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First taste of Tirana

On the Munich-Tirana leg of our flight, S and I were fortunate enough to spy the Alps, snow-capped and majestic. One moment there were clouds and nothing but them and blue sky to see, and the next, that great mountain chain, like a border between ordinary and adventure. Those highest peaks past, the clouds thickened again, and all below was cloaked in mystery. When we came down for a landing, it was to the sight of Rodonit Bay to our right and then mountains to our left. Long, rectangular patchwork fields showed that it certainly wasn't France we were flying over, as did the houses of bright orange, kelly green, and lemon yellow.

J, who arrived here the 2nd, met us at the airport, and a taxi took us to Tirana. I sat in the back with a sleeping S on my lap, bags piled beside me, while J took the front seat next to Vladimir, the driver. Flocks of sheep and turkeys dotted the fields, along with haystacks, like Monet's "Wheatstacks." We even saw a horse-drawn hay wain being loaded by men wielding giant pitchforks, much like Heinrich Burkel portrayed in his "Loading the Hay-Wagon," sans the colorful, period clothes:

(Image via: Museum Syndicate

Tirana seemed to creep up on us. Solitary houses, or apartment buildings, five or more stories high dot the countryside, slowly getting closer together, cozying up to odd businesses like like statuary sellers, car washes, bathroom/plumbery outfitters. One minute the city isn't really there, then it is, a mishmash of styles and contradictions, Communist concrete and thriving capitalist consumerism. Rundown buildings bristling with dingy satellite dishes, festooned with drying laundry, and garlanded with electrical wires are mixed pellmell with dernier cri supermarket architecture, cafes, and casinos. Cars race up and down wide avenues, paying little heed to lights and pedestrians, their drivers with one hand permanently on the horn. Not quite as loud as Hanoi, though.

Vladimir dropped us off at our building, assuring us he'll be happy to taxi us around whenever we need him.  This is where we are staying, second balcony up is ours*:

And the view, along with little "accident" in the street below.

Nearby side street:

After a little nap for S, J took her to get some take out for us while I tried to get some shut eye. Since S hadn't slept since 3:50 am, neither had I.  I don't know if I dozed or not; with all the honking and traffic, it was hard to tell. We had a late lunch (tasty food, but I can't remember what it was called), we went for a walk. Sunset was at 4:11 p.m., and don't you know that threw me for a loop.  

Near where J works, I saw the unholy Christmas tree. Can anyone guess what made it unholy? I wanted to get a pic of it today, but  it was too dark when we went back that way. I'll try to get a photo tomorrow... 

I'm not sure how far we walked, but feeling headachy from fatigue and pollution, I suggested we stop at a cafe to have a hot drink and rest for a bit.  Not being able to speak or understand Albanian makes things interesting.  I ordered hot chocolate, and the server asked me "black" or "white."  J and I both looked at him with confusion plain on our faces and he said something about sugar. "Black," I said, "no sugar, but with whipped cream on top."  So back he comes a few minutes later and presents me with a divine looking cup of hot chocolate. The cream was tasty, but when I dipped my spoon in deeper, I lifted out what looked like lumpy hot cocoa.  I tasted it and lo and behold hot pudding. In a cup.

And then the lights went out in the cafe and street. The whole street. But not in the next one over because the lights in the high-rise apartments there never flickered. A grocery store got its generator up and going, with the casino next door quick to follow, but we were in the dark.  That is until the server put his Nokia phone in a glass on our table to serve as a lamp. It was a bizarre experience, sipping hot pudding in the dark, listening to the murmur of Albanian.

Later, after our dinner at a Turkish restaurant, when the server told me they had no mint tea, I asked for another hot chocolate, determined to find out of it was some kind of mistake or an Albanian treat. No pudding this time, just an icky drink of baking cocoa powder and water.  Well, there went the nifty idea of Albanians sipping hot pudding.  Then this morning, sorting through the things J's colleague left in the apartment cupboard, we found packets of instant pudding (black and white) with the directions in Italian. So I guess it is an Italian thing (lots of Italians come here for hols).  Anyone know if it is so?

