Journey to Valbona Albania's New Travel Frontier Sun, 20 Aug 2017 20:20:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Valbona with Young Children? Mon, 01 May 2017 09:56:50 +0000 I mean, it isn’t compulsory to drag them up mountains, is it?  If you spend a day or two in Valbona first, you can always get a sense of how the kids are doing against some comparable-to-Theth hikes (but don’t leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere if they melt down).  In general, I think it’s probably nice to give small children the chance to experience this area and culture, which in many ways is still classic medieval European (or Heidi-esque).  Some days I feel like I’m fighting a pyrrhic battle to promote tourism, but discourage it from changing.  Also, it’s nice to visit with children up here because Albanians are GA-GA about children, and they’ll cuddle them and get them all to play together and generally be really nice to them.
You have a range of choices with Accommodation, as well.  You could opt for something like Rezidenca, where you have full comfort and service, and then make little day trips with them, OR you could chose for one of the more pastoral guesthouse/homestays and just let them enjoy running around, playing with the sheep etc.  Some ideas for these kinds of places are listed here:  Look at Gjelaj, Kukaj, or Livadhet e Gjarperit.  (I didn’t finish posting the rest yet).
We do sell a map of “Walks and Rambles” for 3euro, which includes 10 hikes from 1 hour to 5-6, which you can do with kids.  I’m attaching an image of the map, the trail notes are on the back.
Because so many people have been asking this year, I’ve ALSO just “bitten the bullet” and starting listing whole tours/itineraries/programs on this page: which you can use to either get ideas or actually book something.  I actually only just posted it this morning, but I have a bunch of other itineraries to type up and post, so there will hopefully be added one a day . . . .
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A Very Good Question! Where to Stay to Avoid the Hordes? Thu, 16 Mar 2017 08:24:01 +0000 Dear Catherine,
I was looking for information about Albania when I stumbled upon your sweet and inviting website.
We are thinking of visiting Albania in August, and we might want your help in planning our trip.
But first and foremost I would like to know: how busy is the Valbona valley in August? I am asking because crowds really spoil the fun for me. Last year we travelled to Slovakia, thinking we could surely avoid the crowds there, but we ended up hiking in throngs. Same thing the year before in Slovenia. Albania seems like a place no-one would visit (no insult intended; it’s exactly the reason why we WOULD visit it), but when I see the amount of guesthouse in Valbona valley, I start to doubt this belief.
So I would be very grateful if you could give us your honest input on the amount of tourists in August.
And my response:
Ha!  Yes, I understand completely – I came to Valbona in the first place, back in 2009 specifically because there was only ONE guesthouse listed!  (Theth already had a bunch, so I didn’t go there!).
In fact, the valley bottom can get really horrendously crowded in summer these days – especially from the Center towards the western/end of the valley.  BUT!  The good news is that once you go up at all, you’re quite unlikely to see anyone else – except the odd shepherd.  Well, except for the Trail to Theth – you always pass some people on there.
To avoid other tourists, I’d recommend staying EITHER with Tahir Avdyli Hysaj in Kukaj – his house is a 20 minute hike up the Maja e Rosit trail, so you eliminate most other people.  OR you could stay in Gjelaj, at Danjels – it’s on the Theth trail, so there will be people passing, but again it’s after a 3km 4×4 track in a mostly abandoned village, so I doubt you’d have too many tourists around?  OR there is Arif Kadris’ stan on Livadhet e Gjarperit.  That’s a little stone house with a woodstove and outhouse – there are other shepherd families around, but only tourists passing on the Maja e Gjarperit trail . . . You can get an idea of where these things are on this page:
I’m in the process of installing – from that page – booking engines for all of them (being that they’re remote, they’re really hard to get in touch with !) – Danjel’s is working now – the other two should be coming soon.
Hope this helps!  Hopefully we’ll have our new information center set up soon, so if you need help with hiking info, keep in touch!
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European Wilderness Society Tue, 14 Mar 2017 18:56:13 +0000 Wilderness in Albania in peril!

“A short glimpse from the outside can create a feeling that finally at least in this country a large piece of real European wilderness can be secured. Several protected areas have been established in the past years to create conditions for longterm protection of biodiversity and natural values of this country. However, a closer look at the situation reveals that only limited interest was expressed to protect the most important heritage of this country – Wilderness.”

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We visited in 2014 . . . . Tue, 07 Mar 2017 06:13:41 +0000 Just as I was thinking I’d better put more cheerful stuff on here, an email arrived from “Niki and Martin”!

“We visited Valbone in October 2014 and had Rilindja all to ourselves one rainy day, at the end of which we chatted to you both while the thunder rumbled around the mountains and the lights flickered. Anyway, we’ve just had an article published that’s all about hiking in Valbone and you guys, so we thought you’d like to know about that. Here’s the link:  Into the Accursed Mountains.”

