Antics in Albania!

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Finally we are on the road again, but not before spending a frustrating half an hour trying to get out of town! One of those where you drive round & round, non-existent road signs, & you can SEE the motorway but can’t damn well get to it. 

After several hours we reached the Albanian border. Long long long long queues on both sides. The computer in the kiosk was down, & all passports were being checked one by one, by hand! There were several coaches parked up, & you can imagine how our hearts sank when we saw the drivers taking dozens of passports to be checked .Rick was talking to a nice smiley guy in the lane next to us. He had three boys who he wanted to practice their English. Football as usual was the main topic. Rick really must learn something about it! I sat in the…

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Antics in Albania!


Finally we are on the road again, but not before spending a frustrating half an hour trying to get out of town! One of those where you drive round & round, non-existent road signs, & you can SEE the motorway but can’t damn well get to it. 

After several hours we reached the Albanian border. Long long long long queues on both sides. The computer in the kiosk was down, & all passports were being checked one by one, by hand! There were several coaches parked up, & you can imagine how our hearts sank when we saw the drivers taking dozens of passports to be checked .Rick was talking to a nice smiley guy in the lane next to us. He had three boys who he wanted to practice their English. Football as usual was the main topic. Rick really must learn something about it! I sat in the bus & sulked a bit. Everyone was out of their vehicles wandering about smoking. Now again someone would shout & wave at the kiosk, all to no avail of course. We noticed a disturbance approaching from the Albanian side. Someone was coming towards us on the wrong side of the road! Cars were being moved & a proper kufuffle broke out. It turned out to be a hearse!! Someone had clearly lost the will!

Eventually we were through with smiley man trying to push us forward & help us get ahead. So nice. We saw them several times along the route as we caught & overtook each other, with lots of beeping & waving.

I’d been nervous about Albania for some reason. I imagined it to be hostile. Guys with rifles round every corner. It isn’t a big country, & we had planned to drive straight across & out into Montenegro, but we had our most interesting & IMG_1659amusing time there. The roads were horrendous in places. It was like driving through a quarry. To be fair, something was being done about the roads, but mile after mile at a snails pace, weaving round boulders & rocks with cars coming at you trying to avoid the craters on their side. It was hideous spine jarring torture. A good job we’d had Benny repaired & not chanced our luck. He would never have survived. I often wonder how we would have fared if we had broken down there   rather than Greece.In  contrast, the scenery was stunning. Mountains, valleys, plains, & field after field of produce. It was like taking a step back in time. Very poor villages & properties, kids riding donkeys, & horses & carts alongside the cars. Every other shop sold tires & wheel rims. I wonder why? We were driving along a decent country road, & just up ahead could see a farmer coming across the field with his goat herd, intending to cross the road. Rick slowed right down & the goats started to cross. Suddenly from out of nowhere, & flash sports car roared past us at speed, startling & scattering the goats. The farmer jumped in shock. We continued to pass him & his charges very slowly & as we did so, our eyes met. I waved. He stood to attention & saluted.It was one of those surreal moments. A meeting of minds & cultures. I filled up then, & I.m filling up now recalling that special feeling.


