D’Schnitzelbängg and the football match Albania-Switzerland

Even a football agnostic notices that the upcoming European Championship will be special for the Swiss and the Albanian teams

Though being a football agnostic, I have noticed that the European Championship in France will be special for Switzerland and Albania: Quite some of the players in the Swiss team are from Kosovo-Albania and so are some in the Albanian team – all of them trained in Switzerland. When the two teams play against each other, they might talk in Swiss German. This has been commented by the “Schnitzelbängg”.

“Schnitzelbängg” belong to the Basel carnival (“Fasnacht”) that was celebrated in mid February this year: For three days my town was focused on nothing else but their Fasnacht. There is a lot to say (and love) about the “Basler Fasnacht”: The Morgestraich, the Cortège, the Guggekonzärt, the carpets of Räppli… and there are also the “Schnitzelbängg”.

Schnitzelbängg” are a kind of minstrels forming small groups that walk from one restaurant to the next in the evenings, presenting (mostly singing) short verses about what has happened during the year – in Basel, in Switzerland and in the world. This year they also commented about the match Switzerland – Albania in the European Championship. Here I am citing some verses, also trying to translate them into English and adding the links to the presentations of the “Käller-Assle” (the cheerful group of “cellar woodlouses”), the “Tam Tam” (The Tam Tam in their beautiful yellow trousers illustrate their verses with requisites they pull out of their large pockets – they won an award for their performance) and the Bataillioons-Glunggi (explanations below).


D Käller-Assle
(the verse about the football match starts at about 4:50 minutes)

Uff em Fuessballfäld dien sich bewege
Zwai Team, wo mit’nand Mundart rede.
Das passiert und isch kai Witz
Schpielt Albanie gege d’Schwyz.

On the football field there are running
Two teams that talk in dialect to each other
This will happen and it is not a joke,
When Albania will play against Switzerland.


Tam Tam
(first verse in the series)

Für d’EM z’Frankrych wird my Schtube zum Fussballstadion.
Drei Match am Daag uff der Kautsch, das bruucht Kondition.
My Frau schleppt’s Bier, pro Schpyl e Gatter. Voll yne, uuse läär.
Numme  Schwyz – Albanie lueg y nit. Do waisch nit, wär isch wär.

During the EM in France my living room will become a football stadium.
Three matches a day on the sofa, that will require physical shape.
My wife will carry the beer, per match a sixpack. Coming full and going empty.
Only Switzerland – Albania I will not watch. Because we will not know, who is who.


Batallioons-Glunggi (they furl the flag of Albania before starting with this verse)
(first verse in the series)

Mir hän ufem Wääg in Dienscht im Zuug die Faane gschwänggt.
Dr Ueli Muurer froggt uns, was das soll was hän der eych do dänggt.
E Skandaal syygs und vor Wuet do kunnt er grad e kli ins schwitze,
Drbyy hän mir nur welle d’Schwizernazi understyytze.

I am explaining the idea of this verse: The “Batailloons-Glunggi” come dressed up as soldats, as they pretend to be the “sloppy guys” (soldats) of the battalion. They are not serious about the “battalion” – this is a carneval/Fasnacht joke. They sing that they take the train to join the military service (many younger citizens are doing some practice days each year). In the train, they wave the Albanian flag. The head of the defence department (Ueli Muurer) asks them angrily, why they are doing so. They apologize (last line): “Well, we just wanted to support the Swiss national football team.”

The Albanian flag is the black eagle with two heads on red. Here it is with the bust of Skanderbeg in Lezha (Albania).


Well, may be – even as a football agnostic – I will watch the match Switzerland – Albania, but then I will not know which team to support.

Albania – from Permet to Korça

Driving from Permet to Korça through the mountains takes around five hours on small roads. In the morning we stop at the Ottoman bridge with the thermal springs.


The  Ottoman bridge of Permet and the thermal springs

Around 1800, the Ottoman bridge near Permet has been built by Ali Pasha, the mighty local administrator of the district of Epirus. On the “Reise Know How” for Albania, there are sheep on this bridge. No sheep here today.


The spring near the bridge is like an infinity pool. The water is said to be good for the skin, Ben says. No one here, except us and a couple from Germany. We have a swim in the lukewarm water.


There are more smaller ponds in the canyon. One of them is against rheumatism – Ben tells me that a priest who was bent from rheumatism got cured here.


We walk up to look into the canyon from above. Ben is worried that there is a hydropower project going on here that might endanger this beautiful spot with the ponds and the bridge.


Near the “infinity pond” we stop at a small coffee place. While the owner serves us coffee, he says: “I gave Tirana up for this place.” He also has a few guest rooms. Well yes, this is a beautiful spot with a lot of touristic potential, and I am happy that I can enjoy it without crowds of people. Ursula tells me that a year ago she was here over a weekend and the pond was full with joyful children enjoying a swim.



Continuing through the mountains 

On the way to Korça, we now follow the river Vjosa going south.


When we reach the border with Greece, we turn left and travel through hills that remind me a bit of our Swiss Franches Montagnes.  Behind the town Leskovic we overtake a farmer that walks along the side of the road. We look at one another, stop and take him with us. He was on the way to his tomato and pepper fields – about a two hours’ walk from his home. He dreams of growing his fields bigger and exporting his tomatoes. When we reach his fields, he insists on giving us tomatoes while his dogs and his son are welcoming us. Great hospitality.


