W e have 3 lots of visitors over the next 3 weeks. We are delighted, the children are excited, but in this uncertain time of natural disasters, environmental hazards & a seemingly endless troop of crises, we are also a bit anxious.
Each set of visitors either arrives, or departs on a BA strike day, (not difficult to do as they are striking for 20 days in May) That's quite apart from Volcano Unpronounceabale continuing to erupt. Gatwick is much less militant than Heathrow & often doesn't strike when they do. But don't get me started on the strike. My husband worked for BA (in management, boo hiss) for 12 years & let's say he knows what it's like from the inside & what a great deal BA cabin crew have. BA avers that Gatwick will operate as normal. Let's hope so.
Anyway it made last weekend, in southern Albania & Macedonia, a refreshingly 'other world' experience. My husband & 4 other guys were doing another of their biking adventures. It is a very peaceful, very undeveloped & sparsely inhabited area of lakes, mountains & apple orchards in the valleys. Stunningly beautiful.
I drove down, plus one other family & 2 other cars. We stayed at Lake Ohrid, 4 km from the Macedonian border. Ohrid is a tectonic lake, the deepest in southern Europe. Fortunately it hadn't decided to join in the extended seismic party its other friends round the globe seem to be attending & was calm & tranquil with not a ripple on its surface.
We had fabulous weather & a very relaxing time. Not so the boys... On Saturday they had to slog over a 1600m mtn. It took 3 hrs. On Sunday afternoon, I drove up over this same mountain, to collect my husband so that I could whisk him back to the office before he began having too much fun (no, actually, his choice to work the Bank Hol Monday. It's quiet so he gets lots done.) The others went on & I drove back up the mountain, to go back into Albania & to Lake Ohrid again. At the top my husband said,
'There you go you can experience the 1000m descent'.
My reward for coming to collect him (a 3 hr round trip) and having lent him my bike as his developed a very wobbly back wheel last wk (worn ou tbearings if you mustknow). So I got to do 1000m of descent, clocking 50km/hr with a huge grin on my face the whole way. All the fun & none of the pain. Fantastic!
This, however, was not the whole story. I had had my share of transport anxieties at the border crossing. I left my 2 children with my friend, & 2 of her children & drove the 4km to the border with my friend's daughter who wanted to see her dad who was on the bike ride. At the Albanian /Macedonian border, the border guard was very suspicious of me travelling alone with my friend's 9 yr old daughter who wanted to come along. Aren't you allowed to do this? Clearly I had the look of a hardened & ruthless kidnapper. He said I was causing a problem & he couldn't authorise me. Equally clearly, I was answering the questions all wrong "No she wasn't my daughter","She was the daughter of a friend of mine" "We are just going into Macedonia to fetch my husband who is biking around over there”. "She is just coming along for the ride." etc.
As a prospective kidnapper I obviously hadn't passed the Abduction Training School Exams on 'How to dupe border guards'. Added to all this, my little companion, having never been interrogated by a border guard before, looked like a startled rabbit, was very unnerved, stammering, trying to answer questions, in Albanian (which she speaks) & appeared very frightened. She was frightened, not by me however, by him...........
Eventually when I promised I would be back in 2 hrs, he let me through. Obviously I could be a kidnapper as long as I came back quickly..........
This happens time & again in Albania too. Officials lay down the law & then say 'Oh all right then'. Either it WAS a problem or it wasn't. Maybe they say what they have to say but aren't really that bothered.
Of course trafficking is a very big problem in the Balkans in general, & in Albania in particular, but it's not foreigners who get trafficked, but poor kids or the Roma, who have been sold because of the poverty of the family. Actually I am glad they check & question you, & I am glad they didn't ask for a bribe to let me pass. And I like to think common sense & not lethargy prevailed. I mean if they were employing profiling techniques, (which I'm sure they weren't) I don't think I'd fit the bill of 'would be kidnapper'. I have since discovered from friends in Albania, that they get a notarised letter when travelling with someone else's child anywhere in the Balkans.