Wednesday April 30th ~ Tirana, Albania
Tim and I arrived in Albania on Monday afternoon to rainy, soggy conditions. I had a cold that was fast settling into my chest producing an obnoxious cough. I had booked one early night at the Sheraton Hotel before the start of our trip to allow us to get settled in before our group arrived. I was thankful for the extra day of rest.
Having booked the hotel on my own for that first night instead of going through Gate 1, I paid too much and although I thought the breakfast was included, found out it was not. They wanted 23 Euros ($32) per person for breakfast which I thought was way too much.
The Internet was only free in the public areas and to get it in the room was going to be an additional charge in the neighborhood of 6 Euros ($8.32) for an hour or 15 Euros ($20.8) for 24 hours – Ouch!
The room they originally gave us had twin beds and I had requested a king. The woman who checked us in insisted that I had booked it wrong online and since they were full there was nothing she could do. After I produced my written confirmation from them that clearly stated a king room, she spoke to a supervisor and they miraculously produced another room for us with a king size bed.
Here is the good news – we happen to be located RIGHT above the business center so we are getting wonderful and FREE internet service in our room.
I later spoke to another person on the Gate 1 tour that booked that same extra night through Gate 1. They saved $90 and had breakfast included. Shame on me for making that big goof!
Speaking of food (I was speaking of food wasn’t I??), traveling with allergies and finding places to eat healthy can be a challenge. When you do not speak the local language (Albanian) it adds one more layer of difficulty trying to communicate which foods we need to avoid. Not wanting to go out in the rain, we took a chance on the hotel restaurant and it turned out to be delicious. Not cheap, mind you, but yummy and Tim did not have any adverse reaction so that made it worth it in my books.
Last night we met up with some of the members of our tour group for a welcome dinner. What a mess! Only 1/2 of the group have arrived due to late flights and Alex (our tour guide) was on her way back to the airport to meet more passengers. Those of us that are here had a nice dinner at the hotel and as usual swapped stories of favorite travel destinations.
Like so many countries in this region, they have had a tempestuous past with a variety of rulers, wars, and different governments. Today they are an independent, democratic country, albeit a young one just being recognized in 1991 when the Communist Socialist Republic was dissolved.
Fun facts: The Golden Eagle is the National Symbol of Albania. The most popular car is the Mercedes, both as a status symbol, but mainly because it is built sturdy enough to withstand the poor quality of their roads. The country is filled with concrete bunkers (one for every 4 people). Our local guide told us that is enough concrete to completely redo all the roads in Albania. Not sure if that is accurate or not, but it made an interesting comparison.
This morning there were still 14 people missing! – And our tour officially kicks off with a tour of Tirana.
The capital of Albania and home to around 420,000 people. The city shows hard evidence of the Communist days. Our small territory here at the hotel was labeled being inside the “bubble”, as once you leave the hotel, conditions rapidly deteriorate.
Buildings are in sad need of repairs, large potholes dappled the streets and sidewalks. The building styles are block, plain and many are devoid of color. There is one section of town that is a stark contrast however where each building has been painted in a different color and/or pattern. One was covered in stars, another in stripes, one multicolored plaid and another with large arrows said to be pointing the way out-of-town.
After our 30 minute bus tour we stopped on the edge of Scanderbeg Square for a visit of the Tirana Museum.
Opened in 1981, it is the countries largest museum. Divided into sections, it gave us a sampling of history, Albanian culture, their resistance in World War II and the communist genocide.
And here is a picture of probably the most famous Albanian. Do you know who it is?
We had some free time following the tour and this local carnival caught our eye. The rides look like they date Way back and may be of Russian origins.
So, did you guess who the most famous Albanian is?
GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful that there are AMAZING humanitarians in this world. One I would have loved to meet is who is pictured in the mystery picture above. Did you guess who it is? A very young, Mother Teresa.