A few kilometers later, a policeman stops us. Hm, what have we done wrong? It turns out that nothing is wrong. The policeman – having visited his family here in the moutnains – just looks for a way to travel back to Korça, where he works. He joins us in our car.


Lunch at Sotiro

Now, I am hungry. It is almost three o’clock. Ben knows a great place on the way, the farm Sotiro. The farm  has rooms for about 30 people, a nice camping site with a large swimming pool, cows and horses – and a pond with trouts. This would be a great place to stay and hike in the surrounding hills.


I have a fresh trout, caught from the pond and perfectly spiced and grilled. Delicious.



Continuing to Korça

We continue our way to Korça. A large team of cyclists from Sweden – not young, they are in their sixties – climb up the turns of the road – sweating. They have started in Korça today. Very brave. Ben greets each of them: “Bravo, you are doing well.”

We need another break and have coffee at the Coloçare, a restaurant that is run by a cousin of our policeman. He admires the owner, because he has constructed and decorated the place all by himself. With a lot of phantasy, as for instance the bear with the guitar shows.


Again we enjoy the great Albanian hospitality. The owner of the restaurant prepares a yoghurt drink for us and serves us butter and bread.


Ben, the owner and the policeman exchange about politics. His son is studying in Italy right now, but will have to finish his studies in Tirana, because Italy is too expensive


In Korça – beautiful Leon and a delicious meal in the Taverna – THE recommended place in Korça

In Korça we stay in the comfy and pretty guest house Buijtina Leon, right behind the cathedral. Korça is a European city with a boulevard, a beautiful park, well arranged. The restaurants mostly serve fastfood – except the Taverna –  tucked away in a small street. With the German couple, we share a delicious dinner. I have piglet. A regional Cabernet Sauvignon goes well with our meal and we forget the time, as Ben tells us the story of his life after the fall of the iron curtain.

The Rainbow – the treasures hidden at its end make me dream of conciliation

The rainbow near Gjirokastra in Albania

It rained all day until late afternoon, when I was in Gjirokaster in September 2015. With Ben I followed the tracks of Ismail Kadaré’s “chronicle in stone” – his house, the airport and the castle… (see  “On the tracks of Ismail Kadaré“). Late in the afternoon, the sun started to emerge and we saw the rainbow.


This rainbow linked us up with Ismail’s rainbow. Ismail saw his rainbow in 1940 and he was 4 years old. “The houses in the town made of stone have cisterns to collect rain water… In the morning the river is flooding the road below the town, after having tried to get rid of the bridge. The child sees hatred between the river, the bridge, the wind, the mountains and the creeks attacking from the mountains – and between all this hatred is the town – all lonesome – with their stone walls that the boy loves. In the morning the boy sees a rainbow that makes peace between the elements, but Ismail is convinced that this is only a temporary peace (see my earlier blog)”.

Yes, seeing a rainbow near Gjirokaster linked me up with Ismail Kadaré’s rainbow.


The rainbows in Switzerland point to buckets of gold (Kübeli Gold) or treasure chests (Schatzkisten)

In Switzerland you have to run fast,  when you see a rainbow. Where it touches the ground, there are buckets of gold or treasure chests (depends on the canton; in Berne – buckets of gold and in Basel – treasure chests; I do not know precisely about the other cantons). Whatever kind of treasure, you have to run fast to reach it.


The Swiss – Albanian combination of rainbows made me dream of conciliation

Rainbows and their treasures, this made me dream of conciliation and peace. I wrote down my feelings for the turn of the years 2015/2016, first in German…

Ein Regenbogen…

Die Stürme – vorbei,
Die Kräfte – versöhnt.
Der Bogen verbindet
Zwei Schätze am Boden.

Zwei Schätze – verschieden?
Und dennoch – verbunden?
Zwei Schätze – versöhne,
Was scheinbar verschieden,

Du, mein Regenbogen…


… and then in some other languages to share my thoughts with more friends.

A rainbow…

The storms – passed,
The forces – reconciled.
The arc connects
Two treasures on the ground.

Two treasures – different?
Nevertheless – connected?
Two treasures – reconcile,
What seems to be different,

You, my rainbow.



Бури прошли,
Силы примирились,
Арка соединяет
Два сокровища в земле.

Два сокровища – они разные?
И всё таки – соединились?
Два сокровища – примири то
Что кажется разным.

О! Моя радуга.


Un arc-en-ciel…

Les tempêtes – passées,
Les forces – réconciliées.
L’ arc – relie
Deux trésors sur terre.

Deux trésors – différents?
Et pourtant – reliés?
Deux trésors – réconcilie
Ceux qui paraissent différents,

Toi, mon arc-en-ciel.


Un arco-iris

Las tempestadas passadas,
Las fuerzas conciliadas.
El arco conecta
Dos tesoros al suelo.

Dos tesoros – diferentes?
E sin embargo – conectados?
Dos tesoros – concilia
Los que parecen diferentes.

Tú, mi arco-iris.

