Cold War-Era Bunkers In Albania

Laughing Squid published some awe-inspiring photos yesterday of Cold War-Era bunkers throughout Albania. According to the article, the country hosts over 700,000 bunkers. Laughing Squid breaks that number down by saying that means there’s one bunker for every four Albanians. These bunkers are on farmland, beaches, city streets and residential communities. The photos published by Laughing Squid were taken by Dutch photographer David Galjaard. Check out the photos here and maybe make a point to photograph some of these bunkers yourself if you’re planning a trip to Albania.

[Photo Credit: David Galjaard]

Albania's Cold War Bunker Hostels

G Adventures Announces New Destinations For 2013

Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands, AustraliaAdventure travel company G Adventures has announced that starting in January of next year it will begin offering options to visit 12 new countries and expand its popular Local Living tours to more destinations as well. These additions to the G Adventures catalog will provide a host of new and unique experiences for travelers of all types.

Perhaps the most exciting news is that with its new expanded line-up, G Adventures will now be offering options to visit all seven continents. Over the past 22 years, the company has been providing amazing travel experiences across the globe, but until now they haven’t offered any tours to Australia or New Zealand. That changes in 2013 with new overland trips from Sydney to Cairns and Melbourne to Darwin in Australia, and exciting excursions to both the North and South Islands in New Zealand. Travelers will have the option to go spearfishing, soak up the culture in an Aboriginal community, visit a working cattle ranch or sail some of the most beautiful islands on the planet. Tours will range from three to 21 days in length and can be customized to fit schedules and budgets.

Besides Australia and New Zealand, ten other countries are new to the G Adventures roster next year. Those countries include Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Croatia, Iceland, Scotland, Montenegro, Sweden, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania and Serbia. These new destinations will expand the company’s offerings to over 730 different tours.Also expanding in 2013 will be the Local Living tours, which have been carefully crafted to give travelers the opportunity to experience specific destinations like a local. While there, guests actually stay in one place and can really delve deep into the history and culture of that single location by becoming embedded into day-to-day life there. The Local Living option was first introduced with tours to the Amalfi Coast and Southern Tuscany, but starting next year 23 different tours will be offered to such places as Iceland, Mongolia, Croatia, Morocco and more.

With so many options in its catalog, I think it is safe to say that G Adventures has a little something for everyone. Whether you enjoy a hardcore adventure or a more relaxed cultural experience, they can provide the kind of trip you’re looking for and they’ll do so at an affordable price.

A Traveler in the Foreign Service: Help us get away with murder

police tape

For Bashkim, a 25-year-old Albanian-American dishwasher, the trouble all started after he started having an affair with his boss’s wife. When his boss heard the rumors, he immediately confronted his wife.

Luljeta claimed that Bashkim, who was nearly 20 years younger than her, had raped her in the diner, after hours, on several occasions. Her husband, Illir, called the Anchorage police, who investigated the claims and discovered that Luljeta had actually paid for motel rooms used for afternoon trysts with Bashkim. The police dropped the charges but Ilir was irate and unsure of whom to blame.

Several months later, Bashkim traveled to Kicevo, a small city in Macedonia, the country of his parents’ birth, for the first time, along with his father, Nick, and cousin, Tony. Arranged marriage is still common amongst Albanian-Americans and Nick wanted his son to meet a woman they wanted him to marry.

The trio met with the young woman and her family in a café in downtown Kicevo, a shabby, provincial city with a substantial ethnic-Albanian community, and wedding plans were sealed over coffee and cigarettes in the traditional Albanian custom. But as the group walked out of the café, a masked man dressed in a joggers outfit opened fire on them, with bullets hitting Nick and Bashkim in the head.

Tony was hit in the buttocks, but managed to disarm the gunman, who fled into a getaway vehicle. The victims were rushed to a local hospital, where Nick, 46, was pronounced dead on arrival. Bashkim was seriously wounded but made a full recovery, as did Tony. A few months later, Ilir was extradited from Alaska to Macedonia to stand trial for murder.

When Americans are locked up abroad, American Foreign Service Officers (FSO’s) will visit them in prison and will typically attend their trial, if possible. But what many travelers and expatriates often fail to understand is that Americans are always subject to local laws and judicial proceedings – even if they are capricious and backward.

FSO’s can provide detained Americans with a list of local attorneys, help the American get in touch with people in the U.S., and try to ensure that the American isn’t being mistreated in the prison. They can also explain the local law and what the court proceedings are likely to entail but they can’t do much more than that, and this often creates friction.I once had to deal with a recently naturalized American citizen from Bulgaria who was arrested in Macedonia on an Interpol warrant for mail fraud, among other offences. He spoke no English and his ties to the U.S. were sketchy at best, but his son was on the phone every day harassing us about why we weren’t “doing more” to get his father out of prison.

“He’s an American citizen,” the son cried. “You are the American embassy! Do something. Get him out!”

The son kept telling me that his father’s imprisonment was a violation of the Geneva Convention and he encouraged me to study that document more closely to find ways to get his father released. I wanted to tell him that there were no special provisions for Bulgarian mafia thugs in the Geneva Convention and that I hoped his dad rotted in prison, but as a civil servant tasked with “helping people” I would simply mutter platitudes like, “Geneva Convention, OK, I’ll look into that.”

