Hairy House

Hairy House

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Visiting Albania!!!!!!!!!!

We ended our trip back in Tirana and were all surprised to find that we liked the city much more on our return. I'm not sure why, though I think the cocktail bar at the Opera house may have helped. 

Incidentally, was a little shocked by the Opera house itself. I went into the foyer to see if there was anything going on - there were no posters, nothing to advertise any concerts. When I interruprted the conversation of the three girls behind the desk to ask if they had a brochure, was thrown a photocopied list of concerts - none of which were Opera, that would be happening before Christmas - and there wasn't much. Handing back the brochure, none of them even glanced my way or returned my goodbyes.I don't get the impression that the arts are keen to advertise, sadly.

So, with my vast experience of an eight day trip to Albania - I keep thinking it was ten days, but it took a day to get there and a day to get back, thank you Lufthansa - I will proceed to pontificate as though I know it well. Or at least, for others planning a similar holiday, I can offer up a few tips in no particular order. 

1.It is pronounced Albanya and you will get strange looks if you pronounce it Al-bane-eeya as we did to begin with. 

2.Don't expect to lose weight, even if you are hauling massive rucksacks up vertical hills for 30 minutes. The food is too good. 

3. Yes, it's cheap, but only depending on what you want to do there. Food is cheap unless you insist on ordering the most expensive items off the menu a la Rupert.

4. Take water shoes with you.

5. Prepare to be very relaxed over bus schedules.

6. Take cash - euros are often accepted instead of Albanian Lek, but cash is accepted more than card.

7. Try and be fit if you plan to visit castles.

8. Be relaxed about smoking in restaurants, it's just different.

9. Take buses if you can, rather than hire a car. Unless you end up taking a lot of taxis because you have missed the bus, it is very cheap and you end up feeling like you've had a more authentic experience - you can sit back, enjoy the scenery and you are still immersed in the Albanian experience. Even if you end up taking taxis, I reckon you've probably spread your money around a bit more, which I like to think is better than paying it straight to Avis or Herz or other.

10. Don't expect food to come in any particular order - even if the menu has starters and main courses listed, the food seems to come out a plateful at a time, whenever it is ready. But it doesn't matter.

11. Like cheese.

12. No flushing loo roll  - like Greece. I'd like to say you get used to it...

13. Go. And have a wonderful time.

Friday 22 September 2023

White Water Rafting with a Kitten

Our last stop in Albania was Permet - and our journey was a bit of a disaster, partly because, for some reason, we still believed in the online bus timetable at that point. 

Having just missed a bus from Ksamil to Saranda, we panicked and got a taxi instead, as our bus was due to leave in just over half an hour. We thought. Which meant that we arrived in Sarande to find that the bus to Gjirokaster didn't leave for another hour and a half - plenty of time to determine the fact that Saranda was infinitely nicer than Ksamil, with a wide esplanade planted with palms and banana trees and boats rocking idly in the glittering blue water. There are even the ruins of a Roman something-or-other fenced into the central park. We toyed with the idea of staying on for a bit longer at the coast - Lydia wanted more beach time, but decided instead to head to Permet which we had been told was the "jewel in Albania's crown," and how can you miss out on that? 

Bus to Gjirokaster arrived half an hour early, only for us to find that the onward bus to Permet was not till 7am the next morning. So it was taxi again - the most terrifying journey I have been on, the driver driving at at least 150 miles per hour, whilst shouting at people on his mobile and zipping around hairpin bends up and down the mountains. I am assured that the scenery was amazing, but I have to take that on trust. 

Permet. Unlike the Berats and Gjirokasters of this world - or, indeed, Albania - Permet does not have a charming old town from a gazillion years ago, or a castle of any sort. It is, however, a clean, modern town where they have done their best to contrast the horrible old communist buildings with wide, stone, tree lined streets and is framed on one side by the green beauty of Vjosa river and on the other by the rising of dark, rugged mountains. On arrival, against my better instincts, we booked ourselves a white water rafting experience for the next day and then there wasn't much tie for anything else. We ate one of the best meals of our lives and retired to our spanking new, but tasteful, guest house where a family of four kittens frolicked in the garden and where we were serenaded by some local folk musicians who appeared to be having a spontaneous jam session - accordion, drum/singer and clarinet. 

