Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Albanian holiday part 4 - curiosities and specials of Albania


This is most certainly one of the special topics I wanted to address. When visiting Tirana, I was really hoping to visit the National Albanian Gallery as I really believe one can learn a lot about a country and its people by becoming familiar with its art.

The way we have experienced the pieces we saw at the gallery can best be described by words 'cultural shock'. But before I explain why we had such an experience I will briefly describe the pieces’ setting in the gallery itself.

At the ground floor of the gallery, the big hall is dedicated to a contemporary exhibition (which I found to be so lame and needless to dedicate any attention to) and a smaller hall houses a part of the permanent setting presenting pieces created during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The first floor of the gallery featuring accentuating, yet soft light on art pieces from an architecturally-savvy lighthouse houses the largest part of the gallery’s collection – the socialist-realism exhibition featuring pictures from the second half of the twentieth century. The top floor of the gallery is closed for public and it looks like it is being used as a storage room. In addition to this, taking photos at the gallery was forbidden, and somehow it seemed that this did not apply to the art located at the ground floor, so I managed to take several photos of exhibited pieces, since no one was interested if you took photos of the pictures at this chamber.

(Left to right): Highlander woman, Skenderbeg on his horse, A bride

 I was very happy, because I took a photo of the picture I really loved. I wonder why?
A seamstress
The first floor - a completely different story. That's the place where the shock awaits you. I believe nothing could have prepared me for it. This type of art was nothing I could have gotten used to, even though I was raised in a socialist country that went through the transition period, alike Albania.

One of the things I could not have left unnoticed was the fact that all these pictures looked like they were commissioned. None of them portrayed anything that could be described as an artist's freedom of creation. I really wanted to take photos of the socialist-realism pictures that were exhibited upstairs, but ladies who were working at the gallery have prevented us from doing so. They even had a police officer to look after the tourists (since only tourists pay 200 LEK to visit the gallery) to make sure we are not taking photos. I was surprised, amazed and astonished at the same time.

Since I wasn't able to take photos of pictures that made an impact on me, I decided to find a way to share this exhibition's experience, and after some pigheaded searching and browsing I have managed to discover an on line gallery of photos of the pictures in question. Please, take time to see those photos, but as you do so, let me tell you a little curiosity of one of the pictures presented there.

This picture was forbidden by the national art association (or something called similarly) after it was deemed to be way too pessimistic and failing in presenting the virtues of the 'modern' Albania. Along with this one, there was another picture at the gallery that was abolished the same year. I am deeply saddened by the fact that I could not have taken the photo of it - but I will try to explain.

The other picture presented young people planting trees. They seemed very happy, dressed in bright colors and smiling. Essentially the picture reminded me of UNICEF holiday cards and puzzles featuring happiness, children, nature and diversity. Ideology messing with art and creativity is a true display of tyranny. Without freedom, creativity cannot evolve and art cannot thrive. It was truly sad to become aware of a country that went through horrible time of oppression.


Being a hedonist, food component is a very significant part of every experience and travel for me. Albania has truly surprised me with its food. Seafood, fish and vegetables were featured in wonderful and harmonious meals we had in Shkoder, Tirana and Durres. Here are some of the dishes we had and really liked:

Seared tuna a la Siciliana

Tava salca (baked shrimps and squids in tomato salsa)

Mixed salad (with fabulous pickled aubergines)

The cult of wedding

We have noticed that there are many shops in Albania selling all types of wedding attire. At first we were like 'oh, glitter and rhinestones are the THING here', but after paying closer attention to pedestrians and people around us we were convinced of our initial assumption to be quite wrong. Still, there were way too many shops selling sparkly dresses (and bridal gowns, for that matter) for a majority of moderately dressed women. And then it hit us - it was the weddings that put the whole world in motion (at least in Albania). After several days, we have started adding up our impressions to realise weddings were everywhere around us! From our arrival to Albania onwards we have found ourselves near the wedding shops or weddings themselves.

Some bridal and wedding party dresses

A readily made wedding cake exhibited at a random bakery

Some more wedding party outfits

... and a wedding party hiding from the heat

Telecommunications and power supply cables

And finally, as both husband and I are IT/communication specialists, chaotic webs of cables both in Tirana and Durres have caught our eye.

Telecommunications and cable TV in Albania
And once again... defying gravity - not a strong suit

The Conclusion

We have simply loved our Albanian summer holiday, with all that we have seen. This country is colourful, confused, welcoming, warm and simply inviting.

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