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Published: June 26th 2005
And this is the bus stop
There's really not much I can say about this picture. It's a jumbled mess of people, cars, bikes, mini-buses, and construction.
Tirana, the capital of Albania, can only be characterized as a bustling, out of control city, where organization of the infrastructure and people just does not seem to exist. Example: When crossing the street, whether in a crosswalk or otherwise, you do so at your own risk because drivers have absolutely no regard for pedestrians. You are forced to quickly bob-and-weave in between moving cars that have had to slow down only because the roads are so bad that they cannot drive faster. Honestly, at some points you would think that you were passing through a war zone due mainly to the conditions of the sidewalks and the roads. I would say also that drivers in Tirana employ horns as one of their most useful tools. It’s even possible that most drivers use their horns more than they use their brakes! But what’s more the chaos is condoned for policemen will be standing idly by as you, the endangered pedestrian, attempts to dash across the street with no lanes, no lights, and no rules. Really, it’s difficult for me to describe the environment to you. It’s simply unbelievable.
So, the streets are dangerous, but just by walking somewhere you can
Multi-Colored Retro Anti-Communist Housing
There are a series of buildings in central Tirana that are constructed of sameness, but the residents didn't seem to be too fond of being put in a box like that.
be taking your life into your own hands in Tirana—constantly dodging open manholes, broken and uneven concrete, and larger ditches/holes that can swallow humans as well as cars whole.
I know I’m painting a rather unattractive picture of Tirana right now, but the things I just described really almost add to the novelty of the city. It makes going out during the day that much more of an adventure. The truth of the matter is Tirana is a spectacular and vibrant city where once again we were greeted and treated with an amazing amount of hospitality and kindness. Upon arrival our caravan of big backpacks was traveling down the street near the main square when a couple of girls in passing offered us a pleasant and playful ‘Welcome to Albania’. This type of thing would never happen in a W. European city where people are accustomed to a number of backpackers passing through all of the time. Shortly thereafter, a group of students came up to us in the park when we were trying to decide what we should do about a place to say and offered us a guide to Tirana, welcomed us, and actually tried to arrange
A view from the back
This was during the painstaking slow ride from Tirana to Macedonia. As you can see the safety standards on the trains are impeccable.
a place for us to stay. Unfortunately, their arrangements didn’t work out, so Joao and I ventured off for another accommodation adventure (truly, each of these arrivals is followed by a strange series of events that results in us usually finding rather good accommodation at a very reasonable price). Ultimately, we found accommodation because we passed by a Jeep Grand Cherokee (out of place for Europe) with New Jersey plates (even stranger). I decided this car was probably driven by someone who spoke English so I stopped to ask for a recommendation on where to stay. After some discussion, he took us to a hotel that his friend owned, and bargained the hotel down to an acceptable price for all of us. The great thing about this hotel was that it was located right in the heart of a typical Albanian neighborhood. In that sense, we were exposed to a great, vibrant Albanian culture.
Just down the street from us, we found a local little family restaurant that cooked traditional Albanian Qebap, which is ground lamb and beef with seasonings and spices that is rolled into the shape of small sausages. This comes with bread, sallat, and kajmak, a
Walking the border
Here's the backpack caravan doing the heel to toe across the Albanian and Macedonian border. If you look closely you can see the Macendonian flag in the background.
special goat cheese type of spread. We became frequent visitors to this place 1-2 times per day as the family was extremely affable, and were visibly touched that we returned so often. But how could we not, the food was unbelievable. In this place, they even offer cigarettes to their customers when they finish their meal. The first time this happened Joao declined the owner’s cigarette because he didn’t like the brand or something like that and shortly thereafter lit his own. It was quickly obvious that this offended the owner a little, and one of the regulars in there asked Joao if he spoke Italian, which he does speak a little of, and proceeded to question him as to why Joao did not take the cigarette—a brief moment of tension here—but Joao learned his lesson and never turned down a free cigarette again. As we were leaving Tirana, again in our backpack caravan, we had to pass by our Qebap place and there were handshakes and lamtomirs (goodbyes) from the entire family.
Then we were off to find the somewhat non-existent and well-hidden bus stop to make the trip to Ohrid, Macedonia. Our wild goose chase of sorts,
But this was the view we had during the border crossing
A beautiful sunset across Lake Ohrid. Can't time it much better...
asking people in rough Albanian where the bus stop was, finally ended when we found a train to the border of Macedonia to a small town called Podgorec which is approximately 115 km away as the crow flies. Now as I mentioned the infrastructure in Albania is not so good, so as you can imagine the trains were definitely not equipped with high speed luxury cars, but a diesel locomotive and decrepit 1930’s era cars with latex covered seats. Little did we know what a ride it would be until we found out that the seemingly short distance that we needed to cover would take 7 hours! Leaving at 12.00, we arrived in Podgorec at 19.00, but we still had a border to cross and about 35 km to traverse before we would arrive in Ohrid. The assortment of transportation we ended up utilizing to get there was first, a taxi to the border crossing, second, a nice little walk across the border right around sunset, and third, we did a short little hitchhike with a guy that was on his way to Ohrid (nothing like a first hitch in Macedonia!). And I must say, that was one hectic, unpredictable day of travel, but we are now back in civilization, or at least what feels like a civilized and clean society in Makedonska. Tomorrow we will depart Ohrid after being here for three days to the capital Skopje where our backpack caravan will dissolve as we all go our separate ways.
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