As impressive as the Albanian city Gjirokastër was for us, the two girls become grumblier the longer we stay here. The streets are far too steep for them and every walk becomes a hard hike for them. Startled they hide behind our legs whenever a seemingly speeding car approaches pestering itself along the steep cobbled streets we are walking on. The exciting traits of former inhabitation witnessed by the buildings we see are far too abstract for them. Anouk and Sóley only see old, crumbling and therefore not really beautiful houses in them. The restaurant-food for them is reduced to pizza and French fries, which after some days is nothing they want to have again. Normally, we cook far more diverse. And in addition to that, there is the haunted hostel which frightenes them at night. Babameto house is so wonderfully ancient that you can glimpse through the creaky floor boards down on the people living one floor below us. Then, there is the wind constantly blowing through the windows and laut squealing doors ... and there are small doors everywhere with unused hide-holes and secret passageways. This is far too much for Anouk's vivid phantasy. Without us in the same room, she doesn't get a wink of sleep. This is quite exhausting after a while and so the kids rather want to go back to the beach as soon as possible. As much as I had been looking forward to Istanbul, this wonderful city now recedes into the far distance. And also, the question darises whether it is possible at all to travel to big cities with island-children like ours.
On Mischa's birthday we enrich the hostel-breakfast with the local speciality sheep-cheese burek. Mischa's birthday wish is to find "Paradise Beach", so we "set sails" to the Albanian coast.
On our way, we want to ask farmers to be allowed to camp on their property, but we only meet shepherds herding their flocks of sheep.
Thus, we reach a relatively undeveloped and un-parasoled beach without any beach bars on Mischa's great day. That this beach is supposed to be "Paradise Beach" we are not really convinced of, but at least this is a first step in the search for it. Probably, it's quite difficult to find such a beach especially for us, as we live on an island with kilometres of white, sandy beaches, which for most people would be more or less the prototype of the personal "Paradise Beach". But, alas, our family getaways to the beach home on the island of Spiekeroog can be counted on the fingers of one hand because our everyday work, respectively the his standards we set ourselves do not permit that too often.
Just having arrived at the beach, we spontaneously pull out the VW Golf of an Albanian couple out of the deep sand, take over their idyllic spot and even get chilled drinks in return - welcome to Paradise Beach! The first thing that our daughter Sóley builds at the beach is a mosque with a minaret; words and concepts she before visiting Gjirokastër she did not know anything about. She remarks yearningly that she so very much wants to see a mosque from the inside - something we would never have dared to do because of her stubborn moodiness when we were visiting the city, but it seems that more impressions rest on her than we had expected. While skyping, an enthusiastic Anouk tells her friend Lasse about the collection of canons she saw inside Gjirokastër castle even though she felt very uncomfortable in exactly this part of the castle due to the fact that she connects those gigantic weapons with death and destruction.
To mark the occasion, we pump up our sound system at the beach and sing and dance together with Xavier Rudd and the United Nations' new cd "Nanna". Anouk, who has overheard more and more Englisch-chunks, demands a simultaneous translation and so we philosophy about the turbulent history of human societies, the injustices of the world and about religion and spirituality.
During the following few days at the beach, our kids relax and Sóley evel falls asleep in Mischa's lap for the first time in her life, which for him is a very special moment because she still has a fixation on me. I rediscover the sea for myself. Swimming and water gymnastics encourages the metabolism and awakens new vitality in this heat which can be lived out together with the kids in acrobatics at the beach and in the surf.
Beach neighbours from Aurich in homely East Frisia got bogged down with their old VW LT and, naturally, we also pull them out of the sand. The evening before, we had helped them to cope with their stomach upset with Caj Mali, the magic tea from the Albanian mountains.
