Driving Through Albania

August 11, 2016 - 5:01 am 1 Comment

Done with Kotor, we headed southward to Albania and to its capital, Tirana (TEE-raw-nah). Sitting in a minivan for a few hours, conversations turned more crude as we all got to know each other a little better. Matthew taught us the terms “instavomit” and “invagination”, which we have used to humorous effect.

We stopped for lunch at a sketchy restaurant on a river just across the Albanian border. I was craving chicken, but the only chicken item on the menu was chicken penne. I took a chance, and it was completely awful. I half-joked that it was not chicken but one of the many stray cats that wandered around the restaurant as we ate.

On the Drin River

Rolling into Tirana, I was hoping we were just making our way through a crappy town, but it turned out to be Tirana itself. I was a bit worried, because it looked like a proper shithole.

After stopping at our crappy hostel, we set off on an orientation walk with a local guide. The city is an interesting mix of Muslim and communist, and this is reflected in the people (darker skin, a harsh-sounding language that sounds like Arabic), their cars (lots of Mercedes), and the architecture (communist and minimalist).

There were some modest highlights in the middle of the city, like communist mosaics and a church and a mosque (the first mosque I’ve ever walked into), but the most interesting part of the walking tour was our guide’s description of how the country is still getting feel for its place in the world. Albania only became free after the fall of communism in 1990. Blue jeans and cars only arrived recently. Our guide’s mother had never seen a banana until they were imported to Albania for the first time in the 90’s. The stray dogs, I imagine, have been there since antiquity.

Fruits & Veggies in Tirana

Et'hem Bey Mosque

TID Tower

National Historical Museum

The next morning, back into the minivan for another long day’s journey south. We stopped at Gjirokastër Castle and what would prove to be a fateful lunch for the group. My meal of curry barbecued chicken and rice was pretty good, but soon afterward, the Albanian food and long ride in the van started to disagree with a few people in the group.

Gjirokastër Amphitheater

Matthew at Gjirokastër Castle

Jeff on an American Spy Plane

Inside Gjirokastër Castle

After a stop at a water hole for a quick swim (too cold for me), back into the van for more driving. Sucks to be spending so much time packed in an uncomfortable minivan.

Finally, we arrived in Sarandë (sah-RAWN-dah). Due to a “change in plans”, we got booked into the 5-star Hotel Butrinti, though it seems more like 3-star, what with the cracked floors, yellowed toilet seat, and useless wifi.

At this point, half the group was vomiting and pooping fiercely. I thought I would be one of the lucky ones to escape, but the next morning, it was my turn to play. Our group quickly bonded over our shared gastrointestinal problems and had some laughs when we weren’t vomiting.

Sarandë seems to be the local beach resort destination. When we were feeling well enough, we wandered up and down the waterfront, but there’s not a whole lot to this place. Everyone in the group pretty much agrees that Tirana and Sarandë weren’t worthwhile places to stop and spend a night, seeming more like maintenance stops to break up two solid days of driving on the way down to Greece.

Sunset in Sarandë

Light-headed and limp and still not feeling quite right, I just plopped myself onto a ferry out of Sarandë. Next stop: Corfu, Greece.

    One Response to “Driving Through Albania”

  1. Alice Lockett Says:

    Oh my Jeff, this part of the journey sounds challenging at best. I hope you are feeling better and will have a great adventure when you get to Greece. Stil looking forward to your coming home….Alice

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