A Perfect Cup Of Coffee, Ruins, & Taxes

….On the balcony for morning coffee

Starting out the day yesterday, Saturday March 19th, I had a perfect cup of coffee. Little did I know that my trip into Durres would include a packed bus…both ways. I sat and read for a bit in the 50F weather. I think because the air is relatively “dry” here, the cool doesn’t go straight to my bones as in the Midwest. I had a small breakfast, and headed the block and a half to the bus stop. In the direct sunlight of the stop, I could feel the power of the sun.. I yanked off my fleece pullover and felt instantly better. I waited about 10 minutes for the bus, people-watching while sitting. It never ceases to amaze me the many different looks of the faces. I have mentioned this before, and I always see the constant change in this part of the Balkans. I see the old Slavic grandmas with their scarfs, waddling along with a three or four plastic bags hanging off of boths hands. I see people that look swarthy and wrinkled, ancestors of Greeks and Turks, having spent countless millenia in this unforgiving sun. In the end, I see many “European” Slavs, sporting lighter complexions and brown/blonde hair. All are the people that crammed onto the empty bus I boarded. I got on and payed my .40 leke to the “conductor”.

As we continued down Rruga Paravesia, the main street that runs from here to the centrum of Duress proper, we stopped at stations that had more people than room on the bus. Each stop fed more “sardines” into this tin-can-with-windows. I could feel the sweat rolling down my arm, as I clung to the strap above me. 15 minutes later we disgorged from the bus at the terminus – the centrum. Not one person got off between the last stop and our end in the centrum. I felt like my feet weren’t touching the floor of the bus, until I alit on the sidewalk and felt the cool breeze coming off the Adraitic. My round trip cost .80 leke, which on the exchange appears as .01 of a Euro. 1,000 lek (the Albanian currency) equals 8.10 Euro. The leke is their coinage. Speaking of money, I headed to an atm near the Roman Amphitheatre and withdrew…get this, 50,000LEK. That is 405Euro. The fee was 250LEK, 2.03Euro. I am really liking this choice. Albania has allowed me to save in leaps and bounds. Even with a planned fly-fishing trip in May. I am doing a little better than in Slovakia.

I turned from the atm and looked across the square and saw this wall that I had seen earlier on my travel to the Amphitheater. A policeman was standing nearby and I took a chance. He smiled as I approached him, his arms casually behind his back. I asked if he spoke English, and he said through his smile, “yes, of course”. I asked him what he knew about this part of the wall. I explained what I knew, and he replied that there wasn’t much add. “You know as much me”, he said still grinning. He asked where I was from, and when I told him Slovakia, he laughed and said that I had a strange accent for a Slovak. He nodded when I told him I am originally from the US. He tipped his hat and slowly walked away. I stood and marveled at the fact that this wall was even still in existence. It was standard for the early Bulgars, and later the Turks, to flatten everything in their path. Somehow, these walls were left to provide cover for their respective empires.

The one reason for this trip to town, beside money, was to find the Venetian Tower. I did; it was completely wrapped in scaffold and screening. A walk back into and through the wall pushed me to find the Byzantine Forum and the Roman Baths. The Baths were also wrapped in screening and scaffolds. Winding my way on senescent cobblestone, I found the Byzantine Forum.

The forum was built at the end of the 6th century. It is also known as the ” Market of Byzantium”. It was grand and there is speculation that it was never used as a marketplace, but set aside for the most formal and highest of ceremonies. It was built along with the harbor fortifications, during the reign of Emperor Anastasios (481-518). This was the portion of the Roman Empire that was known as the “Eastern Orthodox Church”. In late Rome, the church split in two. This section would be the basis for the church in the land of the “Eastern Slavs”, lasting another 1,000 years beyond the Western Church. This forum and the Amphitheater are some of the most intact and largest of the Roman antiquity in the Balkans.

On my travels back to the bus stop, I sat down at a cafe and had a biscuit and coffee. The street had quite a mixture of small kiosk-like stores right next to more modern-looking glass and steel shops. There was a Coach purse shop between two small newspaper/tobacco stands. Just one small window and a scad of items hanging on the front, and to the next, glass and chrome with designer clothing. People watching is the most pleasing; the “melting-pot’ aura is apparent and overwhelming.

I psyched myself up for the ride back to Rruga Brindisi, the street that leads to Rruga Venecia…my street. The bus stops right there, and is very convenient. As I was on at the beginning, I decided to take a seat. Again, after two or three stops, the bus was seeminly filled to capacity. Somehow the “sardines” packed in, with their shopping bags and luggage. I was relieved to slither through the crowd, four feet to the door, and land on Rruga Brindisi. I stopped at Market Shkodra, and picked up some food for the weekend, as I am planning on being home until at least Monday. I have lunch planned with Peter on Tuesday in Duress. I am sitting to do my taxes today (Sunday 20 March), and won’t go any further than the beach, or to see Leo and Thume’ at the grocery store.

Now, just sitting and waiting for the sun to come around and heat up my balcony, I’ll sit out here and do my taxes. It will be the first tme in my life that I have to physically do them. Either Romaine did them, or they were sent to an accountant friend. Dan Fogelberg is singing “Illinois” out of my bluetooth speaker, and a short wave of homesickness washes over me…now it’s gone. I am starting to feel much more comfortable in this skin that I have chosen. The more I see, the more open I become to the world that I live in. For all of it’s unkindness, brutality, and rancor – I feel the warmth of a people that I coouldn’t have concieved of meeting…even two years ago. I’m buoyed by the sight of this sea in front of me, always in a different color, or mood…but always an expanse of open emotion. I have to chuckle now as “There’s A Place In The World For A Gambler” is playing now. Fogelberg has always been good for my soul. I have taken a big gamble by leaving the comfort of my family and dear friends. Having played a few hands, I’ve lost a couple, and won a couple. I will continue to play and hope to learn more. I thank you all for following this travel of mine, and I wish you well. It’s tax time and I am going to get this out of my way. Please take of each other, and we will talk soon.

5 thoughts on “A Perfect Cup Of Coffee, Ruins, & Taxes

  1. Each stop fed more “sardines” into this tin-can-with-windows. Loving that line, Niel. Glad to hear that your journey is progressing in a nice direction. Remember – we all smile in the same language. Enjoy!


  2. When people ask you where you’re from don’t forget you spirit first fell on Blue Island. How can you listen to Dam Fogelberg and say your from Slovakia. 🤪 I especially loved your first paragraph on 3/17. Congrats!

    Liked by 1 person

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