In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Albania watches impassively as bunkers become bunk-beds
Concrete totems to Communist rule made into hostels and cafes or blown up – but should they be kept as reminder of past?
For some, they are an ugly, podlike reminder of Albania’s paranoid past that should be allowed to disappear unmourned. For others, the communist-era concrete bunkers that litter the small Adriatic state are a piece of cultural heritage that should not be lost.
Decades on from the heyday of the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, the domed bunkers are vanishing fast. Once upon a time there were as many as half a million of them, built to protect the isolated communist state from “imperialism and revisionism”. Now most have gone.
But some are determined to save the architectural oddities, with a range of creative solutions for reusing them. In Lezhë, 30 miles north of Tirana, a joint German-Albanian tourism venture is in the process of transforming a bunker into a no-frills hostel. At Tirana Ekspres, a vibrant arts centre near the capital’s dilapidated train station, a stage has been fashioned from three reconditioned bunker heads. Keq Marku Djetroshan, a tattoo artist, has gone one better, transforming one of the myriad bunkers built along the border with Montenegro into a tattoo parlour.
A new book featuring step-by-step guides for converting derelict bunkers into everything from hostels and toilets to cafes and gift shops was feted at the Venice Biennale, where it was recently launched. Elian Stefa, one of the authors of Concrete Mushrooms, estimates the cost of repurposing a triple bunker for campers at just €150 (£120). “The potential is huge, especially for tourism,” he said.
Hawkers banned in Ha Long Bay
Authorities in Vietnam are attempting to clamp down on hawkers in Ha Long Bay, following a spate of incidents in which tourists have been scammed.
The picturesque Unesco World Heritage Site, which is renowned for its 2,000 limestone outcrops, is home to an estimated 650 floating houses, the residents of which make a living by fishing in the bay and selling seafood, snacks and souvenirs to passing tour boats.
However, reports have emerged of travellers being hassled and ripped off by the fisherman.
Earlier this year, a holidaymaker claimed he was forced to pay VND 11.5 million (£340) for a 6kg fish, with hawkers threatening to tie up the tour boat if he refused, while a captain was recently attacked by two vendors when he tried to prevent them from boarding his boat to sell to tourists.
These, and other incidents, have prompted authorities to ban all tour boats from stopping at the floating houses and villages in the bay. A “tourism inspection force” has been established to enforce the ban, and captains that refuse to comply risk having their license revoked.
James Jayasundera, founder of Ampersand Travel, a luxury tour operator that offers itineraries in Vietnam, said the ban would disappoint some visitors, who enjoy photographing the floating villages and examining the local’s catch, but admitted that the situation had got out of hand.
He said: “It’s quite tough on the real floating villages, but many of the people that sell to tourists don’t actually live there – they stay on the mainland and head out in to Ha Long each day. Tour boat captains will often get a cut for agreeing to take tourists along.
Readers’ top travel pet peeves
We asked Canoe.ca and Sun Media readers to tell us their biggest travel pet peeves. You fired back with ultra annoying stories about fellow passengers on airplanes, rude tourists at all-inclusive resorts and big problems when visiting hotels. Here are your top 15 stories:
1. “Overhead storage is for one legal bag above your seat, not your bag, your purse, your laptop, your coat, an extra sweater and the shopping you did at duty free… one bag above YOUR seat…” – Greg G.
2. “My pet peeve when travelling is having to put up with people I would otherwise never associate with. Other people’s brats, drunks, loud mouths, ignorant, opinionated red-necks, dim wits, clingy people who won’t go away. People no longer know how to behave in public they are too self absorbed and oblivious of just what a pain in the a** they are.” – Tim Devlin
3. “People with B.O. or who are drowning in perfume or cologne. Air’s bad enough on planes, let alone being gassed with an unpleasant stench from the person sitting 2 inches from you.” – Kit1972
4. “I hate the fact that you have to get up at 6 a.m. to put your towel on a chair by the pool or beach [at an all-inclusive resort]. At one resort, the Quebecers even put their towels out the night before. Had to laugh when people, going back to their rooms at 2 a.m., tossed all the towels in the pool. Was great listening to the fights in the morning. Also don’t like getting up early and lining up to book dinner… guess there’s a theme, I don’t like getting up early.” – rightallthetime62
5. “Not being able to pick my hotel room when reserving online. I can pick my seat on the plane and in theatres (e.g., Shaw, Stratford) and concert halls. But not hotel rooms.” – Al_Dente
Children banished to back of the plane on AirAsia flights
The long-haul arm of budget carrier AirAsia has become the latest airline to ban babies from parts of its planes.
Under its new booking system, it will ban young children from sitting in the first seven rows of its economy-class section to create a “quiet zone”.
According to the airline’s website, the first seven rows on AirAsia X flights will be restricted to passengers 12 and above from February next year.
The cost of choosing a seat in the quiet zone will be the same as the 35 ringgit ($11.35) charged for picking specific seats or the 110 ringgit it costs to select a seat with extra legroom.
“We know that sometimes all you need is some peace and quiet for a more pleasant journey with us,” the low-cost giant said on its website.
Rival Malaysia Airlines sparked debate over its decision in June last year to bar infants from first class cabins in its Airbus A380 superjumbos, which it began taking delivery of this year.
The full-service flag carrier said the move would result in some loss of revenue but it had received many complaints from well-heeled passengers about noisy infants.