13th Nov to 20th Nov 2015
When we first hit town in Shkoder, Albania we were taken aback by how haphazard the traffic was, bicycles meandered out into the road with no caution given to cars and cars went around people on pedestrian crossings often without even slowing let alone stopping.
After a week though it all started to become clear, here the bicycle owns the road, people will ride two or more abreast down the busiest of streets and cars will patiently wait for their chance to over take without the beep of a horn and certainly no yelling and cursing.
Cars and bicycles go around the city’s fountained central roundabout together, the bicycles smoothly the cars hesitantly giving way to all bicycles and any cars approaching from the right.
This might give the impression that bikes out numbered cars but that’s not the case they’re a minority, a very happy and unflustered minority. Pedestrians and Drivers also are very relaxed sharing the road, some pedestrians cross without looking and the cars slow down and their drivers barely complain, there’s a sense of everyone sharing the road like it’s new to them all and they’re all happy to do so.
I even saw a woman ride up to a shop that’s goods overflowed onto the side walk, she called out to the proprietor who came out to her and they conducted the sale without her dismounting, the informality and ease of it all was charming.
We spoke to our hosts about this and it turns out Albanians call Shkoder the city of bicycles, when our hosts were younger you walked or you biked everywhere, longer trips were by bus or train, cars were rare. So although cars now outnumber bikes they still give way to their fragile forebears in a way that most western countries couldn’t imagine.
The town of Shkoder and the whole surrounding area is very flat making it ideal for easy pedalling too! Somebody should hire bikes out to visitors, here you can ride in what ever clothes you’re wearing, with no helmet, no reflectors and very little regard for cars.
We could learn a lot from their seemingly crazy roads.
Streets of Shkoder
Shkoder really grew on us, the first impression wasn’t great to be honest, the town is a mix of very old and ramshackle, which we would normally quite like had they not been hidden behind newer utilitarian structures, the roads have rubbish strewn around them, mainly by the stray dogs that were an ever present feature, but once we grew accustomed to it all we could look past those details and see how laid back the locals were, their unhurried pace of life was endearing.
We enjoyed wandering around a few of the back streets, we found great little fruit and fish stalls, the locals were really friendly, a couple of street vendors saw that I had a camera and the man was telling me to take a photo of the lady on the stall, he was laughing away, so I told him to get in the photo too..they were really sweet.
At first glance Shkoder is unassuming and rough around the edges so we were not too sure how we felt at the start, but that’s why we like to stay in places for longer than a few days, you get a better feel of a place as it becomes more familiar. Shkoder is full of life, you have people sitting on street corners selling anything from fruit to old clothes, a few guys had taken over entire bus shelters selling household goods all spread out on the pavement, there are stray dogs limping eating out of rubbish bags from the middle of the roads, bikes everywhere mums with kids on the back, husbands with wives sitting side saddle, people off to work in their best work clothes, all on bikes…it’s interesting.
Our favourite street was the pedestrianised street that looked like in the summer it would be buzzing with atmosphere, it was filled with plenty of restaurants, and lined with tables and chairs outside. It was pretty quiet during our stay but we were very out of season, even so it was still a good area with a nice feel to it.
We loved this Castle ruin, we stayed for about 1 hour as we had a taxi picking us up but you could really spend all afternoon waking around these ruins, the 360 degree panoramic views of the landscape are incredible, you can view the city of Shkoder, Shkoder lake plus the Buna and Drini rivers. We did luck a particularly clear day, the rest of our week the view would have been much diminished.
The contrast of being up there in the castle ruins compared to being down in amongst the busy streets were a world apart..the peace, the beauty, the views for miles…if in Shkoder this castle is a total must see…
Tip: Take a Taxi and take water, we were only there an hour but it was out of season so no stalls etc were open, the entry point wasn’t too obvious from what we saw so we were glad we had decided to take a cab, he took us almost to the top of the hill and offered to come back in an hour to take us back, something we were glad of as we were all parched by then.
Walking around these ruins gives you a small insight of what life may have been like. The legend is a sad one….
“According to the legend, three brothers struggled to build the castle, but what they erected during the day, fell down at night. To keep the castle from falling down, they were advised to sacrifice a human life. The three brothers decided to sacrifice the first of their wives who would bring lunch the next day. The faiths picked Rosafa, the wife of the youngest brothers, who, as the legend goes, accepted the sacrifice without protest, and was buried in the wall of the castle. The story goes on, with even more heartbreaking, cruel details: it is said that she had an infant son, and asked to be walled in alive, with her right breast exposed, to feed her child, her right eye still free, to see him, her right hand exposed to caress him, and the right foot unburied, to rock the cradle”
Cost 200 leke to get in NZ$2.00 (just under 1 pound)..
We got recommended a few restaurants by Agim, we were told to book in advance for `Koan’ restaurant as they have live music, so we booked that for the Saturday night, then went and found `Bekteshi’ for our first nights meal in Shkoder.
This place felt very posh, the building was gorgeous, the whole decor of the place rich, we ordered prawns, frogs legs and veal ribs to share as a starter, which was really good, we actually didn’t feel the need to have a main course afterwards.
Lucas wanted to try the traditional Albanian Zupa dessert, it looked so yum that Jacob and Grant had to try as well, me I had my fav `Creme Caramel’.
I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Shkoder, the food was great, the staff friendly, overall it felt like a real treat.
The cost of our evening for food and soft drinks was around NZ$60.00 (around 25 pounds)
I was really excited about our night here, glad we booked because it was packed with locals, it felt like we had gate crashed a wedding, it had that feel to it, loved the music, but for Jacob and Lucas it was a little too loud, we couldn’t have our usual silly conversations. The food was good though, we all had pizza apart from Grant, he had some sort of meat sausage with peppers etc inside, it was really tasty, but don’t remember the name of it.
The staff here were all very friendly and every time we walked by during our stay they would say hello..
The cost of the evening was NZ$30.00 (12 ish pounds)
Our last afternoon on Lake Shkoder
Agim drove us to a beautiful Restaurant called `Zum Rapper’ for Lunch.
Later Agim picked us up and drove us back via some incredible photo stops along Shkoder Lake also we also stopped in another restaurant with a view of the Castle for a coffee.
Meal with our lovely Hosts
On the Wednesday night we were invited over for dinner with our hosts for a traditional Albanian feast, everything from vegetable soup, spinach & cheese pie known as Byrek, olives, little sausages, salad, cheeses to the best stuffed peppers I have ever tasted. We got to try the famous Raki, which was very nice but very strong for me, just sniffing it was enough to get my head spinning 🙂
It was a real shame that Jacob was really not very well this particular night, we decided it would be best to leave him at home in bed as we were not keen on spreading his germs, and we were literally next door.
Agim and his wife are charming hosts, he is teaching her English and with his help we did manage to have a reasonable conversation between us all, although we have interacted with our other hosts this was the first time we’d had a meal with them and it was a highlight of our stay.
If we hadn’t had to work straight afterwards we would have stayed longer and drank more.
We had shops all around us and a pedestrianised street just a short walk away full of lovely art shops and restaurants.
Cost $450 NZD (200 pounds for the week)