A Travellerspoint blog

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Frankfurt

sunny 22 °C
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Tuesday, May 21
I departed Edmonton today at 5:45 PM on a direct flight to Frankfurt with Condor Airlines. It was quite a pleasant flight. I was in premium economy class which provided more leg room and better meals. To add to that, I got a window seat with nobody beside me which was great. Unfortunately, I still didn't get a wink of sleep, but managed to watch three German movies.
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Wednesday, May 22
Nine and a half hours later, I arrived in Frankfurt at 10:40 AM and by the time we taxied around the airport, took a shuttle bus to get to the airport, go through passport control and pick up my luggage, it was almost an hour later. I made the mistake of trying to take advantage of a free taxi that was offered to me with my hotel booking, but by the time I got to the meeting place, there was no taxi for me and when I realized it wasn't going to happen, I simply caught the train, which in retrospect, was much faster than a taxi anyway. I chose to stay at the same hotel I was at last year, the Ruby Louise, so I had no issues in finding it. By this time I was exhausted, but still couldn't sleep, so I decided to go for a walk and find something to eat.
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As I was wandering the streets aimlessly, looking up at the various buildings, I happened to step into a hole in the cobblestone pavement which caused me to fall, but fortunately, I didn't have any serious injuries except for a good scraping on my elbow. The warning sign was set up at the next hole in the pavement which was larger. Go figure! That wasn't a very good start to my trip as that fall could have been a lot worse. I had visions of another broken wrist. How will I maneuver all the uneven steps in Italy when I can't even avoid a fall on flat pavement! I guess it didn't help that I was sleep deprived and hungry.
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My second cousin, Katja, met me at the hotel at 9:00 PM. She came back from Berlin and made it to my hotel faster than the time it took me to get to the hotel from the Frankfurt airport! We had a lovely visit. It's hard to believe it was already a year ago since we last met.
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Thursday, May 23
Considering I was awake for almost two days, I still woke up before 5:00 AM. I had a leisurely morning and headed out for breakfast to one of the places I had been to before, Cafe Karin. It's a quaint little place with lots of variety. The breakfast was huge! There was no way I could finish all that, so I kept some of it for lunch.
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I love their bottle return system here. It just seems so much more sophisticated than what we have!
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After breakfast, I went to the Alte Oper to buy some concert tickets.
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Then I headed up to the Main Tower for a panoramic view of the city. The tower is 200m, the elevator takes 45 seconds to get to the viewing platform on the 55th floor. They even have a fitness club on the 53 and 54 floors.
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Following that, I did a 50-minute sightseeing cruise on the River Main. The sun was shining and the cool breeze made it very enjoyable.
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After the cruise, I wandered around Römerberg, got myself an ice cream and then joined a two-hour historical walking tour. It wasn't one of the best walking tours I've been on, albeit, the leader was new at this job. It just moved a bit too slowly for my liking, more standing than walking. However, I did learn some new facts that I didn't know about and it was a nice day to wander around the city.

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I finally went back to the hotel to freshen up, back out again for a bite to eat and to the symphony! There happened to be a "Fressgass Fest" just down the next street to my hotel which was perfect. It's one long street closed down with tents set up for eating and drinking. It's kind of similar to our "Taste of Edmonton" except it's not just a taste, you get enough for a meal at one place. There appeared to be more drinking establishments than eating. I found myself a nice bratwurst on a bun followed by some traditional "Apfelwein" (apple wine with strawberries). Both were delicious!
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From there, it was off to the symphony at the Alte Oper. I've always seen the outside of this building, but had never been inside, so it was nice to attend a concert and it was even a piano concert! My jetlag was setting in and I had a tough time staying awake throughout the quiet pieces. A few people started clapping between one of the movements and a lot of "tsks" were heard ... people should know better! It didn't happen again. I was impressed that not only do they offer drinks, but you can even order various types of food. I treated myself to some wine and a pretzel during intermission ... so good! After the concert, people mingled outdoors on the steps drinking wine and chatting. I wandered back to the "Fressgass Fest" which was so crowded by this time that one could barely move. I can't stand those kind of crowds, so got out of there as quickly as possible and crashed just after midnight.
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Friday, May 24
Today started out with pouring rain. I ran to the bakery to get a bit of breakfast and was drenched by the time I got back. Around 11:00 AM, my second cousin Jürgen came from Marburg with the train to meet me. We hadn't seen each other for over 10 years, so it was nice to catch up again. We wandered around town and he showed me a few things I hadn't seen before. I learned a few more things than I did from the walking tour yesterday! Jürgen treated me to lunch at a nice restaurant called Metropol am Dom.
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By the time we finished lunch, the rain had stopped and we took a short train ride to Bockenheim which is just outside of Frankfurt.20240524_162151.jpg20240524_162620.jpg

