Shkodra and Albania’s Virtues



Dear Diary

In the most beautiful evening light we drive back to Albania. This time, the border is quickly behind us and we reach the town of Shkodra without any special incidents, whose name in Italian is Scutari and thus the namesake of the nearby lake.

Our accommodation is ridiculously cheap, great location and clean. We enjoy the sunset, the warm light and the change from the heat of the day to the warmth of the evening, first with a glass of wine on our balcony, later in the city center.

To our delight, we will meet up with Rovena in Shkodra the following day, who is making her way from Tirana by bus early in the morning especially for us.



There is a lot going on in the streets of Shkodra. The Bundesliga starts in Germany and Albanians are excited to watch the first game on screens and TVs. As if a soccer World Cup were being broadcast. Uwe persuades Chris and me to sit down at a table in front of a bar where the game is shown on a big screen. And then we get our beer served. From iced glasses – as if it were Jägermeister. Sensational at the temperatures.

Football quickly fades into the background, however, and the iced beer glasses immediately start boiling at what else the city has to offer. The sun goes down and suddenly the streets of the city come alive. Countless of the most attractive women a man can imagine, in the most beautiful clothes, walk up and down the street of bars and restaurants.

It looks like we are at an unofficial fashion show and are sitting in the front row in front of the cat walk. We think that maybe this is the Albanian dating site. But we are surprised, because the Albanian men hardly appreciate the beauties. It’s difficult for us to say whether it’s due to morality or the quality of German football. We are at least thinking about emigrating here. I remember noticing this sudden presence of so many beautiful women on the streets as early as Përmet.

We enjoy the warm evening, with a well-sounding live band playing well-known songs in the background.



The next morning we have breakfast in one of the numerous cafés, drink a few dozen of the wonderful Albanian espressos and let the beautiful pictures of the past evening circle through our heads. The morning also had a lot of nice things to offer.

We meet Rovena and explore some of Shokdra with her. The city’s special sights include the large and impressive Central Mosque and the orthodox Shen Shtefni Church.




We have some concerns for Rovena’s future as we see how enthusiastic she is about our whisky. We pass a whiskey shop and she really wants to go inside. Luckily it’s closed. The high prices of spirits do not harmonize well with the average income of Albanians.

We drive up the hill above the town, where there is again an impressive fortress – of course built by Skanderbeg – to visit. Here we have a wonderful view over the city and the plain beyond to the sea. We meet a couple of Kosovar Albanians who approach us when they can speak German to us. They are happy that we are visiting the country and tell us how enthusiastically they go to the Oktoberfest every year.




We make a detour to a promising lagoon.

But there we only find garbage and industry, so we leave the place quickly.



Together with Rovena we think about where we should spend the last night. Unfortunately we will have to start our journey home tomorrow. We can return to her apartment but we have no longing for Tirana and would rather see something cozier and more authentic of Albania to say goodbye. We decide to go back to Krujë, the town with Skanderbeg’s fortress not far from Tirana, which we liked very much. I score us another ridiculously cheap deal through our booking app, all decadent at the best hotel in town. Of course we invite Rovena too.

On the way we make a detour to the St. Antonio Monastery of Laç, one of the most important pilgrimage sites of the Orthodox Church. Boys and women are running around everywhere, selling candles and rosaries to spontaneous pilgrims.

Rovena would indeed like to pray here and show us the place. Sometimes Rovena is a Bektashi, sometimes she is a Christian. Our Albanian friend seems to be very flexible in her choice of faith.

The church stands on a large square and with a huge cross on top of a mountain. You can see far into the plain to the sea. Many people either come by car or walk up the more difficult path to the church. There is a small basilica with a chancel and numerous places where candles can be placed for various purposes. On the big cross, the black, sooty stones and puddles of wax bear witness to how long people have been praying here



We check into our rooms in Krujë waiting to be made aware of the mistake that will make us realize that for the price we definitely can’t stay in this hotel. But there is no such statement, we move in and wander around the market again. We eat the best Albanian food one last time with a view of the fortress, then we take a bottle of wine with us and find a way to the roof of the still unfinished building through a wooden door in the stairwell that is far too unsecured. A few iron struts stick out on the roof and there are tools and components lying around.

As on many other construction sites in Albania, it does not seem certain when construction will continue. We sit on the edge of the tall building and let our legs dangle a hundred feet above the depths. We toast with the rest of Rovena’s father’s rakya, sip the wine and listen to music from our smartphones as the sun sets and the individual stars appear over the illuminated fortress. In the meantime, the call of the muezzin sounds from the nearby mosque, but only a few people follow it. It is the perfect farewell to this beautiful country.




The next day, Rovena accompanies us to the airport, where she bids us farewell. She waits with us for a long time until we finally have to go to our gate. We return the car and I am asked if everything is ok with the car. “The check engine light is spinning, three out of four tires are gone – here’s the bill for the one we swapped – the doors won’t close and there’s a piece of plastic hanging loosely on the underbody.”

I hand the keys to the stunned man, promptly refunded for the tire, and in my mind the car explodes behind me as I stride towards the terminal with a confident smile.


Epilog

I am called at Tirana airport. The voice is indistinct – as is always the case with announcements in train stations or waiting rooms, you don’t know whether you are being called or a Taliban terrorist. I ask my way through and find my backpack in a small back door, which lies between three serious-looking customs officers like a tied up criminal.

Something strange is in my pocket, could you please see it? I open the backpack and the officers dig to my electric air pump.

What kind of thing is that please?

I demonstrate the function clearly.

Lithium-ion battery inside?

I shrug. This is not conclusive from the designations on the device.

I think all devices have lithium batteries, but I don’t want them to check my smartphone or camera.

As I stand in front of my backpack, the officer asks if I have visited all the countries whose flags are sewn on my backpack.

Of course.

Where is the flag of Albania?

I still have it in my pocket and still have to sew it on.

Which country was the most beautiful?

I say that I cannot answer the question because countries like New Zealand, Morocco or Korea cannot be compared, each country has its own appeal. Just like Albania is a beautiful country that I have enjoyed immensely and will never forget.

The officials are beaming and I am asked which parts of Albania I have seen. I repeat the previous chapters. When I read about Valbona in particular, the officials sit up and sigh.

We can’t even travel to our own country, it’s so expensive” – interjects an official from the background.

Anyway, you should take the time and a cousin’s Mercedes and give it a try. It’s worth it.

Nobody is interested in any batteries anymore, the officials help me to close my backpack again, wish me a good flight and hopefully return soon.

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