Albania Cultural Tour: North to South

Albania may be a little country but there is a lot to see and do in this exciting up-and-coming location. Bordering Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo and Montenegro, Albania’s long coastline is one of the most ruggedly beautiful in the world.

While Albania is slowly becoming more popular with tourists it remains extremely undiscovered, as well as almost completely unspoiled. Albania boasts some of the best examples of Ottoman architecture in the world, along with supremely clear Mediterranean air and stunningly fabulous beaches.

And, perhaps best of all, travelling to Albania remains an extremely affordable trip, even compared to much of the rest of this part of Europe. Let’s start with the city and cultural tour North to South.

1. Gjirokastra

The City of Stone

Old City Gjirokastra

Old City Gjirokastra
The old bazaar

The city of Gjirokastra is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and is one of the most attractive tourist sites of the country. Perched on the eastern side of the Wide Mountain (Mali i Gjërë), the city began as a fourth century castle, which is today the greatest castle in the whole country. Inside the fortress is the Museum of Weapons, where weapons of different periods up until the Second World War are displayed. Gjirokastra is known as “The City of Stone”


The museum city of Gjirokastra was built on the eastern side of “Mali i Gjerë”. Since 2005, it has been in UNESCO World Heritage site. The origin of the city starts with the castle of Gjirokastra, built in IV century AD. The main characteristic of Gjirokastra is the intensive use of stone in building the houses, which look like small fortresses, the streets of cobblestone, which all lead to Bazaar. Due to all these features, Gjirokastra is also known as the “The Stone City”.

Zekati family houseGjirokastra FortressThe most important structure of the city is the castle, which is the biggest castle in Albania. You can also visit the house of Zekati family in Palorto, in a dominating position, which has undergone restoration. It is one of the most magnificent and characteristic buildings of Gjirokastra. Built in 1811-1812, it is a magnificent three-floor building and has two twin towers.

2. Butint
The Microcosmos of Mediterranean

Butrint Ancient theatreButrint mosaicButrintButrint Ancient theatreThe first Albanian site to be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage was Butrint, in the south of the country, in 1992. It has been inhabited since prehistoric times and was a part of the Greek and Roman colonies.
The most ancient objects found at the archeological site in Butrint are a stone hammer and a shaft belonging to the second half of the second millennium B.C.

Hekateus made first mention of the city at the end of the sixth century B.C., affirming that the city was built according to Troy and that the origin of the name refers to the sacrifice of a bull, Buthrotos, provided by the Trojan prince Aeneas on his way to Dodona. During its early period, Butrint was the center of the Kaonic tribes, later to become part of the kingdom of Epirus.

The most extraordinary objects discovered in the theater of Butrint are the statue of Apollo, the goddess of Butrint, the marble heads of Zeus, the portrait of Agrippina, the head of Livia and many Latin and Greek epigraphs. Parts of the city were rebuilt during the fifth century B.C.

3. Apollonia
Where Roman emperor Augustus study philosophy

APOLLONIAAPOLLONIAAPOLLONIAApollonia was an ancient Greek colony city and former bishopric in Illyria , located on the right bank of the Aous river (modern-day Vjosa). Its ruins are situated in the Fier region, near the village of Pojani (Polina), in modern-day Albania.
The ancient city of Apollonia is situated in southwestern Albania, about 13 miles from the city of Fier. The fascinating landscape of the archeological park, which has been preserved in an exceptionally intact condition, comprises a successful combination between the beauty of monuments and nature, attractive through its long history, in an atmosphere of relaxation and meditation. Its foundation took place immediately after the foundation of Epidamnus – Dyrrachium and quickly became one of the most eminent cities of the Adriatic basin, which was mentioned more frequently from the other 30 (thirty) cities bearing the same name during Antiquity. The city lay in the territory of the political communion of the Taulantii and was broadly known as Apollonia of Illyria. According to the tradition it was founded during the first half of the 6th century BC by Greek colonist from Corfu and Corinth, led by Gylax, which named the city after his name (Gylakeia). After its quick establishment the city changed its name to Apollonia, according to the powerful divinity Apollo. It stands on a hilly plateau from where expands the fertile plain of Musacchia with the Adriatic Sea and the hills of Mallakastra. The ruins of Apollonia are discovered in the beginning of the 19th century.

