Balkans Day 5: Kukës

We awoke quite early as usual to another sunny warm day and after showers etc. went downstairs for breakfast on the terrace.  This was the usual soft white bread and the option of cheese, jam or honey.  Thinking it would be the usual small plastic tubs of jam I ordered two and Mrs Mjollnir one jam and one cheese.

The jam turned out to be a large dish with enough jam for about four or five slices of bread and it was more of a sticky thick syrup than jam as we’re used to it.  Far too sticky and sweet to eat much of.  Mrs Mjollnir’s cheese was a doorstep sized slice of something akin to feta – very nice but way too much!  You live and learn…

After this we headed up to the tourist information kiosk near the square to try and figure out what we were going to do that day. Various attractions were advertised there and we thought about a boat trip on the lake. This was supposed to be organised through the staff at our hotel, so back we trooped only to be told that the minimum booking was for 25 people and since no-one else had booked we’d need to pay for 25 people if we wanted to go!  No thanks.

Back to the tourist info.  Vanave Gorge perhaps, not too far from the town?  No transport!  You could take a taxi.  Let’s try it.  Back past the hotel down to the street where the taxis gather.  Vanave Gorge?  Never heard of it.  Showed them the brochure and pointed to the name.  They read through it and saw the name of the town the road leads to many, many kilometres further than we wanted to go then quoted an outrageous price just because we were stupid ‘gringos’ or whatever the Albanian equivalent is.  A curt response in the universal language of swearing in which the second word was ‘off’ soon put an end to that idea.

The entrance to the valley containing Vanave Gorge can be seen from Kukës.

Realising that we were basically stuck in a one-horse town where the horse was almost dead, we were left with no option but to try and find a way down to Lake Fierzë to try and pass some time.

So, off we went, with no clear idea of where we were going, in the growing heat just hoping for the best.  We went down the road where we’d gone the previous day to take some photos of Mount Gjallica, past the ruined park and the crumbling blocks of flats down to where the pavement disappeared and the road left town.

After a couple of bends and a slight rise we could glimpse the lake in the distance and slowly but surely we began to get closer.  Looking ahead we caught sight of a track leading down to the shore and after a fair old trudge managed at last to find a way down to the water’s edge.

The waters of Lake Fierzë and the hills beyond.
Some houses have a great view over the lake and the lovely countryside.
Not all was picturesque however. In addition to this wrecked boat the beach was strewn with litter as were the verges of the road down there.

Taking a few photographs we quickly realised there was nothing else to do but head back into town and set off back up the hill.  One notable feature of the walk was the amount of rubbish that littered the roadsides.  Everywhere you looked there were plastic bottles and wrappers and bags of all descriptions obviously just tossed out of cars without a second thought.  This complete lack of care for the environment was to become increasingly obvious throughout our time in Albania.

One humorous moment was the sight of some cows cooling off in the waters of the lake.
Coo too
Another bizarre moment was the sight of this cow grazing outside a shabby block of flats on the way back into town.


Back in town we stopped off and had a cup of tea at the hotel again.  Mrs Mjollnir had just gone upstairs for a siesta when I heard a woman’s voice asking if she could join me.

It turned out to be the young lady from the bank across the road where we’d changed our money the day before so I happily agreed. She’d seen us from the bank as we sat on the terrace and wanted to buy us a coffee.  We started talking about why she wanted to go to Norway, how difficult it was to get a job and permission to stay there and so on.  When Mrs Mjollnir rejoined us she surprised us by asking us to her home for dinner when she finished work.  She was such a sweet girl it was impossible to refuse.

Sure enough around 4.30 she came back and before setting off we found out her name was Sabajeta (Jeta for short) and we were going to meet her fiancé Orgent at his house where we would eat.  Gent, as he is known, spoke even better English than Jeta and we had quite a good conversation about the state of affairs in Albania as well as Norway.  We learnt, for example that despite both of them having good jobs – Jeta in the bank and Gent, it turned out, is a procurement specialist for the police – they each earned about €250 a month and had virtually no disposable income and couldn’t afford to get married any time soon.  We found out that despite Kukës sitting on the edge of a huge lake there were water shortages and they had to stock up on water every day during the two hours it was available.

These kinds of things really should make us in the pampered western world sit up and take notice.  This is in Europe in 2013 but the one thing that really inspired us was how happy and positive both Jeta and Gent are.  Of course they want to escape the dead-end town that is Kukës but they were so positive it was hard not to wish them all the best.

Gent had to leave but the three of us ate a meal of pasta and sauce before Jeta announced we were then going to her mother’s house to meet the rest of the family! Hospitality or what?

Mrs Mjollnir and Jeta in Gent’s house.

On arrival at mother’s place we were presented to Mother, sister and sister-in-law before being plied with umpteen types of fruit and being asked to take some photos prior to going out on the evening promenade.

Jeta and her Mum.
From left to right: Sister-in-law, Mrs M, Mum, Sister and Jeta.

Around sunset it seems like the whole town goes out for a wander along the street at the top of town where street vendors sell popcorn and seeds and everyone greets their friends and neighbours.  The girls all got done up in their finest clothes and highest heels and we walked along the street towards the square and on up to the abandoned hotel for some views out over the lake in the dying light.

Sunset over Lake Fierzë from near the hotel.
An evening view of the bridge carrying the main highway to Tiranë.

This was pretty much the highlight of the day for most folk in the town it seemed and I doubt if there is much disposable income to spend on other things even if they were available.  Afterwards we went to a place called the Bar American which is one of the few places women can go in town, where the ladies all had ice cream and yours truly, of course, a large beer.  Needless to say by way of repayment for Jeta’s hospitality and friendship we paid for these, which didn’t go down too well, but it was the least we could do.

Setting off from there the overwhelming friendliness and hospitality continued.  We were invited to spend the night at Jeta’s mum’s house!  Sadly we had to explain that we had already paid for the hotel and that this was just a bit too overwhelming.  We said our goodbyes outside the hotel and the ladies toddled off home while I had a beer before heading up to sleep.

No matter what happened on the rest of the holiday I reckoned meeting these people would be the highlight of our trip and I was not wrong.  They were wonderful people and I sincerely hope that Jeta and Gent get all that they wish for in life.  Good luck guys.







24 thoughts on “Balkans Day 5: Kukës

  1. This reminds me of the hospitality of people in the Middle-East and it is always overwhelming as we aren’t used to it but so important to them. You aren’t a visitor but a valued guest and they have a duty to treat you well. Great experience! (Suzanne)


    1. Well it’s probably got its roots in the same customs as they’re almost all muslims in Albania. It was certainly a special experience 😀


  2. I really enjoy reading this, especially about the jam-thing 😉
    And of course, beutiful images and I really liked the cows. Made me smile.


  3. We really are fortunate. Great that you and Mrs M took the effort to explore this part of the world, wonderful Ambassadors for the rest of us.


    1. Not the way their current finances are but I’ve given them a couple of pointers and some possible contacts in Norway and I really hope they do. They deserve better than being stuck in Kukës all their lives 😀


  4. What an excellent read! It speaks well of a society injured and lying dormant while it tries to heal. One can only hope. But then again I believe that you came face to face with it in the form of Jeta and her family.


    1. Yep That night was definitely the human highlight of the trip and all you can do is hope that they get what they want out of life despite the obstacles in their way 😀


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