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Published: February 19th 2021
BEAM ME UP
Photo of the Ventus hotel and restaurant.
A BREAK FROM DIVING
My next stop was for R&R in Durres, Albania. Diving the Adriatic so far had not been world class, and I had my fill of cold water, and cavern and wreck dives. My plan was to relax and take a break from diving.
As usual, changing locations was time consuming. Packing and preparations for travel kept me up till 4 am. I consoled myself with short sighted optimism and wrote in my journal… I can rest on the bus.
I was up at 8 am, made a big breakfast and had a quick shower. I took a cab to the bus station…and there was a long wait before boarding. The bus was almost full when I finally got settled in my seat. Express? Not really. It took 6 hours. As usual, the border crossing was really slow. I am such a talker I didn’t get any sleep on the bus. Several young men chatted with me about their travels. At our rest stop I was buying a cold drink for fifty cents, and discovered I had enough change in my pocket to get the others a drink as well (so often change
VIEW FROM THE RESTAURANT
My hotel is way down the beach, near the left edge of this photo. I stayed at the restaurant for a long time. Ate in the late afternoon and watched the sun go down.
in local currencies goes to waste). One of the guys had no money and he cautioned me afterward to be careful because people would take advantage of me? He meant well, I suppose, but really?
My companions were all going to the capital city, Tirana. My destination was the seaside town of Durres so I got off the bus first. A taxi driver immediately grabbed my large bag, which usually annoys me, but in this case it turned out to be helpful. He dropped me at the Airbnb I had booked. The hosts were great. The apartment was just as beautiful as it appeared on the listing. From my balcony I could “see the sea”; beach umbrellas and lounges covered the sand. Right under the balcony was the “boardwalk” lined with shops and restaurants. I was thrilled with the view, and the beautiful, very modern, apartment with a bright red metal, fully equipped kitchen. I looked forward to a shower, then relaxing with my novel. I naively planned to buy a big English breakfast after a good night’s sleep. I wanted a haircut and a manicure. And a grocery store. Quite a list.
I slept in, then walked
FOOD AT VENTUS
Perhaps I was a little over critical. Eastern Europe has great fries, fresh juice and good bread.
to the Vala Hotel restaurant for breakfast. It was a big hotel and I thought maybe a Western style breakfast might be on the menu. I was shown to a table in the back (the restaurant was basically empty) which seemed a little strange. But it was quiet and I thought it would be easier to order without the staff bustling around serving other patrons. I wanted eggs over hard and toast. I got really awful eggs, a small hot dog, and toast…with mayonnaise, ham and cheese. Apparently toast means sandwich in Albania. I scraped off the mayonnaise and the cheese and ate the ham and toast. The orange juice was fresh squeezed and delicious and saved the day.
Later I finished a novel, did some blogging and played some cribbage on the computer. I walked around; shopped a little. My groceries over the next few days included some fruit, nuts, onions, and bread from a bakery. I chatted with some teenagers about hats, found a salon and had a manicure. As usual the sleek look lasted about twenty minutes; I always smudge the fresh finger nail polish. I got lost. I crossed the main street and wandered around;
CARNIVAL ON THE BEACH
Carnivals are fun to photograph.
then had no idea how to find my apartment. Finally I asked someone which way to the beach.
On day three, at 6:15 p.m. I finally put on my swim suit, put my key on a string around my neck and went in the ocean. It was very warm and quite shallow and full of tourists. I floated a little, and struck up a conversation with a young mother holding her six month old son. She was a teacher, but she didn’t stay long. She had to relieve her husband who was babysitting their toddler. It wasn’t easy to talk to people because they were mostly family groups. I soon lost interest and returned to my apartment, down a side alley. In front of my apartment door was the donut man and I bought a bag of mini donuts with powdered sugar. I sat on the balcony, drank tea, ate all the donuts, and read my novel till bedtime.
The next afternoon I took a long walk, for exercise, all the way to the end of the beach, and then all the way down the beach in the other direction. I passed a carnival and found a building
BEAUTIFUL RED KITCHEN
This is an amazing kitchen with an amazing view.
that looked like a flying saucer, at the end of a nearby pier. It was the Ventus Hotel and restaurant and it was dusk so I decided to go in and eat. I chose a table outside close to the railing, with a good sunset view. The menu showed a picture of an “American steakhouse” steak so I ordered it. (Later, a friend reminded me not to order steak in a sea food restaurant. Right…). When it arrived the steak looked nothing like the one pictured on the menu. It was thin, over-cooked and tough. I enjoyed it, nonetheless. The carnival was beautiful in the dark, and I managed to find my way home again.
The following day I washed clothes and made reservations for an Airbnb in Thessalonica. My plan was to travel inland from Thessalonica to Bulgaria to revisit places dear to me when I lived there fifteen years ago. In the afternoon I walked along a boulevard and found a restaurant advertising mussels. I had a wonderful meal; mussels, salad and fresh fruit for dessert, and only eleven euros.
I planned to visit Tirana, then stay in a different hotel for an early bus to
The apartment was spacious and comfortable.
Thessalonica. Christaq, my Airbnb host, took me to the commuter van instead of the bus stop. It dropped me off right at the door of my hotel, no taxi needed, and it cost only one and a half euro. I booked the Green Hotel on line, and liked it for the special effects on the walls. A huge Rubenesque painting of a nude woman, draped with a sheet, doubled as a headboard in one room. Another room featured a trompe l’oeil of an oval window looking out at a tree. My room had the tree. I was delighted. I asked the front desk to order a taxi to the bus station for the next morning at 4:15 a.m. because the bus to Thessalonica was at 5:15.
After a tough night of sporadic cat naps, due to a neighbor’s dog who barked all night, I was glad for the quiet of the taxi. Once again, I only had a few minutes to buy my ticket. The ticket agent, however, had a son living in Chicago and was excited to talk to me about America. He sold me a ticket for the 5:50 am bus, saying it was faster. He insisted
The apartment could not have been closer to the sea.
I take a chair and rest awhile, had his assistant go buy me a cup of tea, and between ticket sales he chatted with me. He treated me so kindly. If this bus was faster, the other might have taken days for the trip. Once again we changed buses several times requiring multiple passport checks, and luggage transfers from vehicle to vehicle.
But I am now on my way to Bulgaria to visit friends, after a one day stop-over in Thessalonica.
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