Saturday, October 27, 2012

Midweek holiday break

This year, according to the sighting of the moon, the celebration of Small Bajram, the Feast of Sacrifice, fell on Thursday, October 25th .  It is observed annually by Muslims around the world, when, by tradition, they sacrifice sheep for this holiday, giving the meat out to their family, friends and to the poor. This meat is called kurban in Bosnia, thus the holiday is known as Kurban Bajram. This day is one of 3 national holidays observed annually in Albania also by the US Embassy, the others being Columbus and Mother Teresa Days.   

I was invited by some friends to join them for lunch, which took place in the countryside, in the outskirts of the city of Lezhë, one and a half hour car ride, northwest from Tirana.  This town of about 28,000 people, according  to some historians,  is considered the site of the League of Lezhë  where Albania’s national hero, Skanderbeg, united the Albanian princes of his time in the fight against the Ottoman Empire.

Today,  Lezhë is known for its site of Skanderbeg’s mausoleum. He was buried here in the cathedral that was dedicated to Saint Nicholas.
From the city itself, it took another 20 minutes or so to reach the restaurant my friends had chosen. It was really way out of town, located in the middle of nowhere, on hilly country and roads, where there were no signs or directions of any kind.  Curious about how they knew this place, I was informed that they also learned about it from other friends, just by word of mouth.  It is, what is known in Italian as, an ‘agroturismo’, which is a rustic inn that prepares foods using only local, specialty products, at usually very good prices. In some cases, these establishments also offer lodgings. 

Upon arrival we found that some cars ahead of us were denied entrance without reservation. The place was quite large, with tables setup also outdoors.   
The menu, as usual in these places, is pretty much the same for everyone, but can be tailored to people’s taste.  
We decided to skip the first course, because we wanted to fully enjoy the large variety of appetizers, which was followed by 2 types of meat (chunks of roasted lamb and sheep meat, grilled on skewers in very small bites) accompanied by 3 different versions of potatoes, all very delicious.  
One dish I particularly favored was fresh ‘porcini’ mushrooms, now in season,  the top of which was grilled to perfection (they sold here at the mere amount of less than $12.00/Kg). What a treat! 

The desserts consisted of a variety of “frutti di bosco” (wild cherries, blackberries, cranberries, and others only found in this area), a creamy and fluffy piece of the house cheesecake, and a drink also made from cranberries.  To wash down this gargantuan meal, ‘raki’ and ‘espresso’ coffee were also served.
After snapping a couple of pictures, we leisurely rode back to Tirana, but made a small detour to see the town of Shengjin, which houses the 3rd in size, commercial port of Albania.
Shengjin's ‘black sand’ beaches are favored by the Kosovars that now flock to the Albanian coast to spend their summer holidays.  New roads and building constructions of all sorts were evident everywhere along the shoreline.  A gorgeous sunset accompanied us for a while, and we reached Tirana when it was already dark. 

It was a perfect afternoon since it allowed me to relax a bit and have some respite from my current work that occupies me also on weekends. 

No comments: