7. The Albanians

7. The Albanians

August 2006 – Greece & Albania

Hello, we finally left beautiful Corfu Town and headed north to explore other parts of the island and then it was back to the roughty, toughty backpacker life, travelling to Albania.

Saranda is by the sea directly opposite Corfu, close enough for some brave Albanians to have swum the channel between the two countries looking for a better life. The town seemed to be experiencing a building boom and we momentarily considered the place as somewhere to live. Had we been looking for a long term investment it may have been an option but as a place to live we felt we didn’t have the experience to buy in a still developing market.

We also weren’t sure about Albania and the Albanians at first. The people had a tendency to stare and the food could be hit and miss. Once we got used to these two facts the country and its people started to grow on us.

One young waiter ignored all his other customers to tell us about the country and its customs and how the ‘knives will come out’ if you insult them. He continued for over an hour and a half telling us about vendettas, Skanderbeg, vendettas, the communists, vendettas, the mafia, knives and vendettas. Every now and again, when the eye of his boss fell his way, he’d shoot off to pretend to work, before continuing on his favourite topic.

We visited the ancient Greek city of Butrint before leaving Saranda and the coast for the first time in over three months, travelling through stunning mountain scenery to Gjirokastra. We explored the very steep streets of Gjirokastra, poking around the castle, a former prison of both the communists and the nazis, featuring a downed US military spy plane perched on the ramparts.

Gjirokastra is the birthplace of Enver Hoxha, the paranoid dictator responsible for the mushroom shaped bunkers that litter the countryside. We’d spotted plenty of them between Saranda and Gjirokastra. The engineer responsible for their construction was ordered to test his design by standing inside one while it was shelled by a tank. He emerged shaken but safe and an estimated 700,000 of the bunkers were built across the country.

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