This archaeologic park or site contain also a Museum of Archaeology that is situated at the old Monastery of Saint Mary .

4. Berat
2400 year old museum city

BERAT1Berat Old CityBERAT CASTLEThis 2,413 years-old city, the pride of Albanian architecture which is under the protection of UNESCO, is located 120 km from Tirana. The city forms a wonderful combination of eastern and western cultures, costumes, traditions and outlook. Berat is a treasure-trove of Albanian history, culture and a testament to the country’s tradition of religious harmony
The city’s life began in the 6th-5th century B.C. as an Illyrian settlement. Later, in the 3rd century B.C., it was turned into a castle city known as Antipatrea. The castle expanded afterwards, particularly during the feudal dominion of the Muzakaj family. Inside the castle, they built churches with valuable frescoes and icons, and also a calligraphy school. Uniquely today, residents still live inside of the castle walls. The three major neighborhoods of the old city are Mangalemi, Gorica, and Kala, where the castle itself is located.

5. Kruja
The City of Scanderbeg

Kruja MuseumKruja CastleKRUJA The Old BazaarKruja is just 32km away from Tirana and very close to Tirana International Airport. This historic city is 608m above sea level and offers an open vista to an amazing panoramic view.
The name and the importance of the city are closely related to the 25 years of activity of our national hero, Skanderbeg, who in the fifteenth century made Kruja a bastion of uncompromising resistance against the Ottoman. The Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg Museum is situated inside the castle walls, which date back to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D.

The museum itself was inaugurated in 1981. Within the walls of the castle are also the Ethnographic Museum and the Dollma Tekke. Near the castle’s entrance is a traditional market, which dates back to the period of Skanderbeg. Here, tourists can find Albanian craft products such as embroidered items, carpeting, silver objects, copper, alabaster, filigree, traditional clothing, antiques at the traditional Old Baazar of Kruja .

6. Shkodra
Gateway to the Albanian Alps

Shkodra, it is one of the oldest cities in the country, founded in the 4th century B.C. as the center of the Labeat tribe of Illyrians known with the name Scodra .
Shkodra has been occupied several times throughout history: First by the Romans (168 B.C.), then the Serbians (1040), the Venetians (1396), and finally by the Ottomans (1479).
The city returned to Albanian control as the feudal principality of the Balshaj during the 14th century and served as the municipal center of the Bushatllinj Pashallëk from 1757 to 1831. Shkodra is very rich in cultural heritage , the city itself as well as the people bear pride in the large number of artists, musicians, painters, photographers, poets, and writers born here. Shkodra’s main tourist attraction is Rozafa Castle. Rising majestically upon a rocky hill west of the city, the outcroppings and battlements paint a blazing picture against the setting sun.

Shkodra is one of the most important cities of Albania and is also known to be the center of Albanian Catholicism , Culture and Harmony between different religions .

The lake of Shkodra is also suggested to visit , to bath , or to eat some of the best dishes of Albanian cuisine like Krap ne tave typical for this region .

3 lakes, view from castleCastle of ShkodraShkodra Pedonale

7. Tirana

The lively capital

We all can say convinced that the capital of Albania has transformed into a lively, affordable destination. And I might add, that every foreigner I have met there has falled in love with the city.

Interest in Balkan countries has soared significantly in recent years, with curious travelers now regularly seeking out the serenity of the Adriatic Sea and medieval, stone-walled cities like Dubrovnik in Croatia and Kotor in Montenegro. Tirana does not embody such traditional allure. Instead, it impresses as a soulful, urban hub with a strong personality shaped by a turbulent history.

Much like Sarajevo remarkably moved past the atrocities of the 1990s to evolve into a thriving Eastern European capital, Albania is looking past its own decades of horror and isolation to the future.

This is only the main cultural scene of Albania. Many more to come on beaches and entertainment on future blogs. Stay posted.

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7 Most Photographed Places in Bangkok

Where to take the best photos of Bangkok? Bangkok is very chaotic, but there is no arguing that Thailand’s capital has a unique charm. It’s a cheerful, giant city, and its qualities are often captured through the lens by professional and aspiring photographers. Trying to perfect my photography skills, I stumbled upon this great list with a detailed knowledge of the best places to go to capture the best angles of the city, and present it through the eyes of a foreigner at its exotic best. Follow this tips to ensure you go home with photos that will impress your friends and create a lifetime of nostalgia.