Got up bright and early the next day, feasted on the massive spread of food which Albanians seem to think we foreigners need for breakfast - cheese, bread, omelets, fruit, the inevitable tomatoes and cucumber, fritters the size of a baby's head - and set off for the rafting, me quaking in my boots. I'm a wuss at the best of times and my impression of white water rafting was of teams of antipodean youths with a death wish flinging themselves down Niagra falls in nothing but an outsize flipflop - a thong for any Australian friends reading this. 

It wasn't quite like that.

Apart from us, there was a busload of middle aged Bulgarians, none of whom could understand the safety instructions, but didn't admit to it until after lecture. Two large, sturdy looking rafts, with a professional on each one. And - wait for it - a kitten. Gingy, a tiny, mewing scrap of ginger fur had been found in the river a couple of weeks ago and adopted by the American woman, Stacy, who was working for the rafting company. Since she spends the best part of each day on the water, she decided to take Gingy with her, rather than leave him at home - and I have to say that I couldn't help thinking that if a kitten could survive a white water rafting experience, than I probably could too. Gingy spent the bus ride to our take-off point, climbing all over the passengers, trying to burrow into their hair and mewing at us all with his big, pathetic green eyes wide and scared. But once on the water, tucked into Lydia's life jacket, he calmed down, purring and giving every appearance of contentment as we sped downstream - as did I. Well, I didn't purr, but you know what I mean. Actually, I may have purred, I felt like it. Turns out that rafting was more like a gentle stroll in the park, the "rapids" being nothing more than a bobbing and plopping over rocks, the sight of the green water gleaming in the sunshine as it spooled through the tree gorged channel of rock, mountains soaring either side of us, Elgar and Bach and Tchaikovsky in the form of nature. When we came to the end, after only two hours, it was hard to get out of the boat and get back on a bus again.*

After our courageous fight with the Vjosa river, we headed out to the thermal baths - another canyon where there are natural springs which are said to have healing powers - some for your kidneys, some for your liver, one for your skin. The Ottomans built a very fine bridge here "at the turn of the 18th century" Whether they built it because they wanted a bridge to cross the river or whether they built it because they couldn't think of anything that could be more picturesque, I'm not sure, blending into the stone of the surroundings, but giving a focal point through which you can gaze at more mountain and river views. 

We walked a little way down the canyon - note to self:bring proper water shoes next time we go to Albania - soaked in either a kidney or liver pool, I'm not sure which. The one thing I do know is that it stank of rotten eggs so presumably it must have been good for us, eh? Then on to another pool which is a warm 25 degrees all the year round - the locals come and soak in here in the winter, whilst taking in the views of the snowy mountain peaks around them apparently. ( I'm sure the view of fields round Adstock is just as nice...) Then back to guest house for hot shower and lots of soap where we emerged only smelling slightly rank for another amazing Albanian meal.

And to think we nearly stayed in Saranda!

* On this page is a very rare photo where there are three members of our family all smiling and looking happy AT THE SAME TIME. And it was not done with photoshop, I promise. So is worthy of posting in spite of my fat legs. Sorry.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Ksamil and Butrint

 Next on the trail after Gjirokaster for any self respecting tourist, is the Blue Eye - a stunning natural spring set in national parkland between Gjirokaster and Ksamil. 

