Tirana main roundabout

15 JUL

MILAN-TIRANA-ELBASAN-POGRADEC-KORCE

Once in Milan Rohan and I looked for a café to chill whilst waiting for connecting Tirana flight. I shouted the beer I promised Rohan. It wasn’t long before we started talking to the natives – a lovely lady (ie. a drop dead gorgeous woman) who worked for an Italian airline. It was a fun and light conversation about our homelands. Her work colleague joined us as we continued to talk, he seemed gay in his presentation, a nice bloke. The coffee wasn’t really anything better than the quality we enjoy in Australia.

Once on the plane to Tirana things started to seem a little more, well, Albanian. Rohan and I were seated next to a family of like 10 people. Directly next to us was an infant (in her fathers arms) that would not stop crying from the get go. The gods must of looked kindly upon me as the stewardess asked if she could move me to another seat as there was a double booking in that row. Sadly I had to leave Rohan there whilst I went back 10 rows plus to a much quieter spot. I felt sorry for Rohan, he managed well considering the noise.

After a smooth fast encounter with immigration at Tirana airport, we were warmly greeted by my cousins Halim and Asim. It was easy to recognize Halim from his Facebook profile image.

Waiting to greet Rohan was Alket (who prefers to be called Aleks), his sister Migena, father Bashkim (Rohan’s 1st, my 3rd cousin), an old family friend named Spartak and another girl (Migena’s friend) whose name escapes me. Waiting to greet me warmly was my 2nd cousin Asim and Halim.

After a confusing and failed attempt to co-ordinate the two different greeting parties to meet for coffee nearby we departed in the Range Rover – only to find out whilst on-route that my welcome party weren’t coming to meet us.

Went made a b-line straight for the Medusa Caffe for coffee. Spartak owned the land the café sat on – I think he may of owned the café also, cant be sure. Everyone was warm, inviting and hospitable, we wanted for nothing but sleep really. Spartak was quite the character, you will meet him several more times within this journal. Lets just start by saying he was (apparently) the ex Minister for Industry during the Communist reign!

After refreshments we headed back for the car, browsing some of the Italian architecture in the immediate vicinity. We drove south east toward Elbasan. Tirana was surrounded to the west by spectacular Dajti mountains that overlook the Adriatic Sea and which graced our view as the plane come into land. The roads were noticeably in need of repair. Pot holes and unfinished roadworks periodically dotted the roads. Some interesting little sights to see en-route.

We eventually made it to Elbasan some 2 hrs later. It hosted some of the oldest Roman (Byzantine) ruins in Albania, called the Bazilika, built around the 5th 6th centuries.

We ventured behind the old Ottoman fort wall where narrow (original) cobble stone roads directed us through the hidden city of Elbasan.

Outside of the city of Berat, Elbasan hosted the oldest Gami (Mosque) in Albania – built c1442.

One theory claims that Albania derived its name from Elbasan just after independence in 1912.

Eventually we made our way to a cafe over looking the ancient ruins. I tried the (Italian inspired trifle like) dessert called Zub for the first time; here began a most beautiful relationship in Albania!

After the delicious encounter we drove on through the steep terrain toward Pogradec.

We encountered these concrete military bunkers everywhere. 200 thousand of them built in the 1960-70’s I believe. They were the remnants of a bygone Orwellian era of top down induced fear!

Leaving Elbasan behind we notice another common site in Albania. Unfinished buildings, everywhere! Some already occupied by the families that are building them. Either finished bit by bit as funds come in; or they sit dormant, monumental concrete testaments to the effects of the Pyramid Ponzi scheme that completely decimated the Albania economy during the mid to late 1990’s.

It was getting dark by the time we reached Pogradec, where we stopped at an outdoor lake side restaurant for dinner. We ate a local fish, that lives only in Lake Ohrid, called Coran (Koran), or Queens Fish – named after Queen Elizabeth who has been known to have her (tax payed for) military pilots fly in by helicopter to pick up a fresh selection of fish to take to Balmoral Castle for a casual BBQ on a Sundy arvo. Nice!

It was nightfall by by the time our meal arrive. It was still balmy. We wore T-shirts. Lake Ohrid was mysteriously setting under the deep blue mist that began to form over the lake, rendering the Macedonian horizon and border line invisible, except for the faint luminous glows of the Ohrid beach side hotels dotted along the beaches.

We got into Korçë by around 11pm. Dead tired. I showered went straight to slept within seconds of my head hitting the pillow. In the dying moments of mental twilight I recall thinking how Albania is like the wild wild west, a rogue populace, poverty prevailing, determination deep, BBQ corn stalls, village life clashing with the remnants of the Republic Capitalization, fading Feudalism turned Communism. Albania – a place of ideological tension, a new consciousness awaits.