An early walk in the town, which is full of exquisite street scenes (the castle hill or the mountains always forming a background), would have been more agreeable had I not been pelted most unsparingly by women and children from unexpected corners. Escaping to the outskirts, I sketched the town and castle from a rising ground, when a shepherd ventured to approach and look at my doings; but no sooner did he discover the form of the castle on the paper than shrieking out 'Shaitan!' he fled rapidly from me, as from a profane magician. A mizzling rain began to fall and when – avoiding herds of buffali, and flocks of sheep, with large dogs on the look-out – I made for the lake through some by-lanes, several of these wild and shy people espied me afar off and rushed screaming into their houses, drawing bolts and banging doors with the most emphatic resolve against the wandering apparition. Returning to the khan, I prepared to visit Shereef Bey, the Governor and principal grandee pf Akhridha, to whom the Seraskier Pasha's letter was addressed.
The fortress, towering over all the town of Akhridha and commanding an equally good view of lake, and mountain, contains the serai or palace of the Governor; its overhanging, ornamented roof, lattices, and bow-windows, and the groups of wild, strange creatures peering and lounging about the narrow stairs and wooden galleries, were all objects of curiosity to one who had seen but little of barbaric pomp and circumstance, for in Monastir the dignitaries are like great officials in any other great town; and were a traveller to go to that city after visiting the wilder parts of Albania, its effect would be unprofitably flat and civilised, though to those coming from Stamboul it is striking enough.
The room in which Shereef Bey was sitting – a square chamber of no very great size – was full enough of characters and costumes to set up a dozen painters for life. The Bey [Bey, a person of superior rank, frequently governor of a town] himself, in a snuff-coloured robe trimmed with fur, the white-turbaned Cogia [Cogia, a priest], the scarlet-vested Gheghes, the purple-and-gold-brocaded Greek secretary, the troops of long-haired, full-skirted, glittering Albanian domestics, armed and belted – one and all looking at me with an imperturbable fixed glare (for your nonchalant Turkish good breeding is not known here – all this formed a picture I greatly wished I could have had on paper. The Bey, after the ceremonies of pipes and coffee, offered a letter to Tirana, a town on the road to Skodra, and expressed his willingness to send guards with me to the end of the world, if I pleased, declaring at the same time that the roads, however unfrequented, were perfectly safe. Mindful also of missiles, I begged for a Kawas to protect me while drawing in the town of Akhridha, and then returned to the khan to dine, and afterwards passed the afternoon in sketching about the town with my Mohammedan guard, unannoyed by any sticks or stones from the hands of true believers.
At sunset the view from the portal of the fortress becomes a scene of placid splendour one can never tire of contemplating, and both in mass and in detail Akhridha has already far surpassed my expectation. They talk of the Monastery of St. Naum at the far southern end of the lake as the great lion of the district; but I rather postpone the wish to see it until I am in the neighbourhood of Berat, as a visit thither at present must involve a return here and occupy two days.
The certainty of night rest is not among the good things of Akhridha; in the small cell I inhabit a constant clawing and squalling of cats on one side of my pillow and quackling of ducks on the other is not favourable to sleep.
A cloudless morning, fresh and brilliant, induces me to put in execution my plan of retracing the route to the mountain pass by which I came hither, for the purpose of sketching the Lake of Peupli; wherefore my armed Kawas and horses were ready at 7A.M. At the foot of the hills the little monastery was exquisitely pretty in the clear shadows of early morning, and an outline of it occupied me some time; after which I began the steep ascent to the beech forests, and in the course of the upward progress, many were my pauses to contemplate the wide silver lake and its castled rock. A Government avant-courier, blazing in scarlet and white, his robe trimmed with fur and his kilt and gild belt looking afar off like the plumage of some tropical bird among the dark-green foliage, met us when half-way up the mountain, and shortly afterwards the Bey-Governor of Tirana, with a long string of laden mules and glittering retainers, added interest to the novel and beautiful scene. By half past ten we had passed the little plain at the mountain's summit and had reached the solitary guardhouse.
I was glad to have devoted a day to revisiting this most noble scene. Soothing and beautiful is that vision of the Lake of Peupli, so dreamy and delicately azure, as it lies below ranges of finely formed mountains, all distinct, though lessening and becoming more faint, till the outline of Olympus closes the remote view. Then the nearer hills, with their russet smoothness and pard-like spots of clustering forest groups – and closer, the dark masses of feathery beech glowing with every autumnal hue! It is long since I have tasted hours of such quiet, and all the roughnesses of travel are forgotten in the enjoyment of scenery so calm and lovely. Many a day – month – summer passed among the beautiful forests of Monte Casale, amid the steep ravines and oak-tufted rocks of Civitella di Subiaco, in the sheltered convent and the gleaming village of the woody Apennines – many a recollection of the far plains of Latium and the Volscians – of the brightness of Italian mornings – the still freshness of its mountain noon – the serenity of its eventide, when laden villagers wind up the stony paths to aerial homes, chanting their vesper chorus – all this and a great deal more flashed strongly on my memory as I sat hour after hour on this glorious hill summit, when the present, by one of those involuntary actions of thought which all must have experienced, was thus linking itself with places and persons of the once familiar past, with all the decision and vivacity of reality.
At half past two, after a rural dinner of excellent cold fish (the trout of the Lake of Akhridha are surpasingly fine), I retraced my way westward and was once more at the khan before dusk.