Our destination today was Kruje, once a fortified medieval village that is nestled in the foothills of the mountains that ring Tirana, the capital of Albania. Our drive from Durres took us through lush farmlands and the small market town of Fushë-Krujë, which has a bronze statue of President George Bush in the town square to commemorate his visit in 2007. Our ride continued through the pine forests to the fortress of the country’s national hero–Gjergi Kastrioti Skënderbej. After walking along the cobblestoned road, we made our way through the castle gates. We then fanned out through a 15th century fortress to visit the hammam and the peaceful garden to the Bektashi teke before arriving at the Skanderbeg Museum. The museum was designed in part by Pranvera Hoxha, the daughter of Enver Hoxha, the country’s late communist dictator. The exhibits chronicle the life and military feats of the warrior’s life and include a replica of his famous goat head-topped helmet and sword, the originals of which are now on display in Vienna. The top floor of the museum also contained an intriguing display of depictions of Skënderbej in art through the ages, including a patriotic Russian film about the hero that was made in the 1950s.
Lunch was served at the Bardhi Restaurant, which provided us with a fantastic spread of meses and roast lamb served in a giant bowl made of pita bread. Before dessert, we were treated to a fantastic performance of folk music and dance. After bidding our hosts “adieu,” we walked down to the old medieval bazaar to browse the stalls filled with tempting carpets, costumes, and antiques. Sadly, with bags filled with local gifts, it seemed all too soon to board our coaches to return to the ancient Illyrian port of Epidammus (Durres) and to our ship.
Guests who had not had a full enough day took a short detour to visit the newly uncovered amphitheater of Roman Durres to explore the galleries beneath the original seats. Thought to hold 20,000 spectators, the structure was eventually buried and lost to time. Our guides detailed the country’s ambitious plans to reclaim the land, remove the old houses on top of the site, and excavate the surrounding area. After touring the ruins, we had some time to explore the new oceanfront park with its memorials to the unknown partisans of World War II. It was a memorable day in a country that appears to have an indomitable spirit!