The day was drawing to a close. It was around 7pm & we needed to find somewhere to sleep for the night. You just cannot assume there will be a hotel or availability the minute you feel ready. I did NOT want to be driving in the dark- in Albania- looking for a bed!
The next little village seemed to have several hotels as we drove through. When we went in to enquire however, they were closed, or just open for drinks. The one at the top of the hill, WAS open, & could offer us B&B for 20E. The rooms are getting bigger, & the price cheaper! It was an enormous room. Very old fashioned furniture. Dark wood,creaky brown leather suite, orange nylon curtains- but once again when I turned the quilt back. crisp clean sheets. The en-suite bathroom was interesting to say the least. Very clean, but again very basic. Hose in the wall for a shower. The freaky feature was a door that led on to the ‘balcony’. Health & safety alert! The balcony wall was about a foot high, & we were on the 4th floor! Rick couldn’t believe his eyes. I couldn’t even leave the door open when I was in there!
Someone had thoughtfully left a pink plastic comb with a few teeth missing.
The woman who showed us to the room seemed to be the housekeeper. She was middle aged, lithe & quick & took the stairs like a mountain goat. I got sick of her stopping & trying to urge me on faster. In the end I held my back, pulled a face & said ‘problem, problem’. She got the message.
We dropped our bags & went downstairs & outside to order a & drink & take stock. I think one of the reasons I felt more edgy in this country is that no-one spoke any English whatsoever, & I have no knowledge of their language either. Who does? I can grasp the basics of a menu. & order food, drink & probably a room in 4 languages, but really out of my depth here.These guys even looked at us as if we were from another planet, never mind speak to us!
It was very quiet. We decided we would need to go back into the village for food. Fortunately Coca Cola is everywhere, so I ordered that & served myself the old Jack Daniels from an empty chewing gum tub! Haha. The ‘pulling a beer pump ‘ mime seemed to work for Rick. However, business picked up, & as it got later, one or two people drifted in & sat at tables in the garden area. We saw food coming out & were happy to realise we could eat here if only we knew how.
Asking for a menu usually works in any country with the ‘opening a book’ signal. Here it was ‘opening a book, & both hands up to mouth eating ‘action. Looking at the menu of course was a joke. Not a clue, & the young waiter couldn’t help either. ( You find mostly these days in any country that the young people are learning English in school & are thrilled to practice. They either don’t teach it in Albania, or this lad hadn’t been paying attention)
I decided to take action. Grasping the menu, & waving the waiter to follow me, we all marched over to a table of 4 middle aged men with food in front of them. After the ridiculous question ‘English?’ was met with shakes of heads, I pointed at their plates. ‘What is that that on your plate & where is it on the menu? ‘ Now you have to use your imaginations here , because I am acting. ( More like Playschool than Downton obviously). ‘Is it Mooo?, (hands up to head like horns.) is it Baaaaa? Is it quack quack, cluck cluck, ( wings flapping) . Apparently as they offered me a taste, that particular one was ‘coo coo’. Pigeon? Quail? By now, the table is in uproar. I am hysterical laughing at myself, & Rick is a cross between embarrassed & equally hysterical.
We ordered what looked vaguely familiar on the menu Romfstek. It came as poor quality minced meat that had been flattened like a huge burger, coated in something & deep fried. The garnish was a half a plate of raw red cabbage. Yum. The bottle of red wine was surprisingly good!
The evening wore on, & Rick had popped inside & noticed the waiters were setting up the main dining area as if for a party. Tables IMG_1651& chairs were being set up in long formation. He tried to ask one of the young waiters what was happening. Party? ( singing dancing action?) Yes.’Wedding?’ ( ring finger action) No. Waiter indicates snipping action in nether regions! Ahhhhh !! Circumcision party!! Rick backs away.
This is the best night ever! I can not believe how surreal & funny this is.
I settle back to watch the guests arriving & the night developing. It was late for a party that involved children. 10 pm onwards for guests arriving, young families with small children & babies mostly. I identify the hosts, & the little circumsee’ee, who was not a baby but a toddler & clearly too comfortable to have been ‘done’ that day.
I was fascinated to see the fashions. Not very different to ours. Men everywhere have no problem do they? Trousers, Chino’s, shorts even & smart shirt. The ladies were wearing skinny jeans, cropped pants, tight tops, short shift dresses, bare midriffs. I studied them most carefully. If you had shown me this image & asked which country are they from I could not have guessed. I don’t know what I expected, but not this modern style.
We continued to enjoy more red wine outside & the start of the party. They had many guests & 2 DJ’s inside. The little boys were all dressed in white & seemed born to dance. However young.

Mrs Goat Herd came to talk to me. Aren’t women brilliant? Without any understanding of language, I learned she was 55, had 2 boys & a girl, had worked there 10 years & was cleaner/ housekeeper. She had a hysterectomy in 1998.(I made that up)
The party was in full swing & I was pretty happy/tipsy by now. It was time for bed. We had to walk through the main room for the upstairs & stopped to watch for a moment. They were dancing to village music. ( not very challenging for the DJ’s). They danced in a circle like the Greek dance we are familiar with, & the lead dancer was holding a wad of notes. They dropped it into a basket, dropped out, & the next person took over. From out of nowhere, a guy stood up , approached us, & in an Essex accent asked ‘are you English? What are you doing here? No-one ever comes to my country!’ Unbelievable! He was Albanian, had lived in Maidstone, Kent for the last 10 years & owned a car valet business. He was amazed to meet us- so were we! He insisted on buying us drinks. Oh my. The only thing I recognized behind the bar was Metaka. The cognac type liquer commonly found in Turkey & Greece. It would have been rude to refuse. One of the DJ’s ( the handsome one) spoke French, & for the next hour or so I entranced him with my French conversation. Ah Oui! Lots of Gallic shrugs. The last thing I remember is being helped up the stairs to bed.

( A Bit Of A ) Greek Tragedy

To continue~

We’ve had a lovely quiet night & great sleep. No psycho moments! At 7.30 am the day was light & bright. We were greeted downstairs by an older Greek lady. No sign of the patron from the previous evening. She could have been his wife, or a helper from the village.We never knew, but she spoke a little English which was helpful.

There was a lone table set for two in the beautiful dining room overlooking the terrace.Breakfast was an unusual mix of breads, cheese, cake, & cold boiled eggs. It seemed strange to us there were no tomatoes. In fact, we didn’t see another tomato throughout the rest of the journey! We ate what we could, & I packed the boiled eggs away, in case we needed rations later. You never know where your next meal is coming from. We chatted to the lady about the hotel & the lack of guests. This, apparently is how things are in Greece now. No-one has any money. No-one comes any more. She talked of a once bustling hotel .It was heartbreaking to hear. How soul destroying to polish & dust a place every day, waiting for guests that hardly ever materialise. We said our goodbyes, ( feeling like leaving a donation!) & headed off, towards Albania.
It was 8.30 when we departed. 9.30 when disaster struck. We were turning off the village road heading for the motorway, when a loud crunching noise from Benny (the bus) brought us to a halt. For those who are familiar him, you will know that when Rick says ‘oh shit, now we’re in trouble’, we really ARE in trouble! We pulled into the side of the road while he examined the engine, looked underneath etc. Nothing major to be seen. There was no one around, no garage, nothing. There was nothing else for it but to carry on- slowly! However it seemed like a gear problem, & in low gear it crunched & grated like hell, but with some speed in higher gear toddled along just fine.

