Monday, 8 October 2012

End of season holiday on the Albanian Riviera

Another end of season holiday, on the Albanian Riviera. The domestic and 'patriotic' (meaning other Albanians living in Kosovo, Macedonia or outside Albania) tourist crowds have left and only a few foreign backpackers or cyclists are still around but not on the beach. Mainstream foreign tourism, such as in neighbouring Corfu is still underdeveloped and in the meantime all the bars are shut, hotels are boarded up or starting works for next year. Other times I have had the feeling of desolation, 'the party is over' sort of message, despite very warm and sunny days. It was 33 degrees most days but no one was to be seen on the beach. 

We made the most of the beautiful weather, bathed in the cool, transparent waters  and enjoyed the peace and quiet around us. Because of a different context, being here with my parents at their lovely holiday house and simple expectations, having some rest, seeing my parents and them spending time with their grandson, I enjoyed this. 

It is all so local and typical. The van providing supplies for the village, with delicious white bread. My mother's early morning pancakes that we eat with feta cheese, local honey and/or homemade strawberry jam.

No doubt we all enjoyed them! 

The bar opposite our house where a big flat screen TV used to entertain the few visitors, mainly bus drivers driving back and forth to Greece, until one night it disappeared. The entrance to a beach now closed, 'Niki beach' blocked by a crane instead of a gate. Cows wandering on the beach making the most of the left-overs from the visitors' last days. Construction materials and equipment starting on new sites or finishing off last year's ones. 

All that remains unspoilt is the sea and the stones of the beach. Everything behind is work in progress, all too familiar. Of course long lasting damage is being done to the beatiful coastline, which is unstoppable and will be regretted, but the 'people of Albania' are in charge and they don't think the same.

Obviously for a young toddler it doesn't really matter, everything is great fun especially the great number of stairs everywhere, a new environment, the company of my uncle's dog and the pebbles and stones. The sea was not that appealing for him despite its turquoise and clear waters but it was refreshing and really pleasant for us. After all he never really enjoyed the swimming pool either!

And me in all this? I felt content, although R was not with me, but had the feeling of resting and being close to my family and in a typical Albanian place. A place mixed up with elements of Greek language but still so Albanian. 

Besides Albanian, Greek language is also spoken in the South of Albania. This is mainly due to the proximity to Greece and to the fact that before the definition of the border between the two countries - at the time of the First World War - Greek, Albanian and other ethnic groups lived in the region. When the border was drawn some Albanian villages were included in Greece and some Greek ones in Albania. However Greek is spoken also in villages which are not close to the border and this might come as a result of exchanges with Greece and Greek historically being the written, commercial and language of the Church from Antiquity up until the Ottoman Empire. The village where my mother's father family originates from - Palase, is one of these villages, not close to the border but speaking Greek as a second language. Of course talking about such issues as Greek language, Greek minorities and Greek influence in the South of Albania can quickly become a heated conversation because of the region being a matter of territorial dispute and a source of conflict between nationalists from both sides. 

Leaving this to the side I find it interesting to observe the Greek speaking Albanians who are still so Albanian. Like these two ladies, out on their evening promenade who were speaking with my mother about some common acquaintances. My mother's mother family originated from the same town the ladies were from, Himare, and it happened that they knew my grandmother's aunts. 

Himara was looking very peaceful at the end of a sunny day. 

After engaging with the ladies we went to look for fresh fish at the port but at the end my mother wasn't convinced by its quality and price. 

We saw a little boy with blond long hair tied up with clips, with his granddad who was speaking to him in Greek. 

Our little boy was excited and we said 'look at the pretty little girl'. His granddad replied 'he's a boy under cover, we don't want him to be exposed to the evil eye'. That was an interesting comment but difficult to understand. I decided to guess its meaning and thought that since boys are usually preferred to girls for many cultural reasons, dressing up the boy as a girl reduces his chances of being harmed by the 'evil eye', which I had the time to notice is still a very common belief in Albania. We saw them again about to leave on a scooter with the boy looking like a girl standing on a banana box at the front of the scooter. They were probably only going around the corner in a small town but didn't seem to be bothered by any safety concerns. All so typically Albanian!

On the way back the last big town on the Ionian sea, Vlora offered other interesting views, with pensioners their skin naturally tanned enjoying the bright morning sun. 

The Albanian Riviera, I strongly recommend it to all those that want something out of the ordinary and take life with a pinch of salt. And a lot of sun!


  1. Very impressive - I am feeling very jealous - how can you tear yourself away. Surely not for wealth, fame and all those dreadful things?

  2. Thanks Robin (although i admit my reply comes a bit late). It feels like a long time ago now that i was on the beach sun bathing and swimming; such strange things to do! Grays inn road was calling me, and little bay too...