Day Trip 2017
We decided to have an extra day in Tirana and wanted something a bit different and Albanian Trip’s “Bunker and Beaches” one day tour looked enticing. A small band of five of us led by guide Ervin Budo set off in an air conditioned minibus big enough for twenty. The first stop was the bunker. This was the centre and command post for Albania’s infamous communist leader Enver Hoxha. The regime may have collapsed over 20 years ago but the bunkers survive. This was where the great leader would run the country in the event of a nuclear attack. He really believed it would happen, a paranoia born out of a complete distrust and hatred of the Soviet Union, China and the US. So mad, bad and obsessed with the belief nuclear annihilation was imminent the order went out to dig. With that thousands of prisoners, political dissidents, miners and army conscripts worked to the point of exhaustion to build over 170,000 bunkers across the whole of Albania. This one is the biggest, now renamed Bunk’Art (you can’t say the Albanians don’t have a sense of humour!). We were handed over to the bunker’s specialist guide, Artemisa, and entered the bunker through a hundred metre tunnel, then descended down four flights of stairs and entered a warren of corridors.
There is a maze of rooms, an underground city with accommodation for hundreds of people, (top dogs and friends only) a radio communication centre, even a cinema, and right in the centre of it all the great man’s sitting room and bedroom, complete with en suite bathroom with red lavatory! which he visited only three times, we were told. To add to the effect, you’re exposed to a simulated chemical attack and in a darkened room bombarded with the sound of a nuclear attack. It’s both amusing and chilling in equal parts. Artemisa’s English is excellent and she briefed us in detail on the full horrors of Enver Hoxha’s hardline communist regime. We were quite delighted to see the light of day when it was all over. Not to be missed, impress your friends with a tale of Enver Hoxha’s nuclear madness .A must-see visit if you’re going to Albania.
But the day had only just begun and we were off again in the mini-bus with Ervin back in charge . Next stop a farm where the Farmer had had his farm confiscated and collectivised under the regime and then returned to him, in part, when the regime fell. The farmer and his wife greeted us and soon had us round a large table by a lake on his farm, groaning under the weight of his home grown peaches, watermelon, bread, cheese and homemade wine, sumptuous.
Ervin came into his own, as an English teacher, his impressive linguistic skills provided an almost simultaneous translation as we bombarded are farmer host with questions about life under the regime, life afterwards and his family’s aspirations now.
It was really interesting, we started to get a direct account of what life was like for the small farmer under the regime and how he has recovered now. It was a shame to leave but there was a timetable to keep to and yet more food to be eaten. We drove for another 20 minutes or so to a beautiful peninsula and to the top of the headland where there was a small restaurant with stunning views over the Adriatic Sea. Lunch was served. Sensational barbecued fish and prawns with salad and wine; we were soon bloated. Then we were off to the beach part of the tour, a small local beach populated mostly by Albanian people where fortunately there were sunbrellas as by now the temperature was in the upper 30s. After a suitable time for digestion we took to the sea, a glorious 24° perfect for floating and basking.
Then sadly at 6 p.m. it was over and we drove back to Tirana. A really enjoyable, fulfilling day .
We probably haven’t said enough about Ervin’s skills as a guide. His English as said is excellent – no question fazed him – and with a prodigious knowledge of the Albania, he was funny and amusing and an all round good guy to hang out with. In fact we were so impressed we decided to book him for the following day to take us around Tirana to see the museums and meet another survivor of the old regime who told us stories of being both an artist and a loyal military officer to the regime and then seeing the light. We also visited the creepy House of Leaves, the spy centre for the regime where all the paraphernalia of spying is displayed including bugging and the confessions of the “enemies of the people” were extracted. Worth a visit in itself as a warning from history.
We wanted to do more than skim the surface as a tourist and these two days with Ervin really gave us some insight into the recent history of Albania and what’s going on now. We were certainly richer for the experience and we certainly got value for money. We strongly recommend these tours, prices depend on the number in the group but between 45 and €65 a day per person. The days start at 9 and finish around 7 including all meals and drinks, yes very good value, can’t recommend it strongly enough .