I am a couple days behind on my writing but since the last time I posted we have been so busy with activities! (So this also means there are some interesting things to read in my opinion!)
On our last day in Ioannina, where we traveled after leaving the monasteries near Kalambaka, we walked to the Archaeological museum and learned a little about the site of Dodona, which I also learned is referred to as the oracle of Zeus. Morgan, who was to give her report over Dodona, showed us some of the relics that were found by archaeologists during there excavation there. Next, we visited Ali Pasha’s mosque. I wasn’t familiar with Ali Pasha prior to this but I learned a lot about him. He was Albanian and was a de-facto independent ruler that has been recognized as a romantic, a millionaire, a murderer, and even a terrorist. He made a real impression on Europeans and shared influence with Napoleon as well as Lord Byron. His harem included about 600 women and young boys too. It was also located in central Ioannina. However, today not much is left but his mosque. At this site, Aleta and I both gave our reports. Aleta’s report was over the exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece and my report was over the Macedonia question. (I found my topic really interesting and fully enjoyed researching this controversial, modern political issue.)
Then we traveled by ferry to the island of Ali Pasha where the Turks killed him in 1822. I was able to get a picture of the cracks in the floor of the monastery where he was shot. Ironic that he was such a romantic because you can imagine where he was shot since the bullet came from underneath him! From the illustrations we viewed of Ali Pasha and his kingdom, he seems to me like what a modern day, overweight pimp is supposed to be so maybe his death was his bad karma catching up with him… or maybe not. I’m fairly certain we can guess which stance the Turks would take. (Sorry Ali sounds like you may have had it coming.) Although, Ali Pasha doesn’t sound like a great guy, his little island we visited was so attractive! Picture a little Greek village with narrow stone streets and cute little home lining the streets that were generally so narrow cars weren’t even used on them so instead the villagers all seemed to travel by foot. The village homes were covered with flourishing flower and vegetable gardens and with minimal tourist interaction and influence, the little Greek village was the epitome of what I would imagine. The people there seemed to enjoy a simple, quiet life. It was a refreshing experience.
The next day we were up and off again. This time we were taking the ferry to the island of Corfu, also known as Kerkerya. On our way to the ferry we stopped at Dodona, the Oracle of Zeus, and listened to Morgan as she told us the history of the site and its construction. After this we were officially Corfu bound! I was excited because I really liked the island of Crete so I assumed I would enjoy Corfu as well. However, unlike Crete, Corfu has a lot of Italian influence and has completely different architectural work than Crete or the rest of Greece. Obviously, if you haven’t been able to tell from my previous observations, architecture is such a big part of Greece’s history and beauty but Corfu (despite or possibly even because of its Italian influence) is just as beautiful but in a unique way. Although influenced by Italians, the architecture also has special Greek influences and touches. It is a beautiful sight to see and I would love to go back there for a vacation or get away one day.
Our first day in Corfu we visited the old/new fortress as well as a couple monuments such as the one of the seven islands and the Durrell brothers. The Durrell brothers were Europeans that traveled to Greece and were also recognized writers. On the monument of Lawrence Durrell was a quote I found touching,
“Greece is the country that offers you the discovery of yourself…”
The rest of our afternoon we had some free time and got to go to the beach. I think it was the nicest beach we had been to yet and it was so much fun! The water was beautiful and although cold at first, once we started swimming it was wonderful. We were also able to use my camera to take some underwater pictures and they turned out so funny and neat because the water was so clear you could even see the fish swimming around us!
That night we traveled to Kinopiastes village to the tavern TRYPAS for a special treat from our travel agents. They had arranged an elaborate dinner for us that was not only free but also consisted of multiple courses of some of the most popular local foods. We started out with salad, fresh bread, eggplant salad, stuffed peppers, and a variety of different meats. We then had two main courses. One of which was a pasta and beef dish while the other was a lamb dish. Then for dessert we had yogurt and honey. The food was great but I think that many of us loved the fact that we were also served a free local wine! Part of our treat was also that we got to watch and learn some different styles of Greek dancing. This was so much fun, especially since everyone participated. A younger couple instructed us and needless to say there was a lot of clapping, yelling “OPA!”, and laughing! I think this was one of my favorite days of the trip because it was honestly some of the most fun I have had in a while and I think that everyone else also seemed to have fun!
Although we had an early morning the next day, I didn’t hesitate to get up because we were traveling to Albania! I was both weary and excited because I don’t know many people who have traveled to Albania nor did I know much about the country or its culture. To get there, we traveled by boat from the island of Corfu and directly crossed the Ionian Sea to the shore of Albania which sits within sight from the Greek island. The journey was about 40 minutes long and by a ferry-like boat.
When we arrived in Albania we met up with our tour guide. Her name was Yeta, which means life in Albanian. She taught us about the country and the culture. For instance, we learned that they call their country, “Shqipëri” which means the land of the eagle and their flag as a depiction of a double-headed eagle as well. Shqipëri consists of about 3 million people and is mostly mountainous and hilly but a small portion of it does consist of fields. Instead of using the euro like Greece, Shqipëri uses the lek as their currency because they are not yet part of the European union. Yeta told us about how the country once had a communist government and although they do not anymore, their government is still very corrupt. As one can tell from the difference between the titles of the country, Albania and Shqipëri, the Albanian language is also very different. The Albanian alphabet has 36 letters, 29 of which are constants and it was once an old language that was spoken but not written. This in itself reveals a lot about their education system in my opinion. Yeta then told us that the first school was opened on March 7, 1887 and this is now celebrated as a national holiday known as “Teacher’s Day.”
Just by looking around at the buildings, people, advertisements, etc. you were able to distinguish the difference in the atmosphere. Many of the houses and other buildings we came across were left unfinished and sitting vacant either because of lack of funds and the fact that it is almost impossible to get loans or because of the past difficulties stemming from restrictions or communist laws against private ownership. I would say that 3 out of every 5 homes in one particular area we passed through were incomplete. It made the area look a little desolate and unwelcoming. As for the Albanian people, apart from Yeta, I don’t have much to say about them, as our interactions with them were extremely limited due to our itinerary for our day.
Yeta took us to the world heritage site of Butrint and then to a castle located just outside of the town of Saranda. The site of Butrint is a historical part of Mediterranean history that represents many different phases of development of the great empires that dominated that region. There is evidence that the settlement dates back from to the 4th century but the rise of the empire came much later until it became a small fishing village clustered around a castle in the 19th century. From the late 18th century to present, the region has been guest to all kinds of tourists and even foreign diplomats. However, between 1928 and 1939, an Italian archaeologist discovered most the grand monuments that are seen today.
The ancient city ruins of Butrint include public and private buildings of all kinds – homes, temples, fountains, baths, and funerary monuments. The city also had a large castle built on the acropolis with large stone fortification walls surrounding it. Today there are still ruins of many of these buildings and with the help of restoration visitors are able to see many of Butrint’s magic.
Overall, I would say that I enjoyed my trip to Albania but don’t see myself returning to the country again in the future unless there are some strong political changes as well as some improvements to public life. However, it was definitely an experience I will never forget and I believe that this has made me appreciate where I come call home even more.