Ohrid in Macedonia – Sveta Sofia and Bogorodiza, Sveti Kaneo – and Renaissance icons

On September 30th 2015 I visited Ohrid. Elena took us through her town. The three main churches that we visited were the cathedral of Sveta Sofia, the church of Sveta Bogorodiza with the adjacent icon museum and the church of Sveti Jovan Kaneo which is said to be the most photographed church. In the churches and in the museum, they sell small booklets with photographs of the icons (Мале туристичке мононрафии ). The booklets are worth buying. I scanned some of the fotos to give an impression of the icons in this blog.


The cathedral Sveta Sofia or Света Софиja

“Sofia”” means “wisdom”. Probably the cathedral Sveta Sofia was already in use in the 10th century – under Zar Samuel from Bulgaria. This is the view from outside.


Sveta Sofia must have been decorated shortly before the shisma of 1054 (Orthodox and Catholic). Before the schisma Archbishop Leon (1037-1056) mediated between the orthodox and the catholic directions of belief by having painted not only the orthodox archpriests, but also the popes of Rome. Below are the popes of Rome.

SvSofia 2

Source: “Света Софиja Охрид”, Мале туристичке мононрафии 47, Загреб 1986

Under the Ottomans, the narthex of the cathedral became a mosque and the choir was separated from the mosque. Hidden away in the choir, the 11th century frescoes have been preserved.

The wise Godmother dominates the choir. She seems to dream of her son: He stands in an oval shaped cloud (the son does not sit on her arm – so he has not yet been born, but is just a thought).

SvSofia 1

Source: “Света Софиja Охрид”, Мале туристичке мононрафии 47, Загреб 1986

Underneath the Godmother are Christ and the 12 apostles at the Last Supper. The scene looks more like the communion service to  me.


The  church Sveta Bogorodica Perivlepta or Света Вогородица

Our next stop is Sveta Bogorodica Perivlepta. In the Ottoman times, the relics of Sv Kliment were kept here, this is why the church is also known under the name of Sv. Kliment.


Sveta Bogorodiza has remained a church in Ottoman times. This is why the frescoes have been preserved here as well. These frescoes from the late 13th century  are called “Renaissance”. Overcoming the rigid rules of traditional Byzantine icon painting, the artists brought life and perspective to the scenes. One example is the mourning of Christ – the lady in the background throws up her hands.

Bogorodiza 2

Source: “Црква Св.  Климент”, Мале туристичке мононрафии 44б Загреб 1988

This early Renaissance movement reminds me of the Brancacci Chapel in Florence that a 100 years later was marked by Masolino’s somewhat rigid fresco about the temptation just across from Massaccio’s vivid representation of the expulsion from the paradise.

The representation of the Last Supper shows Christ twice, first handing out bread and second handing out wine… it is like an “infograph” telling a story.

Bogorodiza 1

Source: “Црква Св.  Климент”, Мале туристичке мононрафии 44б Загреб 1988

In the church we also find frescoes painted in the Ottoman times (starting around 1450) that follow again more traditional Byzantine rules of icon painting.


The Icon Gallery

To round off the overview of the icons, Elena takes me to the icon gallery, just opposite of the Bogorodiza church.

11th century: The icons create distance between humans and saints. The saints look calm and stiff – they are remote holy beings.


Source: “галерия на икони – Орха” (NI Institute for Protection of the Monuments of Culture and Museum)


12th/beginning of 13th century: The figures become more vivid and more realistic like in this annunciation.

Annunciation 12a13th century

Source: “галерия на икони – Орха” (NI Institute for Protection of the Monuments of Culture and Museum)


End of 13th to 15th century (1261-1453): This period is called Renaissance of the Paleologues and takes place during the second Byzantine reign. Pespective appears in the icons and the saints are represented as human beings. The distance between the saints and the spectators diminishes. This is the evangelist Matthew, painted in the 14th century.


Source: “галерия на икони – Орха” (NI Institute for Protection of the Monuments of Culture and Museum)

And this is an annunciation also from the 14th century.



Under Ottoman rule (around 1450 onwards): The saints are again represented in a formal, rigid manner and the icon seems to be “flat”. This is Archangel Michael from the 17th century.


Source: “галерия на икони – Орха” (NI Institute for Protection of the Monuments of Culture and Museum)


Sveti Jovan Kaneo – the most photographed church

We round off our tour of the three preferred churches in Ohrid with Sveti Jovan Kaneo. It is probably the most photographed church, and it is usually shown with the Ohrid lake in the background.


I also liked the view from below – from here the jagged roof of the central dome can be seen more clearly.


“This is my favorite church”, says Elena, “I love the sunset here. ”

Thank you, Elena, for all these insights into Ohrid and the iconography.



Albania – an excursion to Ohrid in Macedonia

Today it is September 30th. Our plan: Leave Korça and travel to Macedonia to visit the Naum monastery and Ohrid. Then return to Pogradec in Albania.


Leaving Kroça – a quick stop at their brewery

After a tasty breakfast with local specialties we leave the cosy guesthouse Bujtina Leon. Ben takes me to the brewery of Birra Korça.


