Tag Archives: holidays

Oh I do like to be a côté de the seaside!

31 May The Cote d'Azur

After a very long winter I finally managed to get away on holiday to somewhere hot and sunny – which means that you are in for a photo post. You can revel vicariously in my photos of sun, sea and quirky ceramics, or you can just skip this one if it would make you too envious.

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How to learn Albanian in 20 seconds 

31 Jan

Bună!  I am in the process of trying to learn Romanian, as I’ll be going there next month for a few days. I enjoy the challenge of learning a language, and Romanian is shaping up to be a fairly easy one, for me at least – it’s basically just Latin, with the odd Slavic word thrown in. 

Despite that, I’m at the frustrating stage where I know a few words but can’t actually say anything. I can say that I should, I need, I must or I would like, but not what I should, need, must or would like – except coffee, so I suppose that is somewhat useful. 

So in light of my own frustration with Romanian, I’m going to teach you to speak Albanian in 20 seconds. You won’t be able to hold an intelligent conversation about Proust, but you’ll be able to cope in most social situations. All you need is one word: mirë. 

Mirë is pronounced meer, as in meerkat, and it means good or well. (Technically e/i mirë means good, and mirë means well, but let’s not complicate matters.) The wonderful thing about it is it can be a question (Are you well? Is that ok?) as well as an answer to the question, and an assent to some proposal. Let me give you an example of a conversation you could hold in which you only use the word mirë. (You have to imagine it’s all in Albanian, although to be honest it wouldn’t matter that much whether you understand it or not.)

Hi, how are you? 


How have you been? 


How’s your family? 


How’s work? 


How’s your health? 


We should go out for coffee sometime and catch up. 


How is Tuesday afternoon for you? 


Great, see you then! 


See? Now you speak Albanian, at least as long as you are prepared to be fairly passive in any given conversation. If you’re thinking that there never would be a conversation like this, with such a screed of questions, you’re wrong – I’ve actually cut it down a bit. When you haven’t seen someone for a while, this list of questions can seem to stretch on for aeons. And throughout those aeons, you will be able to give pertinent replies – provided that they are all “mirë”.

(By the way, if anyone does happen to ask you for your opinion on Proust, tell them he’s mirë.)

On the Nth Day of Christmas

4 Jan

Happy New Year!

WordPress very kindly made a review of my blogging year and invited me to share it with you. However, on the assumption that a list of statistics about my blog is probably more interesting to me than to you, I’ll instead share a wee bit of poetry taken from the start of my short story collection A New Year’s Trio (available on Smashwords Amazon etc.). This is extremely rare, since I write poetry only once or twice a decade. I hope you enjoy it, but if you don’t, at least I won’t be troubling you with any more poetry for a while. 😉

On the Nth Day of Christmas

That dayless week between Christmas and New Year

When it’s all over and it hasn’t started.

Finding space for new presents and new life,

Three leaving the stable that two had entered.

A pause, a plateau, an intake of breath,

Ready for the wheel to turn again.


Albania 2015 – just the best bits

8 Aug

I have recently returned from my other reality, aka Albania, where I have a different name, a different language, different clothes (well it is 20 degrees hotter) and to some extent a different personality. I was going to blog about how strange it is to suddenly be bad at things that you are usually good at – things like baking, dancing and writing, in my case – because you’re in a different culture where all the rules are changed.

However, I feel like I have encountered quite enough negativity recently, with people talking down Albania, or Scotland, or just generally moaning about how hard life is, so I don’t want to add to it. However hard life is, and whatever problems there are in both my countries, I had a fantastic month, so I will choose the share the best parts. If that makes you nauseous, look away now.

1. I went to a museum in Lushnjë where I was the only person there, so I got a personal guided tour, and unlike most museums where you are told very firmly not to touch, this museum positively encourages you to! I was handed a two-and-a-half-thousand-year-old perfume pot (which I took extreme care not to drop) as if it were just a mug of coffee, and the tour guide passed me an 18th century sword to hold while he took a phone call. For a history nut like me, it was amazing!