This is where Jürgen grew up and the first place I visited on my first trip to Germany back in 1981. We went to look at the house where he grew up and where I have some great memories from my visits with my Dad's cousins on numerous occasions. They have since passed and the house has been sold, but it has been newly renovated and looks quite different from the way I remember it.
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Afterwards, we went to a nice cafe (Frida's) where we enjoyed some "Kaffee und Kuchen". I had my favourite cheesecake.
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After a lovely visit, we parted ways and I took the train back to my hotel. I wandered back into town and decided to check out the Galeria, which is a huge shopping mall with a restaurant on the top level. I checked out the view, had a bite to eat and when the rain started again, I headed back to the hotel. It was time to pack up as tomorrow I'm off to Italy! I had a very enjoyable three days in Frankfurt. It was nice to actually spend some time here instead of just flying in and out.
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Posted by liztravels 23:20 Archived in Germany Comments (3)

Amalfi / Bomerano / Ravello

Italy

sunny 23 °C
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Frankfurt to Naples

Saturday, May 25
It was an early morning as I packed up and took the train to the airport to catch my flight from Frankfurt to Naples. I was just starting to feel very comfortable in Frankfurt and now it's time to leave. I got to the airport in plenty of time to do my self-serve check in, self-serve baggage drop off (my bag is so fat that it almost didn't fit into the slot!) and self-serve scanning my boarding pass. They won't need employees anymore at this rate. It was a nice short two-hour flight to Naples, but we took another scenic bus ride around the airport before getting to the arrival area and then it took forever for my luggage to arrive. I was concerned that my airport ride may not wait for me. Fortunately, I saw the bright orange "Explore" sign from the distance and Matteo, our Italian tour leader, was waiting for me. I joined the others in our group and we took a short walk to our own personal mini-bus.
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Early afternoon, we left Naples and drove about an hour up into the hills with lots of curvy, narrow roads heading south to Agerola, to the authentic village of San Lazzaro which will be our home during this tour. It sits 650 metres above sea level and there is a feeling for slow-paced village life. Our hotel, the historic Albergo Risorgimento, is a traditional, family-run hotel built in 1878 and it's situated just a few minutes' walk from the village's main square. My room is lovely with a beautiful view of the countryside. I'm so happy that I don't have to pack up again for a whole week! The bathroom is quite large with a bidet, but the shower is very small (6 sq ft) so it's a bit tight. We settled into our hotel and had a free afternoon. I walked into the village just to get my bearings. My first impression of this place is fabulous! The views are stunning. We had a nice fish dinner at the hotel.

