For those who follow me and the Authentic Albania page, you might know that I am passionate about sharing inspiring and motivational travel stories, especially about Albania, but also personal and success stories, who inspire us all. Just lately I have promised to share One Story on a Blog each Week.
I have decided to start with the story of two sisters, Katy and Charlotte, who truly got the travel bug. They have visited over 40 different countries, most of them together, and many feature into their Blog Page “The Balkans and Beyond“.
The Balkan area has truly captivated these adventurous sisters and many of their posts feature practical travel advice and experiences in the area.
They both have full time jobs, thus traveling for months on end is just not practical. Instead they try to be super efficient with the time available. Their blogs posts detail how you can experience as much as possible in a limited time and they provide useful hints and tips for turbo tourists. You’re only here once! Read on, and enjoy!
The capital of Albania is becoming increasingly popular amongst Western tourists. With direct flights now available from UK airports, Tirana is more accessible than ever. Good quality cuisine, cheap booze and friendly locals puts the city on a lot of bucket lists. We visited in the spring to see for ourselves. Spending half a day below ground in a nuclear bunker and the other half 1,613 m above ground on a cable car we explore whether Tirana is above or below the new tourists expectations.
Bunk’Art is a museum exhibition set inside the atomic bunker of Dictator Enver Hoxha. This is not your regular, stuffy museum. The exhibition displays relics of a not so distant past when Albania was one of the most secretive and mysterious countries in geographical Europe. Its paranoid dictator created a Bunkerization Project during the Cold War which resulted in tens of thousands of bunkers being built across Albania. This particular bunker in Tirana was designed to shelter up to 300 military personnel, including some of the countries most important men, and was opened to the public in 2014 as a museum.
On arrival at the bunker you pass through a long, dark tunnel leading to the entrance of the exhibition. Once inside the bunker itself you can explore the furnished rooms, walk through long, eerie corridors and peruse Albania’s history from 1939 to the fall of Communism. Air raid sirens sound and original news reels play on the old television sets giving a really authentic experience. The exhibition gives a terrifying insight into the paranoia of Enver Hoxha and the propaganda and violence used during his rule. Visiting Bunk’Art was a chilling and fascinating look into a country that most people in Western Europe know very little about. Despite being 20 m below ground, this reached way above any expectations I had of the museum and I would recommend it to anyone interested in history, politics or urban exploration.
Reaching Bunk’Art from the city centre is relatively straight forward. There is a bus departing from the main square, destined for ‘Linze’, that will take you near the bunker in around 15 minutes, costing about 30p, then from the bus stop there is a 10 minute walk. We decided to walk the whole way which took about 40 minutes in total and is a great option if you have the time. Entry to Bunk’Art cost about £3.50.
Very close to Bunk’Art is the Dajti Ekspres cable car. This is the longest cable car in the Balkans and in 15 mins you will travel far above Tirana up to the top of Dajti Mountain, standing at 1,613m. The cars are Austrian made and very safe but this is not a trip for the faint hearted. The views of the city are incredible but as Tirana fades into the distance you pass over small, rural houses and farms, a little lake and plenty of greenery. Upon reaching the top you can take a break at the Dajti Tower hotel which has a rotating bar and a viewing terrace where you can gaze over Tirana and beyond. Mount Dajti National Park is located at the very top of the mountain. It is well worth exploring the trails that wind up and down the summit but just make sure you keep going beyond the fairground style antics located as you get off the car, unless of course that’s your thing!
To get to the the beginning of the Dajti Ekspres you can take the same bus to Linze from the Square or you can easily walk from the centre in about 40 minutes. If you are already at Bunk’Art, it is a 5 – 10 minute walk uphill. A return ticket on the cable car costs around £5.
It is very easy to do both the cable car and the bunker in one day and still have time to enjoy a leisurely lunch. Whilst in Tirana we did a bit more exploring which you can read about here “The Best Things to do in Tirana”.
Having read before our visit that Tirana was “The Next Berlin” I was sure it would end up falling slightly below par. However, this fascinating city of extremes was more than I had hoped for and landed well above my high expectations.