Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The old Ottoman bridge at Mesi

So, just like last summer, after a couple fo nice warm sunny days, the rain came today and threatened to wreck our plans. Fortunately we are staying in one of the most interesting cities in Albania, namely Shkodra in the north, next to the border with Montenegro.

Apart from wandering around town this morning, we paid a visit to the very interesting National Museum before taking the car out and going to the Mesi Bridge and then up to Rozafa Castle just above the town.

The National Museum was housed in an old Ottoman building, very similar to the one which housed the National Museum in Prishtina in Kosova last summer. A whitewashed building under wooden eaves with large guestrooms. This one housed an archeaological department with very interesting and beautiful finds from the Illyrians, who lived here from the bronze age times, through to the Greek influence, the Roman Empire and times under the Venetians and the Ottomans. Star of the show was an African-looking head, which may have come here through the Phoenicians but no-one is sure.

Upstairs was an ethnological museum with costumes and furniture from the Ottoman times. Everything was very well brought to life by our informative guide Fadmir.

The drive out n the rain to Mesi Bridge was fascinating as we passed the old industrial estate, which under the Communists was probably a hive of activity, now in unemployment-ridden Albania almost all empty. Past the graves and the plastic flower shops, along to ea very long bridge over the stoney river bed, where a shepherd looked after his sheep and along a very bumpy road (including road humps, as if the road surface itself wasn't bad enough), we finally came to a village where a big big hole was being dug in and along the road (for a new drain). Somehow we gathered that teh bridge must be here and after asking around, we were shown to the top of a mound of rubbish from where we had a very good view of the most wonderful bridge down in the valley below.

The bridge was built by the Ottomans and is in very good shape and the river below was a clear turquoise colour, set amongst green fields with views out to the misty mountains in the north. A beautiful spot ) despite the mounds of rubbish which had been dumped here. Horses and carts passed along the road, alternating with minibuses into the mountain villages.

The people here are very traditional and they seem to eye us with suspicion. Not hostile but also not welcoming. They have a very proud and strong tradition and they do not like outside influence. However a chap was found for us, Bassim, who spoke perfect English with a London accent because he had lived and worked near Finsbury Park for six years! He said that he and his fellow villagers were trying to prepare their village for tourism (attracted by the bridge below). Good luck to them.

Rozafa Castle, built on a rocky outcrop to the south of the present city has an amazing position, at the confluence of three rivers, views across the plains all around and across west to the mountains of Montenegro and north to the Albanians Alps. Strategically very important and with very steep cliffs, easy to hold.

However, every now and then on a holiday like this one makes mistakes and today we made the mistake of having dinner at the Palma restaurant, as only people eating there (probably in the past week, judging by the colour of the meats Fred was given and the state of my prawns. And to think we could have been eating bruschetta, fresh ham, risotto and so on with our dear waiter Marku, at the Colosseo restaurant just below our hotel room... we ended up having coffee (Fred) and ice cream (me) there to round off the evening.

With rain forecast to the end of the week we have to think about what we will do next. The mountains might be tricky, the south is a long way away and Ulcinj adn Budva just over the border in Montenegro beckon...

Anyway, we are a lot more positive about Albania than we were yesterday.

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