Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 80 off to Albania

Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 80 off to Albania

A new COVID adventure as I head for Albania at the end of this week.

Week 80 of the coronavirus pandemic and England is suffering a petrol shortage. Despite Boris Johnson urging people not to panic buy they do. Petrol stations are closed and queues at those that do have petrol stretch back for miles. People are buying petrol cans and carrying several at time to fill up at petrol stations. Some even use plastic bags to grab some extra petrol. I just don’t use my car and conserve the petrol I have for essential journeys. At the end of this week I set off for Albania and the lack of face masks and social distancing makes the coronavirus pandemic seem like something that happened long ago.

Monday 27 September 2021

I am woken very early by the sound of wind and rain outside. I am on duty on Brownsea Island pier today but will go on the 9 am staff boat. There is no point in going early as a walk is out of the question. I open the patio door to take photos of the rain but the wind is so strong it blows it off the rail. I manage to get it back into the right place again and shut it. By 07:00 the rain has eased off. When I set off for the National Trust jetty on my bike it is dry but the wind is still gusting so it is hard work cycling against it. This morning I cross to Brownsea Island on the John Lewis boat, Castello. The company lease the castle and use it as a private hotel for their employees. This is a treat as it means I can walk through the castle grounds when we arrive on the island.

The Castle on Brownsea Island in Dorset

The ferries are busy today but the schedule has been reduced to one ferry an hour so we are not very busy on the pier. It is sunny most of the day but we do have one heavy shower which is followed by a complete rainbow curving over Poole Harbour. My day on the island passes very pleasantly. On my way home I discover a new venue where I can drink a coffee and use the WiFi – Lazy Jacks. I stop there and order a coffee. Then I remember I don’t have any money with me so I cancel the coffee and ask if I can still use their WiFi. They very kindly agree and I spend an hour catching up with my emails. I will be back – it is such a nice, friendly place.

Rainbow over Poole Harbour

COVID-19 Update

Hospitals axe social distancing rule in bid to treat more patients to help the NHS treat more patients. Infection experts have now been asked to look at other areas - including GP surgeries - amid concern that such constraints are limiting access to face-to-face appointments. The requirement for all patients to isolate and undergo tests before planned surgery has also been relaxed.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

NHS invites over one million people to get their Covid-19 booster jabs marking the start of the NHS vaccination programme’s new phase ahead of winter. Those who have had their second vaccine at least six months ago are eligible for the booster jab to increase their protection.

Moderna vaccine recipients may not need boosters as much as those who had Pfizer as emerging evidence in the US suggests they may not need a booster as much as other vaccines.

Tuesday 28 September 2021

I am up early and work at the flat for a while and then walk to the Jazz Café to have a coffee and use their WiFi. It usually opens at 9 am but it does not look open when I get there and it is already twenty past nine. The door is open so I go in. I am unceremoniously thrown out by the owner as today they are not opening until 10. As Lazy Jacks opens at 08:30 I cycle there to have a coffee and use WiFi. I check the menu and decide it would be a nice place for dinner tonight with my friend. I book a table. Despite walking through the rain to get there (saving petrol due to the panic buying induced shortage) we have a fabulous evening. The food is amazing – we start with mussels and red crevettes. We both have the fish and chips for our main and share a divine warm salted tonka bean caramel tart for dessert. All washed down by a very nice New Zealand wine. The rain has stopped by the time we leave and we enjoy a leisurely stroll around Poole Harbour on our walk back.

Fish and Chips at Lazy Jacks in Sandbanks, Dorset

COVID-19 Update

Uncertainty over Civil Aviation Authority powers to force airlines to pay pandemic refunds After 18 months of widespread flight cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic and passenger anger over refunds, there is still no clarity over the promise of greater powers for the aviation regulator.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

Low vaccine rates in Eastern Europe overwhelm ICUs while Western European countries surge ahead with vaccination programmes

Wednesday 29 September 2021

BT are coming today to set up my broadband. They will be here between 8 am and 1 pm. At 9 am I get a message to say they will be here ‘soon’ with the engineer’s number. At 10 am I call the engineer to enquire when ‘soon’ might be. He says he has two more jobs before mine and finally arrives at 12:30. I have spent the morning pacing the flat – with no WiFi I can’t get any work done. It is very windy outside and Poole Harbour is busy with kite surfers and wind surfers. Some of the latter are performing amazing acrobatics. Once the engineer has finished I have some lunch and then pack my bags ready to leave for Hertfordshire early this evening.

