. Photo: PPNEA[/caption]

TIRANA, Oct. 11 - Illegal logging and animal abuse continues despite moratoriums in place to protect Albania's declining forest areas and endangered fauna species.

Environmental watchdogs have identified 25 cases of abuse during the past year, mainly related to illegal hunting and logging and animals held in captivity, also taking place in protected areas. Dozens of other unreported cases are estimated to have taken place as a considerable number of abuses were advertised as trophies on social networks by perpetrators themselves, apparently unaware of the legal consequences that include heavy fines and even imprisonment.

Brown hares and bears being killed and advertised as trophies on social networks or endangered species such as the Balkan Lynx kept embalmed at restaurant bars in addition to caged bear cubs held in captivity are some of the cases the Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) watchdog has identified on its dedicated syrigjelber.info portal serving as a hotline to report cases of abuse.

The watchdog warns illegal logging in the Munella Mountain, northeastern Albania, the country’s sole sanctuary of the Balkan lynx, is further putting at risk one of the most threatened wildlife species in serious danger of extinction.

Camera trappings have captured the presence of 4-6 Balkan lynx individuals and thus dwindling habitat will almost certainly drive the species towards extinction.

The Balkan lynx is a critically endangered species – only about 40 or 50 individuals are reported to exist in total. About 5-6 of these have been reported to live in the Munella Mountain in the district of Puka and Mirdita, northeast Albania.

Last year, Albania imposed a 10-year wood cutting moratorium in bid to protect remaining woods after decades of illegal logging and clearing for agriculture, seriously dwindling the country’s forest cover. The ban, which sharply increased firewood prices and put some newly established wood pellet plants in trouble, applies for industry or export purposes, whereas logging for heating purposes will be allowed albeit under the supervision of local authorities.

Last May, a three-month-old bear cub that had been trapped in mountain village outside Tirana was rescued from captivity after being illegally advertised for sale at a popular portal for €1,100.

Local authorities and animal welfare organizations have been receiving assistance by Four Paws, a Vienna-based international animal welfare organization, which last year pushed Albanian authorities to enforce a ban on the cruel keeping of bears, leading to more than a dozens bears and cubs being rescued from captivity.

Earlier this year, Henk and Eso, a malnourished bear couple found caged near a hotel in Puka, northeastern Albania, were transferred to a safe place in Tirana, where they will be regularly fed and treated properly until a forever home is found for them.

An estimated 180 to 250 brown bears currently live in the wild in Albania while another 50 are believed to be held captive, mainly for entertainment purposes.

Four Paws says that Albania is currently home to some of the saddest bears in Europe with dozens of bears and cubs trapped in tiny cages as ‘tourist attractions’ at restaurants, petrol stations or hotels as a way of luring customers.

Environmentalists also identified golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), the symbol of Albania's national red and black flag, kept in captivity, the killing of three red foxes and a restaurant which had turned into a museum of embalmed species in a northern Albania beach areas.

There have also been cases of illegal carp fishing during the breeding season.

Last summer, also saw a series of wildfires threatening endangered flora and fauna.

The latest violations reported by the watchdog during the first days of October include logging in the Krrab Mountain in the Puka district and the killing of a brown bear in Dibra district, northern Albania, by local residents because of damaging their crops.

Albania has banned hunting for the past couple of years and imposed a new five-year moratorium to put an end to uncontrolled and illegal hunting, which has decimated wildlife populations in the country over the last two and a half decades after the collapse of the communist regime in the early 1990s.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 1st – October is the month for Down syndrome awareness. In its context, the Down Syndrome Albania (DSA) Foundation, which is the only medical centre treating Down syndrome patients in Albania, organized the fifth Buddy Walk event in Tirana, a march aiming to promote acceptance and support for individuals with Down syndrome towards an independent and inclusive lifestyle in their respective communities. Although the event is of a peaceful nature, Albanian participators and activists also used it as an excuse to protest concerning the missing rights of Down syndrome patients in the country.

The Buddy Walk was first organized in 1995, by the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) in the US, which has also officially accredited the event in Albania. It kicked off, during its inaugural year, with 17 events that took place across the country, while a fund-raising component to raise money for local and national programs was added in 1999. Through the years, the event won regional and international recognition, as well as the support of celebrities and business entrepreneurs, leading to the launch of an official website, the creation of a logo, and the participation of more than 180,000 walkers in 49 states and 5 countries abroad, during the 190 events that took place in 2003, raising more than $2.5 million. Ever since, partners have joined the cause and public service announcements have been held, ranking the event in the top 30 fundraising events nationwide.

