Walking in Northern Albania: Counting Down

Skanderbeg

A month or so to go before we set off on Wild Frontiers’ recce trip, Walking in Northern Albania – Into The Accursed Mountains, and this has popped up in my Twitter feed:

Two Skanderbeg snippets I learned from Karen Murdarasi’s article were that he was born, in 1405, in Krujë – where we spend out our last night, and that he

“…left his homeland at the age of nine for Adrianople (Edirne, in modern Turkey), where he was converted to Islam from Christianity and given a new name: Alexander, or in Turkish, Iskander. He was trained in the art of war and granted the title bey (lord or chieftain) and so the warrior ‘Skanderbeg’ came into being.”

Thelma

A few weeks ago Thelma-from-my-WF-Pakistan-Trip booked the last remaining place on the tour and is joining Hazel and me on our whistlestop pre-tour night and morning in Tirana – home to Skanderbeg Square – so I’ve changed our Villa Tafaj reservation to a triple room.

Weather

It’s a little early for looking at weather forecasts, but here they are on Yr:

I’ve raved before about Yr.no, the weather forecasting website from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.  Yr’s coverage of Albania is no less amazing.

Reading

Looking for books to read about Albania has led me down a couple of interweb rabbit holes. Join me in exploring the lives and works of:

ElsieRobert06.201003.jpg
Robert Elsie

Robert Elsie (1950- 2017): writer, translator, interpreter and specialist in Albanian studies.

His marvellous website – http://www.elsie.de/ – houses a wealth of material relating to Albanian art, history, language, literature and photography, which led me to….

 

Edith Durham.jpg
Edith Durham

Edith Durham  (1863 – 1944): an English artist and anthropologist, who travelled and worked in Albania between 1900 and 1914; Nicknamed the Queen of the Highland Peoples by the Albanians of the Northern Alps.

The Photo Collection of Edith Durham (on Robert Elsie’s website)

Albania’s Mountain Queen: Edith Durham and the Balkans by Marcus Tanner, book review (Anna Aslanyan, The Independent, 12 June 2014)

I read Robert Carver’s The Accursed Mountains: Journeys In Albania in 2010, and struggled through Ismail Kadare’s The Accident (translated by John Hodgson), and so based on Planning your own reading journey? on Around the World in 80 Books, I’m going to track down the following in the library – Albania: The Search for the Eagle’s Song by June Emerson and Ismail Kadare’s The Three-Arched Bridge and Agamemnon’s Daughter.

And to round everything off, I’ve just ordered Edith Durham’s High Albania and Lloyd Jones’s travelogue Biografi from AbeBooks.

Packing

I’m flying hand baggage only, so I’ll have to be ruthless. Time to start piling up the potential packing on the spare bed….

Albania - the packing commences

Walking in Northern Albania: Mini Update

I’ve been busy sorting out some of the final logistics for June’s Walking in Northern Albania – Into The Accursed Mountains with Wild Frontiers.

Flights bought

We’re flying direct from Gatwick with BA – out on the Thursday before the Wild Frontiers tour starts on the Friday, back on the group flight a week later.

Hotel booked

We’ve booked a twin room at the Hotel Tafaj, which is where a WF group will be staying at the end of their Southern Albania tour.

Transfers sorted

We’ve booked a taxi to meet us when we land through Hotel Tafaj, and we’ll get the Rinas Express airport bus back out to the airport to meet the group flight. We got taxi estimates and airport bus info from Lonely Planet > Tirana in Detail > Flights & getting there.

Tirana plans

We land late on the Thursday and need to be back at the airport to meet the group flight that lands at 12.10pm on the Friday, so we’ve only really got Friday morning to go sightseeing in Tirana. The hotel is 15 mins walk from Sheshi Skënderbej aka Skanderbeg Square, which is where most of the main sights are. Perfect!

Where next: Walking in Northern Albania

Trip No. 2 of 2018 is now booked, and Hazel and I are off to Albania rather than the French Pyrenees.

Destination: Albania.

When: June 2018.

What: A week’s walking in Northern Albania, with Hazel.

How: On Wild Frontiers’ recce trip, Walking in Northern Albania – Into The Accursed Mountains

Why: I find the Balkans fascinating – the history and the culture, the legacy of the Ottomans – and I’ve looked at various Albania trips over the years – winter ones, summer ones – but never quite found the right thing at the right time.

This time, serendipitously, once Hazel and I had decided against the GR10, a Wild Frontiers email newsletter popped up in both our inboxes flagging this recce trip. For one week off work we get 5 days trekking plus time in historic towns and a lake ferry. We’ll be up in the Albanian Alps – aka The Accursed Mountains – most of the time, doing day hikes in the Parku Kombëtar Lugina e Valbonës (Valbonë Valley National Park) and Parku Kombëtar i Thethit (Theth National Park). We’re going a day early, to give us some time to explore Tirana and because BA’s flights are cheaper on a Thursday.

Although it’s been a while since we’ve done a trip with Wild Frontiers (the last one was Turkey in 2012 on their Wild Walk in the Taurus Mountains), they have always been great at getting to places that are a little more off the beaten track, plus the trips are all inclusive, right down to drinking water.

I still want to walk in the Pyrenees. Whilst waiting for Exodus to run an offer for their 10 day Highlights of the GR10 trip, which had been our planned trek, I came across Mountain Bug’s Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne (HRP) offering – 3 x 1 week sections, which you can do individually or together, and which includes an ascent of the Pic d’Aneto (3404 m), the highest mountain in the Pyrenees. The HRP take the highest walkable route through the mountains, whereas the GR10 and GR11 are lower down.  Tick, tick, tick. Plus I really like the idea of going with a smaller, local business too. Other than the HRP being a less well trodden (and slightly trickier) trail, the main snag was that you have to carry all your kit, and I was happier than Hazel to do that.

So, Albania, here we come!

Itinerary:

Day 0: London – Tiranë (Tirana)
Day 1: Tirana – Shkodër
Day 2: Shkodër – Liqeni i Komanit (Lake Koman) – Fierzë – Grykat e Hapta – Valbonë
Day 3: Valbonë: Kukaj, below Maja Jezercë (2695 m)
Day 4: Valbonë: Çerem – Bori Pass – Sqapit Peak
Day 5: Valbonë: Qafa e Valbonës / Valbonë Pass (1860 m) – Thethi
Day 6: Thethi:  Kanioni i Grunasit / Grunasi Canyon – Ndërlysaj
Day 7: Thethi – Kaprea Creek – Qafa e Thorës / Thore Pass (1685 m) – Krujë
Day 8: Krujë – Tirana – London

Now all we have to do is book flights, sort out a hotel for our night in Tirana and decide how to spend our Friday morning there – and getting from/to the airport.