Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Durres Albania

After spending the morning in Kruja we went to Durres for a short tour and dinner. Durres is about 30 minutes from Tirana on the main (only) highway.

My friend V was born in Durres and spent the first six years of her life living there with her grandparents. Why she lived with her grandparents is actually a very interesting story. Her father started working as a translator when he was just 17. He was very good at his job speaking fluent German and Chinese among other languages. To stay on top of things (vocabulary, etc.) he read a lot. Since the communists limited the types of books available, he asked some friends to send him some books from Germany. They sent dictionaries and other books to help him with his work. One of those books was Freud. Somehow the Communists found out and he was punished. His punishment was being sent up into the mountains to live for 8 years. The mountains were not healthy for a young baby so V was sent to live with the grandparents in Durres and her parents visited every month. It's like something out of a book, yet the people who lived it are right in front of you. Amazing.

Durres is a very old city. As in ancient. As in founded in 627 BC! One of the amazing things about Durres is the history right in the middle of it. You can walk down the street and up a small hill and right in front of you is a 1st or 2nd Century Roman Amphitheater. It is supposed to be the largest in the Balkans and is thought to have seated 20,000 people. It wasn't discovered until the 1960s so there are houses all around it, and one or two decrepit looking houses are actually inside the fenced off area. There are some other Roman ruins in other parts of the city, one set we looked at was a ring of pillars. Or what used to be a ring. Now there are only 5 or 6 pillars still standing. Turns out they were planning on building in that area when they discovered the ruins. The contractors tried to hide it/cover it up (so they could keep building) and destroyed many of the pillars before they were stopped. The mayor supposedly gave them permission to continue but the Prime Minister over-ruled him.

This debate really got me to thinking about how to appreciate and save our past while still making room for our present and our future. My first thought was "how in the world can they destroy such a historical find?" My next few thoughts concerned how many similar finds must have been destroyed either unknowingly or because the builders didn't care. Then I realized that with such an old civilization, there must be things of historical significance everywhere. Centuries worth of people living in the same area must at some point have cleared away the old in order to build new and "better" living, working, farming areas. How in the world, especially in such a small country, do you decide what to keep and what to "throw away" in order to allow growth and expansion for the people living today?

We also drove up a small mountain to see the former home of King Zog. Ahmet Zogu was elected as Albania's first president in 1925 but then declared himself King Zog in 1928. King Zog had a palace in Durres which was supposedly very fine in its day, having been decorated and furnished by his aristocratic wife. Unfortunately, in 1997, following the collapse of the pyramid schemes, the palace, which had been turned into a national museum, was targeted by vandals and the many paintings, furnishings, etc. were stolen. Now it sits as a sad reminder of what used to be. V and her husband seemed genuinely distraught at the sight - sad their own countrymen are/were capable of such unnecessary damage and sad that part of their history is gone forever.

We had dinner at one of their favorite Italian restaurants along the beach. Salad, pizza and pasta. As we already had experience with the size of the pizza from our night in Milan, I planned on just having a couple slices of his. V's husband talked me into trying some of the pasta too. When the pasta arrived, there were nasty little gray clumps with stinger like things sticking out of one end. Turns out, they were little clams. Now I only like clams when they are the Howard Johnson's type of fried clams. As in, so much breading and dipping sauce that you can't really tell what it actually tastes like. These were not Ho-Jo's clams. I ate some of it to be polite and then handed it off to Tom in exchange for his pizza.

Following dinner, we walked along the beach for a bit. Not in the sand, they have a paved area similar to a boardwalk. We stopped for some gelato, walked a bit more and then headed back to Tirana, getting to bed around 2300.


  1. A nagging question... have you ever disclosed how it is that you came to know Valbona?

  2. Trebord - thanks for asking. I explain how I met Valbona in today's (15 Apr 09) post.

  3. I feel as if I had an impact... wow! Thanks. I guess it's only fair since you've inspired a post or two on my blog.