Kite surfers in Poole Harbour, Dorset

On my way back to Hertfordshire, just after I leave the M25 I find myself in a long queue for a petrol station. It seems the panic buying has got worse. As it is a single lane there is no alternative but to crawl along – which I do for nearly an hour. An impatient driver, trying to get across the road decides to drive through a gap behind me that is narrower than his car. He scrapes some paint off the back of my car. I take a photo of his car and he stops, gets out and comes back to have a look. He tells me it is not an insurance job – I tell him it is and request his details. He refuses to give them, gets in his car and drives away. The next day I contact my insurance company who accept it as a no fault claim and trace the driver and his insurance company from the registration number of his car.

Petrol Station, Empty and Closed

COVID-19 Update

Scientists fear fourth Covid wave as children ‘bring home virus to parents’ as the latest data suggests schoolchildren are passing the virus to their parents. Infection rates have started increasing in adults aged between 35 and 50 since schools reopened.

Thursday 30 September 2021

I meet my friend for lunch today and it is lovely to have a catch up at the Teatro Café in the Radlett Centre. On my way there I see some lovely signs that autumn is upon us. Autumn cyclamen flowering by the path and toadstools clustered on garden lawns. I catch the train to Gatwick Airport and arrive just before midnight in plenty of time to check in at 03:50 for my flight to Corfu at 05:50 – the start of my journey to Albania. It is three years since I was last in Albania and I am looking forward to seeing how much the country has changed since then - and how the coronavirus has affected it. The South Terminal at Gatwick is still closed and empty and the North Terminal is nowhere near as busy as it used to be before the pandemic.

Autumn Cyclamen in Hertfordshire

COVID-19 Update

Britain’s Covid infection rate is one of the worst in the world as revealed by the latest research. Britain’s current Covid infection rate is by far the highest in western Europe and is only exceeded by a handful of countries around the world.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

Thousands of long Covid cases could be averted if teens get two jabs a new study has suggested. Children as young as 12 in the UK are now eligible for their first shot of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. However, vaccination experts are yet to advise if and when children should get the full course – or two doses.

Covid booster jab programme for over 50s begins as the NHS invites more than one million at high-risk via text messages and letters as part of the latest phase of the vaccination programme.

Friday 01 October 2021

My early morning flight to Corfu this morning is on time and I arrive in Corfu at 11 am. Only two people in the group I am tour managing are on the same flight I soon find them and we are on the way to our hotel. When we check in we are delighted to find we are booked into this hotel on an all-inclusive basis so we have a drink outside by the pool before going to the hotel restaurant for some lunch. The remaining members of my small group arrive during the afternoon and we all meet for dinner this evening. It has been a long day so we don’t linger over the meal but return to our rooms to get ready for an early start tomorrow when we complete our journey to Albania via the ferry.

Sunrise over Corfu  Port in Greece

COVID-19 Update

GPs to check exemption applications ​if Covid passports are introduced and will every Covid vaccination exemption the Government has announced. New guidance says that if people are medically exempt from having the vaccine they must apply for proof of that status from a doctor, specialist clinician or midwife.

GPs could cut hours or quit in row over face-to-face appointments amid continuing pressures over the lack of face-to-face appointments, a BMA survey suggests. A survey had been launched because it was "important that members have their say on the current state of general practice".

Saturday 02 October 2021

Early this morning we board the ferry in Corfu to cross to Saranda in Albanian where we are met by our guide and driver who will accompany us on our eleven-day tour of Albania. We start by changing some money as Albania is not in the European Union so does not use Euros (officially) but there are some places in the lager towns that will take them. We then drive up to Lekuresi Castle above Saranda where we take photos of the views and have some coffee.

View from Lekuresi Castle in Saranda, Albania

From the castle we drive through the impressive of the Mesopotami Byzantine Monastery that features a canal and an impressive gorge. We stop at the monastery and do a circuit of the outside but we cannot go inside.