  1. Wat Arun

Wat ArunKnown as the Temple of Dawn, this is one of the most alluring images of ancient Bangkok. While the temple is actually located on the Thonburi side of the river, the best photographs are taken from across the river on the city side of the water. Choose a bar opposite and take your time with a glass in hand.

Where to Shoot: In the morning, the rising sun bathes Wat Arun in light when seen from the city side of the river, whereas at sunset, professional photographers can get beautiful silhouettes in front of a deep orange orb. Alternatively, take a river cruise in the evening to see this stunning Khmer-style temple lit up at night.

2. Golden Chedi at Grand Palace

Grand-Palace-.jpg

The most famous palace in Thailand and the former seat of the king, this magnificent complex has several postcard worthy vistas. The biggest challenge for most people is finding a nice angle free from thousands of other visitors blocking the view.

Where to Shoot: The most popular is in front of the patch of grass next to the ticket booths. From here you see three golden spires stretching elegantly into the sky, with many arched temple roofs glimmering in the sunshine. However, for our pro tip, you can get a shot of Wat Pra Keaw (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) practically free of other people if you run straight there when the gates open at 08:30 – remember to dress appropriately with shoulders and knees covered otherwise you will be asked to rent long pants and a shawl.

3. Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

recllining

Wat Pho is a huge temple complex with many buildings and stupas inside, although it is the reclining Buddha that draws the crowds. Perhaps the most famous Buddha image in Thailand and wildly popular, there are two classic photos of the reclining Buddha.

Where to Shoot: The first position is looking directly up at the serene face between two poles. A wide angle lens is needed for best results. The other position is down by the feet of the Buddha image. Adorned with intricate pearl details with the full length of statue still in shot, this is where people queue for a photo with their family and friends. It’s tough to get a shot here without others intruding, so, patience.

4. Yaowarat Road (Chinatown)

bangkok-chinatown.jpg

Chinatown is a real photographer’s playground, with intriguing scenes confronting you at every turn. However, the most alluring image of this area of Bangkok must be the shot of the numerous shop signs with their multi coloured Chinese characters.

Where to Shoot: This scene is beautiful during day or night, but for the best shot, try to find a 7-11 at the beginning of a gentle curve in Yaowarat Road, as this allows for the most shop signs to be in the photograph.

5. The Dome at Skybar

the dome.jpgThe Dome on top of the lebua State Tower can be seen from very far away, and every night is lit up like a beacon of luxury due to the collection of fine dining restaurants and posh cocktail bars it houses. Head up to Skybar for a cocktail and to enjoy the impeccable views or splash out and enjoy a great meal with a great view. The classic shot of the Dome at dusk is likely to be a treasured memory.

When to Shoot: Don’t run away once the sun has set. Stay another 30 minutes when the sky drops into a dark blue which balances the light from the golden dome beautifully.

6. Cityscape from Baiyoke Tower

baiyoke_skyThis old skyscraper held the record as Bangkok’s tallest building for many years, and although it has now lost that accolade to the new MahaNakorn Tower in Sathorn, the 88 storey Baiyoke Tower still offers bird’s-eye-views over Bangkok, and on a clear day you can see well into neighbouring provinces.

Where to Shoot: The night shot from here, looking out east over the tangle of expressways, is a classic, while those with a video camera setting or GoPro might consider a time lapse video.

7. In front of the fountain at Siam Paragon

fountainBelieve it or not, Siam Paragon was one of the most photographed places in 2014 on Instagram. Exactly why this shopping mall beat cultural landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower or the Burj Khalifa nobody knows, but it seems no one can resist taking a snap of Siam Paragon.

Where to shoot: The best shot is from outside the shopping mall on the mezzanine level that leads to the BTS Skytrain. Stand just behind the fountain and wait for the water to shoot out the ground, with the glass and steel atrium of Paragon in the background.

