Sunday, July 10, 2011

Week In Review Sabbatical Style: Albania!

I know. I have been a really bad blogger lately. I haven't exactly been busy but my days have been full. A lot of this stems from the fact that I have been in hostel dorms all week, which means there are always lots of people around, which means that I have been doing a lot of what I do best--talking to random strangers.

Today is Sunday though, so I will set myself down and deprive you no longer--here is your Week In Review:

  • Where was I this week? I've been in Albania since last Sunday. I spent the first part of the week in Tirana, the capital, took a day trip to Kruja, moved on to the city of Berat and am now in Vlore on the coast. 
  • The bus ride from Berat to Vlora this morning seemed like it would be straightforward. There were no connections, but there was also no air-conditioning and no window for me to open. With the heat index over 100 degrees it was already pretty miserable, but when the bus refused to start back up after stoping to drop off a passenger it definitely got worse. We sweated it out by the side of the road waiting when finally someone came along and towed the bus for a bit until it started up again. 
  • I've decided that Albania is the Nicaragua of the Balkans. 
  • After sweating my way from the hostel to the bus station in Berat, sweating 2.5 hours on the bus and then sweating through the streets of Vlore with my pack, I was doing my best to hold it together and not pass out. When the hotel I planned to stay at didn't appear I just decided to splurge and stay at a nice one--which has...air-conditioning!
  • Walking around the castle ruins of Berat I somehow ended up under the care of a local who became my tour guide and photographer. He commandeered my camera and made me pose for pictures everywhere. He seemed to be enjoying himself so much (he was picking flowers for props and climbing towers and what not) that I figured, why not?
  • Ice cream cone with 2 flavors of homemade ice cream--20 cents!
  • The town of Kruja has put up a statue of George W. Bush. The lady next to me on the bus told the driver we were Americans and made sure he went by it. 
  • Albanians love Americans. 
  • I love Albanians. 
  • The neighbors of my castle "tour guide" gifted me with a big feather. OK. 
  • I went to make some calls this week, but only ended up getting to make one to my dad. He suggested I change my flight and keep traveling. My mom agreed. Do mom and dad really know best? Tempting...
  • An American owned restaurant in Tirana (Stephan's Center) had a 4th of July BBQ. They had the best burgers I have had since probably before I left for Brussels last September. Impossibly, they also had Dr. Peppers! I came back the next day and pressed my luck to try the Mexican food. The quesadillas? A total win. 
  • The best thing about my hostel in Tirana? They had a big, fluffy puppy. After seeing all the strays on the street and being tempted by their cuteness (but not tempted enough to touch--a fellow traveler had to get a rabies shot in Bulgaria!) it was nice to play and snuggle with a pet.
  • I have been on a mission to learn to like olives on this trip. I've had somewhat mixed results, but I am happy to report that I actually enjoyed the olives on my vegetarian pizza last night.  
  • I gave recommendations for Texas country to a British traveler in my hostel in Berat. I'm pretty sure just thinking about it made my accent a little bit stronger. There might be hope for me sounding like Texan (American? Native English speaker?) again. 
  • Its surprising how many conversations I have had in Albanian/Italian/hand gestures/pictures this last week. 
  • When chatting with some grandpas in the fruit market we discovered that what we thought were cantaloupes tasted nothing like cantaloupe. He cut open another melon that was green on the inside. The green one ended up tasting identical to cantaloupe. I bought them both. 
  • OH! I also found fresh okra at the market! I impulse bought a quarter kilo of them. I channelled my inner southern woman, dredged them in flour and fried them up. The hostel hotplate was pretty pathetic, but they were tasty. 
  • The air-conditioning in my hotel room right now is making me such a happy camper.  
  • It's too hot to do much right now, so if you are lucky I'll get up a couple more blogs--check back later. 
OK, friends. That's the week in review. I'll see you in just a few weeks...well, that is unless I decide to take my parents' advice! Some photos below: 

Hello Tirana!

She-ra (yes, named after the He-man character)

"Chuck Norris is coming!" 
(Best graffiti ever?)

Which is which? The green one is the cantaloupe 

Market in Kruja

Kastle in Kruja

Berat: the Town of a Thousand Windows

I might or might not have actually started singing the "purple mountain majesty" bit of America the Beautiful at this sight

My fearless local/tour guide/photographer

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