I wanna go hooooome!!

Being sick, alone, abroad, is shit.

Sometimes literally (my daughter got fearfully sick when we arrived in Thessaloniki on a previous trip, one of those awful things where both ends explode at once).

Anyway, last week I got sick in Ksamil, Albania, and it was horrible. Without going into detail I will say that it really put the kybosh on my Instagram feed for that week. I had planned to pose in a white string bikini at Ksamil’s famous Bora Bora beach and then nip up to Butrint National Park for a sunset shot but instead I spent three days in my room, creeping out briefly to replace my loaf of staling bread then retreating under the glare of an affronted southern European sun which had already whipped the morning – by 8.30am – into a 30 degree souffle of unpleasantness.

So I didn’t see the Ancient City of Butrint or the impressive Roman theatre or Ali Pasha’s castle. I was however forcefully reminded of some 19th century colonialist book in which the phrase ‘My God, the drums…the drums!’ comes up – in the book I think the heroes are being stalked by Zulus but in Ksamil it was beach bar music. Even when I shut the windows I could still hear the bass…the bass….the bass…

View from room (nearly all I got to see of Ksamil!)

It’s at these times that travelling becomes a miserable and pointless exercise. If I could’ve teleported myself to my nice quiet bed at home where the cupboard is full of things I like to eat and I can make a proper cup of tea and the only noise is the distant lullaby of chainsaws I totally would’ve! Albania! WTF was I thinking!!!

A bit like my actual home…except its in Gjirokaster Albania

Only…now I’m better I like Albania a lot. People on the street say hello back even if they don’t know you. Old ladies in black have sweetly wizened smiles. People leave their luggage unattended and come back an hour later to find it still there (generally). Bus drivers don’t worry about silly little things like seatbelts and schedules. A woman paid my fare on the bus for no reason at all that I could see, and just beamed at me by way of explanation. I like their amusing signs, and their flag, which looks like a bug. I like the way the shy, narrow-faced young waiters don’t really know how to smarm tourists; I guess somebody’s nephew needs a bit of pocket money. I like the mountains, which are seriously Transylvanian in vibe, and the fact that nobody’s allowed to hurt bats here. (Note: the second pic is of a gaggle of men trying to decide what to do with a grand piano they’ve just unloaded. Roll it down the cobbles? Or…)

I’m interested in the whole Enver Hoxha thing. Autocrat of Albania from 1944 to 1985, he was a dedicated Communist who thought the sun rose in Stalin’s backside, and kept ticking off Communist allies (post-Stalinist Russia, Tito’s Yugoslavia, China) for deviating from the noble path (although first, he milked them for everything they had). During his reign of sometime terror he raised the literacy rate roughly from 5% to 90%, instituted universal healthcare and education, made Albania the first fully electrified country in the world (well, how are you going to run a modern torture facility without reliable electricity!) and banned religion. This did not go well; 70 percent of Albania is now Moslem (the call to prayers rings out about half an hour after the last bass drumbeat has faded in the beach bars of Ksamil) and the rest are mostly Christian. I was going to do the same thing when I become a dictator but I can see I might as well not bother; it comes back like mould. (Mind you, it’s been pointed out that Albanian Moslems are pretty relaxed, which might be due to a culture of enforced secularism. Then again, look at Russia. Or Turkey.)

More guns safer citizens!

He also insisted on the equality of women, flouting the ancient Albanian maxim that “A woman is known as a sack, made to endure as long as she lives in her husband’s house’. Otherwise he was a complete shit, like all people who stick up photos I mean statues of themselves everywhere. I visited Gjirokaster Castle and its ‘Prison of Seven Windows’ where Hoxha and his predecessors (the delightfully named King Zog and others) kept their political detainees and the dungeon was so black even my mobile phone torch wouldn’t penetrate it. Which is spooky, come to think of it…. (Also, there were no windows. Let alone seven. Medieval Albanian humour at work?)

The more classic view
A Dungeon. From the inside.

Having had my view of Albanians/Albania shaped by Taken and similar, I’m slightly surprised to find that I feel safer in Albania than in Greece or Italy. However, someone I met told me that all the evil Albanians are in Switzerland, so that explains it.

Finally, books. This month, my historical thriller Pandora’s Jar (described by some glue enthusiasts as ‘gripping’) is on sale at Barnes&Noble along with a heap of other great reads – check them out here. For those who prefer free reads, The Point of Us (a novel about when life falls apart, and how to put it together again) is FREE to download, along with lots of other lovely books, here. If you do download and read it, I’d love to hear what you thought of it (because frankly, since it’s not a ‘genre’ book, it’s hard to market and therefore to get reviews. So I need some positive quotes.)

Long live Albania!

6 Comments

  1. So sorry you were sick – as you said so much worse when away from home. Anyway sounds like you are good to go again and i enjoyed reading your post – haven’t been to Albania. Stay well and keep enjoying 😍

    Have a great day from Beth

    >

  2. Poor you! Thank heavens you are ok now. And Beautiful II will be joining you fairly soon, right? BTW, is the thing about the cannons for real, or a joke?

    1. Yeah Actually Genuinely Beautiful will be here in about 10 days…. I’m so looking forward to seeing her I get weepy thinking about it 😉 and yeah, it’s a joke. The cannons are for display.

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