by Adam Yamey is a travelling companion for those interested in Albania now and in the past. It is available from amazon, Lulu.com, Kindle, & Bookdepository.com
“During the hottest part of the afternoon, we tried to visit the city’s oldest mosque, the Xhamia e Mirahorit.
We knew it was close by, we saw the top of its minaret, but could not discover how to reach it.
Near the Town Hall, we asked a teenage girl, who, instead of pointing out where it was, kindly offered to lead us there.
We set off in what seemed to be in the wrong direction, but whenever we tried to check that she had understood where we wanted to go, she replied: “Lezzgo” (i.e. let’s go).
Lopa had a bad ankle, and walking was becoming painful for her. I tried to explain this to our guide, but all she did was to turn around to Lopa, who was lagging behind, saying: “Come on. Lezzgo.”
There was no stopping this keen youngster. She led us further and further away from the city centre into a suburb consisting of shabby Communist period apartment blocks, all the time exhorting us with “lezzgo.”
After a while, she pointed to a distant minaret, and indicated that we had arrived.”
[Unfortunately, this kind young girl led us to a new mosque that had been built in the 21st century. To a girl as young as her, it must have seemed old enough to be the oldest!]
Our small hotel in Tirana had an interesting feature, which I will describe in the following extract:
“The two-storey Star was in a building that pre-dated WW2.
In the corridor leading to the bedrooms, there were two glass-fronted bookshelves.
Their shelves were filled with old books. It was not the usual lightweight holiday reading-matter that is often found discarded by hotel guests.
Instead, there was a collection of old, well-worn books, mostly hardbacks, all printed in Russian. Some of them were Russian translations of classics such as novels by Victor Hugo and Jules Verne, but most of them were by Russian authors.
We asked the receptionist about them. He told us that the books belonged to the owner of the hotel, an Albanian. That was all he knew.
Albania severed relations with its benefactor and mentor, the USSR, in 1961.
Cordial relations with Russia began to deteriorate in 1955, when Nikita Khrushchev began nurturing friendship between his country and Yugoslavia.
The latter had been Albania’s ally briefly (helping the Communist partisans in WW2), but became its enemy in 1948 when the Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito broke with Russia’s Stalin.
Under Enver Hoxha’s leadership, Albania not only broke with its larger Balkan neighbour and the enormous USSR, but also with the Peoples’ Republic of China. It had been on warm comradely terms with China from the late 1950s until soon after Mao Tse Tung’s death in 1976.
[A couple of days after our arrival in Tirana, we met the wife of an Albanian diplomat, who had lived in China during the Sino-Albanian friendship years.] This is what she told us:
She told us that Chinese newspapers at that time were full of material about Albania.
One day in China, she had heard one of her Chinese acquaintances saying that because there was so much about Albania in the Chinese press, it must have been a large country.
This led to another Chinese person asking how large was Albania.
Someone replied that he did not know exactly, but it must surely have been much bigger than China.”
[We reached Lake Ohrid. We spent a short time in the lovely lakeside village of Lin.] I wrote:
“While we parked our Tata, we were watched by two elderly ladies dressed in dark clothes. They were sitting beside the brick outer walls of their houses, enjoying the shade of overhead vines.
We had stopped next to a car with UK registration plates, which was being unloaded by a young man.
He was a Kosovar, who works in London. His wife’s family, whom he was visiting, live in Lin.
He was brought up in a village close to the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia. For many years, he had to study in in secret, in illegal Kosovan schools hidden in people’s houses because the Yugoslav authorities did not want Kosovar Albanians to receive education in Albanian. This surprised me because I had believed that when Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia, not only was Albanian a recognised language but the region had officially sanctioned universities.
It was like that until the late 1980s, by which time Milosevic had become the ‘helmsman’ of the Yugoslav people. According to Fred Abrahams, author of Modern Albania, Milosevic agreed (with the USA and others) in September 1996 to lift his six-year closure of Albanian schools in Kosovo, but he broke his promise.
In any case, our new acquaintance left Kosovo just before the bloody conflict between the Serbs and the Albanian Kosovars began in the late 1990s.
He told us that his family home was ransacked by Serbian troops. When his family returned to it after living as refugees in Macedonia, they discovered that it had been booby-trapped with explosives, which would have been detonated when any light switch was turned on. Luckily for them, the electricity supply had failed.
Lin was a sleepy place on that warm afternoon.
We strolled along its main street. On one side of the road, the houses were backed by a steep cliff, and on the other side by the lake. Small alleyways shaded by overhead vines led between houses to the water’s edge. Where they ended, there was often a rowing boat moored on the smooth water covered with floating leaves. Lin has a small mosque and a pretty little church.
Wherever we looked, we saw leafy vines. They were growing on walls, on wires crossing the street and, also on poles that projected upwards from the roofs of buildings. The place was full of flowering plants and bushes with berries. There were few people on the street. Groups of women and girls chatted outside their houses under the trellises of the vines.“
My last extract takes us to north of Tirana:
“We returned to the main road, and headed north towards Lezhë. Before reaching that town, we stopped at a roadside restaurant, Restaurant Juri (as in Yuri Gagarin), just south of Ishull Lezhë near a turning that led to the village of Tresh.
We sat outdoors, and then ordered a plate of meatballs and another of sausages along with a serving of salad and some fried potatoes. Each of the meat dishes contained enough meat for two or three people.
Delicious as it was, it seemed as if it would be a daunting task to finish it all.
Just as we were starting to eat, Juri appeared and placed a mound of liver and kidneys (sautéed with lemon rinds and green peppers) on the table, saying “Enjoy”.
Soon after this, he reappeared, and added a large plate of pickled vegetables to the enormous feast in front of us. Everything was delicious.
It was not long before Juri was back again, this time to give us shot-glasses filled with fiery raki. We took sips of this, and before long Juri was pouring refills. I tried to object that I was driving. Juri shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly, and kept pouring.
Juri only charged us for what we had ordered. The rest was ‘on the house’.
This meal and our time spent with Shemsi in Tirana helped us understand why Albanian hospitality is so highly rated by others who have visited the country.”