In between, we go on on our search for our personal "Paradise Beach" and wriggle ourselves through countles serpentines alongside the picturesque coast heading north again, which makes the Land Rover roll like a tall ship and also makes Anouk throw up like being seasick. No wonder, I think, as I met her father being seasick on board the tall ship "Thor Heyerdahl". Rough mountain tracks however are no problem for the girls. Now we need a quick look into the guidebook to find a campsite with a laundry machine. In the next bay there are some, but we rely on "Reise Know-How" which results in the fact that nearly exclusively German-speaking campers have set up their camps here (while the campsite "next doors" is frequented by a majority of French and Italians). Becaue our Land Rover is decorated with eye-catching stickers of this publishing company we are asked more than once about what connection there exists. "Are you in any way connected with this company? ... 'Cos we also use this guidebook!". It seems as if there are only few other guidebooks on Albania even though tourism seems to be booming here. We don't want to stay longer than needed for our laundry and WiFi service, because "Paradise Beach" means something else for us. From Vlorë we discover a remote mountain valley in search of a farm, guesthouse or hidden pub - in vain! At the end we end up at the same bay with our first "Paradise Beach"-attempt.
But it could have been worse than ending up here for another night! Just shortly after we have arrived, an iconic Mercedes "Rundhauber"-LKW (an old Mercedes 911 truck) pushes itself along the road behind the beach and a multitude of sympathetic faces appear being the windows. They answer my waves and I invite them to set up their camp right next to us. They do so and out of the wonderfully neat and affectionately converted oldtimer-truck bearing the name "Rosie" climbs a wonderful and charming 6-headed family from Munich including their dog. Both parents are artisans from Schwabing and their four kids enjoying Waldorf education which has a long tradition in their family. They seem to be very relaxed, are extremely creative, courteous and cool "in spite of that". Our kids play with them as if they had known each other for years even though concerning their age they are years apart from each other, which actually convinces us the next morning to stay for another two nights enjoying this wonderful company. Us adults have tons to catch up on, too. We cook vegetarian, gluten-free and yummy food together and finish off the feast with baked chocolate bananas from the campfire (we use our last German chocolate for that).
Our travel guitar finally is called into action and wonderfully harmonises with the ukeleles from Munich. At the evening of the second day, another "Rundhauber" from Munich joins us, but when Rosie leaves us with her crew we get itchy feet as well.
Croozing further down south, we find a nice beach right after the Albanian-Greek border where two beautifully converted Unimog fire-engines have already set up their camps. Again, we meet Bavarian families waiting for their ferry to Italy because their summer break soon will be over. At night, even more trucks join us and for us, it's getting a bit too crowded here for us to stay longer and so the next day, we leave after some nice breakfast-chats still in search of our own "Paradise Beach".
Our friends Konstantinos and Erato from Athens, Dutch friends and also Coen and Karin-Marijke from "Landcruising Adventure" had recommended a certain beach on the island of Lefkadha to us which will be where we head today. Actually, this was a wonderful tip which is pretty much what we had imagined when talking of "Paradise Beach".
We meander down to a large bay with a long sandy beach with turqoise waters. Right at the end of the sandy track we set up our camp and figure out that here nobody cares what you wear (if you want to wear anything at all!). Everything here seems to be wonderfully uncomplicated and roomy! We plan to stay here until our provisions run out. Because, again, we can help others stuck in the sand - this time it's an Austrian couple - we can stock up on fresh water in return which enables us to even have hot fresh water showers here. And thus, we stay here for four enchanting days, taking each day as it comes. Anouk complains that the days go by so very fast here even though we don't provide some kind of kids-programme here. But it is exactly this family time which all of us simply enjoy to the fullest.
This indeed is the return for skipping Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaidjan and Iran, countries I had been looking forward to visiting for a very long time. But it's OK, as this serves a more important purpose, "relaxed, harmonic, easy going and still intensive family-time". All of us sense our backlog demand and sponging up each other as if we were dried up. Even rationally viewed, it was a good decision even though all these countries are so very interesting, exciting and culturally impressive as there is still so much waiting for us on our route down through Africa. But we can only manage and enjoy this if we grow into a relaxed but gut well-practiced team.
During the last 8 weeks we have not managed to do a lot of things we had planned in advance, but - and this is far more important than anything else! - we have re-started to live and not just "behaving". The rest will come automatically!
text by Juliane
photo comments by Mischa