Our tour group consists of 11 people plus the tour leader ranging in age from 40s to 70s. There is a group of Aussies (2 couples and 1 gal) who know each other from Perth and one other lady from Perth. There are three Brits, one American (from Romania) and once again, I'm the lone Canadian.
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View from my hotel room
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Bomerano to San Lazzaro via Pino Gorge

Sunday, May 26
We had an early breakfast and left the hotel at 8:45 to travel in our own bus to the village of Bomerano, just a short journey across the Agerola Plateau. Today's hike back to San Lazzaro took us along a scenic route of coastal views and through the dramatic rocky pathways of the Pino Gorge. Although it wasn't a lengthy walk, our first encounter with the terrain, a mix of steps, some rocky and some flatter sections, provided a good taste of what's to come and helped warm up our wallking legs! It was about a 3-hour walk covering only about 4 kms, but with a total ascent and descent of 250 metres/850 feet. We got back to the village and had a nice outdoor lunch with a bit of free time to rest up at the hotel.

In the afternoon, we had the option of joining another walk, which I chose to do, but it was even more difficult! This one covered about 5 kms and had a total ascent and descent of 300 metres/984 feet which took about 2.5 hours. We headed up through the outskirts of the village, passing through lush forest and stretches of countryside. We took a circular route, treating us to open vistas of the Gulf of Salerno and the Amalfi Sea. All these hikes just about did me in today ... not sure how I'm going to survive the week!
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In the evening, we joined a pizza-making demonstration at the hotel followed by a pizza supper.
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Amalfi & Ravello

Monday, May 27
Today we explored two Italian icons, Amalfi and Ravello. In the morning, we took a bus from San Lazzaro down to Amalfi, our starting point for today's hike. We had a slight encouter with a big cement truck blocking the narrow roadway and it took some doing before our bus was able to get by. The bus driver wanted the cement truck moved, but the worker insisted he could get by, which he eventually did!
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Leaving the famed harbour town behind, we ascended on ancient footpaths and staircases to Ravello. I decided to start counting steps and there were 1430 steps (mostly uphill) on our first 2.5 hour hike. Our hike took us up through fragrant lemon groves and past farms cultivating olives, fruits, and vines, giving us a real snapshot of life on the Amalfi coast. Often referred to as the hidden gem of the Amalfi coast, Ravello is located high up on the rugged coastal cliffside. Famous for its Moorish architecture, the village has attracted artists and writers for generations, thanks to its tranquil atmosphere as well as its enchanting streets, brimming with spots for al-fresco coffee.

Here, we had a quick lunch and just a bit of time to explore. A few of us visited Villa Rufolo, an old palace from the 13th century, that boasts "more rooms than the days in a year".
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We did a quick tour through the Gardens of Villa Cimbrone, which consists of the main building and around six hectares of historic parkland, considered one of the most important examples of the landscape, botany and culture of England created in the Mediterranean area between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. Its origins date back to the 11th century, but the villa and the gardens were extensively renovated by a British nobleman, Lord Grimthorpe, in the early 20th century.
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Terrace of Infinity
The villa’s belvedere, Terrazza dell’Infinito (Terrace of Infinity), is lined by a series of marble busts that on clear days sparkle against the bluesky above and the azure waters of the Mediterranean below.
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Here is a link to a drone view of Villa Cimbrone:
https://vimeo.com/user15996602/villa-cimbrone-ravello-italy

We headed back to Amalfi via a different route. Another one-hour walk with 1470 steps (mostly downhill). Today's circular walk covered 8 kilometres/5 miles. It had a total ascent and descent of 400 metres/1,312 feet.
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In the evening we joined a mozzarella and pasta making cooking class run by hosts of the agriturismo, followed by a dinner to taste what we've prepared. It was a lot of fun and tasted great! It made me appreciate the art of making pasta even more!
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Posted by liztravels 21:00 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

