A Travellerspoint blog

LITTLE ALBANIA ... IN TOTTENHAM

La Barca in London's Tottenham is a focus for Albanians

La Barca

La Barca

I chanced upon this place whilst exploring Tottenham High Road. I was looking for somewhere to have a coffee when I noticed 'La Barca', and in particular I noticed that the sign above the café included the Albanian word 'dashuria', which means 'love'.

La Barca main seating area

La Barca main seating area

I entered a large dining area which looked like many small town or village cafés that I had visited in Albania last year. All of the other customers were men, many of them wearing black leather jackets.

No one seemed to be serving, so I walked up to the bar, and there I noticed a shield bearing Albania's double-headed eagle. Eventually, I managed to attract the attention of a young woman in the kitchen. I asked her if she was Albanian, and she said she was from northern Albania.

La Barca the double-headed eagle

La Barca the double-headed eagle

I drank my competently made coffee next to a table where a couple of men were discussing matters in Turkish.

When I had finished, I went upstairs to the gallery that overlooks the restaurant. This was fitted out with 'divan' like seating, and there were kilim rugs attached to the walls. Amongst these there was a picture of 'Nene Tereza' (Mother Teresa) and another of the town of Krujë, where the Albanian hero Skanderbeg had his headquarters while he resisted the invading Ottoman Turks in the 15th century.

I did not eat anything at La Barca, but will do so on my next visit there. According to an article (in Albanian; see: https://www.shqiperia.com/Raki-Skrapari--balle-kazani-tek-La-Barca.3225/ ), La Barca used to be a failing Greek restaurant until its present Albanian owner, Mr. Erjan Cela, took it over and improved it.

Using Google to translate from Albanian, here, in picturesque English, is a little more about the restaurant:

"
The owner of this restaurant, Mr. Erjan Cela, has transformed this restaurant from a low-profile Greek restaurant into a country that is packed from breakfast to late dinner. This is the product of his four-year work at this restaurant. Make yourself, though it is a construction engineer's profession, it seems to have a passion for his new profession. The back of the restaurant is slightly raised and is decorated and furnished with great taste. The seats are the most versatile version of minders and are dressed in handcrafted and brought upholstery from Albania. The candlesticks, paintings and ornaments with very traditional features on the walls and corners of this annex seem to have brought shreds from the warmth of an old Albanian house. The Albanian cuisine of this restaurant, Maria, has a long experience as a cook in various Greek and Albanian restaurants. She says Erjon's "mania" to buy the freshest and highest quality cheeses in the London market has made everything she is cooking to enjoy better than ever before in her career As cooks in other restaurants."

La Barca upstairs gallery

La Barca upstairs gallery

The menus on the table give no inkling of what this place is capable of producing. They contain the usual 'café' fare, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, the article in Albanian reveals (picturesquely translated by Google):

"...Elona, ​​Erjan's wife says that her whole family consumes the same foods that are cooked there. "And to say the right, I'm a bit of a mess when it comes to the meals that are consumed in my family," she says. The "La Barca" specialty seems to be the taverns, as in the newly designed menu are some of them, ranging from traditional yogurt and lamb mushrooms to vegetable tiles, for example. With eggplants, stuffed peppers, and so on. A special place in the Albanian menu are stuffed pies such as spinach, pickles and curds, which are available at any time and are prepared daily by the chef Maria. However, the special feature of 'La Barca' is undoubtedly Skrapar's 100% rakia, made entirely in artisanal conditions by Erjan's father, who still resides in Skrapar. The taste and aroma of this brandy fully justify its fame. Erjani tells me he has already established a regular Rakia transport system from Albania that brings a contingent of at least 20 liters per month. La Barka already has a very good reputation and reputation in the Albanian community of this northern London neighborhood..."

La Barca: Mother Teresa and Krujë

La Barca: Mother Teresa and Krujë

Next time I visit La Barca, I will try to order Albanian food... I can't wait.

