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Sunday, 23 September 2012

ON THE ROAD: ALBANIA 1984




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Given that the highway, on which we were travelling from Lezhë was the main road between the capital, Tiranë, and one of the country’s few border crossings, there was remarkably little motorised traffic on it. There were plenty of pedestrians and cyclists, very few buses and trucks, and no saloon (or estate) cars. Every now and then we met or passed a type vehicle the likes of which I have never seen anywhere else during my travels. It was a horse-drawn lorry. Imagine a motorised truck with its engine compartment sliced off neatly below the driver’s windscreen. What remains is a flat-fronted vehicle. Two slots cut below the part of the windscreen in front of the driver’s seat allow the driver to hold the reigns of the horses that provide the truck’s motive power. We encountered many of these vehicles on the roads in the country and towns during our visit to Albania.

We reached Tiranë, where we were assigned rooms in the then almost new Tirana Hotel, which, located in the city’s centre, was one of the city’s tallest buildings, more than 12 stories high. The view from our bedroom was wonderful. We looked down on Skanderbeg Square, which, despite being in the heart of the country’s largest city, was almost devoid of motor traffic. In addition to the infrequent appearances of often overcrowded public buses, the occasional Peugeot saloon car and Volvo estate car (the hardy, brick-shaped 240 series) would zip around the square. These foreign-built cars, and the even rarer Mercedes Benz, were used for government business. None of them were privately owned. During one of our stays in the city, some of group claimed to have glimpsed Enver Hoxha passing by in a Mercedes, but if Lloyd Jones novel “Biografi” has any truth in it, they may have only seen an Enver Hoxha lookalike!

This is an excerpt from a preliminary draft of my new book provisionally called "In Enver's Albania" 


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