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New Europe

Day Twenty-three: Durrës

Michael Palin - New EuropeThunderclaps and the sound of rain lashing at the window punctuate an unsettled sleep.

The dawn view from the Hotel Adriatik is of a storm-ravaged sky, dark clouds massing on the western horizon, a pale sun fighting for survival.

The beach is lined with row after row of empty deckchairs.

Last night's meal here was pretty good, but breakfast is peculiarly depressing. Tinned fruit, slightly out-of-date butter and meagre strips of white bread in a dauntingly tall columned dining room with painted panels of Albanians in folk costume.

Among the few other guests are a couple, he Namibian, she Swedish, with a small child called Felipe. He's almost the same age as our first grandchild, Archie, born two months before we set out. Alert and quite devastating when he smiles, Felipe makes me suddenly and quite poignantly homesick.

Go for a walk along the shore. Unlike the rocky coast of Croatia, Durrės has a long and sandy beach, but it's hardly golden and already men are out working to clear the scum of marine matter swept in by last night's storm. Judging by the ranks of freshly built hotels and apartments Albanian tourism must be flourishing. Neon flashing signs reading 'Fast Food!' are everywhere. A lot of Kosovans come here for their holidays, I'm told.

At intervals along the beach is a chain of circular concrete bunkers ranging from 4 or 5 feet to 20 feet in height. Some lie half-collapsed in the breaking waves, others are sound enough to have been painted bright colours and turned into makeshift bars. There are 400,000 of these dotted all over Albania, which works out at one for every eight members of the population.

They are the legacy of Enver Hoxha (pronounced 'Hodger'), who led Albania into hardline Stalinist communism after the Second World War. When Stalin was discredited and the Soviet Union began to split with China over the future of communism, Hoxha took China's side, identifying with Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution and declaring tiny Albania the first atheist state in Europe.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Twenty-three: Durrës
  • Country/sea: Albania
  • Place: Durrės
  • Book page no: 56

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