Part 4: Tirana, Albania, continued
President Hoxha had 173,371 (a nice palindrome) bunkers built all over the country to ward off a possible nuclear attack on Albania. None of them were ever used. I visited the main one in Tirana intended to house the administration, called “Bunk-Art 1” (there are two). Eerie, historically interesting, but not essential. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunkers_in_Albania for more info).
The manager of the Backpacker Hostel drove me to the small village of Pellumbas, where volunteers are renovating a house to be used as a bnb. The village has just a small shop, an old-fashioned hotel and a couple of restaurants. I made a wonderful walk up the canyon to the cave, Pellumbas' main attraction, about 90 minutes each way for this old man. I had pitched my tent in the garden between the grape vines, and in the morning the interior was wet with condensation, as the tent does not have a double roof. I was happy to donate it to the hostel and lighten my load.
Day visit to Berat, "Town of a Thousand Windows," a UNESCO Heritage site. Very pretty. But Albania is a tip. Wherever you go, you will see trash. I even saw it being thrown out of a car on the road.
Ochrid on Lake Ochrid is touted as one of the oldest towns in the world. The old town on the hill is certainly picturesque, but it age is not apparent from all the renovation that has been done. I stayed at Sunny Lake Hostel, small and friendly.
One of the highlights of my whole Balkan journey was a boat trip to St Naum monestary at the south of the lake. From there, I took a ride in a rowing boat to the springs that feed the lake. The most limpid water I have ever seen, and wonderful to drink. So peaceful, a place to become enlightened!
A few kilometres west of Ochrid on the lake is this small village, not a tourist in sight (“Everybody goes to Ochrid”, they say.) An enterprising Korean-American has created the Freeflow Hostel there, with exceptional care. Radozhda has a couple of grocery stores (“markets”) and several fish restaurants on the lake. The Dva Bicera/Two Pearls restaurant is highly recommended. The Izgrev hotel, 5km away, accessible by bus, offers a great sauna and Turkish bath experience to non-residents, and also a water park in season for the children.
Back on the big city circuit… A young woman on the bus next to me was totally out of her wits trying to manage her three children, including a baby. She was even sick (vomited) herself! Everyone in the bus did what they could to help her, but she had not brought a single toy for the children, just a mobile phone for the oldest to play with…
Skopje, where I stayed at the excellent Shanti Hostel: Lots of big red double-decker buses, looking all too London-like, but in fact left-hand drive and Made in China. My (very) basic knowledge of Russian enabled me to read the roadsigns, etc. The centre of town is full of plaques with quotations by Mother Teresa, who was born there. For political reasons (based on ancient history and headed by Greece, as I understand it), the country is now officially known as North Macedonia. I made a very interesting trip to Matka Canyon and the cave, well worth a visit. Some boat trips don’t include the cave, but if one is there, it is unmissable!