The Korça beer is available all over Albania. In August, they have a beer festival, similar to the Oktoberfest in Munich. Some 100’000 persons participate in the beer garden next to the brewery. Does Munich know about their little brother?


Crossing the border to Macedonia – first stop at St. Naum monastery

This is our first view of the lake Ohrid,  shortly before arriving at Pogradec.


We cross the border and visit the St. Naum monastery…


… with its frescoes.


St, Naum and St. Kliment have brought Christianity to this area – in the 9th century. They were the disciples of Cyrill and Methodius. We will meet St. Kliment in Ohrid.


Ohrid îs a gorgeous town with narrow streets, Turkish style houses and amazing churches – one for each day of the year

Around noon, we arrive in Ohrid. Elena is waiting for us. She is a translator for English, Italian and Spanish and now works as a tour guide. She loves her city and is full of stories. “Ohrid”, she says proudly, “has many, many churches, one for each day of the year.” “Great, and what about the leap year?” I ask. “We will surely find a 366th church”, she answers smiling mildly. It is true, we come across many, many small churches, and we stop extensively at three churches: The cathedral of Sveta Sofia, the church of Sveta Bogorodiza with the adjacent icon museum and the church of Sveti Jovan Kanoa which is said to be the most photographed church. I will talk about these churches in my next blog.

While walking Elena stops after every few steps to point out some details that otherwise would remain unnoticed. We enter the city at the lower gate.


The streets are narrow. The Turkish houses grow in size from bottom to top.


At the bottom, Elena says, space is needed for the traffic in the streets. And higher up, the houses grow in size to efficiently use the space. Sometimes this pattern is even repeated in the lamps.



Roman and Greek remains

While walking through the streets of Ohrid we find these Roman mosaics that have been uncovered. Entry free.


The Greek amphitheatre from the second century BC has a wonderful view of the town and the lake. The theatre was covered in Ottoman times. It has been discovered only recently, Elena says. To excavate it, houses had to be removed. Now the theatre hosts performances. I like the view of the lake and the – mostly – Ottoman houses – no construction sins can be found here (why does the Treschner guidebook complain about the houses hindering the view of the lake? These houses have been here for centuries and before the theatre had been rediscovered…).


At various places in town, Elena says: “Here is the theatre”. But the theatre is not “here”, I think. Then again: “Here you can see the theatre.” What does Elena mean? I ask myself. It takes a long time, until I understand: In many churches and houses, columns and stones from the theatre have been reused. Yes, now I understand, why the theatre is omnipresent in Ohrid.


We are hungry – we have completely forgotten about eating and now it is almost 3 PM

Just across the cathedral Sveta Sofia, we have lunch with regional specialties. To me these Macedonian bites look like mezze. And the fish soup is one of the best fish soups that I have ever eaten – light and with a fresh-sourish taste.


We say good-bye to Elena and exchange business cards. Elena was an excellent and knowledgeable guide.


Driving back to Pogradec

On the way back to Pogradec we come across the stilt houses. Unfortunately the museum closes already at 4PM.


We are about an hour late. We cross the border to Albania and settle in the five star hotel Enkelana. Well – five stars is a bit much for the place. But it is an interesting time travel back to communist times. Old communist style hotels and American top hotels like Hilton have one thing in common: They lack atmosphere, even if they are a safe bet – we know what we can expect. Ben smiles and shows me the tiles on the floor. They look like an irregular mosaic and have been there since communist times. I later hear that this style is called “Terrazo“.


Dinner at the Enkelana: Koran, the endemic trout of the Ohrid lake

Ben has eaten in the Enkelana before and recommends to try Koran fish here. Koran  is the trout endemic to the Ohrid lake. Ben say that in communist times they have eaten the Koran fish on the Yugoslavian side – now it is the turn for the Albanians to eat it. I feel a little bad, as I suspect that this trout is in danger of extinction.


Before the hydropower stations, the eel of the Ohrid lake travelled to the Sargasso Sea in the Carribean and their offspring travelled back to the Ohrid lake. But the dams in the Black Drin have resulted in the eels not to come back to the Ohrid lake any more. I am shocked, how we humans are changing the world. Not only here in the Balkans. We made the same experience in Basel – the salmon came back from the sea, until the dams were built – and they have not yet found their way back using the fish ladders that have recently been installed.










Albania – from Gjirokaster to Permet

Today we travel from Gjirokaster to Permet – and tomorrow we will continue to Korça. The usual tour programs go from Gjirokaster directly to Korça which makes a very long day in the car. I am happy that Jorik from albania2go has scheduled the stop over in Permet in the Vjosa valley which gives me more time to explore the area.


The Viroi lake near Gjirokaster

Just north of Gjirokaster there is the Viroi lake with willows and newly made paths for hiking and cycling. Ben is very proud of this place and says the Blue Eye Spring originates here .



The Tepelene well at the road: It is a handy “water pit stop”

Ben tells me that the road to Tepelene has been completed half a year or a year ago. Before it was a sinuous road.  Shortly before Tepelene there is a well. At this “water pit stop”, we fill our water bottles.



Tepelene – the town of Ali Pasha and the town of mineral water

Ali Pasha, the ruler of the Ottoman district of Epirus around 1800, is said to come from a village near Tepelene. This is his statue.


