New travels and bike by Matteo

During the hot Albanian summer I finally decided to buy a bicycle: I was doing some researches for my project on culture and local traditions, shuttling among the National Library, the Institute for the Study Albanology and the Ministry of Culture and I realized that with two wheels I would have saved perhaps more than an hour. Therefore I went to a well-known outdoor market in Tirana, “Pazar i Ri”, and there, after a few strolls, I bought my “jewel”: a Dutch bicycle from the seventies that the owner, a shopkeeper expert in repairs, has set up in a day; after all, what interests me is that it works. For the rest, its retro look exudes a special charm. Some initial change and now seems ready to “dart” in the urban jungle of Tirana.

I travelled a lot during August: I had a nice trip to the Lake of Scutari, in the Montenegrin part, there we slept on the banks of the lake, and I also swam to an island the day after, in the early morning. Very pleasant and soothing. The next day, I was in Shkodra, where I met a Dutch girl who was hiking for a month in Albania. Together we went to Rozafa Castle, which dominates the city and is one of the historically most important in Albania (tied to it there is also a very impressive legend related to its creation). Hitchhiking, I met a taxi driver who was doing the route between Montenegro and Albania, and that wanted to give me a ride for 5 euros; but the use, albeit basic, of the local language earned his sympathies, and I could travel for free!

In the meantime, to support us in the summer school, ten volunteers from Great Britain arrived in Tirana for the short term volunteer service, throughout a month. Their task is to entertain the kids of the school with purposes of solidarity and social inclusion. They’ve been very helpful and have integrated well enough with the kids, joking and setting up games and various activities for them since the first moments that they’ve been here. As you could see, they’ve been also actively involved in writing this blog.

I went on an excursion to Mount Tomorri, not too far from Berat, and base of the biggest park of the country. It was during a Bektashi feast: the Bektashi are a Muslim religious order once widespread in Turkey, and nowadays well rooted in Albania. In particular, the faithful venerate their saints and celebrate special occasions, as in this case. It was a unique experience: after a very challenging mountain way carried out with a pickup truck, I arrived at the site where there were shrines and tombs (torbe) of the main saints. On that site I have seen plenty of people camped at about 2000 meters above sea level, which celebrated with traditional dances and banquets all night long. I ate mutton and slept under the stars while the music was playing until early morning with no pause. A real atmosphere of excitement and unity. I also visited the shrines and took a picture with a Bektashi “clergyman” the next day.

Another trip to be remembered is definitely the one to Thethi, a village perched in the Dinaric Alps, in the extreme North of the country. We went there with two English volunteers, Joe and John, two excellent travel companions. A beautiful landscape was the setting, really hard to describe in a few lines, but in general that has nothing to envy to the most famous international resorts. The first day we made a short excursion, visiting the most important Thethi sights, including a picturesque waterfall with ice-cold water, the canyon on the river nearby, an old mill, the “tower of isolation” (where, in the past, persecuted by feuds sought shelter waiting for a reconciliation between families) and the church of the village. It was like being in a landscape worthy of the film “The Lord of the Rings”. The second day we ventured on a long hike of around 10 hours that led up to a mountain pass at 1850 m of altitude, after climbing up a brook, walking several kilometers on the main road, meeting a shepherd who showed us the way, and climbing up again on this mule track that we were longing to raise. Then again back down to the camp site to rest. Well, just writing I would be tempted to try hiking there again!

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