Posts Tagged ‘travel’
On our last day in Albania, we travelled up to Kruje, about an hour from Tirana. It is the best (some say, only) place in Albania to buy souvenirs, apparently, and the minibus ride up there was quite fun.
We had to make our way to the Zog i Zi roundabout on the outskirts of Tirana (we managed to navigate our way around Tirana really well on foot… once we turned the map the right way round!), ask various people where the minibuses to Kruje went from, squeeze in along some very curious but very friendly locals in a battered old minibus, swing around some hairpin bends up the mountainside with quite a stoned, hungover (or possibly still drunk) looking driver; it took about an hour and cost about £1.30.
And the views were stunning. Perched high on a hill with a perfect view down the valley back towards the capital. The path up to the castle was lined with shops selling statues of Skanderburg, the National hero, (pic below) and a large selection of Albania-themed trinkets. I am my mother’s daughter and can’t resist a good browse round a gift shop – and when the gift shop is the size of a whole town, well what sort of heaven is that…
Pictures of the views will come later, but let’s get our priorities right people and start with the souvenirs!
Some photos I took in Tirana. I do always try and ask permission (if appropriate) before taking someone’s portrait but in Albania this was problematic as a ‘Yes’ is expressed by shaking the head from side to side and ‘No’ by an emphatic nod (reversed by those who deal with tourists more frequently). I was never quite sure if I had permission or not, I just hoped that a lot of smiling on my part would help either way.
The gentleman sitting outside the Etham Bey mosque, Skanderburg Square, Tirana
Inside the Etham Bey mosque, Skanderburg Square, Tirana – the lovely man who put all the lights on so that we could see its beautifully painted interior walls.
One very impressive moustache – in front of a tyre shop, Tirana
End of Day 2 in Tirana and I discovered WIFI in the apartment we’re staying so decided to post a photo I took on my phone today of a painting in the National Art Gallery.
We arrived in Tirana on Sunday eve in a spectacular thunderstorm – one that challenged both the skills of the pilots as well as the fixed smiles of the flight attendants.
The front of the plane was taken up by an England football squad (the C team apparently), the back of the plane was slowly getting drunk on duty free vodka.
Yesterday we spent wandering the streets of Tirana mainly. The roads have hints of the chaos of places like Delhi and Cairo, there are street sellers on most corners selling the most amazing looking fruit and veg; pomegranates the size of melons, melons the size of footballs and the largest watermelons I’ve ever seen!
The city centre has a great outdoor cafe culture, it’s got some impressive communist era architecture and interesting monuments to its revolutionary past. It has a spectacular back drop of high mountains that makes the air feel fresh and mountainous despite the mass of cars on the roads.
Everybody we’ve met and spoken to has been very friendly and helpful if a little bemused that we’ve come to Albania for our holiday.
We’ve eaten the most amazing food, full of Italian and Greek influences; homemade chestnut tagliatelle, pistachio parfait, aubergines, peppers and tomatoes grown in sunshine and devine in flavour as a result. All washed down with home made wine and Raki.
Staggeringly good value too and just a two hour flight from home. How long will it be before the stag and hen juggernaut discover this place, I wonder.
… are lost. (Tolkein)
… and those who are silent are still saying something.
You just have to try a little harder to hear it.
Berlin is a very cool city indeed. And I can’t believe it’s taken me half a lifetime to visit for the first time. It won’t be the last, for sure. Not only is it a fabulously relaxed and laid back city, full of great bars, street cafes, cool shops and flea markets, it has, of course, the most extraordinary history.
A painful and disturbing history. There are definitely no victors in war, only qualities (and, of course quantities) of loss. But I think Berlin as a city has confronted its own painful past with a great deal of dignity and nobility. Everywhere you go there are mementos to those lost in the war, transported out of the city and never seen again. Painted on the wall of buildings, or brass plates embedded in the pavement, the names of those who once lived there.
And just as one enormous chunk of pain is being confronted and dealt with another comes along. On the morning of 13th August 1961, East Berliners awoke to find themselves sealed off from West Berlin with 100kms of barbed wire, 6 foot high, erected overnight and swiftly followed by The Wall.
Walls are mankind’s cry for help. A demonstration of its greatest single flaw. The inability to live peacefully and co-operatively with its neighbours. Every great wall is a symbolic, social, cultural, economic, ideological, emotional catastrophe. The more gargantuan the wall, the greater the catastrophe. Learning from history that we do indeed learn nothing from history.
