We just returned from another trip to Albania! Shkoder mainly, the home of my father. We arrived on August 30 and were lucky enough to have had my cousin, Ferdinand Melgushi, send a driver to pick us up as we had a very long flight, from Virginia to NY to Rome and finally to Rinas. The weather was warm and sunny, the people friendly and the driver even friendlier. We began our trip home about 1:30 pm. Driving the main highway from Rinas Airport to Shkoder is a challenge that only an experienced Albanian driver or someone that has lived in the country for a number of years should take on. The road is a divided two lane highway, and driving is a bit tricky. One has to be very defensive and always on the lookout for oncoming passing cars, always. They don’t think twice about passing someone even if the oncoming car is quite close, they have ESP, or so they think, and know that miraculously you’re going to pull over as far as you can and leave room for them to pass, which of course you do! Having said that, we did make it home in one piece. My aunt Bardha, uncle Deda and cousin Gjilda were all waiting for us with open arms as always. They had lunch prepared and as soon as we settled into our rooms we were summoned to the table. Meat…which is a must! no decent self serving Albanian would make lunch without some type of meat, be it pork, lamb or veal, it is a prerequisite for eating. I must say it was delicious and we enjoyed it along with a nice chilled Tirana beer!
The first event and main reason for our trip this year was my cousin Melkjor’s wedding to his beautiful fiancee’ Alma. The day, Sunday September 2nd, didn’t start well for me as I caught a bug overnight therefore missed the day festivities, however I was better by the evening and was able to attend the lavish reception hosted at Brjan Catering, just outside of the city. The venue was set up beautifully with white and gold decorations. Ms. Irma Libohova, the most famous Albanian contemporary singer of the day was absolutely wonderful, with only one intermission which lasted about 15 minutes. The festivities began at 9:00 pm and ended around 4:00 am. All our love and best wishes go out to Melkjor and Alma Melgushi!
As our journey began, we organized a couple of day trips. The first one my husband and I went on was to Kukel. Kukel is in the country and is home to the church of noted Albanian priest and poet Dom Ndre Mjeda. The resident priest, Dom Nike Ukgjini was kind enough to pick us up on Friday, September 7 and take us to see the restored church and magnificent bronze statue that was created by a local artist in Tirana. The attached one story building, which served as the residence for Dom Mjeda, is being restored to house a museum. The restoration is progressing well and hopefully by next year it will be completed and draw some tourists to the area.
After leaving Kukel we drove to Kruje. The Krujë castle is a castle in the city of Krujë, and the center of Skanderbeg’s battle against the Ottoman Turks. It sits up on a hill and is beautifully situated overlooking the city. To reach the castle you have to walk through the bazaar. This is a feat in itself as the street is made up of slippery cobblestones, on a slant, with vendors flanking the way. It is lovely and dangerous at the same time. All I can say is thank goodness for my flat shoes!! and my husband’s arm. We had a great time and delicious lunch on the way home in what turned out to be, unbeknown to me, my cousin’s restaurant “Hidri”! It’s a favorite with the locals, only serving barbecue pork and it was delicious. When I returned home and told my uncle where we ate he couldn’t help but get a good laugh out of it as it was the restaurant we were supposed to have lunch at the next day and meet my cousins. That never happened due to conflicting schedules, so I am glad that at least I had a chance to see the restaurant and sample his fine food! Thank you Dom Nike and Andrea (his friend and driver) for a great and memorable day!
Our next stop was the highlight of my trip, where I finally went to the mountains of my father. The famous mountains he spoke of all his life, in Mirdite! Mirdite is a place that is out of this world. To get there you must drive up a windy dirt road, up the mountain, for about 1 ½ hours, very slowly. We wanted to get to the top, Nenshejt, as that is the place where my family owns land and where, going back to the 19th c. they used to go to for the summer. They had “barracks” there and would spend a couple of months every summer up on “their” mountain. Of course the “barracks” are long gone, but the land remains as beautiful and green as it once was. Open space overlooking the Albanian Alps, the freshest air you could ever imagine, even fresh water coming down from the other side of the mountain into a troth, for collection, is still in existence.
There is one family that lives on the land, farms there and produces the freshest goat cheese. I have never met a friendlier group. They insisted we stay with them for a little while and invited us into their humble abode for a little Raki and some fresh cheese. It was delicious! Thank you Ferdi for finally giving me the opportunity to see the splendor of Mirdite!
Our trip continued with a day trip to Budva, Montenegro on Tuesday, September 11. We left early to get a head start as we had to drive through the Albanian-Montenegro border. Albania is not yet part of the EU therefore you have to go through customs. It was easy enough and by 10:00 am we were driving on Montenegrin roads, very winding roads at that. We arrived in Budva about noon, parked the car and went straight to a café for a macchiato while enjoying the beautiful beach view. Budva is a little gem in Montenegro situated on the Adriatic sea it boasts a beautiful view of both sea and mountains, fascinating. The city itself is well laid out and pretty much advanced as far as services, hotels, shopping, restaurants, etc. We strolled through Old Town which is simply magical, full of quaint little shops and restaurants, all tucked inside a medieval wall. Absolutely charming! Thank you to our friend Nadi for taking the time of day to drive us there and show us around.
The rest of our time was filled with family visits, lunches, dinners, good conversation, great coffee and lots of “nap time”. All in all we had a great trip and can’t wait to return next year!