This could have been a bit of a let down; it is a bit of a walk from the massive car park and then one finds oneself at the site of the river along with, it seems, the rest of humanity. One is well behaved and patient thought, so, along with everyone else, one follows the path, single file, before climbing up to a deck built over the Spring itself, where the water bubbles up, electric blue before flowing into the river where it is painted neon green by water weed at the edges. Swimming is banned, but in spite of the fact that there were innumerable signs to point this out, people were still swimming, squealing and shouting in the icy water, dogs running around, leaping in and out of the river and shaking themselves off next to one, barking and whimpering all the while; the air is filled with the music of cicadas - and motorbikes revving their engines, electric scooters whizzing past; but in spite of all this, it really is a place of wonder, the colours so rich and deep that they must surely belong to a world of enchantment. If ever a golden ball was dropped into a pool and brought forth by a frog, this was the place for it. The water looks as though it has the consistency of jelly - the colour too, to be honest, and if you can find a place just to sit and stare, then do. 
After spending some time sitting and staring, we then took a taxi to Ksamil, where we had booked a place for a couple of nights. Now, I don't want to upset anyone for whom Ksamil is home, but I'm afraid that, in my humble opinion, it is not the most beautiful part of Albania. I suspect that in a few years it will be a lot nicer, but at the moment there is a lot of building work going on so that lovely modern houses with bougainvillea filled gardens stand next to empty lots strewn with stinking rubbish and rusty wire. There is a plethora of restaurants and cafes, an abundance of shops selling rows of multi coloured blow up animals and beachwear, a copiousness (yes, this is  a word, I looked it up)  of gas stations and, as we found elsewhere, a huge quantity of the glowing green crosses or serpents of pharmacies. Every second person in Albania must be employed by the pharmaceutical industry, is all I can think...What was possibly once a beautiful coastline is split into private beaches, each sporting a cramming of beach umbrellas and pumping out disco remixes of awful-in-the-first-place songs - for which you have to pay an average of 10 euros. When we went to Sarande, the next big town, en route to our next stop, we found that it had the esplanade and centre that Ksamil sadly lacks and it would have been better to stay there, rather than trust the "sleepy village" description of the internet, but that's all part of the adventure isn't it? It doesn't help that we have been spoiled from living in Australia so long, with our pick of white sanded, nearly empty beaches.* However, we did not go to Ksamil for the scenery or for the beaches. We went as it is a good place from whence to visit Butrint - an old marshy site just over a thin strip of glittering water from Corfu. ** For me this was almost the most exciting part as I have never been to Corfu but was, of course, the land  of my all time hero, the brilliant writer Gerald Durrell. So I had my own little moment of giving thanks for his weird, thwarted, generous, brilliant soul.
It was here on this spit of land that, according to legend, a couple of refugees from Troy started a new colony, which later became home to the Greeks, the Romans and the Venetians before becoming a bishopric, with associated churches etc. It was eventually abandoned due to the fact that it was sinking into the marshes, but there is still much to be seen - an old amphitheatre complete with delightful Roman turtles and the remains of many houses and temples. One of the best mosaics is buried to keep it safe, but there is a picture so you pretend you have seen it. The whole place has a wonderful, Cair Paravel mystic quality to it and must have been a wonderful place to live with a view of the sea and the green hills of Corfu, albeit rather irritating, I guess, if one had to swim to bed.

* a busy beach in Australia, equates to empty n Europe. Unless you're in Wales. Or maybe Iceland. 

** oh how we laughed when we got texts welcoming us to Greece when we visited Butrint. Oh how we didn't laugh when we missed the bus and had to wait for another hour and then didn't think we had time for another swim because our phones were still on Greek time and not the hour-earlier-Albanian time.

Sunday 17 September 2023


 Another three hour bus journey from Berat - though it was quicker than that, which was a good thing since we were crammed in, with five people sitting in a row between the seats.

Gjirokaster old town - where we were staying, is at the top of a very steep hill. The bus dropped us off at the bottom of said hill. It was a day rich in humidity and by the time we had hauled our rucksacks up hill, I was not a pretty sight, though I did manage to irritate Lydia by singing "I love to go a-wandering," most of the way up.

