Stop 17: Twenty five hours in Tirana

There have been a few places I’ve been looking forward to on this trip; going back to Diano Marina and catching up with everyone, a possibility of checking out Prague and Budapest, seeing what Croatia had to offer, sauntering through Slovenia (although we were only there for a couple of hours), and many more. One of the hidden treasures that has really interested me though is Albania. This country has a reputation of being dangerous solely because it is the unknown for most people. When I lived in Italy I met loads of friendly Albanians and even went to college with a guy from there. He turned out to be a decent, loyal, trustworthy mate and I hoped to meet a lot more whilst out there…

We got into Tirana at 3, and was told that we could get the bus out of Tirana to Athens in 1 hour. Matt’s eyes lit up but there was no way I was going to miss this place, especially since he’d already talked me out of Brac (an island in Croatia), Lake Bled and southern Albania because of time restraints.

“I don’t want to leave Albania after only being here for an hour…” I said in an irritated tone. He’d mentioned a few times he wanted to go straight through but unless it was nothing what I expected it to be and hated the place I wanted to stay, and to be fair I found it interesting.

We booked the night bus for the next day, meaning we had just over a day in Tirana, the capital. Then we looked online and found the cheapest accommodation was Freddy’s, a hotel recommended to us by an Albanian guy who worked in Diano Marina saying it was his friend.

We went to book it but the tour operator was relentless, obviously wanting the commission from the sale. I felt like I was back in Thailand again with workers being completely uninterested but suddenly swarming you if there’s a chance of commission. We followed these angry looking guys to Freddy’s who gave us a price of €30 with breakfast.

I asked the owner if he knew Ladi, and said he recommended that we come here. Freddy had no clue who I was talking about and if anything was beginning to get irritated at the sight of me. I took the hint and headed upstairs.

I then changed my remaining Croatian Kuna into Albanian Leks. I had 6400, which was more than enough for one day in the country. I got rid up my mop of hair for 200 leks (about £1.33) and then Matt wanted to have a few drinks, so we headed to a nearby bar.

I had a soft drink, then after a while I asked the barman what local spirits he had on offer. He looked at me mischieviously and smiled, “Raki…”

I asked what they have raki with, and they said they drink it straight which is never a good sign. However I remembered how good Nepalese Aila was straight and that was 58%, so I said fook it and ordered one.

Turns out it was foul, but strangely addictive. Like going back to a shitty ex who keeps cheating on you; you hope it’ll change but it never does… I drank two and I was soon warm, and surprisingly drunk, but I didn’t enjoy the taste in my mouth. So it was time to get some food to counteract the nastiness…

I’d been told about a place called Bloc, which apparently was where the affluent Albanians headed. I wanted to pretend to be an affluent Albanian and we headed in that direction. We missed, but nearby was a gorgeous outdoor restaurant called ‘La Voglia’ (Italian helped quite a lot with translation issues as Italian is the unofficial second language in Albania) and I had some chicken and vegetables dish. It was delish, not delish enough that I remembered the name of the meal but good enough for me to recommend the place to anyone in that area one day.

The night didn’t end there for me. It did for Matt who headed home, but I had a few thousand Lek in my pocket that I wanted to burn, and after missing out after being so close in Croatia, I swiftly headed to an Albanian lap dancing club.

Albanian women are stunning; on par with Croatians in terms of beauty, but it’s well documented that unless you plan on marrying the girl straight after their cousins are going to swing wildly with baseball bats until you stop struggling, so realistically this was the closest I will ever get to even being alone with an Albanian girl, let alone doing anything intimate. So I headed in and ordered a drink which came to £6. I was with the elite now…

It was very intriguing though; none of the girls approached me, assumingly because I was English and didn’t speak their language, and I spent most of the time analyzing the girls and their mannerisms. Looking at their reactions, where they went, what they did and how they interacted with the clients and the mirrors watching themselves as they danced. The author in me turned it into a research session and I got loads of info ready for my next scene in my latest book. Only I can go into a strip club and zone in intensely thinking about how to move my book along and make it all connect logically whilst putting genuine emotions from multiple characters in there…

I still had fun! I didn’t see any skin which was disappointing, but that’s probably why it was free to get in. After that I answered a few emails and then went to sleep, looking forward to having breakfast included.

I came down the next day and Freddy was much happier. He saw me and called me over, stating that he’d found Ladi on Facebook (which was spelled Lavdi) and tagged him in a photo we’d taken together. Albania is very similar to most of Europe and values family, and the fact he knew a friend of mine almost classified me as family as well. For the rest of the time we were there everytime he saw us he greeted us with a warm smile. Cheers Lavdi!!!

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From left: Me, Freddy and Triple M

We went out that lunchtime to find a bridge and this Bloc place that had evaded us. We found the bridge, but before we got to Bloc it started chucking it down so we hid in a coffee shop. I had a hot chocolate which was good, but not as good as the Montenegrin hot chocolate, which to be fair if I was a billionaire I’d fly to Montenegro just to have it! We found Bloc. It was OK, but we preferred the area we found the night before when we had food.

And that was our 25 hours! If I had to sum up Albania in three words it would be ‘intimidating but friendly’. When you go to places and talk to people you get a distinct feeling that something is not right, but soon you realize these people are friendly and just want to help. So Albania wasn’t a disappointment even though I had high hopes. I didn’t get to do Vlore and Sarande but it gives me a reason to back. Even on the bus to Greece we met an Albanian lady who said she would rent her house out in Southern Albania for a month or so if I went back, so there’s an option. I could even find some English teaching work there as their English isn’t that great. That would be really cool!

 

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