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10 best cities for a winter holiday

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Cold rains and gray skies make winter a trial. But hot drinks, snowy slopes, frozen lakes and a bright yellow sun? That’s the kind of winter we can all wrap our mittens around.
And winter actually seems to bring out the best in some cities. Here are 10 around the world that make for a great cold-weather holiday:

1. Prague, Czech Republic

Prague

With its snow-capped spires and cobbled, winding streets, Prague is a fairytale city that remains relatively tourist-free in winter.
The stunning architecture looks even prettier under a sheet of snow, with one of the most beautiful areas being the old town, with its turrets and Romanesque vaults. Gas street lamps were recently reinstalled throughout the city center, adding a romantic hue to evenings. Cafes here are ideal for escaping the bitter cold.
What to do:Choco Cafe is a great place to take a breather from intense winter sightseeing in the Old Town,” says travel blogger Girl in Czechland. “It’s full of comfy chairs and sofas and they have more than a dozen kinds of hot chocolate, which is so thick you can practically stand a spoon up it in it.”

2. Salzburg, Austria

02

With its backdrop of Christmas carols and traditional markets, this is a perfect city for a winter break. “Silent Night” was performed for the first time in the Oberndorf on the outskirts of Salzburg on Christmas Eve in 1818.
The city’s main market is held in the shadow of Salzburg’s Hohensalzburg fortress, but the one held in Mirabell Square is especially popular with foodies who come to sample local delicacies such as halusky — pieces of dumpling mixed with fried bacon.
 What to do: For a different perspective on Christmas, there’s the Christmas manger exhibition at the Panorama Museum on Residenzplatz between November 29 and January 12.
Panorama Museum, Residenzplatz 9, Salzburg; +43 662 620808-730; everyday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

3. Tromso, Norway

Tromso: One of the world's best spots for northern lights.
Enter a caption
Tromso: One of the world’s best spots for northern lights.
Courtesy Gaute Bruvik/Visitnorway.com
There are several reasons Tromso, known as the capital of the Arctic, is great in winter. It’s widely regarded as Norway’s most beautiful city and is a base for spotting the northern lights.
There are also several fascinating museums, including the Polar Museum, which offers an insight into the history of Arctic expeditions, and the Tromso Museum, which is famous for its Sami exhibitions.
 What to do: The Perspektivet Museum on Storgata offers fascinating insight into Norwegian art.
Perspektivet Museum, Storgata 95, Tromsø; +47 77 60 19 10; Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

4. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam

In winter, Amsterdam’s museums are empty, making it the time to visit attractions such as Rijksmuseum or the Anne Frank House. Built originally to house a circus, the Royal Carré Theatre celebrated its 125th anniversary last year. Children will love the spectacular performances, which feature athletes from Russia, North Korea and China.
 What to do: For Christmas shopping, smaller shopping areas like Haarlemmerstraat in the Jordaan, the Spiegelkwartier and the Negen Straatjes are better than the big department stores.

5. Nagano, Japan

Nagano, Japan.jpg

As a former Winter Olympics host city, Nagano is a great base for exploring nearby ski resorts. The natural hot springs on the outskirts are perfect after a day on the slopes. Beautiful, snow-covered Buddhist temples are worth checking out, as is the Togakushi Minzoku-kan folklore museum, which has a fascinating display about the ninjas who once trained there.
A top tip? “The Neapolitan pizza oven place Qui E La that’s tucked away in a private home in the woods is an even more welcome refuge in winter,” says travel blogger Una, founder of lets-get-lost.com.
 What to do: The Zenkō-ji temple, built in the 7th century, ranks as the third largest wooden temple in Japan. Zenkō-ji (Japanese only), 491-i Nagano-Motoyoshicho, Nagano-shi; +81 26 234 3591

6. Reykjavík, Iceland

Hiding within -- great geothermal pools.
Although Iceland’s capital city is one of Europe’s coldest spots, it has plenty of natural hot springs to warm up in (some of the best can be found in the Nauthólsvík area of the city). The annual Winter Lights Festival, which takes place in February, is a spectacular celebration of winter.
Visitors can try their hand at a wide range of winter sports or skate on the city’s Tjörnin pond. Many cozy coffee houses sell rúgbrauð — locally made, dark, sweet bread.
“An unmissable experience during winter is a dip in one of the city’s many outdoor geothermal swimming pools,” says Eliza Reid, who co-founded icelandwritersretreat.com with Erica Green. “There is no experience quite like soaking in these naturally warm waters with snowflakes tickling your nose. Each swimming pool has its own character, and everyone has their favorite.”
Where to eat: Dill restaurant in the Nordic House cultural center. Chef Gunnar Karl Gislason is passionate about local produce and the food here is some of the freshest in Iceland.
What to do: Harpa, the city’s concert hall, was designed by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson to reflect Iceland’s geology. It’s constructed from more than a thousand glass blocks.
Harpa, Austurbakki 2, Reykjavík, +354 428 5000; daily, 8 a.m.-midnight

