Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Wed 20 Jul 2016. Ohrid (Macedonia) to Tirana and Shkoder (Albania)

Wed 20 Jul 2016. Ohrid (Macedonia) to Tirana and Shkoder (Albania)
Breakfasted, showered in our vehicle (knew the campgrounds little hot water system wasn't up to the number of people - they were so full last night that one motor home had driven through grassed area onto stones beside lake) Creamy coffee was delivered as promised to our camper on a salver as we were packing up, farewelled our young entrepreneurial friend. 
Bye Macedonia
Hi Albania

Off to Albanian border at Qafe Thane. Went to three different windows on Macedonian side, no one would stamp us out. When we said that to last man, he shrugged and said "we wonderful people"! (Hope the lack of an exit stamp doesn't come back to bite us) On to Albanian side, more officious folk manning this post, all wearing side arms! Almost an hour to advance in the queue, alongside a couple of stroppy arrogant men in expensive cars impatient to cross. They started to blow horns at delay - a policeman with a gun soon sorted that out.  When we got to our turn at window, officer moved from computer and pulled out a ledger and laboriously copied by hand data from both passports and green card (after moving aside his newspaper folded open at crossword!) No customs check - welcome to our 13th country this trip. Imposing double eagles back-to-back on crimson flag. No sooner had we rounded a bend than we saw the guy who'd gone through the border ahead of us stop, get out and hand over a duffle bag to two men who were waiting. As we looked at each other with mouths open we spotted two youths well back in the shade part way up the hill - obviously the lookouts/spotters! A heads-up to a country with a bad reputation.

How many gun emplacements does one hill need?

As we moved through and between villages following the stream, saw small groups of people, mostly men standing around everywhere. Heaps of rubbish along road and in river, caught in trees at winter/ high tide. 

Drove through Posta Elbasan, trying to avoid pushy (usually Mercedes) drivers, police at every roundabout with their ticket books open. Police also at every light with baton - when traffic was too congested they overrode the lights. City was absolutely crowded - every single person seemed to be out and about, 'twas the most gridlocked town we could recall. Passed Aqif Pashe Elbasani monument outside the remains of the Elbasan Castle walls. New buildings/ businesses being built, not long open - Albania seems to be faring better than Greece economically. 

Aqif Pashe Elbasani monument

If only the walls of Castle Elbasan could talk...

Posta Elbasan - no parking here....

Saw Petrele Castle on hill with its tower from 6th Century. Passed Tirane East Gate, but parking was too difficult, beggars causing mayhem on road, hawkers selling trinkets weaving between traffic lanes. We gave Martyrs Cemetery and Mother Albania statue a miss.
Petrele Castle

Followed strip north to Shkoder - on map it looked like it had long unpopulated stretches - not so, couldn't find anywhere to pull off for lunch until 2pm, in back corner of extra-large hotel carpark. Would have enjoyed our meat salad and cheese on Swedish crackers if they had tasted less like cardboard! Back into fray, drivers here are dangerous, like the Greeks they overtake on curves, double lines, stop suddenly to have conversation with someone driving in opposite direction, turn or stop without blinkers or slow braking. So nerve wracking - and the worst all seem to drive Mercedes - black ones at that!! Through Lezhe, with Fort Mosque high on hill overlooking town. Followed bridge over Bojana River into Shkoder and turned sharply into Legends Campground at foot of mountain hosting the Rozafa Castle (of Venetian origin). 

Rozafa Castle
Met by enthusiastic Albanian owner Linda and husband who showed us shady bays each with its own 2D shaped fruit tree, back walls painted to look like doilies, tiled showers with plentiful hot water and full length mirrors (!), pedestal toilets, washing machines, internet, for 22. A bit steep but said we'd stay. Showed us through their restaurant with storyboards painted on walls - we decided to come to dinner to hear the myths. They've had the restaurant for many years but campground was new and she was chasing ratings, wanted to hear if better than ones in Macedonia! Linda took us over to map billboards for choice of what to do in town (a good strategy to have you stay another night) - recommended boat trip of Komani Lake and gorge; spoke excellent English she'd studied at school and university. Said in her youth she’d broken her arm during Uni rally protesting change of name to that of communist leader. Said Albania doing much better today as a democracy. Advised us not to drive to Theth, road too windy and narrow for our vehicle (??) 

Noticed we'd gained an hour. Showered before French school kids in buses came back from their excursion. Read and relaxed before walking to dinner at the restaurant. The head waiter took us on a tour of the murals, recounting the legend of the maiden who ended up being walled into the castle.

The legend is about the initiative of three brothers who set about building the castle. They worked all day, but the walls fell at night. They met a clever old man who advised them to sacrifice someone so that the walls would remain standing. The three brothers decided to sacrifice one of their wives - whoever was first to bring lunch next day would be buried in the wall of the castle; they promised not to tell. The two older brothers however confessed to their wives that night; the honest youngest brother said nothing. The next afternoon the brothers saw Rozafa, the wife of the youngest brother carrying the basket of food. When he tearfully explained, she didn't protest, but made a condition:

I plead
When you wall me
Leave my right eye exposed
Leave my right hand exposed
Leave my right foot exposed
for the sake of my newborn son
so that when he starts crying
Let me see him with one eye
Let me caress him with one hand
Let me feed him with one breast
Let me rock his cradle with one foot
May the castle breast be walled
May the castle rise strong
May my son be happy

This was done, and that is why there is a stone in the castle from which, even today, milk flows. The faithfulness of the youngest brother and the life sacrifice of his young wife are of symbolic importance to Albania.

Dinner in the Garden

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