Thursday, January 12

Albanian food? - Tirana, Albania
visited Jan 12, 2006
The albanians appear to have been conquered by every force that passed anywhere near them in the last 3 or 4 thousand years, which makes an interesting sort of mix. Italy is one of their closest neighbours (something I hadn't considered) so Italian coffee and food is everywhere, and quite a few people speak Italian, which helped us communicate a bit. The Albanian language (called Shqip!) sounds italian and seems closely related to the romance language group. Half the language, however, is turkish - the Ottomans were the invaders who lasted longest within the last millenium, and they definitely left their mark - in the food as well as the language. Actually, finding real albanian food is a bit hard. The cafes and fast food joints all advertise the same list of things: Byrek (Turkish Burek) Pice (Italian Pizza) Sufllaqe (Greek Souvlaki) Qofte (Turkish Kofte) and of course, the ubiquitous hamburger.

Tuesday, January 10

Durres - Shen Osman Kthupit, Albania
3 Stars This place was Average visited Jan 10, 2006
Durres doesn't seem to be marked on this map, which is odd, as it is one of Tirana's major cities, was the capital for the first half of last century and (probably because of that) is the hub of the train system. I've emailed travelpost to ask if it can be added! On the second day we wanted to take a minibus (furgon which is the same as a turkish dolmus) to Kruja, a mountain town with a castle where Skenderbeg, the national hero, once defeated the Ottomans. We wandered around the terrible crossroads that passes for a bus station for an hour or more looking for the right furgon. They are building an overpass there, so the whole area is a great big building site, and the furgons themselves have no signs, it seems you just have to know, or understand what the drivers or 'conductors' are yellling at you as pass. We did finally find an empty minibus with a driver who offered to take us to Kruja for 10 times what we expected - he wanted to play taxi, and take the two of us in an empty van. We didn't want that, so walked away and jumped on the next bus we saw to Durres, which was the capital of Albania for centuries. It was after lunch by then, and the trip took an hour over rough roads in a bone rattling bus, but the couple of hours of sunlight we had in Durres was about the right length of time to explore! We saw the Adriatic and a cluster of mushroom bunkers watching it, a few stretches of Byzantine wall, the modern town mosque (which replaced a historic one that fell down, apparently) and the Roman amphitheatre. We were peering through the fence around the amphitheatre when an old guy came and let us and sort of showed us around - the language barrier was interesting, as was his ability to mountain-goat all over th place while we struggled behind. The highlights were the mosaics that were part of the chapel there, but you could only see them by craning through two sets of iron bars around a corner. A pleasant town for a few hours, but we felt that was enough and found a bus to get back to Tirana.

Albanian Sheep - Tirana, Albania
4 Stars This place was Great visited Jan 10, 2006
Today was the day when Muslims around the world slaughter sheep ceremonially. This was definitely noticeably here in ALBANIA. Of course, maybe it had nothing to do with the bayram (bajram in albanian, or shqip, which is the albanian for albanian). It is entirely possible that there are usually sheep tied to lamp posts in albania's capital city. It is possible that seeing someone walk a sheep by the back legs 'wheelbarrow' style down the street of a clothes market (not even a food market' which I would have understood) is entirely normal. And people playing with sheep in alleys is an everyday occurence. Or maybe not. How would one ever know. Will write more soon - assuming I don't fall down a bottomless albanian pothole and am never seen again.