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 05:39 Archived in Albania Tagged london balkan cafe albanian tottenham Comments (1)

IN THE DEEP MID-WINTER

Review of a fascinating book about Albania in WW"

Albanian Escape
by Agnes Jensen Mangerich, Evelyn M. Monahan, Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee

ALBANIANESC.jpg

On the 8th of November 1943, a US military 'plane carrying 13 nurses went off-course and crash landed in Nazi-occupied central Albania. Weather conditions were terrible. The country was infested with Nazi German soldiers, who were being opposed mainly by Communist partisans. The latter were not only fighting the Germans, but were also conducting a civil war against rival Albanian miltarised groups, notably the Balli Kombëtare, who, it has been said, might well have been aiding the Germans. The groups of Albanians, who were opposing the Germans, were being assisted by members of the British SOE and the US OSS.

Agnes Jensen ('Jens'), the principal author of this book, was one of the 13 nurses who were stranded behind enemy lines in Albania. She kept a diary whilst in Albania, and it is extracts from this alongside reports written by one of the SOE agents and one of the OSS agents that form the narrative of this excellent book.

Jens describes the day by day (mostly) trials and (few) tribulations of the nurses' several week's long stay in the mountainous heart of Albania. Accompanied by Albanian partisans and British SOE agents they criss-crossed central Albania in the most apalling wintry conditions , enduring physical hardships and multiple medical problems. Their aim was to keep out of sight of the Germans whilst trying to make their way to the sea coast. On their way, they experienced the generous, self-sacrificing, hospitality of Albanian country folk, who were having enough trouble keeping themselves alive.

This book is a real 'page-turner'. Jens and her co-authors not only describe the unbelievable discomforts that the nurses had to suffer, but present their story in such a way that you cannot put down this book, so great is the suspense.

This tale of adventure had to wait for many decades before it could be told. One reason was to try to protect those in Albania, who had helped them, from getting into trouble with Enver Hoxha's Stalinist dictatorship, during which contacts between Albanians and foreigners was regarded with great suspicion by the ruling regime.

I strongly reccommend this book because of the immediacy of its account and, also, because of what it reveals about conditions in occupied Albania during WW2. Just as ordinary Albanians risked their lives to protect Jews who had escaped to Albania in order to flee from the Nazis, so also did these brave people to protect the American nurses and the aircrew. This book is a fine illustration of the traditional Albanian high regard for the sanctity and protection of visitors to their land.

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 10:29 Archived in Albania Comments (1)

TAXI IN TIRANA 1984 (ILLUSTRATED VERSION)

Hiring a taxi in Enver Hoxha's Stalinist Albania was not so simple...

EXCERPT FROM "ALBANIA ON MY MIND" by ADAM YAMEY.
Available from Amazon and Bookdepository.com

TIRANA 1984: Skanderbeg Square with House of Culture and mosque

TIRANA 1984: Skanderbeg Square with House of Culture and mosque

After we had eaten lunch at the hotel, a group of us went into the square outside it. We saw a long line of taxis, which were waiting vacantly by a booking booth. We wondered how often these were hired and by whom; there was not a soul in sight taking the slightest interest in them. One of us walked up to the booth and asked the man sitting inside whether we could hire a taxi to take us up to Mount Dajti, some way outside Tirana. Just when it seemed that we had succeeded in hiring a cab, another person inside the booth lifted a telephone receiver, listened for a moment, and then whispered something to the man with whom we had just negotiated. He beckoned to us, and pointed at the hotel. Somehow, he made it clear to us that we needed to book the taxi not from him, but from the hotel reception desk.

TIRANA 1984: Skanderbeg Square was usually without traffic

TIRANA 1984: Skanderbeg Square was usually without traffic

TIRANA 2016: no shortage of traffic!

TIRANA 2016: no shortage of traffic!

We trooped back into the hotel’s lobby and made a beeline for the reception desk. Two suited men, sitting on a sofa nearby, looked at us over the tops of their newspapers. As we reached the desk, I noticed that the doors of one of the hotel’s two lifts were opening. Our Eduart hurried through them and towards the receptionist, who was beginning to attend to us.
“What do you need?” Eduart asked us, out of breath.
“We want to hire a taxi.”
“Why?”
“We want to visit Mount Dajti?”
“Why should you do that?”
“We need some fresh country air. We’ve been in the city for too long.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Eduart protested. “You have already spent many days in the countryside.”
“But, that’s what we want, and we believe that the views from Mount Dajti are magnificent.”
“You cannot go.”
“Why ever not?” we asked.
“There is a lot of traffic. The roads are crowded.” We looked at Eduart disbelievingly. Traffic congestion was certainly not a problem in Albania in 1984.

