One amazing thing about Albania is the
amount of old Mercedes that are on the roads. By my reckoning at
least two thirds of the cars must be Mercedes. I'm not exactly sure
of the reason behind this but I heard it was something to do with
stolen cars from Western Europe. It really is amazing though seeing
so many whizz past, and they are almost always silver or white.
in Tirana we stayed at a budget hotel this time, as it was virtually
next to the office where the bus to Thessaloniki would be picking up.
It was run by a very friendly elderly couple and was comfortable if a
little seedy! Although the irritating bobbly Hello Kitty sheets were
in desperate need of replacing!
We attempted to see the
National Art Gallery but it had closed earlier than we expected. We
had pizza in a nice outdoor restaurant before heading back to hotel
for beers and reading. I was getting towards the end of Dan Brown's
Deception Point and was hooked!
The next day we saw the sights
of Tirana, the highlights being Skanderbeg Square and the strange
architecture such as a bizarre pyramid shaped building, also designed
by Enver Hoxha's daughter and son-in-law. We got talking to a
friendly Albanian in the street who we ended up having coffee with.
He told us about how he had worked with the BBC in the troubles of 97
when many Albanian's lost their savings in collapsed pyramid schemes.
The conversation quickly turned to him being in Tirana for an
operation (he was from right down near the south coast) and how he
had no money to return home. We certainly believed his story was real
(but who knows) but anyhow were in no position to help him out in any
serious way. We gave him the equivalent of a few pounds and made our
excuses! And the moral of the story is don't talk to strangers kids!
The rest of the day was spent wandering, we had lunch in an amusing
Macdonald's rip-off called Kolonat. Tirana is one of the few capital
cities in the world without and Macdonald's but enterprising locals
are still cashing in on the idea. We had some pretty good pizza there
actually. We then wandered the park, came across a British WWII
memorial and got lost. Then we attempted to walk up to the Mother
Albania statue, gave up, got the bus, realised it was closed and got
the bus back into the city. A productive day! Beer and reminiscing
was the order of the day at a bar on what was our last evening proper
of our trip. Later we returned to the Era restaurant we had been to
previously and shared some delicious meatballs and chicken schnitzel.
After some cheap wine we returned to hotel, not much looking
forwarding to awaking at 4am.
We had been instructed to knock
on the old couples door to wake them to return the key as we were
leaving so early. After leaving the hotel and arriving at the bus
office the woman there checked our tickets before locking up and
pointing us further up the road to a different office where the bus
would actually be stopping. After which she rode off on her bicycle,
having to have got up so early just to sort us out! Eventually we got
on the bus and headed up the windy roads south to Greece. We stopped
at a trout farm on the way, which had a cafe. Unfortunately we
couldn't afford any more than some ice tea.
Before long we
were at the border, where we were seemingly treated like royalty with
our EU passports! We were pushed to the front of the queue and the
Greek border guard didn't seem remotely interested in verifying
whether or not the picture in our passports matched our faces! While
waiting around for the Albanians to be more stringently checked we
got chatting to a young Greek border guard with had a lot of contempt
for the Albanian's. He couldn't understand why we had voluntarily
been to Albania and was even more surprised to learn Albania had a
coastline and hotels!! He also claimed that the reason Albania beat
Greece in the World Cup qualifiers was because the Albanians were
being payed to injure the Greek players. After pretending to know
what he was talking about regarding Manchester United and English
football (all foreigners assume that because you're English you know
everything about football!) we boarded the bus and headed into
Written by Liam - 4th September 2006