These photos were on display at the cross section of Bernauer Strasse where they were taken 51 years ago. In 1961, the wall went up almost overnight, no-one knew it was coming and no-one was prepared for it. Suddenly, overnight, the division was in place, neighbourhoods were severed, those living along the fault line found themselves both walled in and walled out. Separated so definitively from old friends and neighbours and even relatives.
At agreed times, people on both sides of the wall would meet at this corner, wave to friends and family across the divide, show them new born babies, share their news by shouting it across to those on the other side.
I found these photos profoundly moving, particularly the woman in the first picture. It communicates so much about the anxiety and sense of loss that people must have felt, she’s waving of the white handkerchief as well, symbolic surrender and helplessness.
These photos gave me goose bumps.
… will be girls.
Only sometimes with less lippy and a little more knitwear.
These figurines hidden down the back of a vintage books stall on the Left Bank in Paris remind me somehow of the old ‘saucy’ postcards that people used to send from the British seaside.
This is the one and only picture I’m going to post from this trip to Malawi. The trip was short and the work was intense and there was very little opportunity to explore Lilongwe in the few days I was there.
‘Exploring’ is logistically difficult in Lilongwe anyway. I have always enjoyed taking myself off when in a new place, with a camera if possible, to just walk and to watch and explore.
But Lilongwe is not an easy place to do this. Everyone and no-one walks. And that all depends on where you sit upon the spectrum of wealth. On the one hand, Lilongwe is full of people walking, Malawi is full of people walking. All walking along a road somewhere, or pushing a bicycle, wheels buckling under the weight of the load being carried – stacked crates of vegetables for the market, sack upon sack of Nsema, pregnant or elderly relatives.
Then at the other end of the spectrum, no-one walks. The roads are full of giant 4×4 vehicles, powering round potholes and on towards the other stratosphere of existence.
There was a chronic fuel shortage whilst I was there which meant that lines of vehicles were left abandoned for days at petrol stations throughout the city in the hope that when the fuel lorry finally did arrive to replenish the pumps, they would be fairly near the front of an impossibly growing queue. There were ‘Petrol Watch’ Facebook groups set up, alerts went out that petrol was due imminently at a certain location, or newly arrived at another, and suddenly half our workshop participants vanished in the chase for fuel. Two or maybe three hours of waiting and finally you’d have a full tank. All that effort, all that anxiety and expended energy, all for a single tank of fuel!
There were queues for sugar too. Rationed to four bags per person, the sugar queues were set up outside the main shopping centres and kept orderly by security guards. The highest denomination of bank note in Malawi is now worth less than £2 and yet, to eat in a restaurant, to buy basic food stuffs at a supermarket, take a taxi into town or stay in a hotel – these all cost almost the equivalent as in the UK. Very few places take credit or debit cards so, imagine heading out for an evening to eat as a party of six and making sure you have the equivalent of £120 in £2 coins in order to pay for the evening. In Malawi it’s not £2 coins but 500 Kwatcha notes, in bundles the thickness of a household brick. Western purses are not designed for carrying the Malawian Kwatcha.
On the morning I was leaving, I did finally go for a walk. I stepped out of the Lodge I was staying in and walked along the road to the main shopping mall about half a mile away. There are no pavements, so everyone walks ON the road, body swerving the 4x4s as they body swerve the pot holes. A western woman walking alone along a main road is quite an unusual sight in Lilongwe and it wasn’t an entirely comfortable experience. I felt a little exposed and vulnerable, more so than I was expecting.
Walking back to the Lodge, the man in this picture stopped me and asked me for money. On the spectrum of wealth, he was clearly not at the end with the giant 4x4s or indeed with the complaints about how much Kwatcha is stuffed in one’s purse.
He was immaculately clean and well-dressed and was sitting in an improvised wheel chair, unable to walk. He had an air of defiant pride about him, and the way he asked me for money was as if it was both my duty and responsibility to agree, which I tacitly did.
I nodded, smiled and asked him if he would mind if I took his photo, turning this into a crude currency of exchange and he accepted. But he didn’t smile back. Not once. He remained defiant and proud. I respect him for that.
In the past 10 days, I’ve taken off 9 times and landed in 6 different countries. I’ve had a brilliant week of work in Malawi and a conference presentation in Antwerp.
I’ve spent more time than I ever want to again at Nairobi airport and know more about the Machiavellian world of competitive flower arranging than I ever thought possible.
I filed past the coffin of the late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, drank Belgian beer with the coolest girls in Antwerp and almost went the way of Mama Cass in Paris, choking to death on a ham baguette.
I’ve returned with a suitcase full of honey and Gin from Malawi, Speculoos spread and some very salty licorice from Amsterdam and of course, chocolate from Belgium.
Hmm, what to cook with that little lot!