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One of the sights that we were most looking forward to seeing when we visited Albania as a day trip from Macedonia in March 2012 was the concrete bunkers that had been constructed throughout the country during Enver Hoxha's reign.
There are apparently more than 700,000 of these concrete bunkers in the country, built to defend Albania from the outside world...but never actually used for that purpose.
We saw our first bunkers at the roadside in the village of Tushemisht, just a few hundred metres after crossing into Albania from neighbouring Macedonia. We asked our taxi driver to pull over so that we could take a few photos of these quirky dome-shaped relics of the Hoxha years.
The bunkers that we photographed had falled into a state of disrepair, were strewn with litter and seemed to be home to the dozens of tiny lizards that were scuttling around.
We saw dozens more of these bunkers, some with gunholes, in a variety of incongruous locations (in fields, next to beaches, on mountainsides...) as we continued our journey from Tushemisht to Pogradec and Korce.
Written May 19, 2012
The village of Tushemisht, close to the Albania-Macedonia border, has a long sandy beach on the shores of Lake Ohrid.
At the time of our visit in March 2012, it was empty. A few sun parasols were in place, but the sun loungers were stacked up in piles at the roadside. A solitary kiosk selling crepes, sandwiches and snacks was open, but the two ladies who were operating it looked bored by the lack of activity. There were hints that the beach is much busier in the summer months.
The sand was fine, but it was also littered (despite the presence of litter bins along the edge of the beach). The water also contained litter and generally looked more polluted than it did on the Macedonian side of the border.
It was too cold to swim in the water at that time of year, but we enjoyed a walk along the sand and took plenty of photos of the beach and lake against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains and a deep blue sky.
Updated May 19, 2012
We crossed between Macedonia and Albania at the Sveti Naum / Tushemisht border crossing when we visited Albania as a day trip from Ohrid in March 2012.
This border crossing is located on the southern shores of Lake Ohrid, about 25km from the town of Ohrid.
We crossed the border in a taxi that we had hired in Ohrid, with a Macedonian taxi driver and an Albanian-speaking guide. In fact, it wasn't an official taxi. We had tried to hire an official taxi, but the driver didn't have the necessary paperwork (a green card?) to drive the vehicle over the border into Albania. So, instead, we used the car of his friend (the Albanian-speaking guide) who did have the necessary paperwork.
There was very little traffic on the road that morning and ours was the only vehicle crossing the border at that time. We handed over our passports at the Macedonian side of the border, the border guards checked out the vehicle and glanced through the window to see that we matched the photos in our passports, and within a couple of minutes we were driving along the few hundred metres of no-mans-land before reaching the Albanian border.
We handed our passports over again and a similar procedure was carried out. The guards wanted to check the boot of the car, so our driver opened it up to let them see. The guards again checked our faces against our passport photos through the car window, but didn't examine our bags.
We were asked if we wanted Albanian entry stamps in our passports. We said yes, and our passports were stamped, but the stamp was a disappointingly faint one with the date and the word "Tushemisht" just about distinguishable. There was no charge for entering the country, although our driver intimated that he had had to slip some cash to the border guards when he handed over his passport and vehicle documents in order to facilitate an easier crossing. I'm not sure if he was being serious or not.
The whole border crossing took no more than 5 minutes and we were soon on our way to Tushemisht, the first village on the Albanian side of the border. It would be possible to walk from the border to Tushemisht in around 10 minutes.
We had contemplated undertaking this trip (from Ohrid to Pogradec) via public transport, but this would have been very difficult, especially at the time of year we were travelling. The bus from Ohrid to Sveti Naum Monastery was infrequent, and from there we would have had to walk to the border and then walk from the border to Tushemisht (there were no taxis waiting on the Albanian side of the border as our guidebook suggested there would be. Perhaps they are there in summer?). Even having reached Tushemisht, it would have been difficult to continue our journey to Pogradec – we didn't see any taxis or furgons heading that way. Perhaps the traffic heading that way is heavier in the busier summer months.
We were thankful that we had hired the taxi for the day. The journey from Ohrid to Tushemisht to Pogradec to Korce...and then back to Ohrid (via Sveti Naum Monastery) would have been nigh on impossible with public transport.
Written May 19, 2012