Amalfi / Island of Capri / Ferriere Nature Reserve

Italy

sunny 24 °C
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Island of Capri

Tuesday, May 28

Today we took an early bus to Amalfi where we caught a boat to the island of Capri. The view from the ferry ride gave us an unobstructed panorama of the coast where you could see clusters of villages clinging to the dramatic cliff face. Capri has been high up on holiday bucket lists since the Roman times when it was visited as a coastal resort. Capri is petite, measuring just seven kilometres long and 3 kilometres wide with 600-metre-high cliffs.
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We did about a three-hour island walk winding through the vibrant streets with boutiques and cafes towards the coast and heading to less populated parts of the island to climb the limestone cliffs for a spectacular view of the mainland and the Mediterranean that separates us. That covered 10 kilometres/6.2 miles and had a total ascent and descent of 400 metres/1,312 feet.
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After our walk, we had some free time to explore Capri's main town before heading back to the mainland. A few of decided to have a drink in the main square which was extremely busy. We took the funicular back down which was not very impressive. The walk was much nicer. With only a bit more time to spare, a few of us went for a quick swim in the sea which was extremely refreshing.
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It was time to catch the ferry back to the mainland. It was a nice, hot sunny day and the boat ride was very enjoyable. Back in Amalfi, we took the bus back to our hotel.

Ferriere Nature Reserve

Wednesday, May 29
Today's walk started at our hotel and more stairways took us high above San Lazzaro, rewarding us with views towards Salerno and Campania's scattered villages and towns. We worked our way past woodlands and valleys before crossing the Vallone di Ferriere. Surrounded by limestone cliffs, this valley has a unique microclimate, creating a habitat for plant species not commonly found in southern Italy.
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We stopped for lunch at a beautiful waterfall before working our way out of the valley. This path had great views of the coast as we descended down 1338 steps to Amalfi. I became assigned the official "step counter" on our walks. It was a good distraction for me. After five hours of walking, covering 13 kilometres/8.1 miles with a total ascent of 360 metres/1,181 feet and descent of 1,015 metres/3,330 feet, we were back in Amalfi.
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Claire and I treated ourselves to the decadent lemon delight dessert at one of the posh cafes in the main square. It was just nice to rest our legs and people watch for awhile.
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We took a tour through the Amalfi Cathedral and then it was time to take our bus back to the San Lazzaro.
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Posted by liztravels 15:12 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Pompeii & Herculaneum / Positano

Italy

sunny 24 °C
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Pompeii and Herculaneum

Thursday, May 30
Today was an optional day trip to Herculaneum and Pompeii which our whole group decided to do. Both cities were devastated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 and give us a fascinating insight into Roman life. The UNESCO-listed city of Pompeii has been almost perfectly preserved in volcanic ash, sitting unchanged since the time of the eruption. It was about an hour drive to Pompeii and we had a tour guide take us through the main sites for about two hours.
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After a quick lunch break, we went to Herculaneum to continue with our tour for a couple of hours. Herculaneum is another town preserved by the eruption, where we could see roofs, beds and doors, as well as organic-based items such as food and papyrus, as they once were centuries ago.
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Walk of the Gods to Positano

Friday, May 31
The grand finale of our Amalfi coast walking tour was to be the Walk of the Gods. Regarded as one of the greatest coastal walks in the world, this hike delivers some of the most breathtaking views of the southern Italian coast. Unfortunately, after a week of great weather and sunshine, today was a cloudy day and there was nothing to see at the beginning of the hike. We followed the high cliff path as it contoured west from Bomerano, opening to views of the Bay of Salerno and Capri. Passing under limestone cliffs and above an old stone farmhouse, we eventually reached the village of Nocelle. The views started getting better.
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From there, we started our descent down a lengthy ancient stairway into Positano. Once a poor fishing village, Positano has gained popularity and is now a must-visit spot. This was my last day of counting steps ... 1350 steps down. Today's walk covered 11 kilometres/6.8 miles with a total ascent of 330 metres/1,083 feet and descent of 900 metres/2,953 feet. The rain held off until we got to Positano. We checked out a few shops and Claire and I went for more lemon delight at another posh restaurant on the beach.
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I almost lost my hiking poles today. As we were heading back to catch the bus, I realized I was missing something and discovered I had left my poles in the last shop where I made a purchase. I made a quick dash back there and fortunately, they were still there. I was getting tired of carrying them around, but they sure came in handy and I may still need them on my next tour!