This was not a nice feeling. The roads were busy, but the gas stations & services were heaving! It must have been a holiday day or something! Queues to get to the pumps, queues to get out, queues for the loos. I have never seen anything like it! Rick chose to pull in one & have another look underneath. He got his tools out & told me to sit in the drivers seat. ‘Right, I’m going underneath. Take the handbrake off & put your foot on the brake. When I shout, put it into gear, but don’t take your foot off the brake or you’ll run me over!’

Arrrgghh!! My nervous disposition just trebled! Fortunately I didn’t run him over but he still couldn’t identify the problem. We managed another 200K with crunching first gear but ok on cruise. We turned off the highway at Iaonini & drove into town to look for a garage.As we stopped at traffic lights I noticed an internet cafe on the right, with parking & a large forecourt. We pulled in. What a find that turned out to be! We ordered food first while we regrouped our thoughts (Delicious oven baked lamb with potatoes, feta salad). The young man didn’t speak English, but a young lady came to attend who spoke beautiful English. We thought she was a waitress, but we subsequently learned she was on holiday there with her boyfriend! She worked at the university in Athens, but this was the town in which she grew up & the cafe was owned by a family member. We explained to Alexandra what had happened. She introduced us to Nikos , her Uncle who was sitting in the forecourt. They couldn’t have been more helpful. There was a garage just next door, & they went with Rick to speak to the mechanics. They took Benny in & started to investigate. This took the biggest part of the morning/afternoon, but fortunately we were sat in the shade, had food & drink, & Wifi! Not all bad then.I even spoke to my friend Sandra on Skype. Nothing like a gossip when you’re broken down in a strange country!  It transpired the problem was a  wheel drive shaft, which was worn & not connecting to the 4 wheel drive. If it worsened, we would have no drive at all! Unfortunately, Benny is a Japanese import, & after dozens of phone calls they announced this part could not be found anywhere in Greece!

At no point though, did we experience that sharp intake of breath we see so often in the UK. ‘Whhosh sorry mate, 3 weeks on Tuesday if yer lucky, & it’ll cost yer.’ They said they would sort it, but it might take a day or two & in the meantime they would find us a hotel. I started to feel a bit alarmed. What sort of hotel? Something decent, or a B&B with no aircon & no facilities? Nikos patted my shoulder reassuringly. ‘It is my Uncle hotel, very nice, swimming pool, you’ll like it darling, donna worry!’ ‘ It is 50 Euros a night with breakfast, we get it for you for 30.’ He was one of those exuberant characters that are endlessly cheerful & make you laugh.

With that  we went back to the garage,  took our overnight bags & they were loaded into someone else’s car & he drove us to the hotel, about 15 mins away. We would never have found it, but oh my! It was lovely! Outdoor pool, & a really classy bedroom/bathroom. The nicest place we have seen for a while. The young woman who checked us in also served drinks by the pool, but there was no restaurant operating , & no food available. Another example of the failing Greek economy. By the time evening fell she disappeared & a fully stocked bar had no staff to serve. We had to settle for a sandwich from the garage next door & the boiled egg rations! ah haa! Knew they’d come in handy. We were ok. We wouldn’t starve. Jack Daniels was with us & our music, books & Wifi. I dare say if my boys had been with us they would have helped themselves from the bar & paid in the morning!

A few business men had checked in late afternoon & we joined them for breakfast the next morning. Another unusual selection of sliced meats, cheeses, bread & jam, cheese puff rolls, marble cake, custard slices & chocolate brownies. But who cares? Its food, & hey, we are the people who eat Pad Krapow with a fried egg for breakfast in other climes. We have no idea how long finding the part & fixing is going to take, so we change our French ferry booking to 24 hours later. We lounge by the pool & wait. Actually the weather has changed here. It is not as warm as we have been used to, & the skies a little overcast. A bit of a shock to be honest after the heat of Turkey. We had no calls, no contact from the garage until suddenly, mid afternoon, the guy from the garage appears from the car park- with Benny- fixed! I had to restrain myself from kissing him!  400 E for the part & a spare, plus 50 E for the work. They had found an alternative part & given us a spare, should the other side go.

We packed quickly, checked out, & headed back to the internet cafe where it all began, to have lunch & say goodbye to our new friends. What amazing, friendly, helpful people. Thank you all.ImageImageImage




Blog Alert!

Many apologies for not completing my blog of our return trip from Bodrum to Manchester.

I kind of lost the will after we had been home a while ( I’m not a disciplined writer ), & other trips got in the way. But i have regretted it, as some of that journey was the most interesting & amusing for us.

I have been asked by a few people what happened next & it seems one or two are interested. I still have my notes, so I will endeavor to continue & hope that you find the time to read. You probably have a few days to catch up where we left off, if you so wish.

Best Wishes