So, I'll try not to make a habit of making a post every day, but bare with me, there are a few good stories hidden within this one!
The day started with a planned cycle to Shkoder and back, which is about 15km. I had the intention of buying shower gel, mosquito spray and some sun tan lotion (peeling nose disorder). Though, along the way, or rather, the way back, I met a couple of interesting characters.
As well as the shopping list, I had planned to see the Orthodox cathedral, which I am led to believe (through very broken English) is used for Christians and Muslims, but that sounds odd to me. It does look like more of a Mosque than a cathedral though. After the cathedral I got off an walked on foot, there were some great photo opportunities, and had I not been on my own, I would have got the camera out, but I thought better of it. Chicks for sale in cages on the street and copious amounts of poorly counterfeited clothes.
On the way back, I stopped at a side-of-the-road market type shop to buy my sprays and lotions. The guys inside both spoke a bit of English, and were surprised to see an English guy out here; I tried to explain why I was here, but they just thought I was a camper from my explanation.
The guy behind the counter told me his story:(Paraphrased)
'I been in Dover three times. Three time I go Italy then Belgium. I get in the truck for England and they arrest me three times.' He crossed his arms as if he had been put in handcuffs and the two guy just burst out laughing, I joined them, it was both sad and funny in a disturbing way. As I tried to tie down my bag of creams to the rear rack of the bicycle, the shopkeeper came out and gave me a roll of cellotape, which was a grand idea, though I had nowhere to put it, and so wore it as a bracelet.
It was after the next roundabout when things got especially weird. I saw a little cafe with a bike rack and no customers, I felt it would be safe to leave the bike here whilst I had an espresso. I tried to pay with a 20 euro note, having spent all the LEK I was carrying, however the guy just exchanged it for me at the going rate and then disappeared again. He was genuinely surprised an English guy was stopping for a coffee at his place. He was a quiet man, but the only drinker in the place tried to talk my ear off, though not one word of English. He looked like an Albanian Sylvester Stallone (see picture!). It was scary though, when he put his big arm around me and pulled me across the highway, I wasn't sure what was about to happen. He just wanted to show me his fish, and get me to take a picture of him and his son, but from his aggressive tone, and the way he whistled over his son, I thought I was about to add some bruises to my tanned skin. Then, he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me back across the road! Inside the cafe again, he was showing me a photo of his friend with the American embassador to Albania. Not a word of this conversation was in English, but he kept talking. In the end, I backed out of the door and jumped on my bike, running away from this big man.
Not much farther down the road, I looked up to see a sign saying 'Grand Britain'! I actually rode past it and then curiosity got the better of me and I turned back to have a look. The place looked like a single-story palace, and I rode up to the entrance, but it was closed and nobody was inside. As I was taking pictures, a man appeared from a house behind the building. 'Hello my friend!' shouted the man. I rode over. We shook hands and he introduced himself as Elian; he spoke perfect English and was very happy to see me. We spoke for a couple of minutes and I explained why I was here and he invited me inside for a beer. Inside, he showed me around, and a palace was quite correct, this place was luxurious.
This is his story. (paraphrased)
'When I was thirteen I nearly died getting a boat to Italy. I stayed there three months, on my own, then two years in France on my own. I got to England in 1998, no problems. I did odd jobs until I was 16, then I found work on the London Underground, and I worked there for all of my 9 years in England. I also had a second job as a forklift driver, and I was the best they ever had, they all told me; nobody could drive a forklift like me. My family came out to England and we all worked and saved lots of money. I came back to Albania to start my business; this place cost me (Euro)300,000. In London it would cost maybe £2 million. But, it had little interest, and so now I just open for weddings.' At this point I told him if he ever needed a volunteer to help out in the mornings, come by the campsite and give me a shout, I'd love to see an Albanian wedding reception. He continued 'We can seat 400 people, and I have 30 weddings booked this summer. But, this place is quiet, Albania is F***ing boring, nothing to do here, England always has stuff to do. My brother, my sister, they stay in England and send me money, but I'm bored man'. We finished the beers and embraced, he could have passed for English had he not had the accent, and I can almost tell now that he will be a local friend of mine here, I think he's about 29.
Back to the campsite, and after a swim and my gatekeeper shift, I sat down for dinner with Jack, Dave and Bernie again. It was lovely, they had great stories which I was gracious to hear them share. They had biked from France to Albania and are due to get the ferry to Italy and keep the motors running through the beauties of Italia! It was a pleasure to meet them, and they are the first people to take my e-mail address (Keep in touch guys!)
Once the bar had closed and the lights went out, we dispersed and I headed off to bed, where I saw Noc, the night guard sitting outside reception having a cigarette; we began talking, and he told me his tale. He had been in England for four years, spread between Kent, Hastings, London and Stoke-upon-Trent. He had worked seven days a week plus overtime, sending money home, eating cheap and enrolling at a college. The problems had arose when he got a car and not tax or insurance. He had it taken off him the first time and he played dumb. He had it taken off him the second time and he played dumb. But the third time, it had been the same policeman from the first impounding and he got in a spot of trouble, draining a lot of his money. I asked him why he ended up back in England and he said that he had ran out of money and couldn't get a job, because the agencies wouldn't register him without a passport. Then how did you get to England I asked, naturally. 'In the back of the lorry from Belgium' he replied, and we both laughed. In the end he left for Italy for five years and then back to Albania, but he says it drives him crazy, he's bored and he misses England, where all his friends have made a success and live in beautiful homes.
Then to bed.
One little factoid that Noc answered for me, was 'Why do so many houses lay unfinished, or furnished, or in some cases, of a three story house, only one or two stories finished?' He told me that people send back money to Albania in stages, and so the houses are built in stages; most of what I have seen have been works in progress.