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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A Guilt Trip: Albania – Not as Scary as They Say (Part Two)

This is a guilt trip because I feel very guilty about not having completed the write-up of the Albania trip sooner. Largely this was because Ruth had the photos on her computer and I never got round to asking her to copy them to me. Anyway, here we go....

Albania was, in fact, not scary at all, as a blog commentator has pointed out.

Some preconceived ideas remain, however. Apparently in the 90’s (pedants have suggested that that ought to have been written “ ‘90s “) there was an enormous scam of Mercedes being stolen in Germany and being smuggled to Albania. When we crossed the border, the customs officials spent a lot of time checking out our paperwork to ensure that we weren’t smuggling-in a several years old Opel van/car. We noticed however, that of the first 6 cars we passed in Albania, 5 were 1990s Mercedes. This remained the pattern throughout our stay. After the first (very) few miles of dual carriageway, the road settled down to a winding lesser A-road standard and we turned off onto a many-hairpinned lane over the mountains and down to the sea. Albania has something the other countries on the east side of the Adriatic do not – sand - and the beaches, often in rocky coves, are, at least in the south, backed by mountains.

Of course, by Western European standards, Albania falls a little behind. This is true of the public transport system where passengers for Butrint can have to wait a considerable time before their bus turns up.

Luckily, when we went to Butrint, we drove our own car. How pleased we were that we did. By tradition, Butrint was founded by refugees from Troy but by evidence it has been inhabited by Hellenes, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Turks. Formerly an island, in its heyday it was a busy trading city with theatres markets and temples. We were shown around by a research student. This photo is of a gateway (built specially low to make it harder for invaders to get in) whose lintel is reminiscent of the lion gateway at Mycenae.

The largely unspoilt scenery is a treat. Here is a view from Ksamili at sunset with the coast of Corfu visible on the horizon.

On our drive up through Albania to catch the ferry to Italy from Dűrres we debated as to whether to take the apparently good condition inland main road or the coastal road over the Llogaraja pass which the guidebook describes as being "particularly treacherous". Albanians we asked said that in fact the inland road was worse since it was being dug up for "improvement". The view from the top of the pass (with Corfu in the distant haze) looks like this:-

Ruth normally likes to have coffee late morning. We pulled into a village square where we saw a suitable-looking cafe. When we got out of the car we heard a loud noise, sounding like industrial machinery. To our right was an incredible cafe/restaurant built under, around and above a mountain torrent. Here, to finish our brief notes on Albania, are some pictures:-


I just wanted to record that I enjoyed my last skiing session of the season on 19th. April. .