Notes from Puzzle Palace

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Kotor, Montenegro and Durrës, Albania

 23 April

Kotor, Montenegro

We sailed into Kotor rather late.  It was an 11am arrival. The night before I thought this odd because of the distance we needed to travel but after arriving, I can see why it was done that way.  

Kotor is a city that is built on the sides of a mountain range in a nice calm bay.  As the ship pulled up, we looked out our doors and saw the most spectacular black mountain ranges.  It is said to be the southern most fjord in Europe, but upon investigation, it is really a ria (submerged river canyon). We’ve never been here before, and to be honest hadn’t heard of Kotor until it showed up on this trip.  

We decided to take a tour on this visit.  I let George decide and believe it or not, he chose to go to a church! I was shocked. But to be honest, it was because he wanted to hear a classical concert.   Wonderful!  I was game.  

We left the ship and headed for a boat to bring us to the church. It was about a 20 minute ride and the guide was very good. She spent the time telling us about the area and the language.  One interesting tidbit she gave was when she was a child she lived in the same house for 20 years.  During that time she had 4 different countries that she lived in.  4 different id cards and 4 different passports.  While that sounds funny now, it must have been torture trying to change that all of the time.

Our first stop was at a baroque church.  We climbed 97 steps to get inside. But first, we had a welcome drink of peach rakia and some donuts dipped in honey.  What a sweet tradition to give guests.  The rakia was 45 proof.  It would certainly put hair on your chest.  

Inside, the church was nice as far as churches go.  There was one statue inside that really caught our eye.  It was made by a local sculptor and although it looks unfinished, it is.  The face is simply stunning.  

Of course there are the usual icons and statues to be found inside.

The stained glass windows are Venetian.

From here we went for a massive seafood lunch at a nearby restaurant.  There were 2 different wines, grappa on arrival, fresh bread, a salad fish soup, and 4 different main courses. WOW!  Too much food for all of us. 

We road the boat back to the pier and entered the old city.  George opted to go for a nap while I finished the tour.  Poor man was exhausted.  Once the guide finished and we were let out on our own, I went for a wander. I ended up purchasing 3 rings here. Unique ones I wouldn’t find elsewhere.  From there I went in search of some of the local liqueurs.  I ended up in a grocery store and bought 5 little bottles on the advice of the shop boy. I still haven’t tasted them.  We have many others to get through yet.

When I returned to the ship, it was dinner as usual and a movie before bed.  

24 April

Durrës, Albania

Wow!  This was a surprise. It was another unheard of stop.  It’s no wonder.  This place was different to say the least.  If Turkey was the ashtray of the trip, this place was the garbage can.  We had not been here and opted to just do a walk around the town.  George found a historic museum he wanted to see, and I decided to see the ancient Roman ruins.  

I looked at the Archeological museum before we left the ship and decide the it would be easiest for us to walk.  It was less than 1/2 mile from the ship.  When we arrived, we wanted to enter and were willing to pay the 800 Albanian Lek to enter.  Sadly they don’t take credit cards or US dollars.  The man at the counter said the bank was too far away, but I had seen a currency exchange earlier so we went over and changed US$10 so we could enter the museum.

This museum was built in 1951.  It was looted during the revolution of 1997 and closed for quite some time after. It was reopened in 2015.  Inside are some beautiful pieces of sculpture and a number of sarcophagi from the region. We also saw quite a few jugs and a number of sculptures dedicated to Venus.  The museum is on 3 floors, but sadly only one is open.  It holds a total collection of 3204 artifacts.  The gent who took our money at the door holds a masters degree in archeology.  He seemed to oscillate between apologies for such a small collection to great pride in what is available.  

After wandering around for an hour or so and looking at what was on display, we wandered out back at the urging of one of our fellow shipmates.  The first thing one sees is a large collection of marble and stone columns laying on their sides.  We then saw 3 very large bronze statues leaning against a wall as though they are in a scrapyard.  We walked closer to get some photos up close and I noticed a wall filled with pieces of friezes and other carved stone just sitting on a shelf outside.  As if they are waiting for someone to come along and give them a bit of love.  

In the back I saw an opening in a rounded cube-like structure.  Little did I know that this is one of the many thousands of bunkers built around the country by the extreme Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha between 1975 and 1983.  Apparently he was paranoid about nuclear war and wanted safe places for all the people in the country.  I walked over and took a look inside, but man did it stink.  It is very obvious that someone is using this as a bathroom now.

We were looking around us and found a garbage can.  Inside we were shocked to see a human mandible and partial scull. This made it clear to me that perhaps we should leave. 

As we walked away, we rounded a corner and saw a small shack that could be nothing more than a home to a family with small children.  This saddened me, but there was nothing I could do. 
Upon returning to the ship, I looked up the country and discovered that it is the 4th poorest country in Europe with a GDP of just $5,373 per person.  I can’t even imagine.  

Our next stop was to see the roman amphitheater.  Wow!  In its heyday it would have held 20,000 spectators.  As we walked around the top of it looking down, I leaned on the fence and felt it shake.  Looking at it, I realized it was made of steal that was rusting.  We walked further around and saw in some places simply a thin steel rod spot welded to a piece of rebar sticking out of the concrete.  My thought was "they are trying". 

We wandered into a city square that looked quite nice.  The dominant structure was a mosque that was built over the original Ottoman one.  This was rebuilt in 1931.  When we went up and looked at the plaque on the mosque we saw that it had the dome and minaret destroyed by "The movement against religion, religious prejudices and backward behaviors" Wow. It was later rebuilt in 2 stages.

From here we walked back towards the waterfront. Here we encountered a very large metal structure called the Veliera.  The project began in 2016 and in 2021 a judge ordered a halt to any further spending on the project.  It looks like a large raid receiver, but in fact, it was to be a large sail in the middle of the waterfront.  Now it is just a rather large rusted piece of hope for a poor country.   A local article I found writes "In March 2017, the Court had already suspended the construction works for urban renewal of the square, which includes a giant concrete sail of 200 sq.m. designed by the Italian convicted criminal and architect Marco Casamonti, also responsible for the design of the Qemal Stafa Stadium and the bankrupt 4EverGreen Tower project in Tirana."  With reporting like that, one can’t help but wonder the size of the kickbacks on this monstrosity.  There were also some interesting sculptures along the way. 

The old castle tower was under construction so we didn't see much of it. 

As usual, the local graffiti caught my eye.

Perhaps if we are here again in future we will take a tour to see the town of 100 chimneys, or the one of 1000 windows. Maybe in a few years they will have made some progress on cleaning up the area.  As for now, I still think, "they are trying".

Until next time, Happy Puzzling and Smooth Seas.