euristic . curiosity that made me go to Albania. The country is so extreme politically that even the far left make jokes about it: the two superpowers are seen as the source of most of the world‘s evils: the ('hinese — Albania‘sonly allies until they were accused of sabotaging the country’s industry — are regarded as revisionist traitors; and Yugoslavia is the bastion of'I'itoite crypto-capitalism. Albania alone is carrying on the great legacy of Mars. Engels. Lenin and Stalin.
is brought home the minute you set off on the official tour bus: every roadside is liberally adorned with billboards enjoining one to 'work to fulfil the resolutions of the eighth congress of the Party of Labour of Albania'. or simply announcing ‘I.ong Live the International I’roletariat'. (A few days later. though. I did notice one hoarding which — presumably in a bid to increase the longevity of at least the Albanian proletariat— stated 'Smoking is bad for you' ).
While. for the Western dilettante. these slogans have a certain entertainment value. for the ordinary Albanian they must be screamineg irritating: as one ofour group pointed out. how would we like it ifevery major road in Britain was festooned with calls to carry out the instructions ofthe Blessed
:2“ it“ 7'!
Unpredictable amd fascinating. Albania remains somewhat off the beaten tourist track. Stuart Bathgate experienced it. along with a rather motlev crew.
TURN LEFT AND KEEP GOING...
Margaret and her inner cabinet'.’ Somewhat surprisingly. few of the fifty or so people who made up our tour party were especially interested in the politics of the country. 'I’he chiefexception was a vicar. who changed into his dog collar on the
plane. and clearly fancied his chances as a martyr — Albania has been officially atheist since 1907. when the ‘cooperativist' priests were given jobs in the fields. and the rest were imprisoned — but the immigration officials paid no
attention to his dress. much. I
suspected. to his chagrin. The rest were the usual mixed bag you get on package tours anywhere: a woman who supported West Ham and the National Front: a London tube driver who was basically a stomach on legs; a few arty types from Hampstead; a Pythonesque. hilariously self-parodic retired colonel: and a couple of tracksuited old ladies who probably thought they were in Algeria.
For four days we travelled around the northern halfof the country. y i~ itiuy museums and monuments which all seemed to be dedicated to the national hero. Skanderbeg. a Robert the Bruce type who in the 15th century led the resistance to the occupying Turkish armies. Between stops our guide would fill us in on the Albanian health service. education system. foreign policy and history. At the end ofeach day his trademark was to say ‘So. I think you have all enjoyed today's programme. yes‘." in a somewhat threatening tone of voice. which suggested that a negative answer might be met with the retort ‘So. you would like to be branded with this red hot poker. ja'.". ()n reaching the capital. Tirana. we had more time to wander around unaccompanied. and to visit the few shops with their rather depressing selection (or rather. lack thereof) of root vegetables. bread and fish. A
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