Helen discovers some of the surprises the Balkans have to offer as a winner of our 2017 Travel Writing Scholarship
"Find your scenes, and move your characters through them," Tim Neville, our mentor, told us. Scenes? Characters? I was about an hour into the World Nomads Travel Writing Workshop, and I was slowly realising that I knew a lot less about travel writing than I thought.
But during my three weeks in the Balkans I was able to try out Tim's advice, finding scenes, taking on missions, and developing tension in some of Montenegro and Albania's most interesting places.
After a three-day workshop with Tim and my two fellow writers, I travelled south into Albania, and was taken high into the mountains, to a 60-strong farm town called Nevice. Auron Tare, my guide, is trying to promote the region for tourism, and it's not lacking attractions. Around us, rough mountains roll into grassy fields. Just metres away from town, canyons carve through the rocky earth. To promote the region, Auron hosted a Miss Albania photoshoot on a clifftop five minutes out of town. I've hiked all my life, but never through 4,000 year old ruins, and never with thirty perfectly coiffured Albanian teenagers and a film crew as my hiking companions.
Back in Tirana, Albania's capital, I walked past Enver Hoxha's old home in the Blokku district, which is now Tirana's party central. I noticed someone slinking away from his old garage, pocketing a spray can. What do vandals write on the homes of ex dictators? I approached the wall. "The only good system is a sound system." Next to that, still wet; "SWAG." Expecting political statements, instead I saw the light-hearted scribbles of people who aren't fixated on the country's past.
The Bay of Kotor
"Remember this," Tim whispered to us, sharing one of his travel writing secrets. We were bobbing around on a small fishing boat in the Bay of Kotor, with a bunch of boisterous local chefs. Squid fishing was on our itinerary, but all organised activities were being ignored in favour of more important things - laughter, beer, and good company.
I knew what Tim was getting at. That moment captured that best of travel - connecting with new friends from different cultures, enjoying exciting places and new experiences. For a story, and for a travel writing workshop, those moments make great endings.
See how this opportunity has made Helen a better travel writer.