As always he is shown with a stem and severe expression on his face. It is said that his mother and sister were raped by the inhabitants of the village, when he was a boy. He took revenge, when he had become Pasha and killed all men of the village.

Ali Pasha’s severe look is also on the mineral water that comes from Tepelene.


In his district, Ali Pasha had many fortifications built or reinforced, also the one of Tepelene. This is why the Ottomans perceived him to be dangerous for their empire. He was also nicknamed “The Muslim Bonaparte of Europe”.


Inside the walls, there is a town with small houses and neat gardens.


In a coffee bar, we take a break. The owner asks us to look after his bar and disappears for quite some time… Once he is back, we pass by the mill of Ali Pasha and enter the valley Bençës. For about an hour we walk along broom, salvia and camomile bushes. Ben is worried that a hydropower project might destroy this valley – the construction continues despites protests of NGOs. This is the construction site.


After a good hour’s walk we reach Ali Pasha’s aqueduct. A stunning construction, …


… crossing the valley and the river bed.


There is a farm nearby and a village at the end of the valley – strong,  old Mercedes cars are commuting on the unpaved road. We walk back and continue our way to Permet.


Lunch with roasted goat

In a small restaurant overlooking the river Drino, we have lunch – roasted goat with yoghurt.



Crossing the river Vjosa using the iron bridge

Then we cross the river Vjosa…


… beware of the gap between the bridge and the road.



Bus stations – are they served at all?

Along the river Vjosa we head for Permet. We come across this bus station. A lady is waiting here. Will she ever be picked up by a bus?


We should rather take her with us… She is very happy and we drop her at her house in Permet.


We settle in the hotel Alvora – one of the few hotels here at Permet. Our rooms have a view of the river Vjosa. We go for a short walk climbing the huge rock called Guri I Permëtit.


Tomorrow we plan to visit Banjot e Benjës, the thermal springs, and Canyon of Lengarica. There are vineyards around Permet – visiting a winegrower would be an option here as well.


We have dinner at the friendly restaurant Antigone where the daughter, about 20 years old, serves the guests. She has a talent for languages, speaks English and Turkish and plans to learn German in Germany. I added a recommendation for this restaurant to Tripadvisor. This is their basket offering wines from the area of Permet.


Tomorrow we will continue to Korça.




Albania – on the tracks of Ismail Kadaré in Gjirokaster

Gjirokaster – a town made of stone

How much have I looked forward to this day. Today I will follow the tracks of Ismail Kadaré’s “chronicle in stone”. I had read the chronicle a year ago. It is the story of the three to seven year old boy that observed the war as a child: The first years from 1939-1940 and the second part from 1941-1943.

Today, we slender through the town where “it could happen that the basement of one house touched the roof of another house. It was a town made of stone.” As illustrated in the castle museum:


The houses look like fortresses:  Basement with vaults, then large windows behind which the guestrooms with the divans were.


Rich landowners lived here. They had farmers working for them. The town was wealthy due to agriculture, trade and craftmanship (eg leather).

Enver Hoxha’s house is now an ethnographics museum showing the rooms for guests, men, children and women as well as the kitchen.


In his chronicle, Kadaré talks about Hoxha. He was a communist partisan at that time and his house was a ruin. ““This ruin was his house”, Ilir whispers to Ismail in winter 41/42 and in the ruins they find this notice: “Wanted: The dangerous communist Enver Hoxha. He is about 30 years old and tall…”” (see my blog 1941-1943)

This is another example of a fortified house; it belonged to the Skenduli family.


The entry door is horizontal – what a clever design.



The castle above the town 

The castle above the town has been fortified by Ali Pasha around 1800 to become a stronghold that could withstand bombing. In Kadaré’s chronicle, there was a prison here. Later the whole city hid from the English bombs. ” The number of air raids by the English is augmenting. The citizens move into the castle above the town. Only Grand-Ma Selfixhe stays in the house of the Kadarés. ” (see 1941-1943)


The vaults were thick – here is a photo with the galerie of canons.


During his dictatorship, Hoxha added an ugly communist building (now hosting an exhibition of rifles) and in addition tunnels underneath the castle.


The house of Ismail Kadaré – it is stronger than all other houses and the boy is proud of it…

The house of Ismail Kadaré is on a horizontal street. From above it almost looks small.


From the hotel Kodra I can see, what a large house it is. Yes, Ismail, you are right to be proud of this house.


Ismail Kadaré has donated his house to the state. It is being renovated and is closed. We are allowed in. Currently they are redoing the room where Ismail was born, the foreman explains to us.


So – may be it was from this room that the boy Ismail stood at the window and watched,  how “… in summer 1940 the Italians have built an airport below the town. The boy has observed the process. The cows have disappeared… The  boy admires the parade of white planes. He is proud that Gjirokaster now also has planes… He watches the planes go south and he is always happy to see them come back.” (see 1939-1940)


Today the airport is not in use, but there are some plans to reuse it as a local airport.

