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New Europe

Day Twenty-two: Dubrovnik to Durrës

Michael Palin - New EuropeThe radio crackles insistently. Someone is anxious to get in touch with us. Captain Neven ignores them. Three steep-prowed fishing boats cut across our bows heading out to sea.

The captain prevaricates until it's clear that the voices on the radio are ordering us to come into port and identify ourselves. It occurs to me as he reluctantly swings the wheel that, given his fatalistic suspicion of all things Albanian, Captain Neven thinks that once in he may never get out again.

We pull in past the sea wall to a compact, well-kept, not overcrowded port. There are two big ferry boats, in from Italy, only 70 miles away on the other side of the Strait of Otranto. Moored up against the long harbour wall are half a dozen battle-grey patrol vessels, apparently operated by the Italians, Albania's near-neighbours, and, since the demise of the isolationist dictator Enver Hoxha in 1985, once again their main trading partners.

At the dockside we're met by smartly dressed port officials who give our captain a dressing-down, in English, for not flying the Albanian national flag when in her waters. The captain, it transpires, doesn't have an Albanian national flag, but one is found for him.

We haven't been here long when a Mercedes pulls up beside the boat, and two thin men with short dark hair, swarthy complexions and unsmiling faces get out.

'We are press,' they announce with a certain flourish, fingering accreditation tags the size of breastplates. 'What do you think of our country?'

We reply that as none of us has yet set foot in it, it's hard to say.

They rapidly lose interest and are gone as swiftly as they arrived.

The next voice I hear in Albania has a broad Scots accent. It belongs to a short, sunburnt, hairy-legged man who, with a group of colleagues, is driving aid trucks from the Hebrides to Kosovo. He warns us that the roads are dire.

Eventually, all papers checked, we're allowed onto Albanian soil. Within minutes Captain Neven has turned around and is heading for dear life back to Croatia, the double-headed black eagle of Albania flapping from the rigging as he picks up the breeze.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Twenty-two: Dubrovnik to Durrës
  • Country/sea: Albania
  • Place: Durrės
  • Book page no: 55

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  • All boats
  • Day 2 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 7 
  • Full Circle
  • Day 8 
  • Pole to Pole