Te Qenit means “To the Dogs” (or At the Dogs), which – if we were going to name the house in English would be so that people could say “Where are you going this weekend?” Me? Oh, I’m going To the Dogs! (ie, a name attempting to be ‘punny’ along the lines of Will Cuppy’s Long Island cabin which was called ‘Tottering on the Brink.’) The neighbors will love it if I put up a small sign pointing the way. (Not!)
This is where we at JourneytoValbona invite you into our home. So, no, it’s nothing like a “normal” hotel or even a normal “guesthouse.” In fact there’s very little ‘normal’ about it. Our friends at AlbanianTrip(.com) say “It’s like going to visit ‘Pipi Çorape Gjate’!” WHO? Oh! Pippi Longstocking! A visiting journalist recently said “It’s like a children’s book! Every time you open a door, another animal pops out!” Basically, if My Family and Other Animals is one of your favorite books, you will probably enjoy coming to stay.
Otherwise, oddball charm aside, what makes this house nice (other than the following-listed amenities) is that your host is, er, ME (Catherine) who – while having spent what is close to becoming a third of my life here in “The Highlands” am still and yet not entirely of the place. So you can ask me all the possibly-insensitive questions you’re ashamed to ask locals (Some examples: Are all stolen cars really stolen by Albanians? Are there really so many blood feuds?), and we can sit over long dinners (or possibly breakfasts – I tend to keep country hours) while the bee eaters fly overhead and the hoopoes . . . ‘hoop?’ in the hedges, and discuss. And of course you get free access to pick my brain (that sounds seriously gross), for ideas of things to do which other travellers never even get the whisper of an idea about.
Here is an example of one of the articles which resulted from foreign journalists’ visits: Suitcase Magazine “Albania’s Wild Beauty and Fiercely Warm Hospitality“. I include this to demonstrate our commitment to making sure guests get the chance to experience first hand what makes life in Tropoja sometimes challenging, but always magical.
Unlike your average Tropojan, I have an understanding of and passion for privacy (my own not least of all) – so you can unfurl here, without having someone poking you constantly. Lie in the sun, rush off at the crack of dawn. Do nothing or something, as long as what you are doing involves you in contact with the natural world, and I, your host, will be in total, supportive, sympathy.
What we offer:
The house: is an old stone farmhouse, built during the days when everyone was allowed 300m2 of land, which was enough to keep a cow (in the rooms underneath the house – now inhabited by some spoiled horses, who even have electric lights! I mean, as long as no one pulls the plug out – and yes they stomp and quibble in the middle of the night, and you WILL hear – and possibly smell – them from your bedroom), and grow some beans for food, and lots of grapes (for raki!). I’ve somehow, accidentally, taken over rather a bit more land . . . oops?! The house is heated with woodstoves (in winter, spring and autumn), which probably won’t be an issue for you, but is SO COZY if you happen to be here then! Otherwise, the half-meter thick stone walls keep it cool in summer and warm at chillier times.
The bedrooms: There’s a (very sunny – you won’t be sleeping late) room with two single beds, plus a room (upstairs) with double bed (and private bathroom! With a BATHTUB! No one here has bathtubs.) Meaning we can comfortably host 4 people (if two of them really like each other). The double bedroom has big windows on two adjacent (y’know – like 90∘?) walls, so that on occasions, swallows fly in and over the bed – and out again. Well, mostly in spring. Anyhow, it makes me feel like Snow White. Both rooms have a table and chairs (if you want to sit and write or something) – and yes, the house does have wifi (not that we encourage that sort of thing), so the rooms are actually great for visiting scholar/artists. Quiet people, looking for a quiet place. It’s pretty stunningly quiet here, except of course for the dawn and evening howl.
