Albanian visit

Departing Heathrow on Friday evening we flew to Belgrade with Air Serbia, landing just before midnight. With over six hours to wait we wandered around departures until we stumbled upon some comfy, sofa-like chairs. We push a few of them together to make a bed, set an alarm and went to sleep. Harri was out for the count way before me but for both of us it was probably the most enjoyable stay at an airport we have experienced.

Early the following morning we caught a flight to Podgorica,  the capital city of Montenegro. The plane banked tightly to the right as we flew over the outskirts of the small city before depositing us on the runway. 

We quickly had our passports stamped and went through arrivals where we negotiated a taxi to take us to the international bus station. Here we had a pizza and coffee for breakfast whilst we waited for our transport to Tirana. The capital of neighbouring Albania.

The journey was straight forward albeit sweltering. We stopped twice; once at the border where our passports were taken off us and checked and then again for a 15 minute leg stretch. On arrival we we deposited on the edge of the inner city where we got in another ‘taxi’ who took us to the hostel although en route he had a shouting match over the phone with the hostel owner who when we arrived told us our driver wasn’t actually a taxi driver but just some random man. On the way to the room Harri accidentally kicked the step and put a gash in her big toe which looked very painful and covered her sandal in blood. After washing her foot we put a couple of plasters over the wound which the proprietor provided. 

We unpacked and headed straight out to explore the city, wandering through the myriad of architecture, much of which is heavily influenced by Albania’s communism past. Highlights included; the Pyramid of Tirana, previously known as the Enver Hoxha (communist ruler of Albania) Museum, BunkArt2 which is a huge warren of subterranean rooms and tunnels which would’ve been used by parliament in a war situation – now a thoroughly interesting museum and also the Grand Park of Tirana which has a huge lake and was a pleasant change to wandering the streets. Our explorations were interspersed with stops for photos, beer and ice cream and culminated at a traditional restaurant called Mullixihu (I’ve no idea how to pronounce it either).

The Pyramid

We had a welcome drink of a mixed berry juice and a traditional dish of blended cucumber, yoghurt and corn bread which I really enjoyed but Harri passed hers onto me. 

We then had a platter of traditional cheeses as a starter shared a couple of pasta dishes for main course. The meal was finished off with a dessert which had a caramel pastry nest on top and then a cream and ice cream mix which was drunk through a clay pipe, all of which was washed down with some surprisingly good Albanian wine.

The following day we woke up packed our things and went out exploring again. We crossed The Tanners Bridge which is an 18th century, cobblestone, cattle bridge before having a coffee to properly kickstart the day.

Both of us had already finished reading a book and with only two more each and most the holiday still to come we spent half an hour in an international bookshop finding one which would be suitable for both of us to read, we went for ‘Alone Time’, an easy to read travel book.

The bookshop was on the edge of Skanderberg Square which is also lined by the National History Museum, a huge concert building with a Communist mural on its facade and the Opera and Ballet Theatre built to equally imposing proportions.

Harri in front of the National History Museum

We had been recommended to visit a nearby market which we dutifully did, it was a pretty standard food market with the addition of a few random stalls selling Communist era memorabilia/tat. Needless to say we didn’t buy anything. Instead we sat on the edge of the square, had lunch and a couple of beers in the sun whilst reading our books. A great way to spend a couple of hours.

With not a great deal of time left before we needed to make our way to the International Bus Station we had a beer on the balcony of the hostel (again reading our books) and then caught a taxi across the city. At the depot there was an extremely rude and grumpy man who turned out to be our driver for the following few hours, what a joy. 

The journey was straightforward although at the border between Albania and Montenegro a number of ‘Turkish’ men had to get off to be interviewed which added considerable time. Finally though we made it to Podgorica, the Capital of Montenegro and the destination on our ticket. We had however booked to stay in Kotor, a picturesque town on the coast and the end of our bus’ journey. We stayed in our seats and waited while half the passengers disembarked, there was a change of driver and then we were off and less than two hours later we were in Kotor, very late at night but in the right place. We wandered the few hundred meters to our hostel and collapsed into bed. 

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