Albania… for a holiday?!

When I first told my fiends I was considering Albania as a holiday destination I was thinking more about escaping the searing heat that is currently making life uncomfortable in southern Turkey. On the whole most people were surprised and some even suggested there was a good reason it was the only country in Europe that I had never visited. So by the time I flew there at the start of this month I was beginning to be a little wary of what I might find.

As I stepped off the plane at the capital Tirana’s airport, I was surprised to be hit by a blast of hot air that felt almost as hot as the blast that had seen me off from Bodrum airport just a few hours earlier.
So I was glad to reach the air-conned sanctuary of my hotel in the centre of town. The heat took no time to convince me that I must head for the cooler mountains, but of course I needed to explore the city sights before I left.

pyramid

“We don’t really have any, or well not too many”, was a quite surprising response from the girl on reception to my enquiry as to where was the best place to find things of interest in Tirana. Normally I would have done more research before I got there, but because my life had been a blur of deadlines and tinged with a difficult period in my personal life, I knew little beyond the sobering fact that the only half decent margarita in the whole city, where at the Shereton hotel, which is exactly where the receptionist directed me as a final destination for my brief city walk.

At the centre of Tirana is an oval one way system, which is surrounded by several thick set government buildings and topped and tailed by the cities opera house and its art gallery. On one half there stood a very old mosque lit up by twinkly lights because it was Ramadan, which stood adjacent to an old English clock tower, which had been restored in 2010. That was pretty much it for the sights. However, as I walked down towards the Shereton and my parsimonious and overpriced cocktail, I discovered two sights that she had forgotten to mention. They were both grotesque in there own way. The first was the heavily graffiti’d pyramid mausoleum of the countries late, communist period dictator Enver Hoxha, a leader now so out of favour I was told a right of passage for many of the young men of the city was to climb to the top and urinate over the side of it.

The second ‘sight’ or should I say eyesore, was the odd collection of broken concrete and defunct fountains in front of the university, which called itself Mother Teresa square. Mother Teresa although born in Greece, was long ago claimed by Albania as one of its own. Before I visited I had not heard of a single famous person from there, beyond the infamous Hoxha.

motherteresa

I had allowed 2 days to explore Tirana, when less than 2 hours served just as well. So on the 3rd day I headed for the cooler mountains and eventually ended up at a place called Lake Prespa, where I recovered for a day before pressing on south to a place called Berat, which has Unesco world heritage status…

I have just noticed that I have drifted into travelogue style, which I will stop immediately; if you want to know about the country or the sights ask Mr Google. However, I still feel that I really must warn you, dear Reader, of some of the hazards you will face if you decide to hire a car. If you can avoid driving, please do so. Although I did drive mainly because the bus services are so notoriously unreliable, a whole service route is often cancelled for a day or two, rather than just an individual bus being struck off. The other reason I did so was because I drive for much of the year in Turkey, a country with only a fractionally better road safety record than Albania, so I thought I would be fine. However, nothing could have prepared me for the significant problems I encountered on the roads, which if nothing else you should bare in mind if you are ever brave enough to hire a car there.

When communism fell in 1992 there were only 800 cars in the whole country, the drivers of which, I was told had rarely been bothered to take any kind of formal driving test at all. Twenty years on the roads seem awash with vehicles, old and new, but few people seem to understand the basic rules let alone the courtesies of driving. When I asked a man, staying at my hotel, who drove a huge black SUV, if the country’s driving test was difficult, he gave me an intriguing answer: “Sometimes but only if you actually take the test.”

My final bit of travel advice still concerns Albania’s roads, or should I say their maps? I had a quite detailed map of the country’s road system that showed everything from motorways down to small dirt tracks. However, I should have thrown it away for all the use it was once I discovered that the only roads almost guaranteed to have a layer of tarmac on them are the motorways and some busy A roads. The rest, and by that I mean the vast majority have at best some decent stretches of tar or cobbles, which all too frequently disintegrate into nothing but heavily pot holed dirt tracks, and that is the A roads, forget the B or smaller roads. You can also forget map gradients, which show you the climb and fall of a road. I made the mistake of assuming the lack of gradients on my map meant that the road on my map between the west coast cities of Vlore and Himare meant it was a simple coast hugging road…WRONG! This was one of the most scary roads I have ever driven on, even without the presence of Albanian drivers, many who display little proof that they posses the skills not to force you over one of the many 1 kilometre drops, either side of Loggia pass. Indeed, I was so frazzled after my first encounter with this pass, that I ended up staying in a hotel for the night at the top rather than contemplate driving its entire length in one go the second time I had to cross on my way home.

So would I recommend Albania as a holiday destination? Well, yes, eventually, when they get a bit more infrastructure together, but at the moment although it is an interesting country in many ways, and the people are friendly, it will inevitably continue to be absent from many peoples ‘wish lists.’


A Relationship Alphabet

The holiday season is now well and truly underway, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. While many of us have holidayed nearer home these past few years, particularly as the affect of the long drawn out financial crisis bit ever deeper, now that things ‘seem’ to be recovering more of us than in the past 6 years are planning to go abroad.

