Day 2 – Kruja and Shkoder

21 Sep

Rising after a refreshing sleep I headed for breakfast with some trepidation. Eggs and sausages were popular, toast and some thing that had a picture of a rose on the outside – smelt of nothing, tasted of nothing. As useful as celery. Honey came to my aid. As did the many other sweet things on offer.

We entrusted our bags to the care of the hotel staff and the group wandered through the old bazaar and back to the castle of Kruja.

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Old Bazaar of Kruja

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Handmade wood for sale

Endrit gave us some background information on Albania. 20% are Catholic, living mostly in the north. 10% are Orthodox, living mostly in the south. 70% are Muslim. This is despite the fact that in 1967 the country was proclaimed athiest and religions were banned until 1991 when the communist regime collapsed. The above figures include aethiests however as people still identify with the religion of their parents. Endrit wasn’t going be drawn on how many were actually practising.
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We then visited a building (not a mosque) that was used by a liberal sect of Islam. They were allowed to drink raki and only had to pray twice a day. Considered sacrilegious by the rest of Islam. The building contained the graves of three Dervishes (priests) who had looked after it. Two were higher than the third as he had not visited Mecca in his lifetime. The only other difference is that the building had no minaret. During the night, a candle is still lit so that there is always light inside.

I also discovered that they consider football as their national sport. Although even I had never heard of them. There was a stadium in the town. Our guide also mentioned weightlifting as another popular sport.

Walking back through the friendly shopkeepers I succumbed to some postcard buying. A friendly word in Albanian provoked a huge smile from him. However he was unable to supply stamps and gave vague directions to the post office instead.
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It’s not a big place – one street – but I did eventually find a yellow post box hidden away and followed some steps down into what could have been someone’s house.

The were lots of people split between two queues on either side and I decided to join the shorter one.

After being elbowed out of the way by at least 3 old people, I realised that I had joined the queue for veterans, pensioners and disabled people to draw money. I glanced across and discovered another booth marked “postare” – currently unmanned.

Despite starting a queue of one, I still managed to get queue jumped by a couple picking up a letter. Eventually I was sold almost an entire sheet of stamps. To the (un)lucky recipients – expect few words, as they need 3 each.

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Death notices

Changed some more money, just to be safe and had time to look at the local noticeboard. Turned out it was the death notices. We thankfully missed the 11am funeral. Headed back to the bus for our departure, hoping that the bags had also joined us.

We passed through a very small town that had been visited by George W Bush. He stayed for a coffee in one of the cafes (now named after him). The chair he sat on is roped off as a visitor attraction (?). They even erected a statue in the main square to him.

We ended up in Shkoder for lunch by the banks of a very nice river with jumping fish and and a fisherman trying his luck. The restaurant looked brand new – like nearly everything else in Albania.
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With a huge menu to choose from I eventually settled on lemon egg soup and an escallop with wine and lemon. My newly developed skill of asking for ice in Albanian was used although the weather is very pleasant with a nice breeze mostly keeping the flies away.
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We then headed up a steep hill to Castle Rozafa – last used by the Ottomans and before that Skanderbeg, but built a long time before. The (short version of the) legend goes that there is a woman in the walls. She cries tears that looks remarkably like lime from the limestone walls. But that’s just me. It’s known as the accursed castle. Great views over the lake and city and the junction of some important rivers.
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As a side note, I’m beginning to think that Mother Theresa was Albanian. Just an inkling.

Back on the bus Fati, our driver, negotiated the hairpin bends down again to take us to our hotel. Another 4 stars. This is getting repetative.

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The view from the fourth floor hotel room was straight into the speaker of the neighbouring mosque. Hopeful that they have a curfew. Unlikely though.

Went for a bit of a wander and discovered the non touristy side to the city. Lots of men in groups of four playing a game for money in the local parks – possibly dominoes. Went a bit further than planned, but made it back to the group meeting on time.
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Endrit explained how Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, Macedonia to Albanian parents, at a time (1910) when the Ottoman empire covered both countries. She always claimed to be Albanian. Our Macedonian guide will likely disagree.

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Lamb

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Albanian folk musicians

We had a free evening and were directed to the first suggested restaurant – built in 1694 and renovated in 2004. It was”only” 50m from the hotel, but felt more like 250m. We did eventually find it and were glad that we did. Six of us enjoyed a charcoal fire cooking the most amazing traditional Albanian meat and array of other dishes, whilst being entertained by some Albanian folk songs. We tried the local wine and also the raki – available in various flavours. All in, 3 courses and at least 4 drinks came to less than £12 each. Wow.

After a leisurely walk back, Steve persuaded me to join him for another drink or two. We hit the town, but the town was closing up. We managed a beer and a jack and coke, but by the time we had finished, the street was empty and everyone had gone home.

Ah well. A long bus ride tomorrow to recover.

I should probably mention the group at this point. 2 solo females. 3 couples. 7 solo males to make 15 in total. All seasoned travellers, not necessarily with Explore.

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