The house has a cistern that collects rain water. ” … the rain drops land on the roof of the house – not yet knowing about their fate. Their fate is to get caught in the drainspout and to be captivated in the dark cistern, until mum lifts some of them into a bucket to clean the floors in the house. During the stormy night, the cistern fills with water – too much water. The boy shouts “huuuh” into the cistern, but it is angry and does not reply. ” (see 1939-1940). This must be, where the boy shouted “huuuh” and the angry cistern did not reply… it was too full with water and had to be emptied, with the help of the neighbours.


The foreman shows us, where the bunker is. How proud Ismail was of “his” house! “One morning the boy discovers a metallic plate next to the door of their house: “Air raid shelter for 90 persons”. Passerbies read the plate. The boy smiles proudly at them: “Look, this is a house, it is stronger than all the other houses, it is the only one with such a plate.” The adults do not notice him. The boy goes down into the vault and admires the thick walls.” (see 1939-1940)


In this bunker the boy listened to the conversations – one of them was about Albania: “The former artillerist Avdo Barbamo says that a Dervish wanted to know from him, what he prefers, his family or Albania. “Albania, this is evident”, the artillerist answered. His reasoning: You create a family over night, after having met a woman in a café. But Albania? You do no create Albania in a night, even 1001 nights do not suffice. ” (see 1939-1940)

I am very happy to have found the house of Ismail Kadaré. The foreman does not want any money – he is too proud, but in the end he accepts. I must have been the only tourist that has come to this construction site officially closed for tourists. I dream of a “tour Kadaré” that leads to all the places of his “chronicle of stone” displaying some relevant quotes on panels. Perhaps I should suggest this to the tourist office of Gjirokaster?


German support for border controls in the hotel Kodra

Under the square that once has hosted the memorial for Enver Hoxha there is the new hotel Kodra. We meet some German policemen that help control the border to avoid Albanians going to Greece. “Why only repression? What about coaching for business?” I ask. They answer: “Our mission is controling the border, we cannot do anything about it”. I am sighing. If only we could change the world for the better instead of only adding violence.


Our afternoon program: Hiking on the Lunxhëri hills and visiting a small church, the hermit’s cave and Antigonea, the ancient capital of Pyrrhus

It is no longer raining, just drizzling. Ben drives our car on to the Lunxhëri hills. We walk uphill. There are herds of sheep and goats with dogs guarding them. They bark at us, angrily. We find this church… the remains of a monastery called Shën Mërisë. According to Reise Know How Albania, p. 445, it contains frescoes.


Above the church, there is a small chapel in the rock. According to Reise Know How (p.445), this is the cave of a hermit and it is called Spile.


The stairs are dizzying. There are many excrements of goats – After having visited the cave, we wash our hands in a creek nearby. The weather starts to  clear up.


The shepherds come home and we have a chat with them.


The rainbow does not fit on to our photo lenses – and as we move, it moves with us…


Antigonea was the capital of Epirus in the 3rd century BC. It was destroyed in 167 BC. Pyrrhus (famous for his victory) named the town after his wife Antigone.


We say hello to Antigonea and, as it becomes dark, we return to Gjirokaster. We have dinner in the Taverna (I believe it is just across the building where the partisans had burnt the cadasters, as observed by the boy Ismail).


This has been another great day. Thank you, Ben.

Tomorrow, we will visit Ali Pasha in Tepelene and continue to Permet.

Albania – from Saranda via Butrint to Gjirokaster

Today is 25th of September. Butrint and Gjirokastra are on the program. I do look forward to the excavations at Butrint and to the town in stone, described by Ismail Kadaré.


Saranda – early morning walk

It pours with rain at six in the morning, but when I get out a little later, the rain had stopped and I catch some early morning views – this is the tidy promenade along the bay.



Butrint – heavy rain and then dry weather

Butrint is located on the half island of a brackwater lake. South of Butrint, the Vivari channel connects the lake with the sea. When we arrive at Butrint, it pours with rain again.

At the entrance gate, a panel lays out the periods of Butrint: Chaonian/Epirus/hellenistic (inner circle, 4th century BC), Roman (outer circle, an aqueduct crossed the Vivari channel, as illustrated on Roman coins; until about 300 AD), early Byzantine (Baptistery and Basilika, until about 1200 AD), Medieval times with changing rulers (Venetian tower and museum building), around 1800 used as a fortress by Ali Pasha (he fought against Napoleon). I buy the book about Butrint  by Çondi (on sale at the kiosk near the museum).

We enter the site. It has stopped raining. Lucky us. I am surprised to see the city center (agora and forum) under water. This may have been caused by the earthquake around 300 AD.


I recognize the Roman heating – the thermae were here. Such hypocausts have also been dug out in Augusta Raurica near Basel.


The baptistery is the place where Christians were baptized. Arranged in seven rings the mosaic contains symbols that illustrate, what becoming Christian means. For instance the fish are the symbol for the sinners that are being saved by Christ. (Condi, p. 85).


The basilica remaining from the early Byzantine times is relatively well kept.


The mosaic is covered with sand, but a small edge is free and gives an impression of its beauty.


This is an Illyrian gate, almost hidden. I am impressed by the strength of these walls that withstood earthquake despite the damages. Like the Inca in South America, the Chaonians knew how to construct stable walls.


We pass the Lion’s gate, a fountain, and more sites, visit the museum (no photos allowed) and then – with the twinkle of an eye. I take this picture of a “Roman” Opuntia.