Monday, January 9

Shqiperise (which is Albanian for Albania) - Tirana, Albania
3 Stars This place was Average visited Jan 9, 2006
Tirana from the air is very odd. It's in a large flat valley, with a dramatic backdrop of snow capped mountains. It's hard to tell where the city starts, because as far as you can see, there are buildings dotted over the fields. While driving around we noticed the same thing - there isn't any real country there at all, just endless houses and buildings, mostly three storey and brightly coloured, each surrounded by a few fields and haystacks. The overall impression is of endlessly sprawling sparse suburbs, with fields instead of gardens. On the ground you can see the amazing building boom they seem to be having. Every second house seems to be only half finished, and even those that are obviously being lived in often have flat roofs with metal rods sticking out waiting for the next storey to go on. More evidence of the flurry of boom Albania is in is the state of half of their roads. Half of them have been dug up to be re-done, even in Tirana, leaving cars, buses, pedestrians all bumping over rocky lumps and potholes in the choking dust. Oh, and the other half of the roads are just like that normally of course. This probably explains the car wash phenomenon. The first word of Albanian I learnt after getting off the plane was "Lavazh" which means car wash. Along the road into town from the airport there seemed to be signs for them about every 5 metres, most of them not much more than a guy with a hose and bucket, I think!

Friday, January 6

Holiday plans: Albania, anyone? - Istanbul, Turkey
4 Stars This place was Great visited Jan 6, 2006
My school never gives time off without it being absolutely necessary, such as when a border needs to be crossed for visa reasons (one day off), Christmas (2 days off, though it was apparently 5 last year) and new years (1st of Jan is a public holiday). And, of course, the muslim holidays, like next week. I have 5 days off! So, instead of staying here and climbing our mountains of uni work (Kate's in exam time now, and I have 6000 words of assignments to write in the next 3 weeks) we are doing the sensible thing, and flying to Albania for the week. Well, for a few days, at least. We're flying to Tirana (the capital) on Monday morning, and fly back on thursday. We didn't have much choice - there seems to be only a few flights a week. At least with Turkish Air. Even if Albania does have an airline, I'm not sure I want to fly with them, so I didn't bother doing any further research! Three nights there should give us enough time to explore the capital and possibly the two towns near it that my guide book highly recommends. And apparently that is about as much of the country as you need to see! Except the beaches, of course, and as it's mid-winter, I don't think we really need to see them! Not sure why the idea of Albania has really captured my imagination, but I am really excited to be going to such an unusual place. It probably has far too much to do with the Dilbert comic strip, and its depictiong of "Elbonia". Oh dear...

Sunday, January 1

New Year's Musing - Istanbul, Turkey
4 Stars This place was Great visited Jan 1, 2006
Our New year's plans were pretty much completely unformed until about 7pm, when Roger (one of my friends from work) rang and asked us both to a house party, which broke up aroung 10 so everyone could go into a club in Taksim. Due to general new year's chaos, Kate and I didn't end up going to the club (didn't really want to start the new year in a reggae bar anyway!) but had dinner in our favourite cosy pasta place, and then managed to be in Taksim square for the midnight fireworks. New Year's in Turkey is interesting. For a start, they can't seem to realise that there is a difference between Christmas and New Year, so all the decorating and other celebratory trappings get mixed up: Santa hats with 2006 in flashy lights, christmas trees that say "Happy New Year", even sequined bunny-ears-headbands, which seems to me to be a completely different religious holiday alltogether. And there is a strong tendency for people to sing 'Jingle Bells' after wishing you happy new year. It's all a bit odd really. So, being the end of the year, I thought I'd look at what I've achieved. During 2005 I: Lived and worked in 4 different countries (this is a record for me, I think) Spent a total of only 2 weeks in Bris-vegas (another record) Added 12 new countries to my list of places I've been Lived in Berlin - something I had wanted to do for years Lived in Sydney - something I must do again sometime Helped organise Queeruption in Sydney Met Kate Survived 5 months of long distance relationship Survived 5 months of live-in relationship (including intensive travelling!) Went to Queeruption in Barcelona Found a summer school in Britain that I actually want to teach at again (never happened before) Started a Masters of Education (TESOL) Added turkish to my list of languages I can get by in And something else I did in 2005: failed to finish writing up all the posts to this blog about our travels in august and september. I will finish them - I add a new one every now and then, so check to see if you've missed any. As soon as I've finished the 6000 words I have to write for my Masters course in the next 4 weeks, I'll try to actually get those posts finished! Glad I have a good memory...