Tonight, we had our farewell dinner and said our goodbyes. This really was a spectacular tour, despite some of the more difficult hikes, but they were so worthwhile. We had a fun group with an great leader.
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Posted by liztravels 21:22 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Tirana

Albania

sunny 30 °C
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Naples to Tirana, Albania

Saturday, June 1
It was an early morning as most of us departed to the Naples airport. I had a later flight, but needed to take the early transfer. Early afternoon, I took Wizz Airlines from Naples to Tirana, Albania. It starting pouring rain just as we were boarding our flight. I arrived in Tirana, Albania mid-afternoon and found a bus that took me into the city center. It was very hot in Tirana. After asking a few people about directions and a 15-minute walk, I managed to find my hotel.
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After settling in, I found an exchange bureau where I could change my money to Albanian Leks. Then I found a nice little restaurant where I had a bite to eat and discovered the food and drink is not very expensive here. It took me awhile to adjust to hearing another language. No more Italian. The Albanian language is very diffierent and doesn't relate to any other language. Not everyone speaks English here.

This hotel is quite nice and in a great location, except for the mosque right outside my window. After my long day, I had an early night, but the call to prayer kept me awake at times. My room had a huge shower, but no shower door so the whole bathroom floor gets cleaned while taking a shower. I don't understand the concept.
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Tirana

Sunday, June 2
Today was the start of my next tour, the "Undiscovered Balkans". The Albanian capital is one of the most dynamic of the Western Balkans and surprised me as a first-time traveller here with its lively restaurant, bar, and cafe scene. Since I wasn't meeting up with the group until evening, I had the day to go exploring on my own.
Whilst in Albania, we'll have the opportunity to sample the delicious cuisine, which is a real mix of Turkish, Greek and Italian influences, like byrek - a spinach and feta stuffed filo pie, and in the more rural mountainous areas barbequed lamb and 'earthy' vegetables such as griddled aubergines and mushrooms are particularly popular. Along the coast there will of course be the chance to sample fresh seafood. Albanian red wine is especially good and also local beers, such as Birra Korca.

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By mid-afternoon, I headed back to the hotel and met up with Corinne, a friend from Edmonton, who decided to join me on this tour. I continued exploring while she had a nap after her long flight.

Tirana is not at all what I expected. The architecture is quite unique, a lot of very modern looking buildings.

Early evening, we met up with our Albanian tour leader, Tedi, and our group of 10 people consisting of five Canadians and five Brits. One couple is from Edmonton ... what are the chances! Tedi took us on an orientation walk to the main square and we had a nice dinner together.

Mount Dajti / Tirana

Monday, June 3
This morning, we drove a short distance to the base of the Dajti Express cable car, which is the longest cableway in the Balkans. Our 15-minute journey took us almost to the top of Mount Dajti at around 1,049 metres. From there, we started our hike which was to take us to the summit of Tujani for views over the city below and the surrounding highlands. However, it starting raining and as it was a fairly long, steep hike which would have taken around three to four hours and cover a distance of about five kilometres with a maximum altitude of 1,503 metres, our leader decided to cancel. So we just had a coffee on top of the Dajti Mountain enjoying the view. We took the cable car back down and returned to Tirana.
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We visited Bunk Art 2, the second of two nuclear bunkers in Tirana that has recently been transformed into an interactive artistic space. We wandered through the furnished rooms intended as a shelter for dictator Enver Hoxha and the innermost circle of his government.
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Corinne and I did some more exploring on our own and then enjoyed some wine on her balcony. She was fortunate to face the front of the hotel with the balcony.
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I love the street lights in Tirana!
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The city comes to life in the evening especially in the animated Blloku district. During the communist regime, this area of the city was restricted and only members of the Albanian Politburo (main political party) were permitted to enter and own villas in this upmarket area.

Posted by liztravels 14:08 Archived in Albania Comments (0)

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