From here to God knows where.

A trip to Schoder Albania and a whole lot of other stuff

I get off the Triana bus to Schoder northern Albania. What is this?  Something I have not seen for many months.  Rain.  Initial impressions are not great as I walk to my accommodation.  In Tirana they seem to have made a lot of progress in replacing their grey communist look.  Schoder looks like it has a long way to go yet.

Schoder Albania actually looks like I expected Tirana to look.  Tirana seems to have done a good job replacing a lot of the grey crumbling buildings a hangover from communist days.  Schoder still has a lot of work to do on this.  Many of the old communist types of apartments still exist and are being lived in.

Schoder Albania

Schoder Albania

Now don’t get me wrong.  There are really nice places here in Schoder and it is worth a visit.  Maybe a day or 2.  I stayed 5.

 

El Castillo de Rozafa

My favourite place to visit in Schoder.   The castle itself has had an eventful history including the Siege of Schoder.  Just over 1,600 Albanians held out for 19 days against an Ottoman army of up to 350,000.

 

El castillo de Rozafa

El Castillo de Rozafa

The best thing about the Castle is you get to understand why Schoder is a tourist destination.  The views from the Castle are stunning.

El castillo de Rozafa

View from El Castillo de Rozafa

 

The site of Witness and Memory Sckoder Albania

Ok, this might not be for everyone but I found it very interesting.  It is not a large museum but I think it is worth a visit.  This is where many political prisoners ended up during the communist years.  They were held here for questioning and torture pre-trial.  When I was there I was on my alone in the building and it felt very eerie.

Site of Witness and Memory

Site of Witness and Memory

 

Schoder town centre

It is not the biggest street ever but the main bar and restaurant area in Schoder is a nice place to have a coffee.  There could be more of a food choice but I suppose Tirana spoilt me.

Schoder Albania

For any fellow traveller getting the bus from Tirana to Schoder here is the deal.

I usually use local city buses but when I am on the move with my big bag I need to get a taxi.  The bus from Tirana to Schoder goes from the Northern bus station about 5km from the city centre.  Buses run every hour from around 0700 to 1600.  Cost at the time 300 lek which is about 2.40 euro.  Journey time 2 hours.

Bus from Tirana to Schoder

 

Albania wrap up 

Before I finish up with Albania which I found a very interesting country a few things

 

The Albanian civil war

I was very curious about this as I could not understand it.  in 1997 a pyramid scheme which involved most of the Albanian population collapsed leaving losses of about 1 billion euro.  That’s a lot of money for a small country.  What I could not understand was how was it a civil war if nearly all the people lost their money. Who was fighting who?

An uprising happened in most of the cities looking for the government to reimburse them their money.  No such luck.  Funny thing how governments can come to the rescue of banks but not people.  The Government fell and a new Socialist government took over.  Despite this most of the big population centres continued protesting.  The situation got so bad that embassies began evacuating their citizens.  Gunfire was a normal sound over Tirana each night and businesses struggled to protect their property.  It was thought that there was a gun for every adult over 12 years of age.

The situation was not helped by criminal gangs taking over parts of the country especially in the south.

Eventually later that year 7,000 U.N troops arrived and helped to restore order.  I am not sure still if it was a civil war or an uprising but at the end of it, there were over 2,000 people killed.

 

 

Religion in Albania

Why are there so many Muslims in what really is the heart of Europe?  500 or more years of occupation by the Turkish Ottoman empire is mainly the reason. Before the Ottoman occupation, Albania’s population was mostly Christian.   It took a while but over time the majority converted to Islam.  Some for their beliefs but I am sure some for convenience.  Non-Muslims were discriminated against in a number of ways.  They paid higher taxes.  They could not own a horse or have a house overlooking a Muslim house.  They could also not take a Muslim to court.

In a recent census, 60% of Albanians declared themselves as Muslim and the rest mostly Christian.  Albania is a very secular country and most people do not want religion to impact on daily life and Government.  In a recent survey, the highest % in how often do you attend religious services was never at 25%.

Betting shops and bars

One thing that is very noticeable in the Balkans is the number of gambling shops.  In Albania most of all. I am not exaggerating when I say it felt like ever 3rd bar was a betting shop.  They are everywhere.  They were also the busiest bars.  Packed with people looking at betting odds and live sports games from all over the world.

Now I had my own battles with gambling over the years and thankfully I do not participate anymore.  I have also never been a guy who thinks that just because I no longer gamble thinks everyone else should stop.   I know many people who enjoy a flutter or a day out at the track.  The number of shops seems way over the top and I am sure there are very little in the way these are regulated.  Knowing the Balkans you can be sure the people who run these at the top level may not be the most upstanding of gentlemen.

 

Betting shop Albania

 

Not just an Albanian problem but a Balkin problem

So far on my travels in the southern Balkans, I have noticed one constant issue that may put off some travellers.  Rubbish.  I think Macedonia was the worst but Albania has its issues also.