This year in Tirana, the Buddy Walk event began at the maternity hospital “Mbretëresha Geraldinë” at 11 am, where a crowd of Down syndrome patients’ family members, as well as civil society activists, were invited to walk hand-in-hand with Down syndrome patients and march towards the recently opened Toptani Centre, where a number of entertainers and singers merrily concluded the event. An entire media awareness campaign will also support the DSA Foundation during October, themed: “We all need a chance to show our abilities.”

Indeed, Down syndrome awareness in a necessity in Albanian society, as sufferers of the syndrome do not receive the medical and social attention they need. The mother of a Down syndrome patient, participating in the Buddy Walk event, told the Voice of America that she has gone through a lot of discrimination in registering her son in kindergarten and providing him the medical attention he needs, as no state administration organ other than the Foundation assists in raising her child. Through cooperation with private businesses, the DSA Foundation comes to aid more than 635 Albanian families. However, the limitations of the Foundation are obvious: its medical centre can maximally aid only 38 children, while 6 others are on a waiting list. In addition, the funds ensured from private firms and businesses are meant to expire in 6 months, leaving the DSA unsupported in its mission.

Separate events, part of the awareness campaign, will be held by the DSA Foundation during October. On the 25th of October an awareness concert of a world-wide known tenor will be held at the National Opera and Ballet Theatre, a photography exhibition by Turk, Down syndrome patient, Robert Cem Osborn, will be showcased at the ZETA Gallery on the 26th of October, and a round-table discussion, themed “All-inclusive education is still an untouchable reality for the Albanian educational system”, will take place on the 27th of October. A more analytical event program can be found on the DSA official webpage.
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                    [post_content] => The International Human Rights Film Festival in Albania (IHRFFA) opened the doors of its 12th edition this Monday in Tirana, for a week of movies and documentaries’ screenings aimed at raising awareness among Albanians concerning human rights issues. The festival, taking place at the Marubi Film and Multimedia Academy, features thirty-nine movies of various topics, such as radicalism and populism, domestic violence, urban planning and social media communication, and it is open to the public. 

Since its debut in 2006, the festival has attracted an international crowd as much as a domestic one, with human rights organizations operating in Albania (such as OSCE Presence, UNICEF, etc) and a number of Embassies joining the cause of educating people with human rights concepts and worldwide issues.

Theodore S. Orlin, Honorary President of the IHRFFA and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Human Rights Advocacy, stated the following concerning the cultural activity: “Let us consider the human rights issues that impact the lives of people. As we watch these films les us consider the actions we need to advocate to insure that future generations can enjoy life with the ultimate realization that the universal respect of human rights includes the protection of our children, spouses, the elderly, significant others and ourselves. Let us be mindful that there are forces that appeal to popular support that are destructive to human rights.”

A perfect blend between culture and politics, domestic political and legal figures could not be absent from supporting the cause and using the festival as a chance to promote awareness and a deeper understanding of human rights. Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, communicated this aim by saying that “nothing is of more value at these times we are living than an opportunity for dialogue, for it is the very best antidote against the venom of radicalization and populism, these sides of the same coin, which are undoubtedly the greatest challenges of our time.”

Indeed, a great opportunity for dialog was created the third day of the festival, on Wednesday, when the screening of the 2016 Kosovo short movie, titled ‘Home’, was done in the presence of a group of imprisoned Albanian women, brought to the Academy by the authorities as a rehabilitation activity and a way to converse with the outside world.

Written and directed by Kosovo artist More Raça, ‘Home’ is a drama centered on Hava, a woman in her 30-s who, after the death of her parents, lives with her brother and works a poorly paid job. According to traditional Kosovo custom, the inheritance left by her parents belongs to Hava’s brothers, who exclude her from family property and decide to marry her off – not an optimal solution for Hava’s expectations of her future and her sexual preferences.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion among personalities in the field of culture, politics and law. Among them was Arben Çuko, the General Director of prisons in Albania, Xhoi Jakaj, the Director of the Women’s prison ‘Ali Demi’, in Tirana, Bernd Borchardt, Ambassador and Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania and Kujtim Çashku, Albanian director and screenwriter.

Çashku, opening the dialog between the women and the representatives of the political and legal world, said: “We have been trying to expand the communication space for twelve years. I am pleasured to welcome the Director of prisons among us and hope we can foster further activities in the future.” 

The movie touched the imprisoned women, who already seemed grateful to be outside of the institution, and opened an hour long conversation during which they voiced their worries concerning their families and children, while also asking Çuko to be treated more like mothers, sisters, daughters, and less like prisoners, whenever such thing is possible.

