Our trip to Albania was long and tiring but mostly without incident. The most taxing part was probably the ten-hour layover in Newark (yeah, I know, but it saved us $1000 on tickets). Airports in our transfer cities of Zurich and Vienna were very nice and we would have liked to have spent more time in those cities. In the Zurich tram from one airside to another, they played alphorns and cows mooing.
Flying in, we had some wonderful views of the Alps and Carly sat right near the window so she was able to see lots of views of them. This raised the question of if Julie Andrews et al were being literal when they sang “Climb Every Mountain.” There are TONS of those mountains!
Despite a pretty good night’s sleep during the Newark to Zurich passage, we were all pretty tired on our final leg from Vienna to Tirana. Shawna passed out holding her purse in her lap. Carly and I accepted the cucumber and cheese sandwiches from the fight crew. I finished mine and stacked the used paper plates and stuff neatly on my tray table and then apparently fell asleep. When I awoke, my empty coffee cup and plate had been removed. I looked over at Carly and found she hadn’t gotten that far. Her sandwich was half eaten and she’d only had a few sips of cranberry juice. She was sound asleep with her hand resting on the tray table.
We managed to wake ourselves enough to depart the airplane and work our way through immigration. I changed about $100 into Albanian Lek ($1 equals about 100 Lek) and we pulled our suitcases from the conveyor belt. Outside, we met Eddie (not his real name but a clumsy shortening of it) who works for the embassy and who was sent to pick us up. While Carly was imagining a limousine like the president has for a car, ours was a perfectly acceptable minivan. Eddie navigated us through the streets of Tirana (more about the traffic here in a separate blog) to Freddy’s Hostel, which had been reserved for us by Eddie and Mirela at the Embassy.
Freddy’s is a neat hostel which costs only about $30 a night for a double room and is clean and well-run. It’s well-reviewed by just about everyone and we were thrilled to have somewhere (anywhere really) to stay which didn’t require sleeping in an upright position with a tray table in front. After meeting with our embassy rep, we all crashed for about four hours and woke at 8:00 p.m. (which was something like 2:00 p.m. EST). We finally got out of the room by 9:00 and found a Hallal pizza place and ordered a great Sicilian large (Famiglia size) for less than $7. We chowed on it at the room at Freddy’s with a big bottle of Moretti Pilsner.
Monday Eddie picked us up in the Embassy car and took us in to the Embassy to have our in-country orientation. Then he took us to get our phones changed over to Albanian service and to set up a bank account. Both of these things took longer than I expected but it was good to get them out of the way. In Albania, there don’t appear to be the same sort of setups for cellphones as in the US: you buy the phone and then buy the simm card for it. I guess you can do it that was in the States but I’ve always bought the service and received the phone free. Don’t know which is better. After taking care of all that, Eddie walked us the last half of the way to Freddy’s and we managed to walk the last part on our own without getting lost.
After a little rest, it’s 5:15 p.m. and we’re ready to go out and get something to eat. We’re hoping for a real restaurant tonight instead of just a pizza. Since it’s not a Sunday (lots of things shut down Sunday after 2:00) and it’s not late, hopefully we can find a good place to kick back and enjoy.
Tirana is an energetic and vibrant city. If you didn’t know about the demonstrations here two weeks ago, you would never imagine three people were killed in them here. We passed the Prime Minister’s headquarters and saw some of the flowers that had been left for them.