Last weekend the guys and I took a day-trip with Hajri and his wife, Lori, on what turned out to be an unexpectedly worthwhile adventure. Hajri, who has become our newest closest Albanian friend, owns the lokale in the Old Town, under Chris’ office. He speaks a little English (learned from working in Greece for a few years), and is absolutely in love with all things American-- like most Albanians I know.
The six of us piled into Hajri’s station wagon at 8 in the morning and drove to Permet, which is a small town about 1.5 hours on the opposite side of the Lunxheri mountain range. Along the way we stopped for tea at a beautiful restaurant set over a spring with many cascading waterfalls surrounding. For now it’s still cold and dreary but in the spring/summer this area is breathtaking—I can hardly wait for the flowers to bloom and the bright sunshine to return!
Once in Permet we took a ‘xhiro’ [promenade] straight through town and ended up climbing a steep path to visit an old church. I’m not the biggest fan of churches but this one I will admit is beautiful—completely covered in Byzantine-style icons and frescos, delicately fading in color… Unfortunately most of the icons have been defaced, with words/ marks etched across the sacred motifs, and with their eyes completely scratched out…
After our church visit Hajri drove us about 10 km out of town and then down a desolate, unpaved and unmarked road to a hot spring! The spring is located alongside a small river, with an old Ottoman stone bridge crossing overhead. The churning pool of water is a milky blue-white, with a very faint sulfur smell, and absolutely no trash! [this is a rarity here!] We only dipped our hands in the warm water, vowing to come back for a longer picnic or even a camping trip—there are even nearby caves in which we could pop some tents.
From there we headed back to a big restaurant near the main road. I think its cute how there are so many glorious restaurants scattered in the middle of nowhere-- literally-- which seems like terrible business sense. In America all about location, right? But here these big isolated cafés cater to a surprisingly steady stream of customers, which has led me to conclude that for Albanians who cannot leave the country (due to visa restrictions and lack of money) they provide a fun road trip for people who want to kill an afternoon with their families or lovers. Like us! We went for a weekend jaunt and ended up there for lunch. :)
In fact that lunch turned out to be a Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner rolled into one—so much food! Typical Albanian fare: salad, cheese, bread, salse kosi (thick, garlicky yogurt), grilled and pickled veggies… and meat. This place specialized in leper [rabbit], so they brought out a kilo of charred bits, followed by a kilo each of baby pig, baby sheep, and village chicken stuffed with walnuts and breadcrumbs! Between the guys, at least 4 carafes of red wine were also consumed, thus we had an excitingly loud meal followed by a quiet, sleepy car ride. Overall, the amount of food was sickeningly gluttonous, but a lot of fun. I don’t understand why guys haven’t gained weight here?