Luckily, our guest house had the most incredible views so it was all worth it

and a quick shower later we were out on the streets wandering the Old Bazaar. Whether the old bazaar really is an old bazaar or a tourist confection I'm not sure, but it is a lovely area of four of five pedestrianised streets running up and down hill, each one lined with cafes and bars and shops selling mostly tat - crockery, bags, cushion covers and rugs in traditional patterns, earrings and hideous statues of Mother Theresa, you know the sort of thing. Most of the restaurants served "traditional" food, which is very Mediterranean - vine leaves, stuffed egg plants, Greek salads, lots of liver on the menus (yum). There seemed to be a lot of casseroles and one particular - lamb yogurt casserole which was amazing, though not helping me in my ponderings on whether to become vegetarian or not. 

The following day we did as many tourist things as we could, starting with the Castle. The Castle in Gjirokaster is very different to the one in Berat - there is no doubt that this was a fortress, one that was heavily attacked and defended over the years - starting from before the 12th century. Probably its most famous inhabitant was Ali Pasha, who was a delightful man, and friend of Byron, who liked slaughtering people. The Nazis also built a prison within the castle where unspeakable things went on, so it is a mixed bag of sobering lessons, stairs which lead to bat filled caves, vaulted, shadowy ceilings, intriguing dark corners and tunnels impregnated with a myriad stories and emotions, and all, of course, in the midst of views of blue painted mountains which make you want to weep with the beauty of it all. in the centre of the castle, where once was a small village, there is now a big green and a stage where folk festivals are held and this is a wonder of modern design, a web of orange and purple and gold thread over a black frame, so stark a juxtaposition that it works beautifully!

Apart from the Castle, there are two beautiful old houses in Gjirokaster - one, Zekate house, built in 1811, the other, Skenduli, in 1723. Both are beautiful examples of traditional Albanian architecture and a welcome relief from the communist housing and both with views to die for. Skenduli house has an entire room, apparently dedicated solely to weddings and its neon pink and green stained glass windows are staggeringly modern looking. I would be happy to live in either, (with the addition of modern toilets), but am not a millionaire.
I mean, who wouldn't want this view??????????

The other big attraction in Gjirokaster, is the Cold war tunnel - another bunker built for the bigwigs - 200 of them! - to escape to in the case of civil war. With two toilets, it seems to me that there wasn't much intelligence in the planning. For instance, it was assumed that three months would be all that would be needed in order to avoid the harmful atmosphere, plus it sounds like the 200 were all men. Now, if you wanted to save these people in order to further the species....Not only was it a stupid idea, but unbelievably cruel - for twenty odd years, food stocks for 200 men, for three months were kept there, regularly replenished to keep fresh - and this when the nation was living on starvation rations. Unsurprisingly, as soon as the regime had fallen and the bunker was discovered everything in it was destroyed or pillaged by the furious populace.

Gjirokaster was also the birthplace of Enver Hoxha, the leader of the communist party and not a very nice man, but there is not much, that we saw, at any rate, to commemorate this. 

There is, however, a very nice cocktail bar or two....

Friday 15 September 2023


From our research prior to arriving in Albania it seems that most tourists follow the same route around the country, visiting the mountains of the North - Shkodra, Theth, Berat, Gjirokaster, Butrint and then whatever town on the Albanian riviera they fancy. Our attempts to add the North onto our route had fallen through, but we sheeped well, by deciding to go South to Berat after Tirana. I have a slight allergic reaction to the idea of doing the touristy thing, but hey, they're touristy for a reason.

Berat is 43 miles down south and took a couple of hours to get there by bus from Tirana - one thing we were amazed by, was the fact that every bus journey we took was half an hour shorter than predicted - which didn't mean that we always arrived at our destination half an hour early but that's another story. In fact I might just give a little bus lesson here, for anyone who is interested in bussing it around Albania. Firstly, do not believe in the timetables that we had been advised to follow on the Girafa autobus website. The information there does not appear to have any connection to real life at all, as we found to the detriment of our wallet. The timetables at the stations themselves appear to have more clear information, or you ask around other people. Also, you can just turn up at a bus station, look for a bus that has the name of your destination on it, and, if there is a seat available, you hop on that. If there is not a seat available your bus driver might stop on route to buy one, setting it up in the aisle. The buses are clean, mostly air conditioned and fairly comfortable - if you are lucky enough to get a seat, as we were - and very cheap - just four eurosish, to travel fifty miles or so. 

