Random jet-lagged musings on our first week in Albania
1. The Albanian people have been so, so kind to us. We’d heard that Albanian landlords weren’t great and getting things fixed could be a headache, but apparently we lucked out because ours came to our home and swept through with gifts for my children (cute little sun hats), potpourri for the house, pretty little nick nacks for our shelves, and the banana candy that their 21 year old son heard William whining about. We asked for a few things, such as a dryer and an additional air conditioning unit to be included into the cost- not only did they agree, but they had it ordered that evening and installed the next day. They fixed anything we pointed out and it was all done within 24 hours.
2. People are fascinated by William’s super white-blonde hair and they can’t help but touch it. He doesn’t mind, and thinks everyone is his new best friend.
3. The food is so good (If you are a carnivore that is). Plates full of meat, kofte (lamb sausages) amazing vegetables, and these incredible yogurt dishes. Somehow they have found a way to make cheese dishes a hundred different ways and it’s all just delicious. And cheap! The four of us can have a great meal with drinks included for about $20 or 2000 Lekë where it would cost closer to $50+ in the States. If we want to be budget friendly we can get the kids a Byrek ( pastry dough stuffed with cheese) and Fanta for 100 Lekë or $1.
4. Tirana is a fascinating city. There’s a cafe on every corner and people are always out enjoying themselves, drinking coffee and people watching. Sometimes you’ll see an espresso shot being washed down with “Raki” which I’m told is about 30% alcohol. Pretty intense for the middle of the day. But hey, you do you, Albania.
5. Albanians are getting more used to “foreigners”, but they still stare and are a bit shocked to hear American accents in their local grocery store.
6.People here are very helpful when they see you may need help. They will quickly switch to English when they see you don’t speak Albanian. They don’t expect you to, but we are still beginning to learn the basics and trying to learn more every day. Saying something simple like “Thank you” in Albanian or “Shqip” is a five syllable word, “ Fahlemenderit” and “Hi”, is përshëndetje…yeah, it’s gonna take me a minute.
7. They do not have a McDonald’s, a Starbucks, a Pizza Hut, or any of the American fast food places that litter the world, and I’m not sad about it… They have an app called Baboon where you can order from many restaurants in the city and have fresh, delicious food delivered to you. That’s a much better version of fast food as far as I’m concerned.
8. In the city there are Muslim Mosques and Christian churches right next to each other. They celebrate both Muslim and Christian Holidays as nationally recognized non working days and everyone is completely tolerant of each other’s beliefs. I’m told it has always been this way. What a beautiful example to the rest of the world. Most people I’ve met, though aren’t very religious and they seem to be driven mainly by a code of conduct called “Besa”. From what I understand, it is an oath of honor, a pledge of kindness to protect their guests. This is the same pledge that led them to save thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. They welcomed them, hid them, and refused to give them up.
See this video on the topic.
9. There are ruins where many Roma people live in the poorest parts of the city that literally take my breath away. It’s a poverty I haven’t quite seen before. It breaks my heart in a million pieces to see barefoot children in ragged clothing begging at cafes throughout the City. I have so many thoughts on this, but none coherent enough to write at the moment.
10. The people here, while very helpful and kind, are also very direct. I kind of love it and find it funny. We shall see if I always feel that way. An example: We were telling our driver that we were trying to order food from the baboon app for dinner the other night, but didn’t have an Albanian number yet. “Why you don’t have Albanian number yet?” Me: Oh, I don’t know… there are just so many things to do. And the kids… I don’t know my way around… “We will go now. You must have a phone number. We can pick up Byrek and Fanta for the kids on the way”. Who am I to argue with Asllan? So…I now have an Albanian phone number.
11. I’m convinced that Albania is the last undiscovered gem in Europe. They have weathered a horrible dictator, complete isolation, and in my opinion, very unfair prejudices from the rest of Europe. If you want to see a place unspoiled- with beaches like France or Spain, but with far fewer tourists. Ancient ruins as magnificent as those in Greece, but without the hoards of people fighting for pictures, then come to Albania.
I will write more later. We still have so much to do and explore and as our lovely driver/friend Asllan tells us, we have plenty of time.