The garden: is an ongoing labor of love. In front of the house are (vaguely) formal gardens, including a GOOSE POND! At least, there’s (about to be) an ornamental pond which started out (2 years ago) to be a place for the geese to frolic, but which has grown increasingly complicated. And large. On the hill are crazy wildflowers and “grass” (well over your knees at the moment) and fruit and nut trees (feel free to pick!) (Well, I mean not ALL of it – unless you MUST.) Next door is the vegetable garden (and chickens!) and just over the hill is the “Quk” – a hidden valley of crumbling stone houses and – yep more wildflowers, wildlife and going-wild fruit trees.
There are also lots of tortoises and – if you happen to be lying in a hammock at 1am – apparently dozens of hedgehogs – at least 4 of whom owe their continued existence to having been rescued as babies. The friendliest of these is named “Church” – short for Churchill, I forget (come to think of it) why. I think there’s also a marten living in the lilac patch.
The point of the garden is sort of that there should be lovely cool places to lie around reading (or tickling hedgehogs), pursuing the Fine Art of Doing Nothing. Not that I ever get to do that, because it turns out that gardens (even semi-wild ones) take a lot of care. Happily, I like to bustle.
Oh, yes! About the vegetable garden. So in addition to all the stuff that just grows wild, after June you can pick your own stuff – at least . . . Okay. Last year I came home one day to find a guest cheerfully “weeding” the garden, which involved tearing up all the cilantro – ugh. I’m still cranky about it. How about we pick it together?
Camping: By the way – if you’d like to take advantage of the resources of Te Qenit but prefer camping, we also have a bit of land (fenced – so no cows will eat your tent – don’t ask), just a stone’s throw from the house, in a small and uninhabited valley (called a Quk in Tropoja). Some time in the past, there were 24 houses in this valley, but today all that remains is one (small, abandoned, leaky) house (I keep extra hay there), and a bunch of crumbled bits of stone wall. It’s not accessible by car – you have to walk down a little path, through a gate and then down a sort of switch-backed trail. There IS running water (I mean – a pipe) in the morning and the evening, but other than that, it’s pure wild camping. Course you’re welcome to light a fire, and you can always walk over to the house for showers, meals, wifi (ugh) and stuff like that. And we DO have basic camping stuff at the shop to rent – tents and sleeping bags, mats, that sort of thing – so even if you weren’t planning on camping, and haven’t brought your own stuff . . . not a problem!
The village: The house is in Dojan, a small village or “lagje” on the outskirts of Bajram Curri. This makes it a great stop-off point if you’re arriving in Fierza and/or would like to do some kayaking (on the non-lethal part of the river between Fierza and Valbona – and YES! We have kayaks you can rent) or if you’re travelling by bike, and want to break up the trip. Or if you’re doing a more “off the beaten track” itinerary – like our about-to-be-posted “Malesori Experience” itinerary which takes in Lekbibaj (Nikaj Mertur).
You can see exactly where we are if you search “Catherine’s House Dojan” in googlemaps. (And – before you wonder, NO those are NOT pictures of the house. That’s Avdi Rexha restaurant in Bujan. Someone posted them and Google refuses to removed them. Grrrrr.)
The cast: So! The reason it’s appropriate to call it “Te Qenit” is that there are 6 dogs living here. There are also 2 horses, 13 chickens, 2 geese (gentle “Toulouse” Geese, not the vicious white ones), 2 rabbits, 4 cats and . . . probably someone else I’m forgetting who will be offended. (Sorry!). Everyone (except the birds) are rescues (unless you count being “sprung” from the market as a rescue, which arguably, could be!). Happily, almost all of them spend most of their time sleeping, so after the initial frenzy of excitement at the arrival of guests, you actually barely see most of them. Well, except for when you want to sit down on a comfy chair or sofa, in which case you probably might have to nudge someone off (“Oh? What? Well – if you must.”) Or you can adapt . . . several dogs have been known to enjoy being used as pillows.