America may be the world’s lone superpower, but, no, we do not have the power to get oversea Americans out of prison, even if we believe that they’re innocent. (And in that case, there was overwhelming evidence against the Bulgarian-American and he was convicted.)

Shortly after I arrived in Macedonia for a two-year tour at the American embassy, my boss asked me to follow Illir’s trial in Kicevo, a two-hour drive south from the Macedonian capital, Skopje. Despite the fact that Illir owned two restaurants in Alaska, we found out that he was actually living in the U.S. illegally, on a long-expired tourist visa. So as representatives of the U.S. government, he wasn’t our problem. But since the victims were U.S. citizens, we wanted to follow the trial.

Two years before I arrived in the country, Illir was acquitted of the murder charge. But in Macedonia, the prosecution can appeal an acquittal, and a year later, in the appeal he was found guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison. As Bashkim exited the courtroom, a 65-year-old woman, who was later identified as Luljeta’s mother, lunged at him with a large kitchen knife but was knocked down by a bystander.

Illir appealed the conviction and I was in attendance for the court proceedings, along with a local employee from the embassy named Ljupka. It was my first time in a Macedonian courtroom and I couldn’t help but wonder why there was a huge pile of at least 100 old typewriters in the corner of the room.

“This is Macedonia,” Ljupka said. “Who knows?”

After getting shot on his first visit to Macedonia, and nearly getting stabbed by Luljeta’s mother on his most recent visit, Bashkim elected to stay in Alaska for Illir’s appeal, so Illir was the focal point of the proceedings. He had two defense strategies. The first was to highlight his illegal status in the U.S. He argued that he couldn’t have left the U.S. to come to Macedonia to kill Bashkim because then he wouldn’t have been able to re-enter the country to attend to his restaurants.

But after the prosecutors showed evidence that Illir had used his old Macedonian passport to cross into Macedonia by land from Albania less than 24 hours before the murder took place, he tried a different tact. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and began to read off a list of names.

“What’s going on?” I asked Ljupka.

“He says that he’s spent the last year trying to bribe his way out prison,” she said. “And he’s naming all the people he gave bribes to and how much he paid.”

Some of the people he was naming were in the room but it didn’t matter. The conviction was upheld and Illir spent the next seven years in prison. I’m told that Bashkim, the former dishwasher, now owns his own restaurant in Fairbanks. His father is gone but not forgotten.

Twelve years have passed since the murder took place and I’m told that Illir, who never confessed to the crime, more or less has his old life back. He somehow found a way to get back into the U.S. and is keeping a low profile in Alaska, presumably keeping a close eye on his wife.

Note: the names of the individuals mentioned in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.

Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

Photo via Tony Webster on Flickr.

Albania’s National Museum faces up to Communist past

AlbaniaA new wing of Albania’s National Museum in Tirana opened yesterday that’s dedicated to the abuses of its former Communist government.

Under the harsh rule of Enver Hoxha, shown here in a photo courtesy Forrásjelölés Hasonló, some 100,000 Albanians were executed or sent to prison or forced labor camps, this in a country of only three million people. Torture and intimidation were rife and a network of informers made everyone paranoid.

For a disturbing look at the surreal daily life in this regime, read The Country Where No One Ever Dies by Albanian author Ornela Vorpsi. The last days of Communist rule are seen through the eyes of an adolescent girl whose main dream is simply to be left alone.

That was the dream of a lot of Albanians. The new wing to the museum displays photographs and artifacts documenting the torture and extermination of dissidents. People lived in fear of disappearing into a jail or camp. Hopefully this exhibition will go a small way towards helping Albania come to terms with its past and heal some open wounds.

Visible evidence of the old regime is everywhere in Albania. While Tirana is undergoing a beautification program and the countless statues of Hoxha have been pulled down, thousands of bunkers still litter the country’s beaches, fields, and neighborhoods. The paranoid regime put up an estimated 700,000 of the ugly things despite needing roads and adequate housing for its citizens. One set of them can be seen in the photo below courtesy the Concrete Mushrooms Project.

Albania

Frommer’s reveals top destinations for 2012

What destination are you dreaming of for 2012? The staff at Frommer’s have just unveiled their list of top travel destinations for the coming year. Included in the list is a little something for everyone: large metropolises, secluded beach towns, colorful riverside villas, and more.

But Frommer’s didn’t just rely on their expert editors and author’s for this years list–they also polled readers to find out where they wanted to visit in 2012. Click through the gallery below to see Frommer’s (and their reader’s) picks–including one surprising midwestern city that is the only spot in the United States to make the cut.
%Gallery-137425%

Other Winners:
Top Family Destination: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Top Cruise Destination: Tromso, Norway
Top Beach Destination: Hanalei Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Top Adventure Destination: Moab, Utah
Top Food & Drink Destination: Lima, Peru
Top City Break Destination: Chicago, Illinois
Top Endangered Destination: Aysen Region, Chile
Top Value Destination: Albanian Riviera
Top Destination to Get Lost: Whitsunday Islands, Australia