Shkoder to Vlore, Albania – Dec 2017

While the weather was really nice today (how it can change so significantly from yesterday, I do not know), the forecast for Shkoder over the next 7 days is terrible. I therefore decided to spend this morning touring the city and revisiting the Rozafa Fortress (so as to get at least one decent photo) and then, in the afternoon, move south to Durres or even beyond where the weather forecast is considerably better.

Shkoder is a place of total contrasts. It is one of very few places in Albania with a track record of resisting communism and it’s not therefore surprising to see it has a cathedral and a number of mosques while the rest of Albania seems to have toed the party line and done away with religious buildings of any kind and; there seem to be considerably fewer of Enver Hoxha’s military bunkers in Shkoder than anywhere else in the country (Hoxha was paranoid about the West invading Albania and instructed that individual pill boxes be constructed for each and every Albanian capable of carrying arms) but; the contrasts don’t stop there. It is a real mix of ancient stone wall buildings alongside distinctive modern buildings such as the Marubi National Museum of Photography or even the city’s Grand Hotel (although, if I am honest, the ugly drab housing blocks one associates with Eastern Europe do predominate). There is clearly much poverty, with so many people standing on the streets all day trying to sell clothes that they have grown out of, and yet all the usual designer brands are on sale in shops.  Donkeys, goats, turkeys and so many stray dogs wander the same streets as are filled with expensive cars (the great majority of private cars on the roads, and almost all the taxis it seems, are Mercedes, Audi or BMW). I’m not altogether comfortable with that. It reminds me of Bangladesh and India.

The view from the walk along a bank of the flooded River Buna and a photo of Democracy Square in Shkoder

I said the weather was good today and that is perhaps reflected in a few of the photos I took both of Shkoder and during my return to the Rozafa Fortress:-

Going back up to the Fortress in altogether nicer weather.There has to be a window shot.

Looking down on Shkoder.

Moving on. I decided to chase the good weather and head for Durres but I think the sat-nav was playing up once again because when I entered Durres it kept directing me towards the ferry terminal and insisting that I take a ferry. After driving several kilometres in circles around Durres and repeatedly ending back at the ferry terminal I gave up on the place, turned the sat-nav off and followed the road signs further south to Vlore. What a journey that was but before I continue, lest there be any doubt, let me state categorically that the roads in Albania are the worst I have come across outside of Africa.

At the time I didn’t understand why the sat-nav should keep directing me towards the ferry terminal but now I think it was perhaps some form of divine intervention. It took me so long to reach Vlore and even then I didn’t have time to find a decent wild camp (I’ve literally just pulled up off the motorway) but, take a look at the quality of the road I had to follow for miles and miles:-

That, believe it or not, is an “A” road and that was one of the better parts where I could take a hand off the wheel to take a photo. I could have done with 4 wheel drive today (or perhaps I should have taken the ferry)

Anyway, I am in or close to Vlore. I’ll see what that is about tomorrow.

Shkoder, Albania (Legjenda) – Dec 2017

I’ve already posted a blog today, about my rather wet escapade up to the Rozafa Fortress, and I think I mentioned too that I was going back to the Legjenda Bar & Restaurant to eat this evening? So pleased that I went back.

The welcome I received upon my return was wonderful (and wholly out of proportion to what I spent last night – bless them). Once again, the food and drink was very good. This evening, however, I was joined by the proprietor, Linda, and (for a short period) her husband who in addition to being a co-owner of the Legjenda and it’s accompanying camp site is the artist and inspiration behind a great deal of what sets this business apart.

Slow-witted that I am I didn’t realise until this evening that the name of the bar-restaurant “Legjenda” has a direct correlation with the “legend” of Rozafa / Rosafa whom I wrote about in my last blog. In addition to providing a bit of a history lesson on Shkoder and the Rozafa Fortress and life under communist rule (Linda is a history teacher by profession) and giving me bags of advice as to where else I need to go to maximise my time in Albania, Linda explained that much of the art work in the restaurant is influenced by the Rosafa legend and it is all her husband’s own work.