7. Munich, Germany

munich

Christmas markets are the ideal destination for pre-Christmas retail therapy.Munich’s famous Christmas market, the Christkindl Markt, dates back to 1642. It is celebrated on the city’s central square, Marienplatz, in the heart of the Old Town. A 100-feet high Christmas tree towers over traditionally decorated booths which offer everything from mulled wineand Lebkuchen (gingerbread), to Bavarian woodcarvings, handmade toys, and glass crystals. Markets open on November 25th and are held daily til December 24th, 2016. Don’t miss the traditional Christmas concerts that are held every day at 17:30 on the balcony of Munich’s Town Hall for free. What to do: The Tollwood Winter Festival is held on the same fairgrounds as Oktoberfestand features an international Christmas market, where you can hunt for treasures from around the world and sample organic ethnic food. Locals love this festival for its colorful cultural program, which is famous for its world music, art workshops, and theatre and circus performances. The market will be held from November 23rd til December 31st, 2016. Entrance is free, but some performances require tickets. If you arrive after Christmas, take part in the legendary Silvester (New Year’s Eve) party.

8. Ottawa, Canada

Ottawa, Canada

Ottawa’s Winterlude festival is one of the world’s largest winter festivals and is famous for its ice sculptures, outdoor concerts and toboggan courses.
The Christmas Lights Across Canada scheme sees some of the city’s largest monuments and buildings bedecked with Christmas lights.
From January, the city has the world’s coolest commute — the 7.8-kilometer (4.8-mile) Rideau Canal Skateway, which is used by commuters, schoolchildren and students to get through the heart of downtown.
What to do: From January to February visitors can take a spin on the world’s largest natural ice rink — the Rideau Canal.
Rideau Canal Skateway; +1 613 239 5234; January-February

9. Washington D.C., United States

Lightning up a white Christmas every year.
Lightning up a white Christmas every year.
Courtesy washington dc
If you’re arriving in Washington by rail, you shouldn’t miss the enormous, 30-foot Christmas tree that was given to Union Station by the Embassy of Norway. In November and December, the ZooLights show at the National Zoo opens late and stages spectacular light shows.
The White House and Lincoln Memorial look especially beautiful in the snow. During winter, the Washington Ballet stages performances the Nutcracker.
What to do: Zoolights at Washington Zoo kicks off on November 29 and lasts until January 1. Half a million individual LEDS turn the popular attraction into a veritable winter wonderland.
Zoolights at the Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.; +1 202 633 4888; November 29-January 1, daily, 5-9 p.m.

10. Edinburgh, Scotland

winter-wonderland-edinburgh.jpg

Cobbled streets, a beautiful castle and lovely public gardens make Edinburgh a beautiful city any time of year, but in winter it’s breathtaking. Since the launch of Virgin Atlantic’s Little Red service, it’s even easier to get to, with regular flights between other UK cities including Manchester and London.
Princes Street Gardens are transformed into a wonderland, complete with ice skating rink, enormous Christmas tree and a Ferris wheel, all in the shadow of the castle. On the edge of the city, Arthur’s Seat is the perfect location for a winter walk and the views from the top are second to none.
Where to eat: Edinburgh isn’t about haggis and tatties. For fine dining, One Square restaurant and bar at the Sheraton Grand on Festival Square is the place to go. The drinks menu is impressive — there are 52 types of gin to choose from.
One Square, 1 Festival Square, Edinburgh, +44 131 221 6422; daily, 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
What to do: A tour around Edinburgh’s underground vaults is a great way to learn about the city’s fascinating history.
Princes Street Gardens, Princes Street; +44 131 529 7921