Albania - From the National Geographic Endeavour in Europe

29 Ноябрь 2011

Colorful Boats in the Harbor at Durres & Antiques & New Handicrafts in the Market of Kruje A haze along the land subdued the already pastel horizon. Only a few carmen streaks defined the sky from the layers of mountains that flowed into the distance as strange yellow-gray silhouettes.

Gradually dark fingers radiated into the heavens apparently pulling on the sun. The water around us turned that shade of blue-pink-gold that only can be found on the sea. In a blink the orange orb of the sun popped above the mountains with a velocity that made one think that the earth itself had accelerated in its rotation for a moment. The line of fire that danced across the rippling sea is another phenomenon that is special, seen only by sailors or someone living on a small island. The charts said "mine field" and we were careful to keep to the channel, headed for the busy harbor of Durres. But either the charts lied or the long line of freighters anchored outside played a dangerous game of Russian roulette. This was only the beginning of a day that found old and new, freedom and suppression sitting side by side, leaving one feeling a little confused.

The port was busy and bustling, a sign of healthy trade and the highway that carried us inland was like any freeway back home except for the overwhelming numbers of Mercedes whizzing by. This road holds a prominent place in Albania. It is the first. And it is only six years old! It was short too and only a 45 minute drive found us in the capital city, Tirana. Blocky communist era apartment complexes sat side-by-side with elegant Italianate buildings. The design may be different but the colors were not. Coral, gold, green and blue paints added brightness to the city. Step-by-step the museum's exhibits led us through the waves of cultures that have found a toe hold here.

Into the country and up the tilted limestone mountains we climbed, comfortable coaches sharing the narrow road with sheep and goats. A horse plodded along pulling a cart that looked somewhat like a truck with no place for an engine. Conical hay stacks ornamented the yards of new multistoried and multigenerational houses. Some were finished but many were not, rebar columns waiting for enough money to be found to complete the building. Office buildings too sat like open doll houses. The floors and stairs were there but that was all. Only air formed the walls and furniture. Young boys and old men flicked cloth-tipped switches at the rumps of cattle as they drove them home for milking. Modern service stations pumped gasoline while surrounded by "pill-box" machine-gun bunkers from the era of the dictator, Hoxa.

The old capital of Kruje clung to the mountainside somehow. The buildings seemed to be burrowed into rocky terraces clinging like the roots of the olive trees that marched from valley to sky. Within the fortress wall we could explore the modern museum honoring the national hero, Skenderbeu (or Skenderbeg for English speakers) and meander through the traditional home which is now an Ethnographic Museum. Old tiles and new formed the roofs of market stalls, bright and smooth terracotta contrasting with gray and lichen coated ones. Within the stalls old and new cried to all to make a purchase; freshly woven rugs or well-used pots, shoes or wedding dresses.

Exhausted and exhilarated, we find our way to bed.

Karen Copeland, Natural History Staff

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