Sunday, August 7, 2016

Rio and Beyond: Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, and Aruba

I'm going to put some smaller "A" countries into one post, lest I flood the interwebs with 200 of them. Here you will find information about Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, and Aruba.

Albania is a Mediterranean country and so it is on my list of Mediterranean Countries Still to Visit, which consists of every country that touches the Mediterranean, minus those I've already visited, because the Med is my favorite place on Earth, no matter what side I'm standing on. I will visit them all at some point.

Beyond that, and that it was a communist country in the Soviet era, it is now a member of NATO, and it is a candidate for the EU, I know very little about Albania. I have seen some fabulous pictures, however.

Yes, please.
I am also on a quest to visit as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as I can, and Albania has two of them: Butrint and the historic centers of Gjirokastra and Berat.

I am particularly interested in Butrint, since it is an ancient site with a Temple of Ascleplios, the Greek god considered to be the father of medicine, whose sanctuary I visited in Epidauros, Greece, last autumn. Gjirokastra and Berat date back to the 13th century Ottoman period.

Here are some interesting things I have learned about Albania today:

  • Albanians call their country "Squiperia."
  • Saze is the name of a type of Albanian folk music. You can hear some here.
  • There is no McDonald's in Albania. (Lucky them.)
  • Albanians, like Bulgarians, nod for no and shake for yes.
  • Albania is 60% Muslim, 30% Eastern Orthodox, and 10% Catholic, although much of the country is non-practicing, as Albania was the "world's first atheist state" under the communist dictatorship. Nearly 2000 Christian churches were destroyed, and more than 100 priests were executed.
  • During communist rule, over 700,000 bunkers were built, anticipating a devastating war that never came. (Paranoia is the hallmark of a dictator.)
  • More Albanians live outside Albania than in it.
  • Albania is the largest exporter of cannabis in Europe.

Capital: Tirana
Major cities: Durres, Elbasan
Population: 2.77 million
Athletes in the Olympics: 6
Medals in history: 0
Languages spoken: Albanian, which is a distinct Indo-European language in a branch of its own
Heroes: Skanderbeg (National Hero, fought the Ottomans), Mother Teresa, Jim Belushi. Yes, the comedian. Yes, his father was an Albanian immigrant. No, Albanians don't care about him.
Bad guys: Enver Hoxha (communist dictator), Albanian mafia (major sex slave traffickers)
Persecuted groups: Christians were persecuted under the Ottomans and the communist dictatorship; Kosovo Albanians were (are?) persecuted by the Serbs

Andorra is a tiny country located between Spain and France in the Pyrenees Mountains. It'd be a good stop on a trip to Barcelona and northern Spain, in my opinion. When I was planning my trip to Spain last year, I briefly considered going up there, but ultimately chose to focus on southern Spain that time around. I plan to go to northern Spain at some point in the near future and will probably make Andorra a part of that trip.

Andorra is a strange monarchy headed by two "princes" - the Bishop of Urgell in Spain and the President of France. This is particularly strange when you think about how France elects its president, so in effect, France is electing another country's monarch. I can't imagine how that works, unless the monarchy is ceremonious only. The country is run by the parliament, anyway.

Though not a member of the EU, the euro is its official currency. Before the euro, Andorra used both the French franc and the Spanish peso, so it had no choice but to work out a deal to adopt the euro.

Other interesting tidbits:

  • At 81 years, Andorra has the highest life expectancy in the world.
  • Charlemagne granted Andorra its charter in appreciation for its fight against the Moors.
  • Two-thirds of the population do not have Andorran citizenship and do not have the right to vote.
  • Andorra has no airport but has two airlines. They use a nearby Spanish airport.
  • Skiing is one of its biggest industries.
  • Although it officially declared war on Germany during WWI, Andorra has never fought in a war. It doesn't even have a real army, although everyone who lives there could be called to its defense by law, should it be necessary.

Capital: Andorra la Vella
Major cities: none
Population: 85,000
Athletes in the Olympics: 5
Medals in history: 0
Languages spoken: Catalan (the language of Barcelona), Spanish, Galician, Portuguese, French

Antigua and Barbuda

This tiny Caribbean country consists of two main islands - Antigua and Barbuda - and several small islands. I've never been to any Caribbean country, and if I ever get to Antigua and Barbuda, it will probably be part of an island hopping trip of some sort. Preferably on a boat. I'd probably have to win the lottery to make it happen. But wouldn't it be nice:

So when you refer to people from here, do you have to say he's Antiguan and Barbudan? Do you have to turn both the words into adjectives?

A few things about Antigua and Barbuda:

  • Antigua is Spanish for "ancient" and Barbuda is Spanish for "bearded."
  • The earliest settlements on the islands is thought to be around 3100 BCE.
  • The Arawak and Carib indigenous people colonized much of the Caribbean islands, but the Carib had superior weapons and enslaved and even cannibalized the Arawaks before any European set foot on the islands.
  • Not surprisingly, tourism is the biggest industry.
  • Lots of wealthy Americans own homes here, including Oprah, Armani, Eric Clapton, Larry Flynt, and Silvio Berlusconi.
Capital: St. John's
Major cities: none
Population: 90,000
Athletes in the Olympics: 9
Medals in history: 0
Languages spoken: English, Antiguan Creole
Heroes: Sir Vere Cornwall Bird Sr. (1st prime minister after independence), Sir Vin Richards (cricketer), Melvin Claxton (Pulitzer prize winning journalist)
Bad guys: Sir Vere Cornwall Bird Sr. (1st prime minister, profiteer), the British

Great. Now I have a strong desire to go to the Caribbean.  Look at all those beautiful places.

Aruba is one of the four countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands and one of the last vestiges of Dutch colonialism. All citizens are Dutch citizens.

91% of Arubans are Catholic, while the Dutch are predominantly Protestant. This is because the island was originally colonized by the Spanish. Charles V gave it back to the native Arawaks, but the Dutch occupied it a century later. They lost it for a bit to the British, but the British gave it back to them later. Got all that?

Capital: Oranjestad
Major cities: none
Population: 100,000
Athletes in the Olympics: 7
Medals in history: 0
Languages spoken: Dutch, Papiamento
Heroes: Sidney Ponson, Eugene Kinsale, Calvin Maduro (all baseball players who were knighted)
Bad guys: Beach Boys, Tom Cruise

Well, that's it for the small country A's. Coming up: Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, and Austria, all countries I find interesting (and I've been to two of the six!)

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