Berat is sometimes called the City of a Thousand Windows for the stone houses that are built, one on top of another up the sides of the mountains, either side of the Osum river, a wide blue ribbon that winds between stony shores. 


Looking down on the town is the famous castle - the only castle in Albania still inhabited - and unfortunately the only way to get up there is to walk/climb. As we live in one of the flattest parts of England, I was horrified to see the angle and length of the slope up to the top, but in the end, it wasn't too bad, especially as we were entertained by various stray cats and dogs on the way up. It's hard to describe the views from the top of the hill; standing on the ancient stone walls of the castle - which I'm sure will be banned in a few years - the views of the mountains are breathtaking, and it's too early in the morning for me to find words that aren't cliched, so will just do a big fat cop out and add some pictures instead.

Walking around the Castle, gazing out at the views, or following a twisting alleyway between the crunchy stone houses, your jaw soon aches from being dropped. Everywhere are the views of the mountains and the glittering of Berat below, the aquamarine river winding through the valley. There are churches - Byzantine buildings with curved, red tiled roofs, decorated inside with iconographic pictures of saints and angels, painted by long dead monks; the crumbling remains of minarets reaching for the sky next to vine bedecked restaurants selling aperol spritz; vast cedar (?) trees, shushing like a stormy ocean in the wind; tiny tourist grottoes built into the castle walls and tables laid out with cups of nuts and berries, cones of dates and plums. But this is a UNESCO sight and, at least for now, the tourist shops are minimal and don't really detract from the overall beauty - and though most of the houses are restaurants and hotels now, the castle still has an air of authenticity. I just hope it remains so.

It has to be said, however, that I am very grateful that we didn't visit Albania when the kids were little - to be honest, I had to walk alone a lot of the time to stop myself squawking at Rupert and Lydia "Keep away from the edge!" every five seconds. I would be very surprised if they don't barricade half the walls off in the near future, which will be a pity, but will also save many parents from heart attacks.

It took about an hour and a half to walk around the castle and then it was back down the hill - on a path made from slippery stones, actually worse than going up - and into town to take in the views of the houses, their windows lit to gold by the setting sun and the glinting river. Of course, I'm talking about the old town here. One of the heart breaking things about the communistic heritage of Albania is the fact that the stunning beauty of the valleys is so often crusted over with the crumbling, barnacles of grey tower blocks. But you can't have everything I suppose.

If left to ourselves, Rupert and I may have done a tour of the local wineries the next day, but Lydia made us sign up for a canyon tour instead. This consisted of being driven for an hour, by a driver who drove with the little finger of his right hand, whilst talking on the phone and overtaking everyone he could, up and down zig zagging mountain roads next to sheer drops. I'm not a good back seat driver at the best of times  - just ask Rupert - but this was hard even for him. Luckily, we were distracted by the views - the towering of mountains on all sides, covered in olive trees and vineyards, the occasional old man astride a plodding donkey, a shepherd leading his goats along the road - and the amazing soundtrack, which included songs such as Barbie Girl and The Vengabus. 

First stop was a waterfall falling from the mountainside into a deep pool with water so cold that one's feet ached the second they touched the surface. Lydia and I both forced ourselves to take a dip - I thought I would regret it if I didn't, whereas Rupert thought he might regret dying rather more, (wuss) which is why he didn't join us. It was a beautiful waterfall, reminding me very much of places we visited in the Sunshine hinterland in Australia, but it was also very busy, with so many tourists standing around, wishing the water was warmer, that it was difficult to find a place to change. It was a relief not to stay there long, not least because a group of Australian boys were dive bombing into the pool from a height of about four metres and the guide assured me that there was no way an ambulance could get up there.