TIRANA 1984 Red traffic signal but no traffic!

TIRANA 1984 Red traffic signal but no traffic!

“You know that there’s a big national cycle race on at the moment.”
“That was over long ago,” one of us objected. “We saw the posters announcing it along the roads.”
“You can visit Mother Albania, but no further.”
We had already visited the Mother Albania monument, which was located in the outskirts of the town. However, as we were determined to not to give in to our obstreperous guide, we agreed to his compromise.
“Alright,” we said.
Then, Eduart said menacingly:
“You may take the taxi to Mother Albania, but remember that if anything happens to you, we cannot take any responsibility for your safety. You will not be protected by your group visa.” “We’ll risk it,” one of us said.
I did not like the threatening sound of Eduart’s voice, but followed the rest of our small group back to the taxi rank. When we arrived there no more that ten minutes after we had left it, we found that all of the taxis had disappeared, and also there was an extremely long line of people waiting in a queue outside the booth. Accepting defeat, we made our way on foot to a park, which contained Tirana’s zoological gardens. The only animals that I remember seeing were a few wolves. They were sitting in a cage, and were looking as dejected as we felt after our recent encounter with Eduart.

TIRANA 1984: Park with zoo

TIRANA 1984: Park with zoo

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 06:54 Archived in Albania Tagged taxi tirana albania shqiperia Comments (2)

KALASHNIKOVS WERE MADE HERE

Poliçan - just south of Berat

POLICAN: Location map including Berat and Corovoda

POLICAN: Location map including Berat and Corovoda

The town of Poliçan was a pleasant surprise. We were expecting to find a drab place because of its industrial heritage. Far from it: Poliçan was a cheerful, vibrant place. We parked at the top end of the sloping triangular piazza named after the large mountain (Tomorr: 2,416 metres), which dominates the area around Berat and Poliçan.

Polican: town square

Polican: town square

The piazza, is a right-angled triangle in plan. Its two shorter sides were lined with well-restored, freshly painted Communist-era buildings with shops and cafés. We joined the crowds drinking under colourful umbrellas outside cafés on the Rruga Miqesia, which runs off the piazza towards the town’s cultural centre and Bashkia (both built in the Communist period).

Polican: Town Hall and Cultural Centre

Polican: Town Hall and Cultural Centre

It was about 11 am on a working day. There seemed to be many people with sufficient time for sitting leisurely in cafés or just strolling up and down the street. A girl, who ran a mobile ‘phone shop (on her own), sat with friends at a table in a café near to the shop, and only left them if a customer entered her showroom. A long out of date poster on a building advertised a meeting in Tirana for adherents of the Bektashi sect.

Polican: a   poster for a Bektashi (sort of Sufi 'sect' of Islam popular in Albania) meeting

Polican: a poster for a Bektashi (sort of Sufi 'sect' of Islam popular in Albania) meeting

Polican: Monument to Riza Cerovë

Polican: Monument to Riza Cerovë

Near the upper end of the triangular piazza, there was a new marble monument commemorating Riza Cerova (1896-1935). He was born just south of Poliçan, and became a leading protagonist in the ‘June Revolution’ of 1924, when supporters of Fan Noli forced Ahmed Zogu to flee from Albania. For a brief time, Noli became Albania’s Prime Minister. However, at the end of 1924, aided by the Yugoslavs and Greeks, Zogu made a counter-coup, and then assumed control the country. Soon after this, he had himself crowned ‘King Zog’. Following Noli’s defeat, Cerova joined the German Communist Party, and later returned to Albania where he led anti-Zogist fighters. He died during an encounter with Zog’s forces.