Although I live in Turkey most of the year, I decided to escape that heat this year by travelling to Albania, from where I am writing this blog on a thankfully cool and breezy bank of Lake Prespa, high in the mountains. Albania may be a poor country but it is rich in colour and cultural interest with a mostly warm and friendly people. So I am enjoying it more than I expected, when I first landed in that blistering heat of Tirana airport, at the start of the week.

tirana"
Photo by Serge Melki

But of course most people do go abroad, precisely for the higher temperatures, sun sea and sand, while for others it can be more about tasting the culture, the food and meeting people. Inevitably, when you put these things together, with the fact you are not rushing off to work every day, this new relaxed you may just push the door slightly (or kick it wide) open, so you can contemplate a new romance? If you have had a holiday romance before, you may remember that things didn’t always last too long beyond the flight home to cooler climes and your all consuming life. Or for some, particularly middle age women who get hooked on a delusion that they could somehow make it work, despite the waiter or boat trip guy being only half their age, disappointment is never far away because the boy is usually more motivated by their bank balance than their fading looks. I originally described this phenomena last year in Vomits and Mads.

And yet, there are still some romances that blossom and endure, despite the problems of distance or even the language. So how will you know that your romance is one of the few?

A writer friend of mine, now sadly passed away, once gave me a relationship alphabet that she would recommend to her friends, whenever they entered any new romance, not just a holiday romance. Her view was that as you get older, you have less and less time to invest in relationships that may ultimately flounder, so you must find the time to stand back after about 6 months and ask yourself a simple question: does this person match most of the requirements described in the letters of the alphabet and if not, are they ever likely to? The answer to which, can either motivate them to go on or simply cut your losses and run.

So I will reproduce the list, albeit a little abridged, which you can either read as a mild amusement or if you are serious about the new person in your life, you could even quietly test what you think you have against what you actually have in them.

tirana"
Photo by The Q Speaks

Listed below in alphabetic order are some of the crucial words that should be essential ingredients to any sustainable, loving relationship. Of course there are many other words that could be included but a solid basis for success should be achievable with these words:

A. Acceptance  There is little point in going any further with this test if you don’t accept each other as you are. Apologies are fundamental to any relationship and saying sorry, if you really mean it, is an act of love.

B. Belief  Goes hand in hand with acceptance, if you don’t believe in your partner, why bother?

C. Communication   If active talking is present in your relationship then your chances of success are good.

D. Devotion  I did say some of these were obvious.

E. Effort   If your partner sees that you are putting in the effort it is much more likely he or she will respond positively – but be careful: You both need to put in effort not just one of you.

F. Friendship  If you can’t be friends then really what is the point?  Forgiveness if you are unable to forgive, especially the small things, or say that you have forgiven some of the bigger things, only to drag them back up every time you have an argument then bitterness may follow.

G. Gracious   If you know you are in error with something, admit it and be gracious about it.

H. Humour  A sense of humour varies from person to person but if you are able to laugh at yourselves as well as each other then this can be a life saver.

I. Identity  It is important that you both respect each others identity. If you have made it this far then surely you liked something about your partner’s identity in the first place. Don’t try to prevent them being themselves, it will only build resentment if you do.

J. Joy  This word may not always be ever present even in the best relationships, as life can be difficult but it is far more likely to be exist if you can say yes to most of the other letters.

K. Knowing  If you truly love someone take time to know them inside out.

L. Love  If you are familiar with most of these words, then it is likely you possess love, the most important word of all! Laughter, laughing together is a great sign that you are comfortable together.

M. Mutual  It is healthy if you and your partner have separate pursuits but to keep things balanced it is important to share mutual interests.

N. New  No matter how long you are together there will always be new things to do or to discover.

O. Open  Some will say that mystery and mystique can be a magical attraction and indeed this can be true. However, if you are a closed book then your partner will struggle to really Know you, so let them in.

P. Patience  Love is patient. Once you have established that you love someone, this is one of the most important words in the love alphabet, be patient with each other.

Q. Quiet  In a noisy world, quiet can be a rare commodity especially if you can be comfortable in each other’s quiet moments.

R. Respect  You must respect the person you plan to share a relationship with before you even go there.

S. Sensitivity  Can be the miraculous string that ties all the other words together. Being sensitive to your partners needs and desire will allow you to stay in tune.

T. Truth, Trust  These words cannot easily be separated, as the first so often breeds the second.

U. Unity  You will never agree on everything, that is healthy and normal but if you can stand united when it really matters most you will make a powerful team.

V. Versatile  If your partner’s interest don’t fill you with the same enthusiasm at least learn to politely tolerate them.


W. Wow  The Wow factor is an exclamation of admiration, amazement, even. Let them know you admire them and try to compliment your lover more often.


X. X = Kisses because there should be a lot of them in any good relationship.


Y. Yearning   When you are away from your partner for any length of time you will find yourself missing them, wanting them, Yearning for them.


Z. Zeal, Zest  Never lose the zeal and zest for each other as you continue the adventure of your life together.

As I am currently travelling – my next post will be in 2 weeks time.