A different St Valentine's Day

Today was the great day for all couples that love each other more or less. We could sense much of the second category around us, with elderly men lining up to buy heart shaped balloons or artificial red roses on the street corners. For us it was our last day in Albania and we had scheduled a trip to Berat, Albania's Unesco pride about 90 kilometers south of Tirana. The assembled press and all the TV stations were out to thank us for our quick visit when we left the Rogner Hotel at 9 a.m. sharp so we gave a quick interview and left without really answering any questions about where we were heading, that was reserved for you, our followers. The streets were still dry despite the bad weather prognosis and Dad manoeuvred us skilfully out of Tirana while I guided him by using our two smart phone applications since our luxurious BMW navigation system only displayed a small section of the Tirana street map and nothing beyond!!

We first crossed a mountain ridge on what is probably one of Albania's few motor ways, drove through a beautiful small district of lakes between hills and further on through a heavily industrialised valley with masses of old abandoned factories from the communist period. All along the road were thousands of unfinished villas and apartment buildings that were standing like monuments over corruption and lack of economic means. All of these building sites were covered with plastic litter and most of them were advertised for sale. Not long before Berat we entered the crude oil region of Albania where rusty "monuments" pump oil out of the ground, staining everything black. It was a stark contrast to arrive in Berat, a rather pleasant touristy city, known for its buildings from the Ottoman era when Albania was dominated by this empire. Five seconds after having found a small parking space in the city center the rain that had largely missed us till now broke loose. It came with violent winds and the intensity only increased over the next hour while we tried to explore the town. Everybody except we and a couple of brave old men fled into the cafés and shops. We still managed to get a few shots of the more important reason for our visit. Many of these old private homes have been converted into hotels or guest houses. They all looked empty but on the other hand, who besides fools like us go to Albania in the middle of February?? Enjoy Dad with his waterproof Olympus under his storm umbrella!!

Before jumping back into our car for the return trip to Durrës to catch the ferry back to Ancona in the late afternoon I had to check one of the best shops in town, Enedia's Bridal Boutique, that features all that a young aspiring woman might need. You will find Enedia on instagram for more information.

The drive to Durrës was a nightmare with flooded roads, that do not go well with the Albanians driving style on roads from which the water is not evacuated as it should normally be. This creates vast and sometimes deep lakes on the slippery road surface blinding drivers of cars that are hit with hundreds of litres torn ups by a meting truck or car. Like when going south, this road towards northwest is lined with the same type of depressing unfinished houses, buildings and factories. The worst example is found just before entering Durrës and bordering the Adriatic Sea. Hundreds of huge apartment blocks from the 1995 to 2010 period have been left unfinished since the investors found no buyers. Many were built without a permit we were told. We were glad to find the same cabin in the ferry as when coming over along with our old friends from the bar, the boss obviously being Italian and his employee Albanian. Stay tuned for our last travel day on Saturday meeting people with St Valentine hangover!

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