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]]> 0 Sun, 08 Jan 2017 16:01:21 +0000 p1110367It’s winter. And days are long and slow and boring, and silent. And sliced up by sudden changes between sloth and imperatives. When the wind blows, and the snow falls, and various natural things howl, the electricity is prone or likely to go out. In which case, at which time, a small wood stove is all that stands between me and death – I guess. Although even at such times, which I’ve lived through now, more than once, I don’t SLEEP by the stove. Alfred and I did that – one winter or two – in some distant romantic days. I suppose we thought we were being practical. It all seems now like some big adventure, which we should have appreciated more, at the time. As I say, I don’t. Left to myself. Perhaps I should. Maybe I’ll try it. Instead I stalk doggedly (though there are no dogs now – they’ve all left, they didn’t like it here, and I don’t blame them) up to my cabino. There’s no heating, but it’s a place, my place where for once – inside years and years – I got to make . . . something. I climb the ladder, I crawl into the bed. I take off my boots, but leave everything else on – pants and socks (horrendous and repeatedly frozen and sweatsoaked and not realized except on the rare occasion of a thaw, in which case the smell – a sort of rich warm muggy microbe smell gives them away, and my feet get slippery, and stick to the carpet) and sweaters (numerous) and coat, and TWO hats. I pull the blankets (numerous) over my head, and wait for sleep.
That’s sloth. The imperatives are to chop wood, to carry wood, to push the wheelbarrow full of wood though snow. It sticks, I plant my legs and shove. I win. I carry more. I don’t know how long the wood will last. If Alfred were here, there would be an imperative for food. But alone, I don’t really need much, I find. And so much less work.
The imperatives are not to go mad, and not to feel stupid. So I do things. I write. I find my old bird book, and put out muesli and watch the birds. Through binoculars, through the window. I look like a mad old lady, in training if not quite yet in fact. I follow fox tracks in the snow. As if I’ll find them. I try to guess, at lives. At lives, being lived, around me. I let the cat in. I put the cat out. I can’t stand the crying, and I let the cat in, again.
I sit down, I write this, and I think about Robinson Crusoe.

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On the Dubious but nonetheless Glorious Triumph of Being [Recognized] Thu, 10 Mar 2016 21:13:24 +0000

About 7 years ago, I uprooted my (hurly-burly) life in NYC and moved to this small, remote, isolated village in Northern Albania. I did this quixotically, with no planning or financial strategy, in a few suitcases. And no legality. After 6 years of uninterupted life here, I am now (I guess) firmly illegal everywhere. Not only in Albania, for visa reasons, but I imagine in America, for simply not existing there, by which of course I mean not paying taxes (not that I’ve earned anything – I haven’t! I swear!). Quite possibly, I will end my life like Baron Corvo, breathing my poverty-stricken last under an upturned rowboat – the thought does in all sincerity haunt my early morning waking hours.

This is a fact.

On the other hand, there are other facts. I noticed today that someone posted something in facebook – a journalist in some Balkan language I do not (to my shame) recognize. The post contained a picture of me and the journalist, and there were some few comments. The first of them was by an Albanian who wrote simply (in English) “Katrina is one of us.” I don’t even know this person. And yet he wrote with complete confidence this statement of (as he perceived it) fact. My heart swells. I feel grateful, I feel humbled, I feel indebted, I feel reconized. I feel . . . loved.

I’m not sure anyone in America, my birth place, would ever have written “Catherine is one of us.” I’m not sure there is an “us” in America, to refer to. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that I needed to move to Albania, in order to feel adopted. In order to feel recognized. In order to find a place that I would fight for. But isn’t that the definition of home, beyond what you do with your hat? The place you would fight for? Oh not with guns, or arms, or stones or sticks – although in truth I imagine I would pick those up, if offered enough reason, for this place. I would. But fight for. On bad days, I wake up thinking “oh god, I can’t,” but then I do, because after all, you can’t lie in bed all day. On good days, I can’t wait to bounce out of bed, to get to the computer, to go to the school, to see the children, to be with people, to fight.  To live.  On good days, I am even cheerful about the dishes, the laundry, the sweeping, floor-mopping, the fires to be lit, the bread to be baked, and all the other things that are part of everyday life here, if you’re a woman, which, as it turns out I am.

But besides “about,” I do know how it feels, exactly. It feels right. Despite, in all honesty, how cranky I might be about the cleaning and cooking, if Albanians are happy to have me, then I am happy to be theirs. Yours my dears. Heart and soul, as I would say. Or Blood and Salt, Bread and Home, as you might say, as I could say now, perhaps barely understanding, but beginning, and hoping, and promising.

What does it mean when someone claims you, when someone you don’t even know says “she is ours”? It means you can’t possibly answer anything else, but “Yes. Yes I am. I am yours.” For better or for worse, for now and for always. We’ll fight together, learning from each other, for this home.

Me buke e kripe e zemer tone.

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What Passion Feels Like Fri, 12 Feb 2016 11:41:30 +0000 This is how a tree thinks2
































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Long Dark Days Thu, 10 Dec 2015 18:46:02 +0000 The electricity was off all day.  I ate at noon, got sleepy, and went back to bed. My nose was cold, so tucked everything under.  Woke up at 3pm.  Just in time to feed the trout, before so-called “sun-down.”  Started writing a book, and drew this, as first illustration: Fig. 1.  The dogs are barking.  Subject of book: Botanical exploration.  Stay tuned for Chapter 1.December Window

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