Polican: part of old armament factory

Polican: part of old armament factory

Poliçan was important during the Communist period. It was home to an enormous arms and ammunition factory, the KM Poliçan, which was opened in 1962. This produced its own versions (the ASH-72 and ASH-82 series) of the Kalashnikov gun as well as other munitions. The factory lies amidst cultivated terraced fields on the slopes of a natural amphitheatre away from, and beneath, the southern edge of the town. Workers used to approach the factory from the town by a long staircase.

Polican: part of old armament factory

Polican: part of old armament factory

We counted at least twenty-five industrial buildings in the complex, many of them with broken or missing windows. None of the numerous rusting ventilators on these edifices were emitting smoke, and there were no signs of life.

The slopes surrounding the factory below were dotted with concrete and metal entrances to underground stores and tunnels. During the unrest of 1997, KM Poliçan was temporarily taken over by criminal gangs while the city was in ‘rebel’ hands. The factory is still used, but mainly to de-activate out-of-date Albanian weaponry. It was difficult to imagine that the peaceful scene, which we observed from a track overlooking it, had such an explosive history.

POLICAN 6 Polican: mosque

POLICAN 6 Polican: mosque

This is a brief excerpt from my book "REDISCOVERING ALBANIA" (by Adam Yamey

The book is available on Amazon, lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Kindle.

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 02:50 Archived in Albania Tagged military albania shqiperia warfare poliçan Comments (1)

DEFENDING ALBANIA

Hoxha's congrete domes

This blog entry refers mainly to the hemispherical concrete bunkers found all over Albania.

Durres Beach 1984

Durres Beach 1984

I first visited Albania in 1984. One of the most remarkable things I noticed during that visit was the rash of hemispherical concrete bunkers that covered the landscapes and townscapes like a rash of pimples in some dreadful disease.

They were in the fields, along the beaches, on mountainsides, in streets, and almost anywhere you cared to look. They came in different sizes, but all had horizontal slits through which weapons could be fired by their inmates.

Between Durrës and Tirana in 1984

Between Durrës and Tirana in 1984

The dictator Enver Hoxha, an admirer of Joseph Stalin, who ruled Albania between 1944 and his death in 1985, was petrified lest Albania be overrun and invaded by foreign forces. He did have reason to be concerned. The territory, which is now known as ‘Albania’, has been overrun and invaded by many foreign forces including, to mention a few of them, the following: Romans, Byzantines, various western European forces in the Middle Ages, the Serbs, the Italians, and the Nazi Germans.

Even after Independence was granted to Albania in 1912, and after WW2, various powers have had their eyes on Albania. Enver Hoxha did not want to leave Albania vulnerable to invasions. Hence, he ordered the rash of concrete bunkers and other defence structures (such as tunnels and shelters).

The amount of concrete that must have been used to make these structures must be enormous. In my book “Rediscovering Albania” I have written:

“Hoxha was concerned about the risks of invasion. Even though he declared, “When the enemy attacks you, it means you are on the right road”, he wanted to be prepared for when the attack began…
…In “Between Glory and Fall” by Ilir Parangoni”, there is a photograph of one of the metal moulds used to create the bowl-like cap of these reinforced concrete structures. Parangoni wrote that between 400,000 and 600,000 of these bunkers were constructed during Hoxha’s ‘reign’. Given that the area of Albania is 27,748 square kilometres, and using the lower figure, the density of bunkers was at least 14.4 bunkers per square kilometre. And, as they were not randomly placed, it means that in certain places there were concentrated clusters of these concrete ‘pimples’. Today, many bunkers have been at least partially demolished because not only do they get in the way, but also there is a premium on the steel reinforcement metal that can be salvaged from them…

Near Bilisht: segmented shell bunker, damaged. 2016

Near Bilisht: segmented shell bunker, damaged. 2016

… The hemispherical bunkers were designed to resist very heavy artillery. When they were being tested, some say that live animals were put inside them while the bunkers were being blasted close-range by tanks. Someone suggested that Enver Hoxha had put the bunkers’ designer inside a prototype and then fired heavy explosive shells at it. The designer emerged unscathed from his invention. This might be apocryphal as is the now largely discredited belief that the builders of Roman bridges were compelled to sleep under their unfinished constructions.”

