Sunday, October 25, 2009


Our trip to Tirane, Albania was interesting. First we took a bus to Bar, Montenegro, then caught a bus to Ulcinj, Montenegro and from there another bus to Shkodër, Albania across the border. The bus looked like it would have been considered pretty nice in the 70's with it's faded velvet-like red seats and curtains. In fact, we thought it was pretty nice when we got on. It turned out that the air-conditioner was broken so we got to swelter in the bus for a few hours. When we stopped at the border for 30 minutes it was nice to have the doors open and a slight breeze in the air. I don't know why they had our passports for so long but we eventually got them back and were on our way again. The last stop in Shkodër was not at a bus station. This left us a bit confused as to what to do next and how to get to Tirane. Two Irish girls who had been on the previous bus with us found a van with a wooden sign propped on the dashboard that said "Tirane." They were told it would be €3 a person so we all jumped in. After we were off and driving is when the thought hit us that this was all a little weird. We were on an unmarked, 8-person van with a wooden sign for Tirane on the dash. They did have some official looking stickers on the front window with "2009" written on them along with some other official looking stuff, so that made me feel better. I thought that rationally it would be silly of him to try and kidnap or rob five foreigners all at once. Not impossible to do so, but quite unlikely. Albania is certainly a different sort of place than what we've been used to. First thing we noticed is that their driving is not as strict and rule-bound as... the UK for example. They are constantly passing each other and they honk quite a bit, not to be rude or as a way to insult someone's intelligence, but as if to say "I'm over here so don't run into me, okay?" The road would frequently change from asphalt to pebbles in the numerous construction zones. Every once in a while we would stop to pick up a random person waving us down from the side of the road. They'd just squeeze in where they could and then hop out not much further up the road. We saw a few people with roosters in cages or tethered to a pole. I assume they were for sale for someone's dinner. Other chickens were running free in fields along with emaciated cows, their noses in the browning grass, chewing away. I saw one man wearing traditional clothes (something like this) herding four cows across the busy road. There were scruffy dogs dogs, a burning field, horse drawn carts, hunks of meats hanging from porches, etc. And we saw a bus that had both a Ford and a Mercedes logo on it. I didn't know Ford made Mercedes! Or...Mercedes made Fords? Yeah. Fun ride. We were dropped off in the main square of Tirane, somehow managing to communicate the spot to the driver who spoke zero English. While walking to our hostel we noticed that the city has an abundance of guards in uniform protecting various buildings or intersections. And speaking of intersections, those were fun. It was kind of like Rome where people just drive around you if you're in their way. The honking was even worse in the city than it had been on the drive. As soon as a light turned green people 10 cars down the line of waiting traffic would begin to honk. It was crazy! The city was smoggy and not really pretty at all, but it ended up growing on us. Our hostel was a very cool place, right int he heart of the city. It felt like a big log cabin complete with a garden and outdoor kitchen. Very cool place with nice owners. We got directions to the food part of town and found a nice little restaurant. The food was amazing and hella cheap! We instantly fell in love with Albanian food that night.

On the morning of the 29th Chuck ran to the store and picked up ingredients for sausage and cheese omelets. The stove in the outdoor kitchen was basically just a campfire burner stove with only one setting: really hot. It was very rustic. He still managed to make some killer omelets. After breakfast we hung around our dorm room reading and doing whatever. We met our dorm-mates: two brothers from New Zealand. One had been living in London for a while though and they were meeting up to travel around for two weeks. One of them ended up being into programming and computers and he and Chuck found a lot to talk about. They seemed really cool. And I love their accents!! After they left we met the cleaning lady. She spoke not a word of English and we spoke not a word of Albanian. But she was more than happy to talk with us, smile on her face and lots of sign language. I'm not sure what she was saying, but we think she was telling us she has a 27 year old son and a young daughter. Or maybe a young granddaughter. We tried to look things up in the google translator to figure out how to respond, but we couldn't pronounce the Albanian words - thy were just too foreign for us. Another thing that had us confused was the head-nodding for yes and no. I finally remembered that some cultures have opposite nods than we do - "yes" is a side-to-side shake of the head and "no" an up-and-down nod. Albania, as it turns out, is one of those places. That helped clear a bit of the conversation up! She was very nice though, whatever she was saying. Robyn eventually got sick of doing nothing. She went out to see the city on her own while Chuck and I finished up what we were doing and got ready to go ourselves. I figured we wouldn't be seeing Robyn for the rest of the day, but we ran into her just down the road. We headed toward the main square where we had been dropped off the day before. We found a tourist information center and asked where we could catch the bus to Sarande, which is where we were going the next day. She very kindly did her best to explain, although we were left a bit confused. We figured we'd figure it out. We walked back across the city to a big park we saw on the map. On the way we saw a thin attractive girl with long black hair, black high heels, short black shorts and a corset top walk out of a shop in front of us. It was really funny to see every mans head turn and watch her as she passed by restaurants on her way down the street. Guys were even poking their friends and nodding in her direction. It was hilarious at the same time that it was disturbing. They didn't really seem to feel the need to bother being discreet about their oggling. But I also figure that she was wearing what she was wearing to turn some heads. Once we got to the park both Robyn and Chuck decided it was too ugly to actually walk through. The poor park had half its trees cut down and everything was a brown color instead of nice and green. We walked through a bit of it though - I wanted to feel like we had come all that way for something. We saw a man wearing a gun holster with a skinny-barreled gun resting in it. That kind of freaked me out and I turned to Robyn and Chuck with wide eyes. We nervously chuckled and said things like "Only in Albania, right?" As we passed him we saw he was standing by a little toy target and realized his gun was a toy... I felt like an idiot. He was just trying to sell target-shooting games to little kids. We went for an early dinner/late lunch at the same place we ate at the previous night - it was that good. It didn't disappoint the second time around either. We stayed in the rest of the evening. I stayed up late and read a new book before going to sleep.

We woke up way too early to pack our stuff up and make the long walk to the bus station. When we get lost (let's face it, getting lost is a given) we bravely ask a random woman walking down the street. She doesn't know but asks two other people for us and between the three of them we get directions. How nice of her to ask other people on our behalf! We were grateful. We made it to our bus with 10 minutes to spare - perfect timing if you ask me. Once again, our bus driver doesn't speak any English so hand signals are used instead. Hand signals work surprisingly well for basic things like "get on the bus" and "pay money now." Off we went to Sarande, Albania.

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