Take Five: Albania's Best Adventures

Albania, which sits on the Adriatic coast of the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe, is slightly larger than Massachusetts. “The country is very small, but it’s very diverse,” says Auron Tare, founder of Our Own Expeditions, an Albanian-based tour agency. “You can travel in an hour and be in a completely different landscape.” But Tare’s larger point is this: this little nation packs an unexpectedly large punch. Between the Albanian Alps of the north, the vast coastlines in the west and the more rugged countryside of the interior, it’s easy to get your fill of sceneries without traveling all that far. Tare has been involved in Albanian tourism since the industry was in its infancy—he even helped establish the nation’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site—and his company has been guiding expeditions for 22 years now. In 2014 Tare was elected to head up Albania’s National Coastal Agency, and his wife Nancy took control of the operation, continuing the company’s mission to showcase the country’s diversity through its authentic, one-of-a-kind experiences. Our Own Expedition’s tours embody Albania’s spirit of variety perfectly, hosting excursions to historical landmarks, natural wonders and cultural destinations throughout the region as a whole. The company’s site currently lists more than 20 available tour options, but we picked our five favorites. 1. Lord Byron Horseback Tour Tracing the steps of English poet’s legendary 1809 horseback trek through Albania, the In The Footsteps of Lord Byron tour doesn’t go overboard with luxury. As Tare explains, the Lord Byron was the company’s first guided expedition, as it was mainly adventure tourists who made the first large-scale journeys to Albania during the post-Communist era of the mid 1990s. Participants spend eight days and nine nights alternating between tent camping and the Gjirokastër’s Hotel Cajupi, which serves as a de facto home base. During the day, tour guides lead the party through Byron’s famous route, passing through monasteries, castles and historical sites along the way. 2. Via Egnatia   Starting on the shores of the Adriatic and stretching all the way to the Greece’s Aegean coastline, the Via Egnatia expedition follows the path of the ancient Roman road of the same name. In its imperial prime, the trail was the most popular route between Rome and Constantinople, meaning tour participants are actually walking in the footsteps of figures such as Brutus, Mark Antony and Cicero as they work their way from Durres, Albania, to Thessaloniki, Greece. Historical nerd-out opportunities aside, the Via Egnatia makes for an ideal guiding compass, bringing visitors through the natural wonders of three separate countries—Albania, Macedonia and Greece—with stops at ruins neighboring waterfalls, churhces and the stunning, ancient and UNESCO-protected Lake Ohrid. However, Tare finds the trip’s strongest feature to be its obscurity, as the eight-day journey moves through the sincere, authentic countryside of the Balkan Peninsula, providing a relatively untouched view of local culture. 3. Northern Albania   As a country still trying to make a name for itself in the global tourism market, Albania emphasizes hospitality above all. “When people come and they see how hospitable it is, how warm the people are, how relaxed it is,” Tare says. “In general the people go home with a good feeling.” Bringing guests to the country’s northern tip, where the Albanian Alps rise harshly out of green landscapes, the Northern Albanian excursion is all about curating a friendly atmosphere. Vacationers spend four nights at a quaint, mountainside bed & breakfast, eating traditional dishes and exploring the depths of Valbona Valley National Park. 4. Butrint National Park   Butrint, often called “Mini Troy” for its neatly preserved Hellenic ruins, has become Albania’s most visited destination. Tare’s connections to the location are close—as the nation’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is the location he helped develop in the early days of Albanian tourism. Today, Our Own Expeditions leads day-long outings to the ancient Greek colony, giving its customers the chance to walk through the ruins—amphitheaters, arches and intact walls abound—while also walking through the idyllic scenery of the surrounding national park. Additionally, Butrint is only a 45-minute drive away from the tour’s starting point in the beach town of Saranda, so the brief stay doesn’t feel too rushed. 5. Communist-Themed Tour   Although not looking back on millennia-old ruins or tracing the passages of eccentric figures, thecommunist tour looks back on a much more recent and fascinating time in Albanian history. The eight-day expedition is massive in scope, exploring the architectural, agricultural, intellectual and cultural effects of the nation’s 20th century communist regime. The trek covers almost the entire country—once again, it’s very easy to cover a lot of ground—and actually stops at some of the highlights of Our Own Expeditions’ other tours, Butrint, Gjirokastër and the capital of Tirana included. Specific stops include everything from the National Gallery of Arts to the National History Museum to the neighborhood of former dictator Enver Hoxha. Source: Dillon Thompson/ PasteMagazin https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/08/take-five-albanian-adventures.html
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Albania, forte crescita dei depositi bancari, ad agosto oltre 100 milioni di euro in più