Look at the colour of that sea!

2. The sea was beautiful, and so different from the North Sea and the Atlantic that I grew up with. It’s so clear you can see the tiny fish, and it’s warm (or no colder than cool, at worst) so you can get right in there without fear of losing a toe to frostbite. My eyes are the colour of the sea and, bizarrely, while they are North Sea blue-grey here in Scotland, they were Mediterranean blue-green the entire time I was in Albania.

3. Being outdoors so much was great. I like being outdoors in Scotland, too, but there are not that many days you can do it without suffering from mild exposure, if not from the temperature then from the wind. In Albania (and Greece) we ate outside (breakfast, lunch and supper), socialised outside, went to outdoor bars, and I even slept outside, on the balcony outside my room, when the temperature got a bit too ridiculous. Waking up to blue sky and swallows overhead sets you up for a great day.


My bed on the balcony

4. My husband gets irritated by this one, but I love being mistaken for an Albanian! I talk with an accent of course, but millions of Albanians live abroad, so they pick up accents too. Sometimes people have a little debate in front of me about whether I’m foreign or not! It’s very funny, and quite reassuring when I have an Albanian exam coming up later this year.

5. I enjoyed bonding with my mother-in-law over telenovele, the überdramatic soap operas they show in Albania. They used to be mainly from South America, but now there’s a glut of Turkish ones, which are a bit more serious, and very good. The latest was Diamantë dhe Dashuri (Diamonds and Love). There’s lots of mortal peril and complicated love triangles / hexagons, and I am happy to throw myself right in there for as long as I’m staying. They also don’t go on forever, like British soap operas, so you’re not in danger of losing your whole life to them.

6. I also enjoyed dressing up. This can be a hassle if you’re not in the right mood, but I was on holiday so I was very happy to only take my prettiest clothes, and then to wear all the new pretty clothes that my mother-in-law had collected for me too. Most of the time in Britain I slob around in jeans and a t-shirt, so it’s fun to take a break from that and wear heels and dresses. I didn’t wear trousers for the entire holiday, and it was with great reluctance that I put them back on for the flight home.

7. The ice cream was so cheap! Lots of things are cheaper in Albania, but ice cream is so expensive here in Britain that it’s really noticeable. In Albania it ranged from about 30p for a cheap one to £1.30 for an individual tub of Skandal, the equivalent of Häagen Dazs. My young nieces, who accompanied me for the first part of the holiday, weren’t used to the heat so I insisted that we stabilised their temperature with regular applications of ice cream. They didn’t seem to mind.

8. Catching up with friends was a highlight – and not just friends in Albania, but those in Greece and Italy too! Because almost everyone in Albania has relatives abroad, standard mobile phone packages include overseas minutes. For about £8 for the whole month I got hundreds of minutes to Europe, as well as huge amounts of data and messages. Not bad.

9. This one is from Greece rather than Albania. I stayed in a hotel with a pool on my way back, since I had to spend a night in Corfu. (It was the Anita, in case you’re interested, and it’s very good and extremely friendly, though not as handy for the airport as the Arion.) One of my favourite memories is standing up to my neck in the pool, alone, watching brightly coloured dragonflies playing over the water. Idyllic.

Sunny enough for bananas!

Sunny enough for bananas!

10. Sunshine. Sorry, but it has to be said. In Scotland we throw ourselves onto the nearest patch of grass whenever the sun comes out, because who knows how long it will last? In Albania you can predict that it will last roughly from the start of May to the end of September. It was sunny every day, it was hot every day, it was cloudless all but two days. It was paradise.

My mother-in-law will hopefully be visiting in October, her first time in Scotland, so it will be interesting to get her perspective. Maybe she will see wonderful things that I don’t notice because I’m so used to them. I have a nasty feeling that she won’t like it at all, actually, but until she casts her verdict – let’s stay positive. 🙂