On the road to the Albanian seaside town of Himara, our ears pop as we crane our necks out the window to take in the fresh mountain air and breathtaking views of green pine forests, rocky peaks. We even stop for fresh water that gushes out from a rock wall, directly from a spring at the top of the mountain. It is cold, clear and delicious. Eventually we spot a glimpse of the sparkling blue sea as the road begins to snake down the mountain, and that is our backdrop all the way to Himara.
The pace is slightly slower than in Tirana – widows dressed in black sit outside their houses chatting, while old men are dressed in jackets and trousers despite the heat of the midday sun, watering their tomato and grape vines. Youths whizz by in helmetless pairs on scooters, watermelons pile up on roadside stalls and Europop tracks blare from beach bars that are advertised by street grafitti.
We settle in at Rapo’s Resort before strolling down to the beach, where, despite its rocky edge, the water is so clear you can count the pebbles on the sea floor.
For a pre dinner drink, we head to one such beach café-bar-restaurant shaded by orange trees. As we order beers, the owner is eager to practice his English on us and soon the whole wait staff crowd round, as if we have come from another planet.
Translated in English by the owner, it’s like they are asking what life on Mars is like – they want to know how we get around in London, what kind of houses we live in, whether we are married and what work we do. And miraculously, the conversation turns to football, and they all simultaneously cry out their English Premier League team of choice: “Chelsea!” “No, Manchester United!”. P earns the title, “Mr Tottenham”.
They beg us to stay, and we don’t need much convincing to feast on fresh grilled fish and lamb. Later, the town is bustling with crowds packing the many beachside eateries and youths strolling up and down past vendors peddling popcorn, kebabs and of course grilled corn on the cob.
After whiling away many hours on the beach, we return to our orange tree restaurant for another drink, which turns into a round of the local tipple, raki, home made by the restaurant owner, as is the sweet white wine I down. It’s the same crew again, with the addition of the owner’s cousin, and an old man introduced as “Bebi”. We toast several times to Bebi with the word “hero” and even though they have tried to explain the story behind it to us we haven’t a clue why we are toasting, but we join in their raucous laughter anyway.
We flew British Airways from London to Tirana.