To this, Çuko replied that the institution’s methodology is to always separate the individual from the crime, and respect the human rights of the imprisoned individual, by providing activities, rehabilitation and training to further raise their future chances for employment. However, he stated there are certain legal limitations in the ways he could treat the women and the freedoms he could provide them.

Borchardt, on the other hand, spoke in more general terms concerning human rights awareness in Albanian society, and especially those of women.

“Reaching progress in this field,” he said, “and improving the conditions of women in society, is something that societies have to work in themselves. It is also something to ask of courageous women, to work on this direction. The Western European societies have been going through these battles over the last fifty years; to speak about my own country, until 1969 you ended up in prison for same-sexual contacts, and it was only this year that same-sex marriage was introduced.

What the international community can do to support and encourage these processes? First of all, informing about the model of other societies and raise awareness that there are other ways of living together. The second aspect is to provide training for the executive institutions. What the international community can do is provide the training for police to react correctly on such occasions.” 

The screening of Home concluded with Orlin asking the imprisoned women whether they see improvement of their conditions, and whether they see their families and children enough. Orlin stressed that children should never suffer the faults of their parents, thus it is vital that they see their mothers and spend time with them as much as possible. The women admitted to being able to see their families as many times as they asked, and particularly praised the work of Xhoi Jakaj, the Director of the Ali Demi Prison and advocate of women’s rights, as a woman who can be tough but also understanding and empathetic towards their needs and hardships. In response, Jakaj promised she would further advocate for the rights of the women inside and outside Albanian prisons and also expand these activities to further integrate the stigmatized women in our society.

The International Human Rights Film Festival will end on Saturday, the 23rd of September, with a cocktail and closing ceremony which will be attended by directors, writers and all contributing members of the event.

 

SIDONJA MANUSHI
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 6 - German tourists are amazed at Albania’s stunning landscape, beaches, hospitality and food, but rather surprised by the poor public transport and reckless driving in the country.

Albania is a country where German tourists find a variety of tourist destinations, differentiating it from other European countries, Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service reports.

"Travelling by mini-bus through the twisty roads was a very special experience for me," Moritz, a student from Koln tells DW. He says he is very pleased with his Albania holidays and had no bad experience except for public transportation vehicles which he describes as a challenge for foreign tourists to Albania.

Other tourists consider driving in Albania the toughest experience.

"The first time I drove in Tirana was really tough, but I soon managed to adapt even though nobody respected traffic rules," says Christin from Essen who first visited Albania a couple of years ago in September when the influx of tourists slightly drops compared to the July-August peak.

Michael from Bonn, Germany, was also stunned at the Albanian way of driving, especially behavior in roundabouts.

"I have never seen such driving in roundabouts like Albania in the whole of Central Europe. Special rules apply in Tirana," he adds.

About 270 people die each year in road accidents in Albania.

The death toll is one of Europe's highest considering Albania's total of 530,000 motor vehicles in a country of 2.8 million residents. Experts blame the high number of accidents on reckless driving, poor road infrastructure and lack of road signs.

European tourists are amazed at Albanian history and culture. Kruja, Berat, Apollonia and the national museum in Tirana are their favorite tourist attractions.

German tourists are especially fascinated by Tirana, where a lot of events take place, and the Albanians' festive spirit.

Christin says she was amazed by the Bllok area, a neighborhood once reserved to the ruling communist elite, but which has gradually turned into the capital's city busiest area since the early 1990s with popular bars and clubs, being one of the youth's favourites.

Albanian food, especially seafood, is another delight for German tourists who consider it too cheap for its special taste similar to Italian and Spanish cuisine.

Hospitality and attitude to customers also remains a strength in Albania’s emerging tourism industry.

"I was stunned of being offered free internet access even in the smallest bar, which does not happen even here in Germany," Bobb tells DW.

In a previous article, Deutche Welle compared the Albanian southern Riviera and especially the landmark Drimadhes beach to landscapes in the French Riviera and the Italian island of Sardinia.

Data published by state-statistical Institute, INSTAT, show about 63,000 Germans entered Albania in the first seven months of this year, a sharp 56 percent increase compared to the same period last year. However, a considerable number of German citizens are Albanian or Kosovars who have given up their Albanian citizenship to get the German one.

Regular direct flights connect Tirana to Munich and Frankfurt.
                    [post_title] => German tourists in love with Albania, but scared by reckless driving
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133681" align="alignright" width="300"]pellumbas Photos: USAID Albania[/caption]

TIRANA, Sept. 6 - Adventure tourism outside Tirana has received a boost with the establishment of a tourism cluster in the village of Pellumbas and its famous cave close to the Erzeni Canyon, some 25 km southeast the capital city.

