A (long) day in Albania – Part 1

**Just a reminder, I am writing in English for fun)

On September 18th at 04:00a AM we left Montenegro, because of an unwanted meeting (we will tell about this in another post), and at five in the morning we started our unique, long and wonderful day in Albania accompanied by the call of the Muezzin, starting from the minarets, spread amplified in the beautiful valleys surrounding us, making the sunrise magic.

Our first stop was Shkodra, we arrived in the town too early, we had a walk in the desert center, and then we parked along the road to the castle, where Principessa had  a good sleep, and I’ve read “Siberian Trilogy” from Nicolai Lilin (which apparently is a “liar” https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolai_Lilin, I was sad when I discovered it, and I am suffering, I do not know whether or not to buy the last two books; sorry I can’t find any article in English about him).

Shkodra or Shkodër for the Albanians, Scutari for us Italians, is an ancient city, the cradle of Albanian culture, on the shores of homonymous lake and often known as the “Florence of the Balkans” because here the press arrived early and was taken The first photograph of the entire Balkan area (1858): http://shkoder.net/en/ . Looks like we made the tour of the “Florence of something”, in this post I wrote about the Florence of Bulgaria, I swear it was not wanted!

At about 9 am we ventured into the center, we immediately noticed that most of the cars were Mercedes from ’90s, that’s Albania! The main street is super romantic, a series of restaurants, small shops and cafes surrounding the street, and tables crowded with people concentrated on smoking and drinking coffee give color to the pedestrian area. The thing that certainly impressed me was the extreme kindness of the people, as the waiter who has worked hard to make us an omelette because the chef had not yet arrived, then asking if it was good (and it was), or the guy who offered us to take a picture, and got scared seeing photo getting out of the camera, confessing that he had never seen a snapshot:

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Also in the center was being the beer festival, sponsored by the national beer “Stela”, which we did not get to try for a number of reasons: start drinking at 9 am is not recommended, we were going to drive , we were uninsured because the green card does not cover this nation and insurance office near the borderwas close and mainly all the stands were closed. For the curious, this is the link of the brewery: http://www.stefani-co.al/.

The city is very accurate, even the fences of the yards are decorated and parks are full of strange sights, such as giants Chupa Chups:

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In the morning as well we left towards Koman, with the idea of taking a ferry and sail up the valley above a breathtaking water views, we thought we had the day well planned, but something unexpected was around the corner. I’ve already written too much, I will tell this adventure in the next post. For now one anticipation:

KomanLake

Drvengrad and Life is a Miracle

If I knew that such a place exists, I could not sleep without visiting it

The choice of a road from Serbia to Bosnia and Herzegovina was obvious when on side note of Lonely Planet suddenly we found the village of Emir Kusturica, which he built for the filming of his Life Is a Miracle. What can I say? We are going there!
Drvengrad1

The village is allocated on the slope of Mokra Gora, in one hour drive from the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the road is not in the least main, mountains, lakes, 2-3 hours from Sarajevo, 4-5 hours from Belgrade, only pleasure to go.

The description of the guide was short, so it was not quite clear what we could find there. Evaluated our expectations: Commercial outrage, organized by the locals on the remains of luxury, or completely abandoned wasteland.

It was nice to see that a group of very friendly people takes care about the the village, that the village works not only for the curious travelers like me and Leone, but also as a school of cinema and each year hosts International Film Festival Kustendorf, the special features of which – the intentionally missed red carpet.

Kustendorf

20-25 wooden houses, there in addition to the guest rooms is a cinema also (above all!), showing Kusturica movies, couple of kitsch restaurants with a very good local food, super friendly waiters and old American music, where we dined, library, church, pool.

On the streets named in honour of personal heroes of Kusturica (Tesla, Maradona, Che, Fellini…) are cars from the film, local vendors sell souvenirs in small kiosks. Best souvenir for us – wool socks, of course. On the wall of one of houses there are portraits of Gagarin, Maradona and Che.

Drvengrad2

Incredible place with an amazing atmosphere. Such an atmosphere I felt only later in Sarajevo, as the replacement of which Kusturica built for himself this village.

Principessa

Plovdiv, the capital of Thrace that we were not expecting.

**Disclaimer: I am writing for fun, my English is not perfect, I am not a perfectionist! Have fun!

During our last trip me and Princess traveled through 12 nations by car, and just in Bulgaria we found a place that we immediately loved: Plovdiv. A pair of cute Germans also took what has become our favorite photo with our instant camera, despite the orientation:

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I knew nothing about Plovdiv before I got there, except that it was halfway between Kazanlak, famous for the production of rose extract, and Skopje, capital of Macedonia. Only now, thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that we were in Plovdiv, the capital of the ancient Thracian land famous in Greek mythology, I do not remember why exactly. By the way, in Plovdiv we realized to not have the famous “Vignette” to use highways and now we are waiting fines)).

So we stayed in Bulgaria for a couple of days, we visited the region of roses, the capital Sofia, and finally we got here, on September 24, more or less at lunch time. It is a big city that does not say much getting there by car, but as soon as you walk inside the old town you will understand why it is called the “Florence of Bulgaria”. Ancient streets that go up and down a hill, great nineteenth century buildings well kept and maintained, markets selling local products and antiques and for sure restaurants (we were hungry!).

We chose to the restaurant Hebros, considering that we were traveling without telephone, nor internet, nor other technologies we were super lucky, and after a couple of hours we were full, and quite drunk. Very tasty baked eggplant stuffed with vegetables, and chicken fed only with corn hominy, all bathed in a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon obviously local. If you want to know what the corn hominy is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hominy, if you visit the restaurant: http://www.tripadvisor.it/Restaurant_Review-g295391-d1101020-Reviews-Hebros_Hotel_Restaurant-Plovdiv_Plovdiv_Province.html .

During our wandering dazed by alcohol we found a great photo lab, an initiative of Lyuben and Desi, who welcomed us with perfect English and made a series of photos with historic costumes (http://retrophotoplovdiv.com/) The result here:

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Afternoon spent back in time, walking around the city, in the company of a number of cats, which are everywhere, monuments, amphitheatres … Towards evening we left the city in the direction of Skopje, but we will be back.

Leone