It was the first time for any of us in Albania. Its harsh history has left its infrastructure in tatters. Enver Hoxha ruled with iron grip until his death in 1985 and progress since then in opening up the country has been painfully slow. The pyramid banking fiasco of 1994-96 dashed many people's hopes for the future. Albania, we have discovered, is a land of welcoming, friendly people and of huge vistas of awe-inspiring scenery but with few roads to enable its exploration.
We spent only one night there, having left Montenegro heading towards FYROM (Macedonia) - other Balkan States names we had conjured with before but never visited. The grounds of a fuel station and restaurant were our stopping place, where the owner sent for someone who could speak English. He arranged a very welcome meal for the seven of us who wanted it and he talked throughout, sometimes apologizing for doing so. This was his first opportunity in six years to converse in English since having worked for a spell at a restaurant in Greece. He was very much an entrepreneur, and he proudly pointed to the surrounding properties owned by him. We were charged a grand total of two Euros per person for meals such as two eggs and chips, speciality cheese bread, yoghurt, beer and coffee. He spoke enthusiastically about the need for travelling around Albania to be made easier for everybody, and we all agreed wholeheartedly.
Whilst there are some stretches of reasonable tarmac, there is a preponderance of disappeared surface, turned after rain into skiddily dangerous rutted and potholed conditions which have been left to deteriorate to an alarming extent. In that sense it was a relief to enter Macedonia. But here in Istanbul where we are writing this, the difficulties on Albania's roads pale somewhat when compared with the vicissitudes of combative driving through this City!
We were moved in Albania by people's warmth of greeting. It was clearly of real value and significance to them that we were visiting their Country. Decades of isolation have had a debilitating effect upon them. Whilst we have seen many Albanian people in Greece and elsewhere, we have, in contrast, never met anyone from outside who has visited Albania, and we wish that country every success in its efforts to develop its economy and to generate enough income from inside its borders or from elsewhere to create above all else a credible roads network. Transport is the lifeblood of any country, and for tourists its mountain grandeur and coastline would make it an appealing new destination.
|Olwyn and John.|
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