A U.S. and Sweden project supporting the sustainable development of Albania's promising tourism industry has helped set up a new village center, a tourism management office, a gift store and four new but original guesthouses, creating a 360-degree experience for local and international hikers.

The cave, which is about an hour hike from the village of Pellumbas, opens a new era for adventure tourism in and around Tirana.

The new destination management office in Pellumbas manages the entire touristic product in the valley of Erzen, near the Pellumbas (Black) Cave and the wider area, reaching up until the ancient tomb of Persqop near Petrela.

"There are two parts to this investment: the rental display and the merchandise shop. Visitors to the area – and especially the cave – will have a chance to rent helmets, outerwear, LED lights, and other equipment for safe hiking. The area is known for its soft adventure trails and gorgeous scenery,” says the Tourism Investment and Finance Fund, TIFF, a multi-partner nonprofit tourism investment fund led by USAID and the embassy of Sweden in Albania.

“Lastly, as a community gathering center, the shop hosts cultural events within the community, promoting local creativity, documenting what is vernacular to the area," adds TIFF.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj said the investment creates new tourism experience in Albania, making the Pellumbas cave a must visit.

pellumbas 2“Glad to see the local communities, central and local governments and other partners collaborating to create new and exciting tourism experiences in Albania! This is made possible through the Tourism and Investment Fund, supporting small and medium-sized companies in the tourism sector. Great for the Albanian economy and for local and international tourists who want to experience the country. The Pellumbas Caves is a must visit!” said Veliaj.

Floris and Ivar, two Dutch 'Sailors for Sustainability' described the cave as worth a detour.

"With the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Albania we witnessed the opening of a sustainable tourism centre and hiking path through beautiful nature to the stunning cave in Pëllumbas (Tirana). Definitely worth a detour when you are in Albania!" wrote the two sailors.

The Pellumbas Cave and the Erzeni Canyon have become a popular sites for Albanian and international hikers and adventure travelers in recent years.

"The cave itself is approximately 360 meters deep, and there are impressive stalagmites and stalactites, as well as bats flying around the cave. The inside of the cave is completely dark once stepping in. Some 40,000 years ago the cave was a home to ancient cave bears. It was later used as a settlement for ancient humans during the Middle Paleolithic period. During the World Wars, the cave was kept secret and used as a hiding spot for the villagers," says a Pellumbas Cave portal.

The nearby Erzeni Canyon is also a spectacular destination with stunning views and waterfalls, also a perfect place to bathe and swim in summer.

Represented by mountain hiking and rafting along canyons, Albania’s adventure tourism is also gaining popularity among European adventurers seeking new challenges in emerging destinations.

Earlier this year, U.S.-based Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) placed Albania as one of the three destinations added to the top adventure travel destinations along with Cuba and Portugal.

“For Europeans, Italy, Spain, and France receive the most bookings year after year. A surprise for 2017, however, is the appearance a new country among the top five destinations for Europeans: Albania. The spark of interest in Albania is noteworthy, as a spotlight has been on the region since 2014 with AdventureWeek Western Balkans, Balkans-focused AdventureEDU trainings, and the recent AdventureNEXT Balkans industry event,” says the ATTA.

Several outdoor tour operators in the country offer hiking, rafting, biking, horse riding and birds watching adventures in the country, while cross-border tourism is gaining an upper hand with the opening of some mountain hiking trails such as the ancient Via Egnatia linking Rome to Byzantium, the present-day Istanbul, crossing through Albania and Macedonia.

The Via Dinarica and the Peaks of the Balkans are two other popular cross-border hiking trails.

 

 

 
                    [post_title] => Pellumbas Cave, Tirana’s hidden adventure travel gem
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                    [post_content] => Although in Germany summer is a season that leaves much to be desired, in many other parts of Europe, especially south of it, the current temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, many southern countries lie next to the sea and offer hidden bays behind mountains surrounded by crystal turquoise water, which although quiet and shining, is kept under control on both sides by small isolated, but rather arrogant cliffs.

Such landscapes are found in southern France, in Sardinia, Corsica and southern Albania where the road from the capital city to the south is often a goal in itself. The breathtaking views offered after going through the Llogara Pass is the reward, like an extra bonbon that travelers enjoy with much desire while taking their time.

Some 400 km of coastline, hidden places and big cities, beaches with international electronic music festivals such as "Turtle Fest" that was just held in Drimadhe, tourist villages for family visitors and hippie beaches for the luckier Albanian youngsters are situated in Jale. And all of these places are packed with holidaymakers these hot August days.

