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Albania Unwrapped

by Sarah Button 

Posted: 03 January 2009
Word Count: 522
Summary: Short article about a revealing day trip to Albania from Corfu

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[am]Albania Unwrapped[/am]
499 words

The Flying Dolphin; a hydrofoil, is a relic of ‘70s State-of-the-Art design; something Nigel Sinclair might have put together under the influence of amphetamines, now however it belongs in a museum along with flairs and Alvin Stardust. It was like travelling in a cross between a Ryan Air plane and a London bus.
This was the start of mine, and my husband’s day trip to politically dishevelled Albania from the decadent fleshpots of Corfu.

Our guide Fatos, a mild mannered Albanian in his mid-forties met us on Balkan soil and corralled us into a minibus. We were whisked through the city of Saranda; a mishmash of new and half built office blocks and apartments. Few original buildings have survived the inexorable incursion of progress in the form of concrete. Fatos insisted that Albania was on the up.

The ‘Blue Eye Springs’ one of Albania’s main tourist attractions, provides water for a vast hydroelectric plant and is spectacularly set in a lush green valley surrounded by ancient oak trees and forgiving looking mountains. This wasn’t the Albania of my expectations. The very name once conjured up images of a cold, desolate land full of bandits, wolves and bears.

The plane beneath the 16c Turkish castle which towers above Saranda lies ready and waiting for a new airport. Itching to join the European Union, Albania must first shake off the mafia style corruption that leeches off public projects leaving the patchy new infrastructure unfinished and useless. It’s a price Fatos argues Albania has paid for democracy. In the meantime cash strapped labourers take their chances working illegally in Greece, where, like many itinerant workers, they are branded as thieves.

We escaped the ‘Tourist Lunch’ and we headed for Saranda’s back streets.
Pine trees lined a courtyard fronting a hotel built about 80 years ago. Shades of Art Deco hinted at a once prosperous establishment. Now, distressed by lack of investment it provides a suitable setting for an E M Forster novel. A gentleman at a nearby table brought us beers and there followed one of those interactions you enjoy with total strangers with whom you share no common language. Jovial, humorous and affectionate our new friends invited us to join them in a toast; we had no idea to what we are drinking and it really didn’t matter.
A Grappa induced euphoria did away with the Flying Dolphin’s worst attributes as we sped south and back to Corfu.

Returning to the resort I asked an English expatriate about Albanian workers.
‘You can pick one up outside the supermarket in Sidari, only 30 euros, they even come with their own packed lunch!’ he boasted, then added, ‘But, they are thieves.’
Our day trip had been packaged and so it seemed was Corfiot politics as I pictured my Balkan friends vacuum packed and labelled, ‘Cut-price Albanian Worker’ and carrying the warning; ‘Do Not Trust’, and reflected how easy it is to be taken in by packaging, be it commercial or political.

Sarah Button
1, Church Road, Alston, Cumbria. CA9 8QT Tel: 01434 382782/382771
I am currently in Greece. Mobile 0030 6936919460

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