We then went onto the Ousumi canyon and this, ladies and gentlemen, was definitely worth every second. For anyone who has been to the Sumerian gorge, it was similar, but with water - strangely blue, thick water running along the bottom of the canyon, between tree lined, wave like walls of rock. Water shoes give a very thin layer of protection betwixt the pebbles underfoot, so it was hard going and you have to keep reminding yourself to look up and drink in the beauty of the red-grey-blue-green, undulating rock walls around you. Mind you, the pebbles underfoot were a mix of grey and green and orange and pink, ringed with white quartz and rounded by the water and well worth looking at! We had to cross the river several times and at others to swim - luckily it wasn't as cold as the waterfall pool - and we came across only a couple of other people, walking the other way. For the most part our group of ten could have been the only people on the planet - the only other living creatures on the planet, for there was nary another creature to be seen or heard, not even any birds, but a deep echoing quiet that was a presence unto itself, instilling a calm that did not even break at the repeated efforts of the aforementioned Australian boys trying to skim stones bigger than their heads. The walk ended at the site of a deep pool where there was, of course, another jumping spot for the boys and Lydia joined them, but I won't tell you about that or she will kill me....instead I will leave you with these photos...
And the canyon seen from the top

Thursday 14 September 2023

Why Albania?

This was the question most people asked when we said we were going.

Well, to be honest, we needed a relatively cheap holiday after our splash out in Antigua and we'd heard that Albania was comparatively cheap; but, much more than that, it seems that Albania is going to be the next Croatia and we wanted to get there before it exploded onto the Tourist Trail - plus I've wanted to go there since an Albanian friend complained to us, back in about 1995, that Albania wasn't nearly as beautiful as Park Royal, as there was nothing there but mountains and rivers and trees. We were there for ten days, travelling to Berat, Gjirokaster, Ksamil and Permet, so merely skimmed the surface of the country - worth bearing in mind when I pontificate about my conclusions.

So, off we went, Lydia (now almost 21, still eager to come on holiday with her parents - because she loves us so much of course, nothing to do with having a free ride - Rupert and me. We flew via Munich which was a revelation to me as I drank the first ever beer that wasn't totally disgusting, but what it was I have no idea. Rupert has made a note for future reference. It was dark, that's all I remember, and beery. 

Landed in Tirana in the early evening, disappointed that the immigration process was hugely efficient and automated so that we didn't get a nice stamp on our passports - the only good thing to come out of Brexit as far as I'm concerned. Then, swinging our backpacks onto our backs and feeling very down with the youth, we headed off to the bus to Tirana  - a trip which took about 30 minutes in orange glow of a gathering dusk. 

Right from the beginning, Albania seems to be a country of contradictions; the capital city a disjointed, sprawling mass of crumbling old communist blocks and new, swiss chalet-style houses, glittering glass office blocks next to torn concrete buildings, spraying rusting wires, feral cats and dogs dodging the farting, honking traffic, tree lined boulevards, litter decorated streets, the stench of blocked sewers and foetid rubbish, juxtaposed with the delicious scents of roasting garlic and onions and meat. And all this, surrounded by the towering beauty of grey-green mountains, cutting into the bright blue skies. 

Out first evening in Tirana was not the best from a culinary point of view and we discovered that, as seems to be the way with every place you go to, half the food on the menu wasn't available. We were already a little disappointed as we had booked a tour to the Albanian Alps the next day  - the only way in which we thought we'd be able to get there in the time - which had fallen through leaving us with an extra day in Tirana, but still, it was warm, there was a bazaar which was mostly closed, as it was Sunday evening and the sound of evening prayer wafted from the near by mosques - the sound of my childhood. We had intended to skip Tirana but decided that it was a good thing to spend time in the capital. 

The following way we "did" the Et'hem Bey mosque on Skanderbeg Square - a vast homage to the wonders of slippery marble. It seems very strange to me - brought up in Saudi Arabia - to be able to wander into a mosque for a look around, but I'm glad we could. It was smaller than I expected but with stunning paintings of trees and buildings and, within the prayer hall, the intricate beauty of Arabian art. 