I’m sure I don’t need to repeat the story but I’ll explain it anyway. I think his art is wonderful:-

The brothers working to build a fortress for protection and the beautiful Rosafa at home with her newborn

The fortress walls keep collapsing (that’s Linda’s husband, the artist, sitting there)

That’s the brothers receiving advice from the wise man and then, jumping ahead, there’s the wives of the two elder brothers plotting against Rosafa

That’s Rosafa sealing her fate, delivering the lunch, and then there is a sculpture of Rosafa immured in the wall (you may think differently but I think he’s a better painter than sculptor but ten out of ten for artist’s impression). I’d be interested in Clare Dedic’s view on that one?

Lovely evening. Finished with a large raki (complements of the house).

I was going to move south to Durres tomorrow but there are still things I want to see here and the weather forecast is good tomorrow.

Shkoder (previously Scutari), Albania – Dec 2017

Well, the weather forecast was so bad today (thunder, lightning, torrential rain & hail) I decided to sit tight in Shkoder… and that is what I should have done!

Somebody in the taverna last night suggested that the Rozafa Fortress is worth a visit and late this afternoon, like a wally, I thought I would take advantage of a break in the bad weather and visit the fortress which is very close. I mean, how long can such a heavy storm continue? Needless to say, with the weather as bad as it is there was no one else up there.

The fortress is in ruins and the only possible shelter was locked for the winter and so when the bad weather resumed (which it did as I approached the furthermost point of the Fortress) I was well and truly caught. It was bad and more than a little disconcerting with the thunder banging and cracking at the same time as the lightning flashed. I think the storm was right above me. Not nice. All I could do was hunker down and wait it out and thank the heavens I was wearing my Paramo jacket. I wished I had the Paramo trousers on too because the Craghoppers were rubbish – sodden in seconds. Anyway, I’m back at the Van now drying out while I write this blog.

I managed to get a few photos before the heavens opened but they are not amongst my best:-

First photo is looking back down the route up to the fortress and the second is the view down over one of either the Bojana or Drin Rivers. Whichever river it is, it has burst it’s banks. No surprise there with this storm.

First photo is of some of the fortress walls. The second is a photo of what was a 13th century church, St Stephen’s, built inside the fortress and which was subsequently converted into a mosque when the Ottoman’s took the fortress from the Venetians

Apparently, there has been a fortress of some sort on this site since the Bronze Age some 4,000 years ago but it really came to the fore in 167 bc when the Romans took it from the Illyrians. Since then it has changed hands many times with most of the current fortifications having been built by the Venetians.

Local legend has it that it was 3 brothers who first started work on a fort here but the walls kept falling down. They turned to a wise man for advice and he counselled that they should offer up a human sacrifice to be interred in the walls. The brothers argued long and hard about whom to sacrifice and ultimately agreed that whichever of their wives brought them lunch the next day would have to be the sacrifice and/but that the wives should not be told of this decision – fate would determine which wife should be sacrificed. The two elder brothers reneged and told their wives of the plan and they in turn made sure the youngest brother’s wife delivered the lunches. The young girl, Rosafa by name, was subsequently interred in the walls and that is how the fortress came to receive its name. It is sad but it is only legend.

The legend continues to the effect that Rosafa had a newborn child and as she was being immured she pleaded that the brothers leave sufficient holes in the wall such that she could see and continue to feed her infant son. It seems a bit far fetched but there is another photo:-

Anyway, enough of that. It is time I put on some dry clothes and went for dinner. I ate in the Legjenda Bar Restaurant last night and it was very good and I promised to return.

Legjenda Restaurant, complete with log fire. I’ll be next to that this evening

…and last night’s dinner which was wild boar and two small carafes of local red wine (all for 12 euros)

post script – it seems today’s storms were the heaviest the Adriatic has seen since 1986 – I believe it!