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Published: January 18th 2017
I knew from the moment I set foot inside Destil Hostel something special was going on, but had no clue exactly what it was. I wandered upstairs in the absence of staff to come across two young lads belting out a tune over a guitar, Wow that's awesome I thought, these two are not your average hostel hacks, perhaps they are in a local band? Anyway, they directed me to the bar and I went through the formalities of checking in. While heading back upstairs to the dorm a girl was going all Beyonce with the lad on the guitar. Sounds great, I said as I was going past. Then I enter the dorm and two girls are sitting on a bed singing incredible harmonies. This was too much to take in, was it some kind of criteria to check in at Destil you have to sing like an angel? Another lad walked in, and after a brief chat he explained the hostel was full of contestants who had made it through auditions, and were in Tirana preparing to battle it out to become the Voice of Albania. I'm a lover of music and used to play and sing back in
the day, but I've never heard voices like these wonderful young singers, some who travelled from Macedonia and Kosovo to pursue their dream of stardom.
The journal continues from where we left off in Malta. I boarded an early flight to Munich for a stopover at the super airport, and then flew in to Tirana. My taxi driver dropped me at the wrong hostel at 9:00pm in the cold, but with the assistance of a maps app I walked the kilometre to Destil hostel without a problem. The experience of the first moments at Destil became my life for the next five nights, it was like being in the middle of a free concert every night. The acoustics in the common area are phenomenal, and the young stars of the future belted out tunes to all hours every night after rehearsals. I was in musical heaven, and hadn't realised what a beautiful instrument the human voice can be. These young artists didn't even need backing instruments to sing like angels, but when coupled with a guitar or two sounded magnificent. I look forward to watching the battles on YouTube after the premiere on 27 January, it will be all
the more special as I got to know more than a dozen of the contestants while staying at the hostel. I think the singers dug having me around as it's clear I love music; I was full of praise and encouragement for them every day.
Of course I'm here to explore the city, so I rose early while the angels were still resting their voices and got out for a day in the capital of Albania. Tirana is an easy city to navigate, with the major attractions all within easy walking distance. The initial impression i formed of the Albanians was reinforced time and again during the course of my visit. I found the locals unfailingly polite, gracious, gentle, and helpful. As time went by, I developed a deep affection for the people of Albania. The streets are clean and organised in the centre, however a common problem in many European cities comes to your attention when outside the tourist centre, there is an ongoing problem with littering. It just doesn't seem part of the culture in parts of Europe to dispose of rubbish responsibly, but in reality perfection can't be found anywhere.
The angels sang me to
sleep back at the hostel that night, and the next day tourist information suggested a different option as I headed down past the parliament to the artificial lake. There's a gorgeous walk along the shore of the lake, leading to another rewarding and scenic day in the capital. As you would be aware, there has been a severe cold snap throughout Europe leading to the neighbourhood pipes freezing, cutting off the water supply for the duration of my stay. The staff of the hostel provided us with buckets and heaters for the room, and we made the most of things with a minimum of fuss. One of the girls from The Voice asked me one night, why don't you check out and stay at another hotel where the water is on? I was surprised by the question, as there was no doubt I could have done so. I just felt that if these talented young singers could put up with the inconvenience with a minimum of fuss, I would do the same as a gesture of solidarity. One of the lads was playing guitar one night, and offered to hand it over when I told him I used to play
in my younger days. I told him I would leave it to the professionals. Another lad said one night while strumming for his friends "We are young and all think we are going to be stars." I replied with sincerity "It's the best time of your life, enjoy it!" Hanging out with the artists bought back memories of being young when all I cared about was music, and although I had no money have never been happier.
The next morning I caught a bus to Kruje, an historic town of great significance to the Albanians. The national hero Skanderbeg had many victories over the powerful Ottomans during the course of a twenty five year rebellion from 1443 to 1468, and the museum dedicated to the warlord is a must see for visitors to the town. There is also an ethnological museum on the site of Kruje castle, providing a fascinating insight on the life and history of the Albanians. Although it's only an hour on the bus from Tirana, as the city is up in the mountains be prepared for a colder climate during winter. I headed back to Tirana in the evening after a full day, and settled
in to the fabulous bar at Destil for a few quiet ales before retiring for the night. Rest assured, the singers were still working their magic as I fell asleep.
My final day in Albania incorporated another day tour, this time heading to the centre of the country to visit Berat. This beautiful city is full of history, and has UNESCO world heritage listing for the Old Town for it's beautiful buildings and cobblestone streets. Berat is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world stretching back to the 6th Century BC. There's a beautiful street full of restaurants and cafes to promenade on, and the main building of Berat university is an impressive structure. The city only has 60,000 inhabitants, therefore it's easy to navigate, with Berat a wonderful option for a day trip out of Tirana or Sirande. I arrived back in the hostel in the evening, to enjoy a final night in the company of the angels from The Voice. I'll be cheering them on when the show premieres, such wonderful and talented young singers inspire me to say, basically all of you should be here now!
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Beckett
As I continue my
travels, until next time it's signing off for now.
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