Sunday, September 30, 2012

holidays 2012 - day 07: a venerable tree, two lakes, two silly travellers, and a chaotic city

when we wake up, it's dry! and the sun comes out pretty soon! almost suspicious ... breakfast is from 9 o'clock, how sleep- & holiday-friendly is that! homemade bread with pršut (local ham) and local cheese, yummy! 35 euros for the room and breakfast for two is very reasonable. so: a recommendation, if you ever find yourself in the vicinity of bar: apartmani i konoba KULA. friendly staff, good english, fabulous food.

so we hit the road again, first we stay in the neighbourhood: mirovica, a small place, famous for one of its, um, inhabitants, so to speak: an olive tree estimated to be over 2000 years old, stara maslina (old olive). very impressive, i must say. mind-boggling to imagine what has happened since this tree was just a little seedling! empires have fallen, generations have come and gone, its village has been under the rule of various empires. i wonder who planted it, if anyone. i wonder about the twists and turns of fate that helped it survive. there are many olive trees in this area that are 500, 700, over a 1000 years old, but this is clearly the oldest, and actually one of the oldest trees in europe. quite awesome. i love olive trees, their trunks tell whole stories, sometimes it's as if the knots and gnarls and holes make up faces or entire strange creatures.

2000 years of tree: stara maslina, mirovica

and then we're off into the wilderness, deciding to take the hinterland road to world-famous (not!) vladimir, gateway to - tadaaa! - šas (shasi in albanian). now, i must explain this to my friends who don't speak austrian german: this place is pronounced like an austrian word for "fart", which is often used to express something that is crap or just not what you want. we thought we simply had to pay a visit to this place. all the better that the guidebook recommends this area for some real off-the-beaten-track exploring.

we park the car and walk up the hill to ruins of the once-great zetan city svač, of which only a few ruins are left.

ruins, land & sky

all along the way there are burnt bushes, it's very quiet, and apart from thistles and a few tough little flowers, a few birds and a lizard are the only signs of life. from the top of the hill we have a nice view of lake šas (šasko jezero) that lies amid a belt of lush green at our feet.

lake, green, burnt bushes

the lakeside restaurant "shasi" is closed, an abandoned house next to it is not ... so we poke our noses into that place.

back in vladimir it's time to prepare our coup: we write / draw extensions for the word šas, in order to enhance the local signpost. again, this is really only funny for german speakers. here are the results (click to enlarge):

montenegrin-austrian signpost :)

actually, this is a weird area altogether - there is a mountain called "shit" not too far away, and everywhere you see signs reading "shitet" (which is albanian for "sell") ...

and now it's onward - new territory awaiting: albania! we cross the border nearby, at sukobin. and it IS different once we're across. at first, the houses are actually very pretty and mostly in good condition, but still - there are donkeys waiting patiently by the roadside, and there are some tiny shops that barely seem to deserve that name. the closer we get to shkodra (shkodër), the more foreign our surroundings seem. and the city itself ... well ... let's say: different. interesting. crazy. imagine a huge roundabout, two or three lanes. and then imagine foot passengers, cyclists, motorbikers and car drivers all doing pretty much as they please. it's insane. cyclists cross the roundabout, people weave between cars, motorbikes go in every possible direction ... and somehow, miraculously, it works! if you did that in austria, there'd be five accidents within a minute, because we are so used to playing by the rules. we drive down a broad street, four lanes in all, and scooters come towards us in the middle of the street! cyclists seem to drive without looking left of right. people on foot seem to fear nothing and no-one. and the street itself is lined with all sorts of buildings, some of them rather neat, others ramshackle, with peeling paint. there are shops selling just about everything, frequently goods are hanging from the ceiling, or arranged on mats in front of the actual shops. it looks more like some market, actually!

signposts, as we are to discover, seem to be a rarity in this part of the world, so we get lost. heinz gets out of the car to ask a policeman, who is just chatting to a driver he knows. the driver tells him to just follow him, as he's going in that direction. and that's what we do. when the guy finally stops and gets out of his car, he explains which road to take and - unnecessarily - apologises for his bad english about three times. so friendly! the road out of town ... well. another little adventure. the road itself is - at least in parts - in abysmal condition, and occasionally entire manhole covers are missing, as if that didn't matter at all. buildings in this part of the city are not only ugly, they don't seem quite safe either.

shkodra street scene

it's not hard to guess that albania is not exactly a rich country. but it all seems very lively and colourful. we'd originally considered spending our holiday in albania, and it looks like this could be an interesting trip some time soon. other travellers we met this summer told us about their impressions - friendly people, beautiful areas, but a very poor country, with a rather unhappy population.

so, we are on our way out of town, towards liqeni i shkodrës (lake skadar). there is one road, obviously brand-new, and not quite finished. occasionally the black of asphalt gives way to the dusty brown of a dirt road. the speed limit indicated is 30. everyone goes at 100 km/h minimum, except perhaps the odd horse and cart or the sheep crossing at their own preferred leisurely pace.

slightly more horse power

there are plenty of roundabouts, but there is not one signpost in sight. the map in my lap is useless. the plan is to access the lake from some small town, but we have no idea where we are. fortunately we can soon at least see the lake, which means that we are basically going in the right direction! the only signpost between shkodra and the border advertises a place that isn't featured on my map, ha! near the border at hani i hotit we stop to take some pictures of the beautiful lake and a few birds, but we can't get really close.

lake skadar as a mirror of clouds

crossing the border here is no big deal. we are asked if we are driving straight home to austria, and when we say no, we are staying in montenegro for another week, the montenegrin guy smiles and says "have a nice journey!" obviously that was the right answer. no searching of our car or any such thing, which we observed at the sukobin crossing (germans and swiss entering the country).

we stop in tuzi, to feed hungry heinz. delicious food in such a nondescript little place! and then we drive on along part of the montenegrin share of lake skadar. beautiful, just beautiful. we stop at the national park centre, for some info and some photos. such a gorgeous area!

lake skadar, late afternoon

a winding road takes us across the mountains between the lake and the sea - what views!

distant lake, lengthening shadows

and since we began the day with maslina (the old olive tree), we end it with maslina: that's the name of the camp in buljarica, where we stop for the night. it's too late for a swim, but we enjoy a simple dinner under old olive trees in front of our (dry!) tent.

photos of day 07

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