Arriving in Albania

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. 

Alps from the air.

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.

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8 thoughts on “Arriving in Albania

  1. Hi Guys Glad you are having a good experince so far. Just opened all your email. Phone was out here yesterday and part of today, Will call Paul and Eleanor tonight. All is good here Linda got her disability in ine of duty retiremnet. So thats good its another 70 bucks a month and we hope it will help the workmens comp. case. Take care
    Love Dad and Linda

  2. Thanks for the update Greg. So glad things seem to be going smoothly and that you arrived safely. Needless to say you three have been in our thoughts. Can’t wait to hear more from you as you experience Albania. ENJOY!!! We have just experienced the Blizzard of the century (since the century is only 11 years old, I don’t know if that is saying too much) but we got 16+ inches in about 12 hours. Now the temps are dropping. Hoping to leave for Florida tomorrow but will wait to see what the road conditions are. Take care,
    Love,
    Cherie & Beryl

    1. It’s ironic that the winter weather is so extreme in the US. So many folks were warning us how cold it was going to be in Albania. It’s really not much cooler than Florida is now–close to freezing at night but then in the 60’s during the day, jacket and sweater weather.

  3. Greg: Yes I got it. Thanks. My internet has been down for a few days. We are up and running now. Sorry I missed you call this a.m. Love Mom

  4. Yes, Albania. Knew it was somewhere in that geographic region!
    So how is the teaching going?
    Those long range flights can be quite harrowing — being able to sleep on the plane is always good, but not always easy.
    Interesting that you’ve found that many day to day things may be much cheaper there — have you found this generally true? Food and beverages? I know that I got a haircut in Vietnam for 20 cents — can’t beat that!
    PS to Roy and Marlys–greetings! Hope all is well with you.

    1. I need to get a haircut here, too. I think they usually go for about $4, but perhaps in Vietnam they were charging by amount of hair the customer has? 🙂
      Bread (buka) is quite a bargain. You can get a fresh loaf from 70-80 cents at one of the many Furre e Buke shops. Yesterday, we stopped at a little cafe called Berlin and had two medium pizzas, two beers (Berlin brand), a Coke and a bottle of water for the grand total of about $12. I hope you’ll read further down on some of my other postings where I get into some of the food. Our latest thing is that the local milk is very good but has a musty smell to it. It’s all pasteurized and packaged in a plastic bottle but it has a different smell and taste than the more processed stuff you get in the little box. Carly says it’s “cowey milk” that tastes too much like cows. Shawna and I think it’s delicious.

  5. Hi Greg! thanks for sending along the blog site in your email. Sounds like you are off to a great start. Question: do the “lek” bills come in various sizes for the different denomintions? That is something that always intrigued me during my Navy days overseas.

    1. Hey, Jeff,
      Yes, the lek bills are different sizes but the size increments are pretty small. So it’s easy to differentiate a 200 lek note from a 1000, but the 200 and the 500 and the 1000 and 2000 are pretty close in size. There is a 200 lek note but everything below that is in coin. Makes me wonder why we haven’t gotten rid of the one dollar bill in favor a the $1 coins and $2 or $5 bills.

      Heard that Albania has peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan. Albania is NATO, so I guess they’re pulling their weight. Very pro-American here.

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