Butrint is full with tourists that follow their guides. The guides speak like water falls, and I can tell from the eyes of many of their followers that they are no longer listening. Perhaps we should hire the tour guide from Thun that challenges his followers by brainteasers. In Butrint, one such brainteaser could be: “Using the elements of the Opuntia, the Romans prepared a salad called Nopalae, right?” –  Wrong – Nopales is a stunningly delicious meal in Mexico, but only after 1492 the Opuntia travelled to Europe and the Old World – whereby Nopales salad has not become widely known here.


Lunch at Ksamil village

We have lunch at the small restaurant Rilindja in Ksamil village. It has started to pour with rain now.


The place looks romantic and the chief prepares an excellent merluc (hake) with rosemary. I hear a French accent… it is a tourist from Strassbourg that has entered the restaurant. He owns a house on the Ksamil island. He spends some days here to prepare his boat for the winter.


Excursions around Saranda: the castle Lekures and the monastery of the 40 Saints.

The castle Lekures is located on top of a hill west of Saranda.


It is a restaurant. The deal with the owner seems to bee: You look after the castle and you can use it as a restaurant. It is foggy right now.


But then, the fog dissipates and gives way to the view of the bay and of Korfu.


The monastery of the 40 Saints (manastir 40 shenjtoret) is a ruin. The panel gives an idea of what it was before.


This monastery gave the name to “Saranda” which is “forty” in Greek.


Crossing the mountains on the way to Gjirokaster – a stop at the Blue Eye Spring (Syri y Kalter)

The Blue Eye Spring is a favourite stop over for tourists and Albanians on the way to Gjirokaster. The spring really looks like a blue eye.



Gjirokaster – the town that I already know from Ismail Kadaré

We reach the fertile valley of the Drino.


This is the valley of Gjirokaster, the town I already know from having read Ismail Kadaré’s “chronicle in stone”. The town has steep and narrow streets, and it is not a pedestrian zone. Cars are omnipresent. We look for our hotel Kalemi 1, land in Kalemi 2 first, have to drive backwards and turn around rectangular corners – I admire the driving skills of Ben.

My room is small and the toilet does not work. The manager is very kind and gives me a huge room with a great view of the town, the Drino valley and the Lunxhëri mountains.


Tomorrow we will follow the tracks of Ismail Kadaré’s “chronicle in stone”. I do look forward to that.



Albania – from Llogara Village to Saranda

Today we go for an early morning walk in the Llogara hills and then drive down to Saranda along the beautiful Albanian Riviera. It is now 24th of September 2015.


Early morning walk to see the Ionian Sea

Ben and I meet in the hotel reception early in the morning at six. Great that the coffee bar already serves an espresso. We walk up to the neck coming across this interesting electrical installation.


Flag pines are our companions on the way up – they are called “pisha flamur” in Albanian.


From the neck we climb uphill towards a peak. There is a gorgeous view of the Ionian coast line. In Albanian “jon” means “our”, Ben explains to me. Hence for the Albanians the “Ionian Sea” is “Our Sea”.


Clouds are announcing that the weather will change soon. There is also a cloud covering the peak in front of us.  We return to our hotel to have breakfast. The coffee is so bad that I refuse to drink it. But milk with honey is fine…


The young guy at the hotel reception has an excellent American accent. “Where have you studied English”, I ask him. “In Utah”, he answers. Aha, in Utah, in the beehive state? Are the Mormons present in Albania? Yes, he is a Mormon. His whole family has converted. His friends are just on their way to Switzerland, because the nearest Mormon Temple in Europe is in Berne. Albania seems to be open for all religions – I like that.


Driving back to the neck and along the Albanian Riviera 

We load our car and drive to the neck now. There are German bunkers here – looking down to the coast line and the bungalow resort “Green Coast” that is planned in the bay.


Between bushes of thyme and salvia we find a stand that sells honey. Ben tries the honey and likes it. We buy a pot. A herd of goats is crossing the road. They seem to think that cars are strange animals…



Stop in Dhermi with the monastery and church Shën Mërisë 

Now we are in Dhermi. White houses are greeting us. Above them is the church Shën Mërisë. On a small path, we climb up. Most of the tombs are Greek here.


There are the frescoes inside the church.



When we walk down, a car from Poland comes up the steep and sinuous street. The priest is following fast in his Mercedes. It is almost eleven and he must soon ring the bell.


Our next stop is Himara

The Illyrian town Himara lies on a rock at about 150m above sea level. This town has the oldest castle in Albania (7th century B.C.). Himara withstood the Ottomans, kept its orthodox religion and stayed somewhat independent.


The village is now decaying. This romantic spot would have potential for tourism. Now there is no touristic infrastructure, even not a kiosk selling souvenirs or drinks.


A Greek minority lives in this area. My mobile phone beeps and  says “welcome to Greece”. But we are still far from Greece. Ben mumbles that here he once got caught and had to pay roaming fees, though he was still in Albania. I am surprised – a kind of battle takes place between the Albanian and Greek Telecom companies.

Below Himara village we stop in the sea resort Himara. It looks ugly. The buildings are decaying. The fountain is falling apart. Only a few tourists are here – to me they look like “old 68’s”.  A ghosty atmosphere. I want to leave this place immediately.


