Albania has always figured highly in my life. I know will go there one day. I keep planning to go but it never quite happens.
My first exposure was in the late seventies when as a teenager I was ever so slightly obsessional about short wave listening. I would spend hours combing the various wave bands, bagging radio stations from across the world, and sending off for QSL Reception cards. The loudest radio stations were those with a propaganda message from places like Vilnius, Moscow, Warsaw, Quito, Beijing and Tirana. The programmes were all incredibly dull.
Opened by King Zog and Queen Geraldine in 1938, Radio Tirana was always loud and clear, a little ironic for a such a reclusive country during the Cold War. It was blatantly anti-West but also anti-Soviet. It tended to follow the line taken by the People’s Republic of China, the old Radio Beijing. (For whom I later worked when it was China Radio International.)
My second brush with Albania was on a train – the boat train as it was called in those days. Pretty certain it was about 1982, and I was travelling back home from Belgium where I was living at the time. In the brief journey from Folkestone to London, I was targeted by a man called ‘Bernard Shaw,’ from Harrogate who made other passengers move seats so he could sit next to his ‘friend.’ What followed was a curious conversation about how he had travelled all the way to Albania with a minibus of tourists, but had then simply left them there. No explanation about how they were going to get back.
Anyway, from my balcony in Astrakeri on the north coast of Corfu, I have an uninterrupted view of an impressively high range of mountains, the Ceraunian Range. It’s like Albania is taunting me. On a trip to Sidari I noticed day trips by boat advertised. No visa needed. Jump off the boat in Sarandë, enjoy the ambience for a day or visit some historical sites, and then back again to Corfu. Only, frustratingly, they don’t start till next week.
Albania has slipped through my fingers yet again.