We ended the evening with a stroll through a Christmas market where you can buy things as varied as pet supplies, frozen food, phone services, and cheap looking copies of traditional Albanian dress in the little chalets. Aside from the ornaments and fake trees for sale at the beginning of the market, nothing much about it spoke of Christmas. I mean besides the giant tree at the end where Santa Claus sat with his elf while some freaky, scary electronic music blared to put everyone in the holiday spirit.

* Pics belong to J. I'll get out and take more when he goes to work tomorrow, weather permitting.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 11th, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)

C always says that a country's fields seen from above says a lot about the country itself. When we fly over Germany the fields are ramrod straight and neat, once we are over Denmark it gets a bit more disorganized and some countries are downright messy with their fields. ;)

And what interesting hot chocolate experiences! And to think I was shocked the first time I ordered hot chocolate in Switzerland and was presented with heated up milk and a bag of cocoa powder. POWDER! And NO cream on top! I would have fainted in Albania. :p
Dec. 21st, 2011 09:30 pm (UTC)
I love seeing fields from above, and i think C is right.

Erm, I would faint in Switzerland! At least have the decency to stir in the powder in the back and hide your shame from paying customers! And no cream? Criminal. :P
Dec. 11th, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC)
Oh, and you must take loads of photos of their farming! Gosh, that could make some great images and painting.
Dec. 21st, 2011 09:31 pm (UTC)
We were hoping to get some good photos during this recent trip. Sadly the weather and my poor health were not with us. :( Maybe another day.
Dec. 12th, 2011 06:14 am (UTC)
Hot chocolate pudding with whipped cream in a cup. That actually sounds really good...

In Israel, only American places know that when Eitan orders "ice coffee" he means actual coffee poured over ice. Everywhere else sells "ice coffee" as a super sweet coffee slushie. (Which I happen to think is awesome. :P But Eitan is not pleased.)

Dec. 21st, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it wasn't bad at all; just very surprising. I would have been happy had it been a tad less sweet. AND they brought me two packages of sugar on the side. o.O Seems they like their sugar as much as their salt if people actually add sweetner to what they served me. :P

lol re: Eitan. It is all about expectations, isn't it?
Dec. 22nd, 2011 05:43 am (UTC)
Wow. Sugar shock indeed...

Eitan is always teasing me that I drink "coffee-flavored milk". He's not so into sweet things and he likes his coffee strong, very little milk and not too sweet. So the ice coffee slushie things are like everything coffee *should not be* in his view!

Dec. 13th, 2011 12:38 am (UTC)
Thanks for the lovely writing. I feel as if I was there.
Dec. 21st, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
I hope to be able to do the country justice in future posts. I've been too blah with the crud up until now. But I'll feel better soon, dagnabbit; I'm determined to!
Dec. 13th, 2011 05:05 am (UTC)
I know you will find only the best about this trip to make wonderful memories. You already have the best start being with J and S and an adventure in front of you. Have fun and make good memories. Merry Christmas and lots of love from Texas
Dec. 21st, 2011 09:35 pm (UTC)
Yeah, even the "bad" things turn into great memories. When things are just smooth sailing, we often forget them, but through trials, we learn more about ourselves and others. :D

Merry Christmas to you, too!

Oh, J is mailing your postcard tomorrow, so it won't arrive in time for Christmas, but better late than never. :D
Dec. 13th, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC)
The hot pudding in a cup sounds delightful! On my recent vacation, I nearly had a fit when the Boulder Dam concession told me their hot chocolate had no milk. Thinking it over afterward, I grew uncertain about what most places in America serve.

I can't guess about the unholy tree; guess I'll just have to wait and find out.
Dec. 21st, 2011 09:38 pm (UTC)
*shudder* Hot cocoa should have milk! They can have a milk-less version for those who are lactose intolerant, but for everone else? yeah, we don't want reconstituted what's-it or plain hot water.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )


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