Mesopotami Byzantine Monastery near Saranda in Albania

Our next stop is the Blue Eye Park where we take a short walk by the river that flows through the park. The water around the spring that feeds this river is bright blue and the river water around it is green – an amazing sight. We have lunch here on terrace over the river. A very pleasant interlude before moving on to Girokaster where we will spend our first two nights in Albania.

Blue Eye Park in Albania

On arrival in Gjirokastra we check in to our hotel before setting off on a walking tour of the town. This town is famous for its old Bazaar – narrow cobbled streets lined with small shops selling local produce and handicrafts. Today, one of the streets is cordoned off and full of stalls – hand-crafted items on sale including fabulous waistcoats with matching jackets, olive oil soap and honey. A young Albanian boy who speaks perfect English tries to tempt me to buy a beautiful hand-embroidered waistcoat but I have to decline as I don’t know when I would wear it.

Traditional Hand Made Clothes for Sale in Gjirokastra, Albania

To get to the castle that looms above Girokaster we had a choice of routes – several flights of steep steps or a flatter winding road. We choose the steps and we are soon at the entrance to the castle. The original castle was built here around the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. During the nineteenth century it was rebuilt and extended by Ali Pashe Tepelena and used as a prison. This prison now houses a collection of arms used during the two World Wars - a part of the Museum of the Castle. Other features of the castle include a clock tower and a permanent festival platform. An incongruous exhibit is a US Air Force Jet but how it got there is still a matter for conjecture.

Castle in Gjirokastra, Albania

In the News Today

Cars accidentally follow mortar tanker after thinking it was carrying petrol and the tanker driver was shocked when he arrived at a building site in Northamptonshire with 44 tonnes of mortar and saw a line of vehicles behind him. The cars had started following him when he left Bilston, Wolverhampton.

Insulate Britain activist mocked after complaining about being stopped and searched and complained about missing a yoga class. Climate activists blocked three motorway junctions in London on Friday causing traffic chaos for tens of thousands despite a court injunction.

Sunday 03 October 2021

This morning we drive from Gjirokastra (Girokaster) to Përmet. A lovely drive through stunning Albanian scenery. When we get to Përmet, which is famous for growing flowers, especially roses, we walk up a very narrow cobbled street to a private house. We sit in the courtyard of the house while the owner tells us about the Albanian sweet gliko which is made from different fruits using traditional methods handed down from generation to generation. We tried a walnut sweet made when the nut is green and then kept in syrup. When offered the opportunity to buy a jar of gliko we all comply and I buy the fig version.

Përmet Gliko an Albanian Sweet

After lunch in Përmet we drive to the Benja Sulphur Springs – in the middle of a barren area and so busy we have to park some distance from the hot thermal pools. We walk to the medieval bridge that stretches over a sulphur-rich warm-water river. This narrow, cobbled bridge is only four feet wide and unfenced. We had some fun taking photos of each other walking over the bridge – trying to catch a moment when no-one else was on the bridge. We have a break at the Cold Water, a waterfall taverna on our way back to Gjirokastra where we are spending a second night. Three of us share a jug of surprisingly good local red wine sitting by the gurgling water of one of the cascades that rush down the terraces of the building.

Medieval Bridge at Benja Thermal Springs in Albania

COVID-19 Update

Air New Zealand becomes latest airline to announce international passengers will need to be vaccinated and will require passengers to be vaccinated on international flights from February 2022.The airline's chief executive said the move was "a step towards opening back up to the world".

In the News Today

Man arrested after police alerted to fake vaccine passports being sold for £750 The certificates were being advertised through the encrypted messaging app, Telegram, by a “Doctor J”.

Some Government Statistics

By 5 pm on Monday 27 September, a total of 7,701,705 (total that day 37,960) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 136,208 including a daily total of 40. By the end of the week on Sunday 03 October, the total of positive cases had risen to 7,900,680 (total that day 30,439) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 136,953including a daily total of 43. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is now 159,716, an increase this week of 1049. (this statistic lags behind the daily statistics as it is updated on a weekly basis).

More next week

Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller
Valery Collins the Experienced Traveller
An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 25 years ago. After publishing four books she turned to online travel writing.