Porto Palermo with the castle of Ali Pasha and the submarine garage

Porto Palermo has always been a natural port. Ali Pasha built a fortification in 1804, with the help of French engineers, as an engraving shows. Later this fortification has been a prison and it was also used by the Italians and the Germans in the second World War.


In an unfriendly restaurant, we have lunch (at least the fish was fresh). Then we get the key from the guard who has escaped the pouring rain by retreating to his apartment. With a group of students from Poland we explore the fortress.  The students have come here from Saranda, driving in a convoi of small cars from Sipa Tours. A cheerful group of young people – dzien dobry!

The ground floor of the fortress is groomy, damp and dark. We are happy to climb to the roof and find fresh air with a view of the bay.


Not far from here is the garage for submarines that has been built during communist times.


After a stop in a bar that sits on top of water falls (Borsh – unfortunately closed), we drive to Saranda.


Saranda is a vibrant sea resort in a beautiful bay just across Korfu

We stay in the Kaonia hotel directly facing the sea. Saranda has been an Illyrian and Greek settlement, but in ancient times it has always been dwarfed by Butrint that is not far from here. The name “Saranda” derives from the “40 saints”.


Korfu and Greece are just across the bay.


We walk along the seafront. Some palm trees are beautiful – like this one -, while some have caught a disease – just the stems are left. Saranda makes a good impression. Real estate is on sale, in English and in Russian.


The public beach is clean and the water would invite for a swim… well, not today. It is raining.


Tomorrow we will see Butrint – the Unesco World Heritage Site south of Saranda – I look forward to that.






Albania – a day in Berat

Hotel White City – great view of Mangalem from the balcony

The hotel White City serves breakfast on the balcony of the hird floor. From the balcony, there is a great view of Mangalem, the city under the castle. I can see where the name “white town of 1000 windows” comes from.



Walking up to the castle hill

Above Mangalem is the city castle. On the way up we stop in the ethnological museum which is hosted in the house of the noble Xhokaxhi family.


On the groundfloor there is an exhibition of clothes – noble ones made from silk embroidered with gold for the Pashas and plain white ones made out of wool for normal people. On the first floor the guest rooms with sofas, tea equipment and weapons have been arranged, as well as the kitchen and the rooms for the women.

We continue to the castle and pay our entrance fee.


Walking around the wall

The castle was first built in Illyrian times, and their solid walls remain. In Illyrian days, Berat was called Atrantia. The names of one of the streets and a restaurant remind us of that.


We walk around the castle walls. Berat saw changing rulers: the Bulgarians (they called Berat “Beli Grad”), the Byzantines (two times), Epirus (one of the streets is called after Mihal Komneini from Epirus) and the Serbs under Stefan Dušek. From those Christian times there are churches on the Berat castle – most of them are ruins today. This is the Shën Triada Church.


For 500 years the Ottomans ruled over Berat… also their mosques are mostly in ruins. This is the Red Mosque.


A lady sits in a room under the castle wall – she fabricates embroidery – one napkin takes a week and she earns perhaps 10 to  20 dollars by selling it.

Hidden inside the castle walls is a city with narrow streets. The Turkish style houses are from the 18th/19th century.


Also animals live here, cocks with their hens, sheep and also turkeys.



Our highlight: The Onufri museum

The Cathedral of St. Mary is now a museum. It takes its name from Onufri; he was an icon painter in the 16th century. On display are icons from him and from other icon painters.


Anila has just started her tour with a Russian group. She explains the icons in English and the Russian tour leader translates for her group. Very professional. Father Onufri’s icons are vivid and adorned with a bright red colour – here are two Theodors.


Source: Leon Cika and Ylli Drishti: “The icons of Berat”, Mali Preshti Printing house.

This is the Last Supper taking place at a round table with vessels, forks and knife in the Ottoman style.


Source: Leon Cika and Ylli Drishti: “The icons of Berat”, Mali Preshti Printing house.

And here the icon painter added a mosque with a minaret, as a reference to the Ottoman rulers in the country.


Source: Leon Cika and Ylli Drishti: “The icons of Berat”, Mali Preshti Printing house.


Lunch at Klea

We have lunch in the Klea: Vegetable soup, Byrek with eggplant and spinach, musakka – everything home made and delicious.



New town and Gorice

We stroll around the new town with the Bektashi centre and an orthodox church. I like this hairdresser, called “berber” in Albanian.


We cross the Ottoman bride to Gorice, …


… accompanied by goats crossing the Osum river in the water.


The small church of Saint Mehillit (from the 13/14th century) is unfortunately closed – this is the view from the castle hill.


We finish off this day by walking along the busy main street of new Berat and climb the castle hill from behind. On the way up, we meet a elderly woman with friendly eyes that limps down the steep street. Ben has a chat with her. She wishes us a long life. Thank you.

We return to the Kea restaurant and guest house. In the garden we have a beer, a glass of red wine and some goat cheese. Excellent. Whenever I come back to Berat, I would like to stay in this guest house. I made an entry in Tripadvisor. Back at home, Ben called me to give me the “thank you” from the owners. It is me that has to say thank you!