Then there are the neighbors . . . . a cast of Durrell-worthy eccentrics. I encourage you to go visiting (a time-honored tradition here) if you want to see how people here actually live. Also, Xhamila will probably let you (try to) milk her cows.
This is getting its own category because (she bridles blushingly) – well it’s FOOD. Plus, I (Catherine) am – there’s no point arguing – considered quite the cook.
I like to cook. So – if you promise not to try and help (can’t stand that, and no, you can’t even do the dishes – because you’ll only put them away in the wrong place anyhow – and I’m not sure how the use of soap became a political issue, but I can’t STAND greasy glasses or cutlery) – I’ll happily feed you 3 meals a day.
I cook, but rules of the house are: YOU set the table (then it can be how you like it), and cart it outside (what with there being several nice places out of doors to eat). Or to the table – I mean, you don’t have to eat outside!
I do a mix of traditional and not-even-faintly traditional stuff (most recently: sweet potato chili, with homemade spice mix!), but always using as many local ingredients as possible, a lot of which is probably growing (one way or the other) around here. Menus are planned around “what do we have and what do we need to use?” There are tons of homemade pickles and jams – like the Mint Jelly I just made (without pectin!) because for some reason there’s tons of mint springing up everywhere this year. (The rain?) We get milk from the (eccentric) neighbors (who – fair play – think I’m pretty eccentric), and make our own yoghurt, funny little cheeses (“You put basil in the cheese? Huh,” say the neighbors), and ricotta. Happy to cook around your schedule. Like this morning – had a filmmaker and her crew who needed an early start, so woke to hot muffins and fresh yoghurt, and some impromptu fruit salad (a couple of pears that were on the turn – I don’t even really like pears, but the nice man at the market always gives me a couple for free as a gift, and I (sigh internally,) smile and thank him, apples and oranges, with a few spoonfuls of pekmez (sort of molasses?)). The extra muffins (a couple dozen, with local walnuts!) being tied into a cotton bag to take on the road with them. I am especially proud of the fact that I was able to hand each person a cup of just-off-the-stove coffee as they staggered into the room, before they could even say good morning, having heard them stir, and remembering how they liked it from the morning before. I mean – that’s nice, right?
Some Recent Food (tending toward the wintery – that’s why there’s so much soup and bean-y sorts of things! Heads toward summer at the end):
Cost! (or, ala Wilde, Value?) Consider spending 50 euro per person per 24 hour period. Of course, we will (blushingly) accept more. For all of the guesthouses we are recommending now (including Te Qenit), we ask travellers to consider the ‘fee’ as payment for an experience, which happens to have bed and food thrown in. And no, there’s no point in asking for a discount for less food, because cooking for people is one of the pleasures that I get which makes me willing to share the house.
Camping in the Quk is 8 euro per person per night (assuming you’re going to be milling around the house at some point). Meals in the house are 15 euro per person (ish). Bits and bobs (bread – never just white and always warm, fresh milk, eggs, pick your own veg from the garden and whatnot) can be haggled over. I mean, negotiated to a friendly agreement.
If you’d like to stay longer, let’s call it 300 euro per week (that’s one day for free!) I know most people are busy rushing around, but for those working on screenplays – it’s happened – and who of course LIKE dogs (etc), this is a good option?
Be interesting? No matter how venally-inspired this throwing (relatively) open the gates of my home are, I STILL don’t want to spend time with irritating people. Tell me a little about yourself.
- What are some of your favourite books? Why?
- Why are you coming to Tropoja?
- How do you feel about post-growth economics (Tee hee! – If you’ve never heard of this, look into Niko Paech. My favorite quotation: “We spend money we don’t have [credit], on things we don’t want, to impress people we don’t like.” – that’s from memory, I might have gotten it wrong. BTW: He doesn’t usually sound so cranky. I just love an old crank, me.)
Well: I’m off to check my cucumbers now, and see what the horses are up to. I look forward to welcoming you soon! I have some eggplants that need turning into something.