Then it was onto the museum - the first floor of which was given over to the early history of the country, with English translations, though from then on it was guess work as one worked through the intervening centuries over the next few floors, as everything was in Albanian and no I didn't learn the language. The gist of what we learned though, was that the Chinese are one of the few races who have not trampled all over this small corner of the world, waging war on its citizens and claiming it for their own. From the Greeks to the Romans, to the Assyrians, to Italy and Germany it has been fought over by just about everyone else, which is what makes it staggering to me that the Albanian people appear to be so friendly and, it seems, tolerant of other religions and cultures. This after forty years of enforced fearmongering towards the rest of the world. It seems to me that one can take  the history of Albania in one of two ways - either as a depressing lesson  in the greed and violence of humankind, or as a beacon of hope in the ability of humankind to rise up against greed, violence and control and bloom anew. I know, I know, a few rainbows and puppies wouldn't go amiss here, but honestly...


After the museum, we visited the House of Leaves - a beautiful name for a building which started life as a maternity hospital and was then turned into the centre of the great Albanian spy machine. At one time a quarter of the population was called upon to watch their fellow countrymen and this was the place the people at the top came to inform, or to interrogate, or to imprison and torture as the case may be. We were surprised to learn that the vast majority of the people at the top were left free to continue their lives, after the fall of communism, though it wasn't clear why. Was it just too big a fight to take on for a weary nation? Too expensive? Was it thought that these people would suffer enough through guilt, or would jungle law prevail?Anyway, we came out of the House of Leaves and made straight for the Aperol Spritz and then onto an amazing meal which rebuilt our faith in what we'd been told - that the food in Albania is pretty damn special. Not that dissimilar to Greek food, a plate of grilled courgette and aubergine can be turned into a thing of beauty and as for the bread! And the meat and the olives... but more on this later. 

Went to bed to the sound of fireworks/gunfire/ music, ready to be up early the next day for the rest of the adventure!


This blog was first intended to document the return of the Family Bignall to the UK from Brisbane and thus, I have let it wane over the last few years. I don't get much time for blog writing nowadays, but since this was always a bit of a travel blog, I thought I would write a bit about our more recent travels.

Firstly though, in order to put things into perspective, I'll digress a little bit. Looking back on it, it is only now that I realise that leaving Australia was more traumatic than I thought at the time. After all, I spent more of my life in Australia than in any other country - fifteen years - and of course the children had spent their entire lives there - except for Sam who was thirteen months old when we went. Though we were very lucky to be moving back to a beautiful part of the country, to a lovely old house and to relatives we had missed over the years, it was a huge wrench to leave Brisbane and all our friends and much loved family there.The general stress of packing up a huge Australian house and moving into a small English cottage, of worrying that we were doing the wrong thing by moving the children, all at a time when we were under a certain amount of stress already - hence the move - took it out of us. It didn't help that England seemed to have changed since we left and, instead of bringing the kids back to what we hoped was a more tolerant country and one where they would have easy access to Europe, we came straight back to the trauma of Brexit and massive family upheavals - which I won't go into, but, other than the fact that Rupert's father and my mother were hospitalised within months of us getting back - were not fun. Rupert became quite ill for a while, whilst my depression returned big time. For at least a year I didn't want to EVER go ANYWHERE again, outside England. I intended to stay firmly in one place FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.

HOWEVER. Here we are now, nine years on, children fled the nest - one to Hemel Hempstead, one to Birmingham Uni and one back to Oz; we are postish Brexit and pandemic and the travel bug has certainly come back. I have been very fortunate to have visited Dubai, Crete, France, Antigua, Wales, the Czech Republic and Albania since last August and before the pandemic we had trips to Scotland, Ireland and Italy. I always mean to write a diary when I go to places, but never do, to the extent that I have been horrified to find that we often have conversations along the lines of: "Was that in France or Italy?" and "No! That happened in Crete, not Scotland!" and so I am going to write as much as I can remember from our trips over the last few years before I forget even more. Starting, of course, with our latest, our trip to Albania.