Day 25-26: Shkoder, Albania

by - August 24, 2011

Downtown Shkoder
Visiting the town of Shkoder was very much an after thought in the great scheme of the trip.  Having visited Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia already on my travels, it was going to be a challenge to get from Albania or Macedonia, to Bosnia.  The original plan was to get back from Albania to Skopje before getting an overnight bus through Serbia to Sarajevo.  As it worked out however, we found that it is possible to get from northern Albania to southern Montenegro by taxi, meaning that I will be revisiting a lot of places I have already seen for the next week, but as I think Montenegro is one of the best places I have been, this isn’t really a hardship.  It also should mean no more overnight buses.  Shkoder is the main gateway from Albania to Montenegro as it is located by Lake Skada, a lake that is mainly Montenegrin but is named after Shkoder.  To get from Berat to Shkoder we decided to test the furgon system out by getting a furgon from Berat to Tirana and (deciding we didn’t want to waste another night in Tirana) we aimed to get a connecting furgon to Shkoder.  I think that it is proof of how good the furgon system is that the first furgon was kind enough to take us to the point where the second one left - and what was actually quite a complicated journey only took just over four hours.  By the time we got to Shkoder though, where we are staying at the Hotel Collosseo, there was only enough time for a little explore of the pretty town centre before getting some dinner.  The hotel is a four star place (though costs about 25 pounds each per night) as nowhere else was responding to the emails I sent out to make a booking.  I’m sure that we will survive - though the advertised swimming pool hasn’t actually been completed yet and having the same thing happen in Vladivostok it is getting pretty annoying.

View from the castle
The next morning we got a taxi to the Rozafa Fortress above the town.  The castle, originally built by the Illyrians but added to by Venetians and Ottomans, is named after a woman called Rozafa who is set to have been buried alive in the walls as an offering to the gods to make sure the castle would stand.  Apparently she requested to have two holes drilled above her so that she could still breastfeed her children (this whole legend is one of the oddest I have ever come across).  Shkodra stands at a real tactical spot, overlooking several major rivers and with the coast and Lake Skada nearby.  The views from the castle were really good and the castle itself was in pretty good condition.  Walking around it was an adventure in itself as it was fairly deserted and there were none of the ‘closed to the public’ areas you would find at English castles, which meant that we could explore any mysterious staircase that we felt like.  The large amount of open wells and crumbling arches meant that we didn’t get TOO adventurous.

The Ottoman Bridge, Shkoder
It must have been one of the hottest days we have had so far and by the time it had got to midday it was unbearable in the heat, so we went and sat in our room and watched some of the pretty good action films that are on Albanian TV.  When it had cooled down a bit we went back out and hailed another taxi (it turned out to be the same guy) and made our way to an old Ottoman bridge on the edge of town.  Our driver can’t have exceeded about 15mph on the way, because he didn’t want us to be uncomfortable on the potholed roads.  He drove a Mercedes and this brand of car is quite a talking point for travellers.  There are more Mercs per person in Albania than in Germany itself - according to the Independent, three out of five cars in the country are Mercedes, but as many as 80% of these are thought to be stolen from the richer European countries.  They are definitely everywhere and the amount of British number plates far exceeds the amount of British people that we have met.  Anyway, back to the bridge, when we arrived we found that as scenic as it was, the water that flows under it has either dried up in the heat or has been diverted, leaving it as a bridge over a dry and rubbish filled valley.  It has been the story of our Albanian experience really - a fair bit of potential as a tourist location, but (and it isn’t much of a surprise) in desperate need of some TLC.

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