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Published: June 11th 2023
Friday can only be described as a crap day but it turned around in the evening.
By the time Charlie got to mine to help with my bags I was a mess, shaking, over anxious and crying but several hugs and a calming chat later we were on our way to Salt House Tapas where Tara, Steph, Jen and Dan were waiting. They had bought me a card and a balloon which was so sweet. I was able to talk out all the crap stuff from the week and listen to everyone else’s work drama which was strangely soothing. We ate dinner which was amazing but I massively over ordered. I had one margarita as I was scared in my mental state any more would be too much. It was probably a wise choice.
After dinner we said goodbye to Jen then the others walked me to the bus stop. The bus came and we said our goodbyes only got it to leave again saying it would be back in 15 minutes. Steph headed home but Dan, Tara and Charlie stayed meaning we had to do goodbye all over again when the bus finally arrived.
It was very
nice to be waved off by good friends and I definitely felt very grateful for them, its a long time since I’ve been seen off on my travels and I never usually come back to the same place so it was a strange feeling but it definitely left me feeling more positive about coming back after this trip.
On the bus I changed seats three times and almost lost my water bottle as it rolled to the back of the bus. I finally settled on a seat after retrieving it then a discarded, full, Pepsi flew down the aisle soaking everything so after I binned it I had to move again out of the path of destruction it had left.
Finally settled, I realised that the seats had huge ridges in the middle so lying down was not an option even though the bus was empty so I sat on my phone for a bit before putting it down to try and get some rest before I tried to sleep. Sleeping proved impossible; there was a guy two seats back on his phone constantly and loudly. I could hear him through my headphones he was so loud.
The bus also made frequent stops where the lights and tannoy came on and about two hours in my back started to hurt and no change of position could stop it getting steadily worse.
At just before 4am we pulled into Heathrow Central Station. I nearly lost my water bottle again as it flew out my bag and under the bus only to be saved by a quick moving ninja who seemed to move like lightning to grab it before it rolled into being unrecoverable. After some thank yous I followed signs for the free transfer to terminals 4 and 5. When I got there though it was closed. An Australian woman told me it was opening at 530 which I repeated back as I checked my watch. She made a snarky comment ‘keep repeating me over and over wont change the time’ so I ignored my urge to headbutt her and instead told her politely that I was running on no sleep then sat down and used my phone to find the timetables. By the time I found a 24 hour transfer on the picadilly line she’d left, her loss; so I headed to get my transfer after
retrieving my water bottle from its third escape attempt. The station was open and free and a train pulled up within 5 minutes. One stop later I was at Heathrow terminal 5. A full 4 hours before my flight.
Security wasn’t even open yet but a man very kindly told me my bag was open and by the time I fixed it security was open. Terminal 5 has the new scanners so we were told to leave everything in our bags. Honestly the quickest most efficient security I’ve ever been through, no delays, queue moved easily, no unpacking bags. It was a dream. On the other side of security I was staring to feel a bit sick with tiredness but it was too early to eat anything. The free water fountain was broken in the first two places I tried then the WHS wasn’t taking contactless so I gave up, hugging my waterbottle tightly to me. It had now made three escape attempts and I fully expected it to be my first lost victim of the trip.
As 6 hit I decided to get a coffee and a fruit cup from Pret to settle my stomach which still
felt queasy, they were unable to refill my water but the coffee and fruit did the trick and I felt better by the time my gate was up. Lots of calls that it was an exceptionally full flight and they were asking people to check wheely bags had me a little concerned about the size of my bags so when my group was called I got straight up rather than waiting until the end. I was near the back on an aisle and I managed to get my bag in the overhead just in front of me. My seat mates were Albanian and not overly talkative. I asked the flight attendant to fill my water and was given a free bottle and my seat mates followed suit. It was tiny but some water was better than none.
As the flight got going I slept in and out and as we were heading into land I ate the free cereal bar and drank the second tiny water they had provided earlier. I noticed the husband was rubbing the back of the woman sat next to me so I asked if she was OK. Turned out they had flown from New
York so were feeling tired and jet lagged. We had a good chat about their holiday seeing family and I told them my itinerary which they said sounded great. The husband gave me taxi tips for Tirana and they said when it comes to food every area is different so to try everything. Good advice.
