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Showing posts from September, 2007

The Real Thing

World Tourism Day

Apparently it's World Tourism Day and European Heritage Day. I only know this because the Ministry of Tourism, Culture Youth and Sports is organising a series of events to mark these. In Tirana, most of the events are taking place at the National Art Gallery on Thursday 29th. There is a exhibition of photographs running all day, and in the evening there is the 'Albanian Tourism Destination Mini-Fair'.

Crash (Again)

Middle of the day. No other traffic. Dead straight road. Boy in Mercedes decides to play with his brakes. Tyres squeal. Boy loses control. Car slides. Car hits parked lorry. Result: Mercedes 0 - Lorry 1.

Big in Albania

Ask me how much I knew about Albania before coming here and my list would be a short one: Enver Hoxha, bunkers and Sir Norman Wisdom. I have no idea when or how I acquired this extensive body of knowledge, but the association of Norman Wisdom with Albania was by far the most interesting part of it. I remember watching Norman Wisdom's old films on British television. My parents were fans of his wholesome, slapstick comedy, but apparently missed the ideological significance of Pitkin's relationship with Mr Grimsdale. Pitkin, the downtrodden and oppressed representative of the workers, triumphed every time over his capitalist oppressor, Mr Grimsdale - and he got the girl. It took a theorist of Hoxha's insight and profundity to discern this deeper political message. It always seemed tremendously unlikely, yet the story of Sir Norman's fame in Albania has been reported in worthy sources like the BBC , the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph . According to the Guardian, when Wi

House of Books

Albanian blogger Elvis Palku had an interesting announcement on his blog yesterday. He has set up an online bookshop making Albanian language books published here available for Albanians everywhere. There is also a dedicated blog with regular news on the project.



Albania 0 - Holland 1

Bad result. Albania should have had at least a draw. If one of the two early efforts that were cleared off the line had gone in who knows what might have happened. I don't know what was wrong with the first disallowed goal, though the second one was definitely offside. I know some people have been blaming the referee - we all do and I've done it myself many times - but the biggest culprit on the night was the Albanian number 5, Cana. He went in with the head - twice - pushing past the referee on the second occasion to get to his man. You use the head, you get sent off - there's nothing controversial about that. (You can read Cana's excuses here .) So Albania, who had defended exceptionally well up to that point were left to face the last crucial minutes against a fired up Holland one man short in the midefield. Equal billing for idiot of the night goes to the fool who threw the firecracker at Melchiot. Should the referee have restarted the game and played the last 100 s

Where Are the Orange Hordes?

I had expected that the Dutch fans would have started arriving yesterday for Holland's game against Albania tonight, so I went out to find them. All I found was a group of seven drinking Heineken (home from home) at Taiwan yesterday afternoon. I went out again last night, but if they were in Tirana they were evidently staying in their hotel bars. I'm heading out again in an hour with my camera to see if I can track a few down today.

Crash - Bang

It's been a bad month on the roads. BIRN reports that 46 drivers were killed in traffic accidents during August. (In 2005 there were 308 fatalities in total. The statistics for 2001 indicate that 22% of that year's casualties were drivers of vehicles. This would suggest that the figure of 46 for August includes all fatalities, not just drivers.) It's a frightening number of deaths in such a small country, but watching how people drive in one sense I'm surprised it's not a lot higher. Driving back from Saranda we saw plenty of accidents and plenty more near accidents. One of these nearly involved us thanks to a moron who tried to overtake us on a blind bend. If you are reading this driver of Nissan SUV, CD 41-17 your bosses at EU-CAFAO will be getting the official complaint shortly. BIRN also reports on a spot of bother down south where villagers from Lazarat attacked a police station in Gjirokaster after some local criminal was shot dead by a special police unit,


Just a few pictures of Saranda, which was a disappointment having heard so much about it. We arrived on 1 September and everyone appeared to have gone home with very few people about and a lot of places nearly empty or closed. Like much of Albania there seemed to be a lot of uncontrolled building going on. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the whole of the hillside around the bay is covered. The beach wasn't nearly as nice as those we visited last year south of Vlora, though the beach at Ksamili to the south was very pleasant and we saw plenty of other more secluded beaches to the north of Saranda along the coast road that looked good too. Didn't have time to stop though.


Thanks to Venera for introducing us to yet another fine restaurant in Tirana. On Wednesday we were at Grepi i Arte, which is tucked away on a small, nameless street between Bulevardi Gjerg Fishta and R. Myslym Shyri. The restaurant is bright and spacious and tastefully decorated. More importantly the food is excellent as is the service. The owner, Niko, has made a real effort and it seems to be paying off, since the restaurant was well filled on Wednesday night and I'm told it is also very busy at lunchtimes. Well worth a visit if you are in Tirana. Pass the Elda petrol station on Gjergj Fishta heading away from Taiwan, then take the first right followed by the first left. The restaurant is about 50 metres away on the right. If you want to make a reservation - or if you get lost trying to find it - you can call them on 068 207 7804. look for the blue neon Niko, the owner, with a big fish take your pick

Mother Tereza

Ten years after Mother Tereza's death, Albania is holding a ten day celebration of her life , with a series of public events across the city. Large posters have appeared across the city marking the anniversary.

In The News

The latest article from IPS looks at the weakness of civil society in Albania. On RFE/RL Ismael Kadare discusses Kosovo . TOL joins the ranks of those discussing Albania's power crisis . BIRN reports on EU frustrations with the Albanian government's handling of police reform . BIRN is also anticipating fireworks in parliament as MP's returned to work this week. Apparently we had an earthquake yesterday but since it was at 7.08am I knew nothing about it. It would take more than 4.7 on the Richter scale to wake me up at that time. Saimir Strati, having already produced a mosaic portrait of Leonardo made from nails, has now produced a mosaic of a horse made from half a million toothpicks.


I'm still working on the photographs. In the meantime the BBC have been in Butrint and produced a radio programme as part of their Heritage: The Balkans series on the World Service. You can stream the programme anytime or it is available as a download for the next week.


After too many weeks of hot days and humid nights we had a terrific thunderstorm last night complete with driving rain. This morning the sky was grey but bright, the temperature seemed to have dropped by 10 degrees, and the air was clean and clear. I took the chance to go for a walk in the park with the dogs and took in the sweet fermentation of long dead leaves, brittle from the heat, freshly soaked. Local people don't like this kind of weather so I had the park mostly to myself. It even started raining on the way back - just light gentle drizzle refreshing rather than soaking rain. I like this weather because it reminds me of home - summer walks in Northern Ireland are never complete without a rain shower. At the moment hints of blue sky are starting to appear behind the grey, so I expect it may start to warm up again. But it was nice while it lasted and I hope that the lower temperatures are here to stay.


On the menu at Sofra i Ariut: the Laura Bush veal fillet.


It took us nearly two years, but we finally made it to Saranda and the south this weekend. More photos - mostly of Butrint - to follow once I have sorted them out.