During my 1984 tour of Albania, we saw bunkers that were clearly in use – they were camouflaged an occasionally covered with netting. Some of the smaller ones were empty, but I suppose were in usable condition. During the visit to some tourist attraction in 1984, as I walked past a small bunker one of my fellow tour members, an elderly lady, popped out of a bunker where she had been resting to get out of the hot sun.

Over 30 years later, in 2016, I revisited Albania. We saw many bunkers, but they were not nearly as prevalent and omnipresent as they were in ’84. Most, if not all, of the bunkers we saw last year were in poor condition. Some were submerging into the surrounding terrain or overgrown with vegetation. Others were falling to bits or had been partially demolished. Many of them were covered with graffiti.

Near Drilon, bunker with graffiti. 2016

Near Drilon, bunker with graffiti. 2016

One bunker in Tirana is in good condition. To quote from my book, it was located at:
“… the edge of the park next to the Boulevard, there stands a large governmental building, the Zyrat e Parlamentit (Parliament Office). It was built by the Italians before WW2. The Post-Block Memorial stands close by. This includes three reminders of dictatorship: a short section of the Berlin wall (donated by the City of Berlin); a well-restored hemispherical concrete bunker; and four concrete mine props. The bunker was that which guarded the main entrance to the Bllok. The props were part of the mining complex at Spac, a concentration camp where many of Hoxha’s opponents were forced to do unpaid hard labour. The Berlin Wall fragment signified enforced separation from the outside world.”

Post-Blok Memorial in  Tirana 2016

Post-Blok Memorial in Tirana 2016

Another bunker in Tirana had only just been built when we arrived in May 2016. Located close to the National Theatre, this is a life-size replica of one of the smaller types of hemispherical bunkers. To quote from my book again:
“Opposite the ‘Generali’ building, we spotted a hemispherical (dome-shaped) concrete bunker typical of those which Enver Hoxha placed all over the country to counter invading armies. Surrounded by building materials, I thought that it was a left-over from the era of dictatorship, but it was not. It had been built recently by the current socialist government as a memorial to the past. Its presence annoyed many of Tirana’s citizens, who preferred not to be reminded of Albania’s grim history. It has been a target for vandals.”

Tirana Newly-built  bunker. 2016

Tirana Newly-built bunker. 2016

Whereas in 1984 you would have had to have been completely blind not to have noticed the bunkers, today you need to be on the lookout for them. Most of them serve little purpose, and just get in the way. Some at the seaside have been modified, and are now used as unusual beach huts. One we saw was on land owned by some friends near Elbasan. They have tidied it up, and use it as a cool summer house during the hotter parts of the year.

Llogara Pass bunker on a mountainside. 2016

Llogara Pass bunker on a mountainside. 2016

Near Erseke: bunker entrance 2016

Near Erseke: bunker entrance 2016

Bilisht:  bunker in a town 2016

Bilisht: bunker in a town 2016

What puzzles me is whether these bunkers would have been useful in deterring invaders had Albania been attacked. Would they have been as useless as the Maginot Line proved to be in France when the Nazis attacked? Or, would they have made troop progress difficult through the already challenging terrain of Albania?

Near Drilon on Lake Ohrid. 2016

Near Drilon on Lake Ohrid. 2016

Near Lin, overlooking former Yugoslavia. 2016

Near Lin, overlooking former Yugoslavia. 2016

In the case of a nuclear attack, they would have served little purpose unlike some of the deep underground strongholds such as I saw near Appolonia, at Porto Palermo, and in Gjirokastër.

Near Elbasan: a 'submerging' bunker. 2016

Near Elbasan: a 'submerging' bunker. 2016

Near Koplik: a painted bunker. 2016

Near Koplik: a painted bunker. 2016

Luckily for Albania, nobody tried to invade it after WW2, and the bunkers were never put to the test.

Near Fier:  painted bunker 2016

Near Fier: painted bunker 2016

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 09:22 Archived in Albania Tagged war albania cold bunkers enver hoxha Comments (0)

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