Shkodër, Albania… Filthy & Hectic, Not the Best Introduction to Albania

Shkodër, Albania was not the best introduction to Albania. The city is very busy, quite dirty, and turned out to be a bit on the boring side. Poverty was obvious, and a stark change from Montenegro. Residents lined the sidewalks selling exceedingly used second hand items. We’re talking tattered, old shoes, soiled clothing, and other random personal items I would never purchase previously owned. Also, it was as is if COVID never existed in much of Albania, and Shkodër was no exception. This was the first time in a YEAR that I didn’t wear a mask into the grocery store! It was surreal. There was, however a curfew in place, and we had to be inside our accommodation by 20:00, and we weren’t permitted to depart until 06:00. Because only being on the street during daylight hours stops the spread of the Beer Flu……….

Finding this AirBnB was an enormous pain in the ass, as the owner only gave us a general location near the house, not an address. Without WiFi, I was unable to message the host. Thankfully, this one provided the WiFi password on the website, so I managed to get close enough to the walled off house to steal some internet access, and get in contact with him! Got lucky this time, but be prepared to make some international phone calls if you rely on internet access like we do when we travel. The apartment was not quite what we were expecting, as it was the top floor of a two-story house. The host and his whole family live downstairs, so we were worried about being too loud above them. The kitchen we were again promised left us puzzled. The remnants of the galley were present, and it was obvious they had removed the entire thing…?? We had a mini fridge and a table. There wasn’t even a way to make coffee. Fail. Albania had graciously opened cafes and bistros, so we were rescued by that and able to feed our faces.

Whilst in Shkodër, one must hike up to the Rozafa Castle. The castle is perched atop a hill, looking down upon Shkodër. The site has been the scene of a number of sieges over the years, and is mostly in ruin. I don’t recommend driving up to the castle, since parking is a bit of a mess, so don’t be lazy… walk. It costs 7 Euros for two people to enter and explore the grounds. This was by far the busiest ancient fort we toured. It was crawling with obnoxious school children.

Much like some of the other castles and places we visited, this 13th century structure was no different, and had a violent legend attached to it. Legend has it three brothers were constructing the castle when the foundations collapsed overnight. They came upon an old man that gave them a deranged solution: ‘If you really want to finish the castle, you must swear never to tell your wives what I am going to tell you now. The wife who brings you your food tomorrow you must bury alive in the wall of the castle. Only then will the foundations stay put and last forever.’ The three brothers made promises to not let their wives know, but alas, two of them did not hold up their end of the bargain, and snitched. The youngest, and apparently only honest sibling, did not let his wife know of the arrangement. Of course his wife showed up with provisions for the men the next day. Being the good, obedient woman, she did not protest, but did make the following request: ‘I have but one request to make. When you wall me in, leave a hole for my right eye, for my right hand, for my right foot and for my right breast. I have a small son. When he starts to cry, I will cheer him up with my right eye, I will comfort him with my right hand, I will put him to sleep with my right foot and wean him with my right breast. Let my breast turn to stone and the castle flourish. May my son become a great hero, ruler of the world.’ Well, that’s messed up.

While in Albania, one must try traditional Albanian food! Duh. Restoranti Tradita was just the ticket. A short stroll from our apartment, the restaurant is housed in a hotel, Hotel Tradita. Much like in Bosnia, we had the waiter bring us his recommendations. My waistline was about to be very expanded! We started with some sort of appetizer, which I would later regret eating since I walked out of there stuffed. The main fare comes in cast iron pots with hot coals keeping it warm and bubbly. The restaurant gets very loud and boisterous during the dinner hours. We were serenaded by a happy gent with a BIG voice. You get to watch food being prepared on the ginormous grill that’s situated out in the restaurant, instead of hidden in the back somewhere.

Hubs, very excited about being able to grow his beard out again, exclaimed, “It’s a flavor saver for later… saver of flavor… saving for later or something… flavor later saver?” He had gotten food stuck in the facial hair. Weirdo.

A Lecture by our friendly waiter…

Waiter: “Eat slowly!”

Us: “Occupational hazard.” (Eating far too quickly)

Waiter: “It’s the experience!”

Me: **Shrugs** “I know I’ll regret it later, but it’s so good right now!”

As the 20:00 hour curfew quickly approached, we wondered why on Earth nobody seemed hurried to get finished with dinner. The serenader was still serenading us with gusto, people were still meandering in for a meal, and the waiters certainly did not appear to be slowing down. Is the curfew, much like masking requirements, just a suggestion here? We made an inquiry to our waiter with only minutes left until the curfew started. To our alarm, our query was met with concern. The waiter was under the impression we were staying at the attached hotel, not down the the road a ways. Guests at the hotel were able to dodge the curfew since they would not be out on the streets at the anointed time of 20:00, at which point, police may stop wanderers with detrimental consequences. This also allowed the staff of the restaurant to remain working and open late. Well fuck. We better finish up quick, and get our asses back to that apartment. Thankfully, we walk fast and safely made it back without a police interrogation!

Since Hubs takes a sick pleasure in capturing photos of my face with as many ridiculous, distorted looks as possible, I shall return the favor. His many expressions while gorging on Albanian food!

Since we were kitchen-less, we had to eat out exclusively. We wandered a bit farther from our accommodation, and finally discovered a nicer area of town. Find your way to Rruga Kolë Idromeno, and there is a strip dedicated to pedestrians and feeding them. Restaurants and cafes line the alleyway. Just outside the pedestrian area, Cliché Bar & Bistro offered a decent lunching spot to sit out on the patio, as well as some tasty take-away for dinner another night.

If you have the occasion to visit Shkodër, drive a short distance northeast of the city to the Mesi Bridge. Built around 1770, it spans the Kir River, and is one of the longest Ottoman-style bridges in the region. It’s quite damaged from floods and erosion, all of which has caused severe cracking. It’s rather picturesque. The drive up is less so… it was obvious that everyone knew everyone else in the towns. We got lots of stares and suspicious glances as we drove along.

The Albanian people we encountered, from what we could tell, had three VERY specific traits in common: Kankles, pleather pants, and Mom jeans. All were most assuredly thriving in the country. One other oddity we noticed… there were ZERO pleasure boats out on the huge lake. If this were in the States, it would be teeming with watercraft.

The next stop was supposed to Theth and some delightful hiking in the northern, mountain town. However, the snow storm that had come through that we had witnessed in Mostar, had not been particularly nice to the higher elevations of Albania. I was advised by our current host that the single road into Albania was completely blocked by the white stuff. Well shit… what do we do? I called the hotel we were to stay at and confirmed that the road was, in fact, impassible. Thankfully, they refunded the money without delay. Now where to go for those days. How about the coast? We were going to take a pit stop in Durrës, why not stay there for those days instead?

And off to Durrës we go, to experience another AirBnB fail, courtesy of Hubs. Toodles Shkodër, or Mirupafshim? Goodbye in Albanian, and again, I have no idea how to pronounce that.

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