Let’s begin with a joke.
What’s 208 miles long and 81 miles wide?
This is probably about as funny as this entry gets for the simple reason that Albania, whilst being quite beautiful, appears to be rather dull. There are lots of boxes ticked but they’re just not especially boxes about which I can bring myself to care. In the interests of fairness, let’s give it a try.
Street View allows me to come to the conclusion that the capital Tirana looks right posh.
There are wide tree-lined avenues, well-dressed people, and apartments beaming with affluence. There’s even a Cinnebon which is an American chain of bakeries which limits its customers to an inexplicable choice of a single flavour of bun.
I’m learning that MOS PARKO means no parking.
Or, free parking.
(There's an absence of cars but this doesn't tell me whether or not the sign is successfully keeping errant parkers at bay, or if it's just a quiet day).
The coastline is very rocky – more cliffs than beaches. Or bluffs, as Americans call cliffs. I shall call them cliffs, because that is what they’re called.
There are some nice beaches further down the coast near Karpen. We lose street view but the Photo Spheres give us views of gorgeous night-time beach bars. Small, private enclaves like you might find in the Caymans (I have NO idea if this is true, it just looks a little bit like the beach where Tom Cruise completely convincingly has sex with Karina Lombard in The Firm).
The mountainous region of Spanesh was apparently named by a drunk and geographically-confused Englishman.
If you are travelling down highway SH4 Kavajë, in Tirana County and need a petrol station, do not fear. There are fucking hundreds of them.
There is an attractive-looking vineyard further south near Tragjes. However there’s no one there actually doing any work and the discarded baskets of grapes perhaps account for Albania’s lack of standing on the world stage of wine.
Sazan Island – there are three photo spheres surrounding this island. The first one I come across is so stunning it’s almost worth seeking out yourselves and makes me wonder not for the first time if I’d be better off being a fish. The second Photo Sphere is an equally stunning aerial photo of the island. With its white sandy beaches we might be wandering into desert island paradise territory here. Alas I find this sort of thing incredibly boring after a few minutes, so off I go
In Pogradeei there is another gas station.
There are no fewer (and no more than) five national parks in Albania. In fact much of Albania seems to be a national park. In which case isn’t it a little insulting to the parts of Albania which are not considered national parks? What did they do wrong?
In Rruga Krysore Krujë district, Durrës County, there is an old man crossing a road on a bend, which is mental.
Street View narrowly avoids giving us a glimpse of Fshat. For which I’m grateful.
In Rruga Abdyl Frashëri Peshkopi, in Dibër County, there is a load of beer being delivered to an off-licence. BUT it’s not open yet so hold your horses. There’s also a cement or rice shop next door, but ditto.
Zooming north in the pursuit of something even mildly interesting I hit upon Shkodër County. There is an elegant-looking building called "Hotel Red Bricks" which is built from red bricks and there’s something about the literal insistence of this name that gives the impression of it having been chosen at the eleventh hour.
“Marjorie it's the grand opening in an hour, are you sure everything is ready?”
“Yes Brian, the prawn cocktail is on platters, the Prosecco is in the fridge…”
“Ooh, Prosecco, fancy,” Brian quipped, like he often did. On these occasions invariably Marjorie lost a modicum of patience with him, but this would be imperceptible to the outside world.
“The invites went out over three weeks ago. I posted them meself. What could possibly not be ready?”
“No, no Marjorie, you’re quite right. You’re quite right.”
Brian chuckled to himself. Marjorie was usually quite right. Brian walked around the buffet table, admiring the magnificent towering mountain of prawn cocktail. His mind wandered back to their schooldays in Bolton, how they came from humble beginnings and families that, out of fear, attempted to discourage their ambition, but neither ever lost faith in their lifelong goal to move to Albania and open a hotel.
“Prosecco. What are we like?” Suddenly, the notion of a thought struck him, and a sliver of cold icy horror began cutting his soul in two. Like he had been sliced apart by a Samurai’s sword and had only just noticed. They had forgotten something. Not the food, she wouldn’t forget the prawn cocktail, not our Marjorie. Never has, never will. No, this was something much worse.
The name. The name of the hotel. So much time and planning had gone into organising the launch, sourcing the finest prawns for the prawn cocktail and enough Prosecco for all the guests to enjoy – assuming that their neighbour Blerta wasn’t planning on coming. They had tried to plan the party to coincide with Blerta’s monthly chemical peel in the hope that she would prove indisposed. Blerta really liked Prosecco. But the Blerta problem was like a minnow compared to this.
They hadn’t chosen a name for their hotel.
This had been a sticking point since their arrival here. Marjorie had wanted to call it Hotel le Bolton in honour of their home town, but Martin had argued that their lifelong dream to immigrate to Albania and open a hotel was precisely because they had such a miserable upbringing in their home town. Brian on the other hand wanted to name their establishment Hotel Nolan after, he claimed, Bolton Wanderer’s footballer Kevin Nolan. ‘Who the fuck is he?’ Marjorie had asked and been told that Kevin Nolan signed for Bolton at 16 and was part of the team that beat Preston North End in the 2001 Division play-offs to gain promotion to the Premier League. This sounded to Marjorie suspiciously like something Martin could have found out by doing the google, and that secretly his choice of nomenclature was in honour of the Nolan sisters. Still, as she didn’t know how switch the google on she had to sit with her suspicions.
They. Hadn’t. Chosen A Name. For Their. Hotel.
“MARJORIE!” Brian bellowed.
“Don’t shout Brian,” she remonstrated, “what do you want? You haven’t knocked over the prawn cocktail have you?”
“No love, it’s just/”
“Thank GOD for that,” Marjorie interjected quickly with a gasp of relief.
“LOVE!” Brian bellowed again, and something in his tone this time clued his wife into the fact that he had something important to say, he rarely bellowed twice in a single day.
“What is it Brian?”
“Love, we’ve…” Brian stuttered, then paused.
“BRIAN!” Marjorie was becoming worried now, Brian rarely paused. It was time to raise her voice.
“Marjorie, it’s just that we’ve forgotten to pick a name for the hotel.”
“Ohh, BLUMMIN’ ‘eck!” Marjorie exclaimed.
“What are we gonna do?” Brian asked in muted tones. Marjorie hated him when he used this voice. He reminded her of a small sheep. Not a lamb, just a small sheep.
“Come on outside, let’s ‘ave a look at the place and see if anything strikes us.
*** And that's Albania.