There are groups of Albanian youngsters, French and German backpackers, Italian and Spanish families with small babies. Everything is a kind mix of people spending their holidays next to the sea in the middle of Europe.

Often built on the foot of cliffs, restaurants offer a diversity of food for every kind of taste. Service is polite, multilingual and full of self-confidence. Most of the staff are students who get very modest wages during the summer holidays like Ilirian who works as a seasonal waiter at a hotel in Drimadhe.

"I study veterinary medicine in Tirana. I decided to work here for the summer months," says the 20-year-old.

Evi, who works as a receptions but studies German linguistics in Tirana, says "it is not a decision that takes a lot of time to make."

"Having in mid the Tirana heat wave, I'd better come and work here," she smiles.

Of course both of them are right. The spectacular view of deep blue and often twinkling sea that the hotel's restaurant terrace offers and where Ilirian and his colleague serve the holidaymakers, is often welcome bonus for everybody.

Even international media have for several years now discovered the still virgin southern beauty which until a few years ago was reserved only to Albanians as a hidden treasure on the back of proud mountains which seem to hardly tolerate on narrow roads. And it's exactly about this treasure that Lonely Planet , National Geographic and even New York Times write about and encourage their readers to head there with the promise that what they will find when they reach there will be the greatest reward every individual tourist escaping overcrowded places can get.

And this promise does not seem exaggerated at all when you are there in the middle of Europe, surrounded by woods, mountains and the sea merging with sky on the horizon and the sky that preserves exactly the same shade to the sea color gently touching it, and quiet people resting in a friendly atmosphere next to each other.

Such landscapes are found in Southern France, in in Sardinia, Corsica and southern Albania where I found all the above in one, spending the holidays of my dreams.

(Article by Sonila Sand originally published on Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service, translation by Tirana Times)
                    [post_title] => 'It's not Antibes, but Drimadhes'
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131922" align="alignright" width="300"]karol Polish ambassador to Albania Karol Bachura[/caption]

  “Would you like to spend your holidays in a special way? Are you looking for a country to enjoy an extraordinary atmosphere, a country with cultural diversity? Are you dreaming about all-inclusive holidays in a warm coastline and a country that has just started opening up to the tourism world?

If yes, Albania is the right destination for you: a spectacular coastline next to the Ionian and the Adriatic, a scenic destination with excellent hotels, with magic Balkan culture and food and a mild climate. 

What could you want more?

Holidays in Albania will make you happy with the virgin landscape, the centuries-old historical monuments and a friendly atmosphere. Albania is ideal for perfect holidays.”

That is how Poland Travel, the Polish national tourist office, describes Albania which has emerged as a surprise destination for Poles in the past couple of years, making it to the top 10 most popular.

Polish ambassador to Albania Karol Bachura says Albania has become a new discovery in the old continent, attracting about 70,000 Polish tourists a year.

"I think Albania is relatively close, it has great potential as a tourist destination, a wonderful climate and it's a safe country," Ambassador Bachura has told a local Albanian TV.

"Polish tourists are present all around Albania, but the majority of them certainly prefer the coastline, especially the southern part of the country. However, there are tourists seeking new forms of tourism such mountain hiking, motorcycling etc.," Bachura has told Vizion Plus TV in an interview.

Data shows the number of Polish tourists to Albania rose by 30 percent to about 70,000 in 2016 and is expected to register another hike this year as the number of charter flights to Tirana has increased and more and more Poles are visiting Albania in their cars considering a distance of about 2,000 km that takes about 20 hours. Prospects remain optimistic considering Poland’s huge market of about 38 million residents.

An annual survey conducted by the Polish Tour Operators Association, PZOT, ranked Albania’s as the Poles’ ninth favorite destination for 2015-2016, sandwiched between Portugal and Cyprus.

However, only about 2,500 Albanians travelled to Poland last year, apparently negatively affected by lack of direct flights linking the two countries and a considerably smaller population in Albania.

Poland’s state-run airline LOT has earlier expressed interest to launch direct flights with Tirana as Albania emerged a top 10 destination for Poles.

Asked about what Albania can do to further develop its emerging tourism industry, Ambassador Bachura says settling the long-standing unclear property rights issue is key to paving the way for foreign investment.

"I think the potential you have with a coastline of 350 km is great and this is certainly one of your biggest assets. The more investment you have, the more employment opportunities, higher wages and exchanges you will have. You are in Europe and a European country, you have been isolated for so many years and I think it's time for you to open up," says the ambassador.

The tourism industry has been one of the country’s fastest growing in the past few years, attracting more than 4 million tourists and generating about €1.5 billion, about 8.4 percent of the country’s GDP, in 2016 alone.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s.