I depositi bancari in Albania hanno registrato una forte crescita lo scorso mese di agosto. Secondo i dati diffusi dalla Banca centrale d'Albania il loro ammontare avrebbe raggiunto la quota di 995 miliardi di lek (circa 7,172 milioni di euro), ossia 108 milioni di euro in più. Si tratta di un aumento superiore a tutto quello verificato durante gli ultimi 12 mesi, nel periodo luglio 2015-luglio 2016. Secondo i dati della Banca Centrale, ad incidere sulla crescita sarebbero stati principalmente i risparmi in valuta, il che potrebbe segnalare un aumento delle rimesse degli immigrati albanesi, rientrati in patria per le ferie estive, ma anche con la crescita del numero dei turisti, +19,7 durante la scorsa estate. L'Albania intanto continua ad avere il più alto rapporto fra depositi e crediti. Secondo la Banca mondiale per ogni 100 lek risparmiati, solo la metà viene utilizzata dalle banche per la concessione dei crediti. (Alt) Source: © Agenzia Nova  http://www.agenzianova.com/a/0/1429516/2016-10-08/business-news-albania-forte-crescita-dei-depositi-bancari-ad-agosto-oltre-100-milioni-di-euro-in-piu
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Albania destroys marijuana fields to clean up its image

Kruja (Albania) (AFP) - Small mountainous Albania was for decades Europe's most isolated country, but now 26 years after toppling communism it has emerged with the unwanted distinction of being the continent's top marijuana producer. In the north-central mountains of Kruja, Ilir is one of Albania's many poor farmers who have turned to growing the illegal crop. "I am not committing a crime, it's desperation that has led me to grow cannabis," he says.. "I barely survive," adds the 50-year-old, trying to defend his switch to a cannabis grower after he returned from Greece, where he had emigrated, as the economic crisis there forced him to go back home. In the lucrative European market, the money for marijuana is attractive. Two kilogram (4.4 pounds) of weed sell for 600 euros ($670) -- the price of roughly one tonne of wheat. Albania has also become a major transit route for South American cocaine as well as Afghan heroin bound for Europe, adding to the international pressure on the government in Tirana, which wants to join the European Union, to track down and destroy the cannabis fields dotting the remote countryside. Located on the Adriatic coast Albania has ideal climatic and geographical conditions for the contraband trade. Police find its rocky mountainous terrain, where the cannabis is grown, difficult to access. And its coastline is less than 100 kilometres (60 miles) away from Italy and the doorway to the rest of western Europe. Criminal gangs control the business, which is fuelled a Western diplomat agrees by the "desperation of farmers". Ilir planted his first crop a little less than a year ago alongside a stream in a rocky patch behind his house. It is difficult to spot even from Italian military police helicopters surveying the area in a bid to help Albanian authorities in their crackdown on the growers. - Hasty retreat - "Since January, the police have carried out more than 1,250 operations... (and) destroyed more than 2.3 million cannabis plants," says Altin Qato, the head of public security. More than 250 people have been arrested and a hunt is on for about 100 others. Some 8,900 police officers have been mobilised and more than nine tonnes of cannabis seized. In the face of this offensive marijuana growers are retreating to land "that is difficult to access," Qato adds. They are also increasingly planting a genetically modified Dutch variety with a short flowering cycle which gives it several harvests. Once the police have tracked down the plots, they have to walk for hours through steep terrain to reach them. They are often guided by telltale signs in the thorny terrain like watering pipes to reach the target. At a field near Kruja there were signs of a hasty retreat by a grower: a bottle of water, some bread and a bit of cheese. This land "does not belong to anyone on paper," the head of a 10-man police team searching the area told AFP. They will gather and burn the plants and a probe will aim to determine the culprit, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. - 'No shortage' of buyers - Meanwhile Illir's 82-year-old father Xhafer says the marijuana growers "sell the harvest to whoever wants to buy and there is no shortage of them". He says his next harvest is due in two weeks' time if the police do not intervene. The pickings for drug traffickers however are several times that of the 2,000 to 5,000 leks (15 to 35 euros) earned daily by growers. Sold for between 200 and 300 euros per kilo in Albania, cannabis fetches 10 times that price in Greece and Italy. In 2014, Albanian police started a clean-up in the southern town of Lazarat, dubbed the "kingdom of cannabis" According to an Italian report, each year it produces 900 tonnes of cannabis with a market value of 4.5 billion euros which is a third of Albania's gross domestic product. The trade also involves corrupt policemen. About 20 have been charged so far and politicians across the spectrum accuse each other of having links with the traffickers. The right-wing blames the current socialist government of turning Albania into the "Colombia of Europe." Prime Minister Edi Rama retorts that when the right was in power it never tackled the problem at Lazarat. The US ambassador to Albania Donald Lu said recently that "there are politicians who have benefited from their connections with drug traffickers.   "We know there are several members of parliament, there are mayors in Albania and there were candidates for the position of mayors who had convictions for drug trafficking in EU member states," he said. But Lu also applauded efforts to clean things up and there are signs of change. In its annual report in June, Italy's drug-fighting agency reported a drop in cannabis seizures. "We are determined to scratch Albania off the map charting the trafficking of drugs to Europe," the country's deputy interior minister Stefan Cipa told AFP. Source: Yahoo https://www.yahoo.com/news/albania-destroys-marijuana-fields-clean-image-042050979.html
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