The heat was like a wall that hit me in the face as I got off the plane. Its been really hot at home this week but its a completely different experience to feel it coming off a plane, it always takes me back to my childhood holidays. Passport control was effortless; empty e gates meant I was through in minutes. Then I hit the ATM. Three ATMs later I was unable to withdraw money so I had to use my first direct account which I knew wasn’t free but was my only option. Luckily I was able to get enough out to cover the bus and hotel. I also downloaded Albania onto maps.me. Outside of the airport there were a lot of people with signs and selling stuff but there was no touting, no harrassing; it felt very relaxed. When someone approached me
asking where I was going I tentatively told him bus to Tirana and was pointed in the right direction with no ulterior motive. As I approached the Tirana bus I asked if I was in the right place and he raced away from me only to beckon me over as he had stopped a bus that was leaving. My ticket was 400lek or £3.40 and I was in the last remaining seat; pretty much sat on my pillow with my bags piled high on my knees. I followed the route on maps.me knowing that it stopped at Skanderberg Square and that my hotel was ten minutes from there.
The walk was easy and my hotel was cute, floral and green cafe garden led onto a cute bar and restaurant with a small reception desk. The woman who checked me in was very friendly, she pointed me to the free water fountain and I refilled my bottle, drank it and refilled it again. She didn’t know much about the bus to Shkoder the next say except that I needed to get a local bus to Terminal which I assumed was the National bus station. My room was on 3rd floor
but there was an elevator. It was cute, clean, very modern with a private bathroom and swan towels. The bed was reasonably firm and I kicked my hiking boots off and lay down. I stayed chilled, resting my back for an hour and a half. I also spoke to chase and first direct on live chat and found out how much I had been charged aswell as getting an assurance that my chase card should work now. Feeling better but hungry I headed out.
I’d seen a cute place on my way in so I headed there past people selling fruit on the side of the road, lots of people said hello, everyone was friendly. Nobody was pushy. The restaurant I had my eye on was a coffee shop serving coffee and cake but I needed real food. There were a lot of cafes or coffee shops and fast food places but no restaurants with traditional food which was what I was looking for. I followed street art until I ended up in a square around a market. The market building was super modern, the buildings around it had a 1960s art deco psycadelic style in lots of colours
and they were flanked by high rise 1980s style tower blocks. It was an eclectic mix of building styles but more importantly there were a range of restaurants around the square screaming traditional food.
I headed into one that had signs saying traditional food and a man indicated me to a seat. He came back with a plate and a fork but no menu. Around 10 minutes later someone came to take my order and I got a menu. I waa starving and light headed but I’ve read its a very chill culture and service is slow so I took pictures and practices patience. Finally he came back and I asked what he suggests. His first recommendation listed egg as an ingredient but the second had veal, feta and ricotta so I went with that. I took his suggestion for the Pristina beer which arrived really quickly and was nice actually, like a Moretti and very refreshing. Food came quick too and was amazing. Cheesy, creamy with flashes of meat and loads of bread, it was so good; very warming and I was sold. It’s called tave dheu and it cost £3.80. It was worth every penny. After I’d
eaten (whole meal cost £5 including tip) I headed out exploring around the market. I had googled a nail salon to get my nails done so I headed there past weird bird sculptures out of trees, crazy modern buildings mixed with old school traditional buildings. My route took me down alleyways but even with my camera round my neck I didn’t feel at all unsafe. I found my nail salon and picked orange shellac. She was very thorough and did a really good job. There was a moment when a woman came in to ask something and though I didn’t understand the conversation I understood the fuck you with a smile on her face. After she was gone I asked if that was their sense of humour and she said it was typical to be mean to each other but be joking. I told her where I’m from its called banter which was a word that she kept repeating and made her giggle every time she did. I was super pleased with my nails once she was done and they cost £8 which I rounded up to £10 and she was delighted. So was I; they’d be at least double
that at home. It was a real struggle to stay awake through the manicure so I decided to head back to the hotel.
On the way I tried my chase card and it worked so I withdrew the money I’ll need for the week. There are no ATMs in Theth or Valbone and I wasn't sure about Skhoder so if I got my money in Tirana I didn’t have to worry. Back at the hotel I refilled my water then headed upstairs. I’d love to say that I organised my bag, had a shower, watched the champions league but I did nothing except fall asleep.
Coffee, Fruit pot, Nutrigrain bar, tave dheu, bread, beer
Water x 5
Money: 6000 lek £48
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