Up for Adventure in Albania

by Innes Borstel

“Adventures in Preservation”… I’ve always loved that word “adventure.” As a kid, my dad would pack up all of us and take us whitewater canoeing, spelunking, and mountain climbing. Looking back, it’s a wonder that we all survived, and that Mom allowed it all to happen! Anyway, when my daughter came back from her “Adventures in Preservation” jaunt last August, glowing with inspiration, I said to myself—I want an adventure, too!

It took a little while to choose an adventure, and longer to negotiate with my work three weeks off instead of two. But they were willing to work with HR to create a “mini-sabbatical” category of leave-time. Then my preparation began in earnest, for I had determined to get the maximum bang out of my adventure. I chose my adventure to be the 16th Restoration Camp with Cultural Heritage without Borders in Gjirokaster, Albania.

The center of Old Town, Gjirokastrar

The center of Old Town, Gjirokaster

If you are of my generation, your basic idea of Albania is of some vague notion of one of those small, poor European countries with a crazy dictator. It was certainly a place that no one went to or left from! One of my favorite summer-read novelists as a teenager was Mary Stewart. Her book This Rough Magic takes place in nearby Corfu and casts Albania in a cloak of mystery and danger (of course, I re-read it before this trip!) Although Albania as a travel destination has gotten good press recently, it is still very much under the radar of mainstream European tourists’ path.

So what did I do to prepare myself for a two-week restoration camp in Albania?

  1. Purchased a travel guide: there’s really only one to choose from, published by Bradt (very good!)
  2.  Took an audio course in Albanian by Pimsleur, and got a “teach yourself” Albanian book
  3.  Started reading about Ottoman and Balkan history and architecture (a huge tome too heavy to read in bed!)
  4. Started sketching—one pencil sketch each day
  5.  Got a pedometer and gave myself a 10,000 steps daily target
InnesBorstel Gjirokasta street

The famed cobblestone streets of Gjirokaster

Now, most of my friends (and certainly my husband) thought I was going overboard, but I say that I definitely got maximum value from my adventure because the adventure began, not with the airline boarding pass in hand, but with these daily changes in my routine: the language lessons, the reading, and the sketching. This skill building also built confidence as well as comfort into the anticipation of my upcoming adventure.

Innes and CHwB in Gjirokastra

Innes, on her great adventure in preservation

My friends were, of course, absolutely right that I was going way over the top—there was no need for me to do any of this in preparation for this adventure. All I really needed to do was make sure I had an excellent pair of sneakers for the cobblestone streets and paths of Gjirokaster Old Town! Everything else was icing on the cake—and a very fun-filled cake it all turned out to be!

Innes Borstel is currently working as a preschool teacher for Montclair State University’s Children’s Center.  Clearly the adventurous type, she has also worked as a craft potter, exploration geologist, and import/export support. She dapples in all kinds of crafts and art, and enjoys learning new languages and travelling to interesting places that have a strong sense of the past.


You can have your own adventure in preservation in Albania! Join AiP in May 2015 for continuing work on the World Heritage Skenduli House.


About Adventures in Preservation

Huge fans of the world's architectural heritage, making it a point to seek out historic buildings wherever we travel. Bloggers include co-founder of Adventures in Preservation, a non-profit organizing historic preservation-based volunteer vacations, and AiP interns.
This entry was posted in AiP Projects, Cultural Travel, Experiential Travel, Heritage Travel, Historic Buildings, Historic Preservation, Volunteer Vacations and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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