Our second day in this fascinating land of contrasts began in the busy port of Durres, Albania’s primary port city. As we disembarked, we were welcomed by a group of Albanian students. We then journeyed by bus up into the mountains to visit the old Albanian capital city, Kruje. Nestled within the ruins of the town’s medieval fortress are two very different museums: the Ethnographic Museum, in which we had a glimpse at daily life in Ottoman-era Albania, and the Skanderbeg Museum, which focused on the grand story of Albanian history, from the pre-Roman tribes to George Kastrioti (or Skanderbeg) and his struggles against the Ottomans.
Following the museums, we enjoyed a traditional Albanian meal at Bardhi Restaurant. We started with roasted vegetables, spinach pies, and cheeses, and the main course—succulent lamb and potatoes slow-roasted in a clay pot—arrived later. A taste of rakiya and a pudding-like dessert with cinnamon and raisins accompanied an after-dinner folk music performance with dancers. After lunch, we ventured into Kruje’s medieval market at the base of the castle walls. Stalls offering woolen rugs, silver filigree jewelry, turn-of-the-century antiques, and modern tourist fare beckoned to us as we strolled along the time-worn cobblestones. After some time in the market, we made the return journey to Durres, where we had the option of visiting the city’s Roman amphitheater. Concluding our visit to Albania, we returned to the ship to focus our attention on some of the complexities of the languages and cultures of the Balkans during an onboard presentation.