I know that developing counties don’t have a lot of resources and that is part of the problem,  It is not all of it.  People seem to throw rubbish on the street at will.  Plastic bottles.  Sweet wrappers.  Even when they are near a rubbish bin.  I remember my own country Ireland been quite a similar maybe 30 years ago.  We are not perfect now but it is a lot better.  I think it is an issue that needs to be discussed by people here.

One of the reasons most people in Ireland don’t just throw rubbish on the streets now is that is has become socially unacceptable to most people. Someone would probably ask why you did it these days.   That is what needs to happen here but the conversation needs to start.   It is such a beautiful part of the world.

That said  Albania has been my favourite country I visited so far.  The people and its interesting history I have enjoyed.  Go there and see for yourself.

 

Rubbish on Lake Schoder Albania on city walkway

 

Podgorica Montenegro

I arrived from Albania by bus.  We pulled into the station the so-called Podgorica bus station. From what I have seen so far, there are no bus stations in the Balkans.  There are car parks with buses.  Podgorica bus station struggles to be called a carpark.

podgorica montenegro

Podgorica Montenegro

My first impressions of Podgorica reminds me of a Star Wars movie.  The part where the Rebels need to buy a spaceship but don’t want the Empire to know.  They go to a dodgy grim planet. The winds blow and the streets are empty.   Podgorica feels like a place you could buy a dodgy spaceship.

It is the capital of Montenegro and 250,000 people live here.  It does not feel like a capital.  I am not sure how to explain it but it would be like if Charleville in Co Cork was the capital of Ireland.   It might work if it was the second city.  Second cities get more breaks but if you’re a capital city you have more responsibilities.

podgorica montenegro

Podgorica Montenegro

I see many comments online that Podgorica is at a disadvantage because it was heavily bombed in WW2. That was 73 years ago?  Development did happen in the 1990s but from what I could see it does not work.  Saturday night in town is a small bit busy in a few streets that seems to be the main bar area.  I am thinking what it would be like on a Wednesday in February.   Oh my god, what was it like before communism fell and you really had no entertainment area.

podgorica montenegro

Podgorica Montenegro

Like every city, there is potential in Podgorica.  It has the advantage of a river running through it.  I walked down the Riverwalk.  Although it is a bit unkempt it was the most pleasant part of the city I saw.  You feel with a bit of work and a plan it could be made into a real go to the area of the city.  I am happy I stopped over in Podgorica but as I am on the wrong side of 50 I don’t see myself going back there again.  There are too many interesting places to see.

Check out this week’s Vlog as I discuss is Podgorica boring.  At the same time, I am interrupted by a Wasp.  Low flying aircraft.  Police attack dogs and a Tank.  Click here.

 

podgorica montenegro

Podgorica

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

So I made my way to Belgrade.   I have travelled a lot by buses in the Balkans but when I have a choice between a train and a bus the train wins every time.  I had read about the Podgorica to Belgrade line and it is described as one of the most beautiful train journeys in Europe.

It did not disappoint.  Ok due to lack of investment the train has not changed much over 50 years and it takes 10 hours and 35 minutes.  This adds to the experience.  It starts by climbing up and then down Montenegro’s mountains.   Once you enter Serbia you see the most beautiful scenery.   From what I saw Serbia may be an unknown and underrated tourist destination.  Great value at just 22 Euro for the trip.  Just an FYI for fellow travellers.  The main train station in Belgrade has currently closed This train stops at Topcider station which is a tiny suburban station at the outskirts of Belgrade. To get into the city centre just go across the road where Tram 3 starts.  Last stop will bring you to Saint Marko’s Church in the centre.

Below are some photographs of the journey.

 

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

Train from Podgorica to Belgrade

From BEER to eternity

It has been brought to my attention that some people do not believe my claim on my blog that I have a beer travel time machine. I am very upset about this. I take my beer seriously. Nevertheless, to prove these rumours are unfounded I took a trip on my beer travel time machine back to 1983 and enjoyed a 0.79 cent beer.

So I have arrived in Belgrade the capital of Serbia.  Serbia is reputed to be one of the most homophobic countries in Europe.  Belgrade is where the infamous anti-gay riot happened in 2010.  Today the Prime Minister is openly gay.  It will be interesting to see if a real change has happened or is she is been used to help the country to get into the E.U.

Join me on my journey. 

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Comments (3):

  1. Damien

    October 2, 2018 at 11:33 am

    Very entertaining blog.
    Will be in Belgrade early November. Hope to meet up for a pint.

    Reply
    • PATRICK O Neill

      October 2, 2018 at 12:44 pm

      Feck I am due to leave on the 31st of Oct Damien. Its grey and damp here today but looks an interesting place. Also had some chats with people after just 1 day so they seem friendly.

      Reply
  2. Peter Connolly

    October 2, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    as usual, very interesting and well written.
    Cannot wait for the next installment 🙂

    Reply

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