Albania and Poland will be marking the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations this year.

However, relations between the two peoples date back to the 15th century when a Polish-Hungarian court recognized Skanderbeg, Albania's national hero who ousted the Ottomans for more than two decades.

Polish geologist Stanisław Zuber discovered oil and minerals in Albania  1927-1947 before he was killed after World War II by the communist regime of late dictator Enver Hoxha. The author of Albania's first geological map in use even today, Zuber has been immortalized with a monument in the southern Albanian town of Kuçova.

Polish Father Alfons Tracki was one of 38 martyrs killed by the Albanian communist regime from 1945 to 1974 who were beatified last year at St. Stephen Cathedral in Shkodra, northern Albania.

The Albanian-Polish Friendship Society and Albanian Chopin Society also contribute to strengthening the ties, organizing events.

More recently, Albanian international striker Armando Sadiku left Switzerland to join Legia Warsaw, one of Poland’s most successful clubs, and has also scored his first two goals since moving in mid-July.

In December 2016, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo visited Albania to reconfirm Poland’s support to Albania’s EU bid and urged stronger economic cooperation.

Since joining the EU in 2004, Poland has been one of the bloc’s most dynamic economies and success stories.
                    [post_title] => Why Albania is among the top 10 holiday destinations for Poles
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 27 - A country still neglected by tourists, Albania is a hidden paradise facing Italy and sandwiched between Greece and Montenegro with crystal clear waters, mountain landscapes and preserved nature. That is a how French public broadcaster France 2 describes Albania, an emerging European destination that is also attracting French tourists, dubbing it the "Pearl of the Balkans."

Isolated from the rest of the world for a long time under communism, Albania is attracting more and more tourists with its low prices, still unaffected by mass tourism and overcrowded cities.

Speaking with France 2, two newly graduate Parisian young women who picked Saranda for a week of vacation said it was the low prices that drove them to make their first Albania trip.

"One week of hotel accommodation, a round trip and food costs only about €500 a person," says French tourist Camille Bronner, adding that eating, drinking and a little entertainment can cost as cheap as€3 to €4.

U.S.-based Forbes magazine has rated Albania as the number 1 cheapest destination to travel to globally for 2017.

“This forgotten corner of Europe is a wonderfully off-the-beaten-track budget destination in an otherwise very touristy and expensive continent. With fantastic beaches along its coastline, including the fishing port of Saranda, Albania gives visitors the chance to enjoy the Mediterranean waters for a fraction of the usual price,” says the magazine.

A recent report by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, has also rated Albania’s restaurants and hotels as Europe’s cheapest.

At 40 percent of the EU average, Albania’s price levels on restaurants and hotels are the lowest among 37 European countries, including 28 EU members, three EFTA states and six EU aspirants.

Earlier this year, a TV documentary by Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service featured a French couple who regularly spend their summer holidays in Qeparo village of the Albanian Riviera.

Qeparo is a characteristic old village, located along the south-west coastline of the country. The mountains there steeply dive into the sea. On the seaside, some small restaurants and hotels have their businesses.

Deborah Auge from Montpellier has been spending her summer holidays for seven years now with her husband Philippe. The couple have bought and reconstructed two village houses and are thinking of permanently moving there when they retire.

Asked about what she likes most about the coastal village, Auge says it is the authenticity of the village and the hospitality of Albanians.

"I think the landscape here is extraordinary and I consider Qeparo among the most beautiful destinations around the world. And what's more important, people are so friendly. This is very important to me," says her husband Philippe.

Back in 2015, French magazine L’Express ranked Albania as the top third global destination to, describing Albania as the new pearl of the Balkans.

Featuring a picture of the Qeparo village in the southern Albanian Riviera, the magazine recommended Albania for its beautiful beaches and mountains, the UNESCO World Heritage sites and its 2,500-year history with Roman and Byzantine elements.

What makes Albania a favourable destination for French tourists is also the direct flights to Paris and Brussels twice a week and the cheap prices and quality Albania offers, the magazine says.

Prestigious French newspaper Le Figaro had also placed Albania as one of the top five global destinations for 2016. Featuring a picture of the ancient Rozafa castle in the northern city of Shkodra, Le Fiagaro said Albania will surprise everybody just like it did with its first-ever qualification in a major football competition such as France 2016.

The tourism industry has been one of the country’s fastest growing in the past few years, attracting more than 4 million tourists and generating about €1.5 billion, about 8.4 percent of the country’s GDP, in 2016 alone.

The country boasts dozens of sandy and rocky beaches along its 476 km coastline stretching through the Adriatic and Ionian, the most famous of which are found on the Albanian Riviera south of the country.

