17 July 2014. In the Albanian port city of Vlora (in which Albanian is merely a geographical description because Vlora is such a typical Mediterranean tourism and port city that it might as well be in Italy or in Turkey) I go aboard a slightly older and not too large ferry for the passage to Brindisi in Italy. I am looking forward to a few hours on the sea, which happens to be absolutely calm today.
The setting off is delayed by an hour, probably because there are too many cars trying to squeeze into the ferry. Some of them have to back out again to make space for others and to use the storage room in the most optimal way. The banksmen are playing Tetris with caravans and station wagons. Only later upon disembarkation will I see the result: some of the cars are parked at a right angle, and all of them stand so close to each other that some of the drivers could have gotten out of their vehicles only through the roof hatch.
Yet the ferry is not really overloaded. There are still plenty of free tables and comfortable armchairs. The restaurant is almost completely empty. But I am drawn to the fresh air. Enjoy sun, wind and the sea for a few more hours before I have to return to my desk and my computer after two weeks of holiday.
The ferry is still in the port, but my basic knowledge of interstellar constellations tells me that if we are going west on the northern hemisphere, the sun will be shining from the port side at noon. Thus I spread myself out on the starboard tween deck. At first the sun hits me directly, but after leaving the port and chugging past the island of Sazan, which is exclusively used for military purposes, a welcome shade is covering me. Only my two feet, liberated from the sneakers and stretched out as far as I can, are reached by the sun’s rays. I light my first cigar; the backpack serves as my pillow. That’s the way to travel. Silly people who pay extra money for a cabin.
Flashback. Vague memories of TV news from back then, refreshed due to my trip to Albania now. 1991, on exactly the same route from Vlora to Brindisi, but also from Durrës to Bari, boats were going west on which no car would have had space and on which nobody could stretch their limbs the way I do now. The boats back then were packed full. More than full. Albania was in a phase of upheaval after decades of communist dictatorship, the future was highly uncertain. Many Albanians feared a violent crackdown by the government against the revolutionary people. Thus they hijacked ships in the Albanian ports and forced the captains to sail towards Italy.
The freighter Vlora allegedly had around 10,000 people aboard on its journey to Italy.
Back in the present, July 2014. Albania has become a stable and peaceful country. My personal impression was extremely positive. Some things, from foreign language skills to internet speed, were better than in some parts of Western Europe. And of course the geniality and helpfulness. Three weeks ago Albania became a candidate for accession to the European Union.
It is mostly Albanian families who are on the ferry with me, many of whom have been living in Italy for a long time and have Italian citizenship by now. In Brindisi they carry and roll huge suitcases with clothes, food, electronic equipment and books onto land. In the photos from 1991, nobody even had a little bag or a small backpack.