One of the oldest and most fascinating sights on earth is situated behind a car park on a busy pot holed infested street in Durres, I am, of course, talking about the what should be much more famous, Amphitheatre of Durrës.
My arrival in Durres was anything but glamorous, with the minibus breaking to a halt on the side of a busy road and the driver getting up and barking at everybody to get the hell off. Which we all most certainly did.
Just a quick side note here, before I get into the history of the Amphitheatre of Durrës, something that has always really fascinated me about travelling. Is how quickly I and quite a lot of other people seem to get over culture shock. In nearly every country I have been to, after being there for less than 24 hours, I have felt totally comfortable and ease in that place. Here I was walking through a small seaside town in the middle of Albania, and I could have been taking a trip to the shops in my local city, with how relaxed and at home I felt.
Anyway, back to Durrës , the first thing to say about this city, as if it had a close by an international airport and was situated in let’s say Italy. It would be overrun with so many tourists it would make Venice look practically deserted. It’s a stunningly picturesque place nestled between the impressive Balkan mountains and the deep blue Meditteranean sea. It’s also absolutely packed full of historical sights. Yes, fine, it might not be as grand as Dubrovnik, but at least you don’t have to fight your way through thousands of cruise ship passengers to see the sights.
Durrës is much more peaceful and relaxed place, even in the high of summer when I visited, away from the packed beaches I felt like I had the entire town to myself. Mainly, because I was the only one stupid enough to walk around the city in the middle of the midday heat.
So, you may be thinking now, what exactly is there to do in Durres, apart from an ancient Amphitheatre and a deserted town square, well sit tight and I’ll let you know. First, though, I just want to make sure you’ve packed those Budgie Smugglers, as the sea is lovely and you might want to have a little dip.
There’s much more to this town than the sea though. From it’s quiet cobbled streets to the bustling seafront, packed full of restaurants and one of the most awe-inspiring statues I’ve ever seen.
The whole city is packed full of sights. From the ancient walls and castle which are currently under consideration by UNESCO to the trippy artwork which adorns the promenade. I quickly and rather unexpectedly fell in love with Durres, it reminded me so much of Thessaloniki, a place which sits close to my heart. The warm sea breeze gently cleared the sweat off my brow. As I took a seat and ordered a slice of Albanian Pizza. These are sort of like a New York/Chicago hybrid and I thoroughly recommended you try one.
It’s interesting to take a step back and think about how easy it truly was to get here from Tirana, find a minibus, climb on board, wait for all the seats to fill and off we go! Much more reliable than most other forms of transport. Often I find that getting around so-called undeveloped countries, much easier and user-friendly than more developed countries.
Finally, though it was time for me to head over to the Amphitheatre, which was as inspiring and spectacular as I had imagined. Just sitting plainly in the middle of a sort of housing estate, there was not a soul about and as I walked around the stands I felt transported back to all those years ago.
Built way back in the 2nd Century AD, at its peak over 20,000 people could fit into the stands. Hosting plays, public speakers and circus-like shows, it was the biggest and most exciting Amphitheatre in the whole of the Balkans. And here I was, little old me, walking in the footsteps of people who have long passed. I took a seat in the very middle of the Amphitheatre and let my imagination run wild…
As I closed my eyes I could see the actors. Hear the whistles of the crowd. The thunderous claps of thousands of people. All sharing in a communal outdoor experience. Laughing. Crying. Singing. Living every moment of what they were watching. No mobile phones, no tablets, no technology, nothing to distract them from taking in the full experience. Even if it was completely shit, at least they lived through it, and if it was a truly spectacular experience, it would live on in their minds, not in some Facebook loop.
I was jolted back into the world by a notification that my Facebook pictures had finally uploaded onto the internet. Hey, don’t judge me, I never said I wanted to go back to those times. I then quickly fired up my phone and worked out how to get back to the bus stop. The light was slowly fading as this time I boarded a proper big bus back to Tirana. This would, of course, prove to be a rather big mistake, but I didn’t care, I was just happy. Content. I had made it to Albania and nothing bad had happened to me at all… Yet…
Stay tuned for Part 13 where a flat tire and a mistimed loo break nearly lead to disaster as I try and make my way to Montenegro…