Three UNESCO World Heritages, the Butrint archaeological park and the historic towns of Gjirokastra and Berat, in southern Albania, also unveil the rich cultural heritage in Albania, a gateway to the Mediterranean boasting a mix of Illyrian, Roman, Greek and Ottoman civilizations.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s.

 
                    [post_title] => France 2: Albania is the ‘Balkans’ Pearl’
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133282" align="alignright" width="300"]Waterfront in Saranda, Albania. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock) Waterfront in Saranda, Albania. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)[/caption]

TIRANA, July 19 - U.S.-based Forbes magazine has rated Albania as the number 1 cheapest destination to travel to globally for 2017.

In a video showcased on the prestigious business magazine portal, Albania is rated as the most affordable destination where the dollar goes far, beating destinations from Vietnam to Vegas.

“This forgotten corner of Europe is wonderfully off the beaten track, with accommodations as low as $5 a person,” says Forbes.

Featuring a picture of a waterfront in Saranda, the Forbes suggests southern Albania and the Albanian Riviera beaches for 2017 travelers.

"This forgotten corner of Europe is a wonderfully off-the-beaten-track budget destination in an otherwise very touristy and expensive continent. With fantastic beaches along its coastline, including the fishing port of Saranda, Albania gives visitors the chance to enjoy the Mediterranean waters for a fraction of the usual price," says the magazine.

"Accommodation starts from as little as $5 per person and fishing trips or boat rides to the nearby islands are similarly well priced. There's also some fascinating historical sites across Albania that are either free to enter or cost only $2-$5. From the mountainous medieval town of Gjirokastër to the Roman ruins at Butrint, this is a diverse and very different side of Europe, which is definitely worth visiting before the crowds do," it adds.

The rating comes as Albania is already in its peak tourism season, with hundreds of thousands of tourists packing the country’s Adriatic and Ionian beaches, but also enjoying mountain and adventure destinations as well cultural heritage sites.

A recent report by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, has also rated Albania's restaurants and hotels as Europe's cheapest.

At 40 percent of the EU average, Albania’s price levels on restaurants and hotels are the lowest among 37 European countries, including 28 EU members, three EFTA states and six EU aspirants.

Earlier this year, U.S.-based Travel + Leisure magazine rated Albania as the top up-and-coming destination around the world, suggesting it as the number one destination to be considered for the next vacation.

Albania was rated as one of the top seventeen global destinations to visit in 2017 by the prestigious CNN news portal amid other renowned destinations such as the U.S., Canada, France, Denmark, China and Australia.

The tourism industry has been one of the country’s fastest growing in the past few years, attracting more than 4 million tourists and generating about €1.5 billion, about 8.4 percent of the country’s GDP, in 2016 alone.

The country boasts dozens of sandy and rocky beaches along its 476 km coastline stretching through the Adriatic and Ionian, the most famous of which are found on the Albanian Riviera south of the country.

Three UNESCO World Heritages, the Butrint archaeological park and the historic towns of Gjirokastra and Berat, in southern Albania, also unveil the rich cultural heritage in Albania, a gateway to the Mediterranean boasting a mix of Illyrian, Roman, Greek and Ottoman civilizations.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s.

Several former communist buildings and memorabilia have been put on display for tourists and younger generations in Albania to learn about the country’s communist past.

The House of Leaves museum of the notorious Sigurimi police surveillance in downtown Tirana, a Cold War bunker outside the capital city that the former communist elite had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack and the Sazan Island military base south of the country all house the mystery and phobia of the country’s communist leaders for about five decades until the early 1990s.

 
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            [post_content] => Albania-Serbia joint projects are rare, especially in arts and culture. Historical stereotypes, lack of sufficient exchanges and funding remain a barrier for the two EU aspirant Western Balkan countries. However, civil society activists have increased efforts to boost mutual understanding in the past couple of years through different projects, including arts.

The latest example is the “Kismet” documentary showcasing the challenges facing young women both in Serbia and Albania.

Minja Mardjonovic, an online feminist activist, columnist, freelance writer, who directed the newly released “Kismet” documentary, tells Tirana Times in an interview “Kismet is a story about love, understanding, connecting, co-operation, friendship and sisterhood among young Albanian and Serbian women.”

Her appeal to authorities in both Serbia and Albania is “Open your iron doors for all our ideas, because the youth from both sides really intend to build peace among Albanians and Serbs”.

Full interview by Monika Maric below:

How did you come up with the idea of making this documentary and why did you decide to call it Kismet, a Turkish word of Arabic origin meaning fate/destiny as mentioned in the documentary trailer?

