Sunday, 21 April 2013

Skopje 2 and onto Elbasan, Albania

For those who have never met Marija from Skopje here she is in her home with her children Tamara the eldest and Naomi and Luka.  At lunchtime Sasha and I went to the cafe at the American University College and chatted with the owner who lets them use his premises on a Sunday once a month. Ann and I met him last year and he gave us some mugs that we use every day for breakfast coffee.   He provided us with lunch, below, free of charge.  It is a plateful of chicken gujons with lettuce, small tomatoes, croutons, slices of cheese and a mild curry like sauce. I made a start and 20 minutes later I am still working my way through it! The plate is much deeper than it looks.  Evening was spent with the family and chatting things through and then saying cheerio to the children as that will be the last I see of them for a while.

The next morning Sasha and Marija collected me from my hotel and took me to the bus station for the next part of my trip, a 3 hour journey to Struga in the south of Macedonia. The Macedonian alphabet is used mostly though some things are in the Latin alphabet. So this is Struga via Kichevo.

And a little to my surprise the bus was a really nice minibus.

So off we set going through the suburbs of the city collecting a few passengers and then on out into the countryside.  We followed a river valley and all around we are surrounded by snow covered mountains with a backdrop of a beautiful blue sky.

As we travel I can see some villages and towns are strongly Muslim and fly the Albanian flag, though we are in Macedonia, then the next village is strongly Orthodox and flies the Macedonian flag.  By the time we get to Struga I am the only one on the minibus. The driver has phoned ahead and there is a taxi, probably one of his mates, to meet me and take me to the Macedonian/Albanian border a few miles away.  I have a driver who is sick and feed up with his country and who tells me all his woes as we travel slowly uphill all the way to the border. I have done this part of the journey before and because it is up hill and the cars are old, we chug along like we did in my fathers car 50 or more years ago!  I sometimes wonder are we going to make it or are we going to conk out! But we did and the border comes into sight. Not the wisest place to take photos so I don't. 
So I walk across the border through no mans land and into Albania.  There I straightaway get a taxi, not always the case I can assure you, and for a good price the driver takes me to the main Korce to Elbasan road where I plan to catch a furgon (minibus) as it passes by.  There are some guys waiting there and I chat to them. They are going to the capital Tirana. But within 2 minutes an Elbasan bound furgon hoves into view, I put my hand up and hey within 30 seconds I am aboard closely followed by a lady. I ask the lady where she is going to. Librazhd she says. I have have friends in Librazhd, I reply. In return she says she has a cousin who lives in Enfield north London. I say, I know a guy who comes to our church from Enfield who comes from Librazhd. What is his name?  she says. I reply, Besnik Nogu. What! she says, he is my cousin.  I text Besnik straightaway and replies with a standard Albanian response. What is her fathers name? Xhelal she says. They are indeed cousins! Sadete tells me she is training to be a lawyer in Struga and stays there for a few days at a time.  And so we talk all the way to Librazhd where she gets off. What a smalll world and what a really nice way to end my journey.  The furgon driver goes one better and drops me off right near the apartment where Ann and I will be staying. What a wonderful journey,  connections timed really to perfection, wonderful countryside and to Elbasan is less time than I thought possible. God is good!

Now to wash and get some food in from the supermarket. I knew Ann was about to fly to Albaia from Gatwick arriving in Tirana at 10.30 pm so I had time to eat and sort myself. Little did I know as this time but Ann was seated at the front of the plane next to Sali Berisha the Prime Minister of Albania accompanied by his bodyguard! ( I guess he had been to Margaret Thatchers funeral)  When they arrived at Tirana the red carpet was rolled out for him with 2 soldiers dressed in red uniforms very similar to our guards.  But before Ann could step on the carpet, they stopped her!  They didnt want to wear it out! It was rolled up out of the way! A phone call told me Ann was here and the next morning we would meet in Elbasan ready for the next chapter.

Ken and Ann

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