Already time seems to be propelling forward at a rate much quicker than on the humble British Isles. Surely we all feel that; whenever we are abroad, time just slips away, faded into history, to be remembered as digital photographs and plastic souvenirs.
I've been here twelve days already, and yet it feels like I just stepped off the plane. So on Saturday, being forced to rise with the sun, I was up and wandering around, and my morning ritual, shower then coffee. As not to waste arguably the hottest day so far (the first to reach over 30 degrees), I borrowed a bicycle and headed to Rozafa castle, one of the major tourist spots in Shkoder.
On the way to Rozafa, I was told to take a different turning when I got into the city than I would usually, leading me down a long road with not much care taken for cyclists. Whereas most of the major roads have a cycle lane (not sure if official or not), this road instead had a pavement that resembled a stone motocross track. However, at the end of this road, I took a right, past some very new, very modern buildings, and found myself on a delightful lakeside pathway, with classy cafés and stylish Albanians.
At the end of this pathway, and a little further, I finally found the entrance to Rozafa castle, or at least the road leading up the steep, steep hill. There were some pretty sights on the way up.
This view reminded me of that from the Arrabida hills in Setubal.
About halfway up, I heard two very posh English voices. I turned to them and asked if they were English, of course I knew they were, I just wanted to chat. They were fairly old, at least sixty, but we had a lovely conversation; they had only been visiting Albania for the day, and had come as part of a Saga group holiday. Bless.
I paid the entry guard 200 lek (£1.20) and went inside; I was surprised by the vegetation in the roof of the castle. Trees, grass, fruit bearing plants, it was almost like a country park, but it was inside the ruins of an old Moorish castle. There was some structures in the roof still standing, though some were piles of rubble and the remnants of old walls. A lot of the grass was overgrown, but it added to the otherworldly effect, in the sense that this garden was somewhat ethereal. To complement the flora, the views were outstanding, overlooking rivers leading into Lake Shkoder, tilled fields, a mosque, further mountains and countless clay-tiled homes throughout the city.
A group of Polish tourists wandered around the castle, a large sweating man panted 'kurwa mac' and 'ja pierdola' every few steps up the steepening hill to the top. I said hello to a few of them, exercising my basic Polish skills.
Just past the highest reachable point, was a bar. Glory glory hallelujah. After riding and pushing the bike the whole way up to the top, I deserved a beer. There are two types of 'Tirana beer' here, one in a green bottle and one in a brown, I am almost certain they are different though. I like the green bottled one, it's like Grolsch, whereas the brown bottled one tastes more like a stout. I remember having this problem in Portugal too. Who even likes stout?
The museum was pretty boring though, a couple of axes, bits of pottery, a big map, a small reconstruction of the castle and not much else. I paid 150 lek for entry, and felt a little ripped off.
From one side of the castle, you could be forgiven for forgetting you were in Albania, the so-called 'poorest country' in Europe; these views were so rich. This view was incredible, the land looked plush and fertile, the houses big and the waters clear. I had expected the views to be impressive, but they only improved on each turret.
Before leaving, I saw another corner of the castle that was a littler harder to reach through the heather and long grass, but I could see a couple of people there and rode the bicycle through and made it there. There was a large bushy tree with red flowers all over it, and over the wall, beautiful views for miles and miles. As I came up the slope towards the top of this corner, I saw a man on one knee propose to his girlfriend, it was beautiful, and I felt awful, as if I was intruding, so I turned around and left.
I rode back into Shkoder and despite being given poor directions a couple of times, I finally found Angelo's ice cream shop, owned by the sister of my boss, where it was safe to lock my bike up. The city is a beautiful place if you stick to the right areas, which I feel confident in knowing; whenever I feel brave and venture into a sidestreet, I almost instantly pretend to have taken a wrong turn do a 180.
On the pedenale, which is the main street, I stopped firstly in a book shop to see if they had any English books. They only had huge classics, Dumas, Dickens and Lord Byron. I bought 'The three musketeers' and 'Twenty years after' both by Alexandre Dumas. In case you were interested, I am currently reading 'The Accursed Mountains: Journeys in Albania' by Robert Carver.
For lunch I bought pizza by the slice, I had never done this before, but at 60 lek per slice, I couldn't resist. I sat on an internal balcony overlooking the chef/owner. He was a muslim man cooking ham pizzas, something I have never witnessed in England. Afterwards, I went to see the watch man about my 'Rolex', and he said he would fix it, but I didn't have it on me. I bought an Armani watch for 5 euros. (It doesn't hold the time, NO MORE WATCHES).
Yesterday the water pump went down, causing a bit of a panis. The boss, Niko and the restaurant manager Angjeline were trying to fix it, but getting the part they would require on a late Sunday afternoon was about as likely as it would be in England. Fortunately, and in one of the greatest showings of karma I have ever witnessed, an Austrian camper turned up, who was a plumber and electrician! He pulled out his toolkit and went to work. They got it fixed pretty quickly. It was incredible. Good karma for my lovely bosses!