Kismet is a part of one big story. It's an OSCE project about co-operation and connectivity between Albanian and Serbian youth - '' Enhancing regional connectivity among Serbia and Albania youth actors.''  Within that story, I got an opportunity to think about creating a small project with the Albanian team which will be regarded to the mutual issue - the status of youth and common challenges in both societies. As a feminist activist and artist, I believe in many ways of communicating and reaching people about some non-mainstream topics. One of them for sure is video, movie, film. So, from the beginning, the idea was: to create an immortal message for the future generation about Albanian and Serbian women who rejected all prejudices and stereotypes which are imposed upon all of us. Kismet is our daily life. It's a basic stereotype which arises every time a doctor tells a pregnant woman ''It's a girl.'' And our destiny, our kismet as women is to be everything in the common term of WOMAN: to be warriors, to smash prejudices, injustices, to raise our voices, to scream and cry, to refuse to give birth, or just to give birth, to feed, to live, to love and care, to tolerate, to persist, to exist and to die.

Kismet could be a strong metaphor for the imposed truth about how women are predestined just for one thing – the house and children. KISMET is a name of our common problem- gender-based injustice.

Also, besides these typical gender roles, I need to mention one more also so typical and violent example: the role women as sexual objects in the daily life of patriarchal and popular cultures.

What are some of the common challenges facing young women in both Serbia and Albania, are there huge differences?

For example, if you mute the documentary film for a second, you will notice how really it doesn't matter where all these women are from. That's the point. We can't see differences in the context where it is not possible to conciliate. Absolutely, we are smiling and crying in the same way. Conservative and patriarchal structures of our societies make us so similar, too. So, from my point of view, the treatment of women is the best indicator of the level of social and political progress within one society. In that regard, we can really maintain how much Albanians and Serbs are so similar in their differences.

What's the message of this documentary and what is your appeal to decision-makers both in Serbia and Albania about strengthening women's role in the society and fighting cases of abuse, gender inequality, and stereotypes?

Kismet is a story about love, understanding, connecting, co-operation, friendship and sisterhood among young Albanian and Serbian women who decided to express themselves and segments of their life stories through this ''destined'' visual project.

Love is a goal and the sense of everything. Peace in the world is not just a mantra or a stereotypical Miss World sentence; it's a real need and necessity for all human beings.

So, my appeal will be addressed to institutions of the system: “Open your iron doors for all our ideas, because the youth from both sides really intend to build a peace among Albanians and Serbs”.

What were your impressions of cooperation? Was it hard to cooperate with the peers from Albania?

When you have a mutual goal and clear ideas for realization, everything needs to be perfect. You need to listen to the others. And, I think that we did it in the best way! I really believe we finished this as best as we could - “together in co-operation with honest respect, friendship and huge support.”

Which were the biggest challenges during the shooting? Were there any obstacles?

Time is always a big problem. There is little time for a lot of big things. In that sense, the biggest challenge was:  Are we going to do all this for a given period, and how will it look like at the end. All the obstacles were of a technical nature, and it's so common when you are making a film.

What was the reaction of the audience after the documentary premiere in Belgrade and Tirana?

It really was remarkable. We didn't expect a lot of people in Belgrade, nor in Tirana. For both premieres, the film was viewed by more than 200 people, and that’s great success for this kind of movie. For me, it was a wonderful experience, and for sure we deserve all of these nice things that are happening to us now.

What are the general plans for the future? Do you plan to show the documentary in other places throughout Serbia and Albania?

Yes, of course there is a plan. After the premieres in both capitals, Kismet screened for the first time in Belgrade few days ago. We are expecting four more screenings in Serbia and five in Albania, until the end of October. After this, we want to continue the Kismet story through other projects, because we believe in its potential for regional connectivity and co-operation.

Do you have any other near future Serbia-Albania documentary projects?

For now, my kismet is Kismet. (laughs)

How did you find Albania during your stay and what's your message for Serbian tourists to Albania and Albanians who want to visit Serbia. How can knowing each other and direct contact help overcome still existing stereotypes?

Our kismet trip to Albania was a really safe trip, filled with love and adventures, unforgotten experiences and nice memories.

Practically, I am in love with Albania. It's a so wild and beautiful country. You can find everything that you need for pleasure: two undiscovered seas, a lot of unexplored mountains, perfect food and coffee, delicious cakes and perfect gelato, the fast and furious energy of citizens, good parties...

Many dear Albanian friends, attentive and happy people, open-hearted smiles and the recognized Balkans soul are enough reasons because this documentary in the end has one of the most pointful messages: “Go to Albania and meet Albanians, go to Serbia and meet Serbs.”
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