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Published: February 28th 2006
Albania at last!
*Sorry i dont have more photos, i'm kicking myself that i didnt take more, but i just wanst feeling very well (aka very hung-over!)
I love this country!! For some reason I've always wanted to come to this place, its one of those places that you hear quite a bit, either in the news or from other people, yet you never hear it as an actual place to go. I also hear it in the context of its people, ethnic Albanians. I guess this probably has much to do with the problems in Kosovo and all. But to me, the country, the geographical place of Albania was a complete mystery. And so it seems it was a mystery to the outside world as well for a long time, alienated by both the east and the west, it set out on a course of its own.
This isolation is driven home almost as soon as you enter the country, as here we were crossing a language barrier that had not existed for us yet. See Claire speaks passable Bulgarian (she says passable, but to me it sounds close enough to fluent!) and with her
The road less travelled
The two other travelers we met and shared a cab with on the way to the border
in Bulgaria and Macedonia we had relatively little problems with communications (barring one incident at the last homestay where we tried to pay only half of the bill due to miscommunication!). But as soon we hit the border and had to navigate through the border formalities on the Albanian side, we knew that those easy days of understanding what people were trying to tell us were long gone. After marching through the 500m or so no-mans-land we reached the Albanian side, singled by a few aging wooden houses /sheds and a gate with an engine block as a counterweight. With the border guard (who was strangely the most impeccably dressed border guard I have seen in any country) we even had to resort to using English, which I absolutely hate doing out of my perpetual fear of sliding into that arrogant, ignorant, American tourist stereotype. However the border guard tempered my fear somewhat by demanding in his rudimentary English for a 10€ “tax” from each of us, now I know why they’re dressed so well!
The Albanian language has got to be one of the most difficult languages known to man, even Arabic is easier for me. However it
The land was filled with reminders of its not so prosperous recent history
proved to be a great way to make friends as we busted out the Lonely Planet phrase guide on the mini-bus ride to Tirana and practiced. This is one of the best ice breakers when in a new country; for as soon as the other passengers figured out that we were trying to learn some Albanian (which took an embarrassingly long time!) they were ever so eager to help us with more than just their language. Claire picked it up amazingly fast as she seems to have an incredible knack for languages, she can get by in Arabic, Bulgarian, Spanish and English. Even after 3 years in Cairo I still can only put a few phrases in Arabic together!
Our language lessons soon died down as our motivation for serious learning had been damped by our fun night last night. I was content to simply sit and watch the country side slide by our window to the tune of a Hotel California pumping through the bus’s tinny speakers. The bus driver was very proud of his America tape, but the fourth and fifth time through our enthusiasm for it waned. The country side we were driving past was wonderful.
This was the square at the heart of the city
Climbing up away from the lake in the sun drenched hills on our way towards the mountainous central part of the country we kept passing the odd, old concrete structures. We learned from the lonely Planet that this is one of the oddest features of the country. There are the literally hundreds of thousands of concrete pill-boxes constructed all over the country designed for an invasion that never came, an outcome I suppose of their rejection of both the west and the east in the cold war era. One of the earlier dictators must have been trained in the art of Swiss neutrality. I read or heard that before 1993 there were almost no visitors to the country, it was basically off the map as far as the rest of the world was concerned. This may have been not so great for the locals, but it means that now, this beautiful country with their amazing people are almost entirely unspoiled by the tourist industry, an oddity that is going to be impossible to say too much longer given the wonders of this place.
we both drifted off into a snooze/daze until Tirana where we stayed for the night.
Walk to the border
We took a taxi to this monastary near the albanian border, but then had to walk 2km to the actual border. I definatly did not pack for any amount of walking- my back was killing me after this
More on Tirana and Albanian in the next entry
*I also posted pictures from the trip from Orhid to the border which i didnt really talk about in the blog. Basically, we hoped in a taxi with two brits and took it as far as this monastary about 2k from the border. We poked around there for a while. It turned out to be a nice place filled with peacocks of all things! The short 2k walk to the border turned out to be not so nice with my overpacked backpacks. oh well now i know how much to pack if i'm gonna be doign any walking on a trip
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