Postcards from Albania

Postcards from Albania

When in Greece go to Albania

It’s only three miles from Corfu at its closest point so it would be rude not to. We sailed the hydrofoil from Corfu Town and here we are sipping a cappuccino at a smart restaurant in Sarandë, a port and resort on the Albanian Riviera – yes, they’ve got a riviera. We’re on a coach trip with a herd of Saga louts – Brits and Germans mainly. We had neither the wit nor the inclination to organise the tour independently. Albanian’s call their country Republika e Shqipërisë. No, I can’t pronounce it either so let’s just stick with Albania.

Sarande

The Trojan Connection

Our first excursion is to the ancient city of Butrint – Roman Buthrotum back in the day and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After years in Turkey, I tend to be a bit blasé about old cities – Turkey’s got ‘em by the quarry-load. But I have to admit the site is pretty impressive with its Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman remains. And the setting on the edge of a lagoon is magical. According to Greek mythology, the city was founded by exiles from Troy. A fanciful tale? Maybe not.

We’ve meandered through a mozzie-infested thicket and over long-buried streets to various ruins in various stages of ruination, including a Byzantine basilica – reputedly the largest in the world after Hagia Sophia in old Constantinople. While imposing, I didn’t think it was that big but what do I know?

Butrint

As we rambled, I Googled ‘Butrint’ and happened across the UK Butrint Foundation. Guess where it’s based? Yep, Norwich. Small world.

Pushy Fraulein

We’re back in Sarandë for lunch. Many of our fellow passengers would push their firstborn under a bus to get to the buffet first. It’s like feeding time at the zoo. I had to neck an Albanian beer to get over the shock of an ancient Teuton with fat ankles, bum bag and curly perm elbowing me out of the way to get her grubby hands on the köfte.

Eye Spy

Our afternoon excursion sped us through the Butrint National Park to the Blue Eye, a spring that bubbles forth from a deep pool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen waters so clear or iridescent. The images here are for real – no filters required.

Ooh, Aah, Kosovar

We have an hour or so to kill before our hydrofoil back to Corfu Town. Liam’s sniffed out a swish harbourside bar, with prices to match. I’m sipping Kosovar wine. I didn’t know they made wine in Kosovo. Sarandë is a handsome town – more modern than I was expecting but then I don’t really know what I was expecting. Actually, I’ve never visited an ex-‘Communist’ state before. I’ve been to yer actual Commie country – when I took the train 1,500 or so miles from London to Moscow during Brezhnev’s reign. And then there was Romania when Ceaușescu was on the throne. Both experiences were broadening but those eras are long gone. Albania is beautiful but it’s developing fast. There are mouths to feed and aspirations to fulfil. I just hope they don’t lose too much in the mad rush to be just like everyone else.

Here Endeth the Lesson

I’m guessing not many people know much about Albania. I certainly didn’t. But I know a little more now, courtesy of our guide, a splendid young man who speaks great English, and great German too by the sound of it. Throughout the day, he’s been giving us a potted history in bite-size episodes. He even mentioned the German occupation during the Second World War, something  I thought he might have skipped to avoid offence. It was done in such a matter-of-fact way, I’m sure no one was offended. Our young guide is looking to the future, not dwelling on the past. I’m rather taken with him (not in that way – get your minds out of the gutter). He ended the lesson by saying simply,

Don’t judge Albania by what you’ve heard. Judge Albania by what you see – good and bad.

He got a round of applause – and a tip.

Coming soon – Postcards from Corfu Town.

Laundry line

 

Suck It and See

Suck It and See

MosquitoBeing four floors up a converted Victorian warehouse means, with the exception of the occasional determined housefly or misguided bee, we’re rarely troubled by high-flying bugs. But the other day a lone mosquito came into land just inches from my line of sight. We eyed each other up for while to see who would blink first. The feeble little Brit-bug had no idea who he was dealing with. During our Turkish days, squadrons of stealthy mozzies dive-bombed dinner parties and bled us dry during our sleep. But gradually over four years, our leathery old hides developed welt-resisting immunity. The ugly sucker staring back at me was no match for its voracious Aegean cousins. So I extended my arm and said,

Go on then, suck it and see.

Now bug off.

Still Waters Run Deep

Still Waters Run Deep

Norwich’s river is called the Wensum. The name derives from the Old English adjective wandsum or wendsum, meaning ‘winding’. It’s aptly titled. The river caresses like a feather boa, arching around the town and providing ample opportunities for boozy afternoons in riverside inns when the weather’s right. So far, the weather’s been right for much of the time. The Wensum is a lazy river with a slow flow. Apparently, this is caused by a large number of redundant upstream water mills. Plans are afoot to modify the mills to enable the river to behave more naturally. In the meantime, the idle waters are a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes. We’re well acquainted with the sipping beasts of Anatolia. After four itchy years, our tough old hides eventually developed a natural immunity to their veracious appetites. Their slower, more timid English cousins don’t stand a bug in hell’s chance with these old pros. Top up, anyone?

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Mosquito Massacre

We may be suffering from an advanced case of heat exhaustion but at least the much anticipated mozzie threat, like Saddam’s WMD, has been wildly exaggerated. When we lived in suburban Yalıkavak Liam suffered unrelenting assaults from the most ubiquitous of warm weather pests. There’s a definite benefit to living along one of Old Bodrum Town’s busy thoroughfares. The weekly bug-busting van that tours the streets at night drapes the entire house in mustard gas and nips the nasty nibblers in the bud. It probably exterminates all insect life except cockroaches which are indestructible and the true heirs to a post-apocalyptic world.

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Bursting into Life

The mould season is drying out. Spring is in the air and there is a spring in our step. The warming rays have stirred us from the benign boredom of our winter hibernation. Flowers are bursting into life, shorts are being aired and flip-flops dusted down. Alas, the mozzie season approaches alongside. Relentless and voracious, Turkish mozzies just love to feast on poor Liam. Dive bombing like kamikaze pilots they show him no mercy. At times he resembles a medieval pox victim. We’ve purchased several kegs of napalm and rinsed out the net as a precaution. Thank God that there is no malaria in our corner of the World.

Vorsprung Durch Technik

We took breakfast at the hotel, a predictable and unadventurous spread with cereal that looked and tasted like ‘Go Cat’. The only other guests were a troupe of Teutonic trekkers dressed in sturdy sensible shoes and beige pack-a-macs preparing for the day’s hike. I watched in silent awe as lunches were deftly packed into tuppaware with all the efficiency of a BMW production line. Vorsprung Durch Technik.

The Birds

Our final jaunt was to Miletos, located in an altogether more agreeable stretch of terrain. We meandered through the Menderes delta passing through cotton fields and jobbing agro-köys arriving at the remains in time for a late lunch. Regrettably, Liam and I were rather ruined-out, so we took tea in a rickety café to admire the imposing amphitheatre from afar leaving the muscle boys to scramble alone. Their stay was prematurely curtailed by a scourge of ravenous mosquitos. They took fright from the site frantically flailing their arms around like Tippi Hedren in ‘The Birds’.