Thursday, May 24, 2007

Shkodra, Albania

Our local international women's group has recently started organizing trips to various places in Albania. Some are overnight trips and some are just one day trips. This week we hired a great minibus and 14 of us went off to the northern city of Shkodra. It's not very far, only a couple of hours drive, and the road is now perfectly good. We left early in the morning because we had a very full schedule for the day. Our first stop was for the best cup of cappucino I have ever had! The restaurant was situated on the banks of a river and featured a large cage with two brown bears, and a smaller cage with a little monkey. In other countries these would probably face some sort of protests from animal rights activists, but here in Albania, they are looked upon as fascinating entertainment.

Personally I found the eastern style toilets far more intriguing and decided to photograph one for those of you who have never seen one before. I've seen them before in other eastern countries but have resisted actually using one for fear of losing my balance, but this time I had courage and happily survived the experience.

After the coffee stop we drove further to Shkodra and picked up the Director of Museums and Culture, who accompanied us for the rest of the day. Our minibus chugged it up the mountain and then we walked the rest of the way up to the Rozafa Castle, where , according to legend, the youngest wife of one of three brothers was walled up in the foundations of the castle as insurance to keep the castle standing forever. Most of what remains, and it is fairly substantial, is medieval and Venetian. The views of Lake Shkodra, the largest lake in the Balkans, and the Adriatic Sea, are awesome from here!

We also made stops at the Historical Museum (really well presented!) and the Marubi Phototheque Exhibition, which has archives of over 500,000 photo negatives, including the first photograph ever taken in Albania!

Next we had a fabulous lunch at a restaurant called Tradita. The owner is a proud Albanian man who has lived in Belgium and speaks French, English and Dutch, and knows an awful lot about the traditional costumes of the area. He has a HUGE collection of which we saw only a third and I loved his passion for the subject. He is working on making an interesting and secure display space for these wonderful pieces of Albanian history.

After lunch we went out of the city a little bit and stopped at the Mesi Bridge, a picturesque 18th century stone bridge, built by the local feudal lord Mustafa Pasha Bushati. It's only 4 metres wide and has 13 lovely arches. At the present time there is not much water flowing under the bridge but it at least looked clean and was a memorable shade of blue.
On the way back to the city we spotted two ladies wearing traditional clothing in front of the Catholic Church so we yelled "stop" to the bus driver and jumped out of the bus. The ladies were more than happy to have us take thier photos and were quite thrilled with seeing themselves on the digital screens.

Next on our agenda was the much awaited visit to Arlequino, Shkodra's very own factory for the production of handmade Venetian Masks. When we went to Venice we somehow neglected to buy a mask (I think we were busy running around the city helping our friends find "The Perfect Mask" for their own collection. Not to worry because here is where most of the really beautiful Venetian masks are actually made. This was really a highlight of the day for me! We were able to see true artists working carefully on their craft. These masks are each made by hand which justifies the price in my opinion. Here in the factory we were able to buy them at about half the shop price in Venice, so I selected two. This factory actually made the masks for the movie "Eyes Wide Shut" which starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and I bought a copy of his mask and a mask which was based on a woman's face from a van Eyck painting. It was difficult to decide what to take home, but I promised myself I would go back again someday.

The day was coming to an end and we drove along Lake Shkodra to find a place to stop for a coffee. From here we could see the mountain border of Montenegro in the distance. The sunset was the most spectacular colour, and just before darkness fell we boarded the bus for a smooth drive back to Tirana. The day was completely full, we were exhausted and content with all that we had seen.


GMG said...

Beautiful pictures and most interesting text. It was wonderful to know a little bit more of Albania!

Anonymous said...

Wow! BTW, those ladies are onto Galliano's resort 2008 collection.

Thanks for an interesting post-- any post actually, because I was worried when you disappeared so long.

I've a new blog address, if you haven't been by.

ITS said...

Take toilet picture away...
You are bringing back communist era nightmares...

Other than... super-super cool!

christina said...

Ahhh, you're back! Lovely photos. That toilet is something else.

Tatiana von Tauber said...

Kim, sounds like you had a lovely time! I enjoyed your post. So, the best coffee you've ever had, huh? Wish I could visit. Love the masks. My husband and I are actually doing a photo shoot this weekend with some masks and a bit of an erotic flare. We'll see what we come up with, though I'm sure your masks are prettier than ours! I'll email you our results. Oh, and the traditional costumes are a hoot! It was nice they didn't mind you taking their picture. What a great cultural photo to show everyone. Thanks for sharing it. :-)

Anonymous said...

Actually those toilets are common in western europe too. I've been to quite a lot of campsites in France where they have them. They are supposed to be more healthy, squatting than sitting. But it's always a problem how to manage your clothes for women, and they are often not clean, which makes it worse.

hockeyman said...

forget the international travel.lets have more pics of hot Catholic women

Anonymous said...

More about Albania you can find in Albanian Canadian League Information Service (ACLIS)

Jeff Gromen said...

Yeah we have those toliets here in southern Italy. Even where I work!

I have to get over to Albania one of these days!!

Anonymous said...

I don't like eastern style toilets either and like you when i was a child i was afraid i'd fall in. I'd stare at the whole to see if the Ninja turtles were there.

At home, western style upright toilets are much more comfortable, especially for grandparents who cannot bend.

In public washrooms in Albania, though i think that they are much more practical since they are easier to clean and there is no skin contact.

Sorry if this sounded vulgar.

have fun!

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