Sunday, October 19, 2008
What you see in the picture below is one of the top reasons we live in Albania. Fresh fruits and vegetables, all for less than 20 bucks (minus the gourds). One of our favorite places to shop is called the "Electric Market", where you can find a slew of hardware shops, but also lining the sidewalks are many vendors selling their finest from their gardens. Some run large produce stands, others just bring whatever they can get from their own backyards, even if it's just a few bunches of grapes. The gourd guy had his car piled high with the gourds. Now we just need you to come over and help us eat it all.
Last night we had the pleasure of attending our first Albanian wedding. The daughter of one of our guard's at the school was the honored bride. As we understand it, these things start around Wednesday or Thursday and end on a Monday. There's no official ceremony, just a lot of partying, though the couple eventually goes downtown and makes it legal at some point. Apparently, Thursday is a time for guests to visit the bride only at her parent's home. She puts on her wedding dress and sits around while guests come and give her gifts and the bride's family in turn serves little chocolates or candies and drinks. Friday is a "day off" and then Saturday (the event we attended) is the bride's party. It began around 8:00pm, but we came with some of our Albanian friends around quarter till 9. The groom wasn't there yet. He was scheduled to arrive with his family about two to three hours later (at which time the bride changed into a second wedding dress). We had wine, appetizers, a beginning course of meats and cheeses, and then a larger meal of two steaks and french fries. That course came around 11pm and we left a little after midnight, so we don't know what came after that, but we heard there were still more courses coming. It was a fun night full of dancing to Albanian music and a little Spanish music. And the wedding party does it all over again the next night, only this time it's the groom's turn. He has a dinner and then the bride shows up late with her family. Then on Monday, the groom's party comes and gets the bride and whisks her away to her new home. Below: Bride and groom; Bride with girl in traditional Albanian dress; Mother-of-the-bride with friends of ours dancing ; The spread; More Dancing.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Our first stop was in Apollonia, an ancient city founded by Corinthian colonists around 600 BC. It's about a two hour drive from Tirana, along rough, dusty roads. It is said that the Roman Emperor Augustus (then called Octavian) studied here. Apparently Apollonia was an important port city for many centuries. Augustus declared Apollonia a "free and immune city", which meant the city didn't have to pay taxes to the Roman government. The people spoke Greek rather than Latin and used their own symbols on their coins. Inside the complex is a Byzantine monastery and beautiful little church, thought to date back to the 13th century. There are no monks that use the church still and I read that the church was only used as an archaelogical base. However, when we were there, we found modern pews and candles lit so someone must have been a-prayin'...
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Finally we hit the coast road. The views were dramatically breathtaking as we clung to the narrow curves 1,000 feet above sea level. Travis tirelessly drove while Amy and the other passengers vacillated between oohs and aahs and silent prayers. We drove until we hit the seaside town of Himare (Himara), had a scrumptious seafood dinner, and spent the night in a hotel right on the sea.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
On the narrow road back from Himare we took a detour to the tiny town of Jale (Yala). The winding cobblestone streets and crumbling stone houses made this a charming stop, but what really made it memorable was an invitation into a local home. As we were walking through the town, we noticed a man making Raki, the traditional Albanian drink, a clear robust liquor made from grapes or other fruit depending on where it's from. After hearing Travis exclaim, "Raki!" the man invited us into his courtyard to sample his fine product. And it was fine. I was a little nervous at first because I have heard horror stories about home-brewed Raki and how, if made wrong, can kill you in an instant. But I couldn't resist. You can see from the picture below how they make it. He stores it in barrels outside his home and probably sells it to local markets. His wife then came out to greet us with a baby on her arm. Another small child was walking around covering his eyes, too (See picture). The lady of the house told us he was too shy to look at us. They showed us around their small vineyard and gave us a sample of grapes and brought us some orange soda too. Lovely gracious people.
We made our way down the steep, rocky cliffs some more in order to get to the pebbly, secluded beach at Jale (Yala). The water was turquoise and perfectly clear, with locals bringing in lobster as we soaked our feet and skipped stones. We were even visited by a mysterious, black sea creature that swam up to us and then swam away.
Our final stop for the night was the Adriatic coastal town of Vlore (Vlora). We drove up and down the streets in search of a decent hotel and finally settled on the Bologna, right on the sea. The thing that always strikes me about Vlore is the blue, blue water, as blue as you think blue should be, nothing more, nothing less. The color is precisely blue. There's not much to do in the town this time of year except admire the beautiful views from our hotel room and stroll along the long boulevards eating popcorn, along with everyone else on the customary Albanian evening stroll.