Jo's Blog


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(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved


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!

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved


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October 29, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Albanian Portraits

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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.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

The gentleman sitting outside the Etham Bey mosque, Skanderburg Square, Tirana

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

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.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

One very impressive moustache – in front of a tyre shop, Tirana

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October 28, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Greetings from Albania

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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.

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October 16, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Michelle Shocked

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(c) Jo Spiller

Last night I got to see my all time favourite singer songwriter doing a gig in Edinburgh. She adorned the ceiling of my bedroom growing up and I must have spent hours, days, weeks between the age of about 17 to 23 listening to her albums, dreaming of running off to live on an Amsterdam houseboat and wishing I could write poetry like she sang it.

Twenty years of living later and she’s still the cool punk rocker she was then. And I still can’t write poetry.

Last night she played in someone’s front room in a house, an amazing house, The House in Edinburgh.

With 50, maybe 60 people in the room, two sofas away from me.

It was amazing. I was quite the star struck teenager again.

And wanting to see 5am from an Amsterdam houseboat all over again.

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October 5, 2012 at 4:32 pm

90 too

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Continuing on from my last post, here are a couple more pictures.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

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October 3, 2012 at 5:41 pm


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(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Hello. It’s been a while. I haven’t been taking many photos recently, which obviously means that for a blog that is ostensibly in existence for the posting of photos, there wasn’t really very much point in stopping by. Either for me or for you.

But hopefully that might start to change.

Starting with Fran’s Granny.

I have always wanted to take a portrait of  Fran’s Granny as I think she has an amazing face, in fact she’s quite amazing generally. She turned 90 this week, received over 100 cards, had 4 parties, 3 cakes; she has lived in south west Scotland for all of those 90 years, knows everyone within about a 30 mile radius, knows their spouses and their offspring and their offspring’s offspring. And even their offspring’s offspring’s offspring.

For all of you worried that your mind may start to deteriorate after the age of 60 or 70, take inspiration from this fledgling nonagenarian – but beware, she’ll probably beat you at Bridge, Sudoku AND Scrabble



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September 30, 2012 at 8:54 pm


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Simon is without doubt one of the most exhaustively creative people I’ve ever known. On any given day he’ll either be writing a novel, a play, poetry, making a short film, learning a new instrument, gigging in an Edinburgh pub. He’s rapped, he’s fire juggled, he’s run a theatre company, he can drink more than anyone else I know and still talk philosophy and nonsense till dawn. Oh and did I say that he was a junior Olympic 10m diver too?

Simon has always reminded me of a mad inventor. When he arrives for a gig with a wheely suitcase full of instruments, props, costumes, files full of lyrics and poems, it’s like stepping into a crazy, chaotic laboratory full of weird and wonderful contraptions, some of which are being held together with the minutest piece of masking tape. When he cranks up the engine on his latest mad invention and the cogs start turning, the whistles start blowing, the pipes begin releasing steam, something of Simon’s haphazard and ramshackle genius comes to life.

He is a great lyricist and performer, with songs inspired by late night conversations with students, “I don’t give a f**k what you did on your gap year”, and by eccentric British missionaries, “Pushing a piano across the Kalahari”. He has about 25 different instruments all fused together with a foot pedal; balkan beats, bossanova, punk, folk. His poetry is inventive, moving and at its best when the man whose life it reflects breathes that life into it. He’s a little bit genre defying. Fusion in its truest sense. Or is it fission?

Simon has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met. If the occasional cog or whistle goes flying off his latest crazy musical invention… well… the Hadron Collider wasn’t without its hiccups, was it? And Simon will just laugh it off and carry on.

He’s warm, funny and charming and a very good person to go for a pint with. His latest show, part of the Free Fringe, is on every day at the Fiddler’s Elbow, Edinburgh until the 16th August at 12.15.

I’d say all the cogs and whistles move in a syncopated synchronicity and eccentricity in this show; a syncopation, synchronicity and eccentricity that is uniquely Simon.

Go see for yourself.

Torpedo Buoy

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August 12, 2012 at 11:33 pm