It’s Monday, 14/March and I finally ventured past my “little world” here on RRuga Venecia. I have, until today, only walked the beach North to the end. I have also walked parallel up the RRuga Pavaresia, the “main street” that connects into the city centrum of Durres. I paid the equivalent of .01 of Euro for the round trip bus ride. The cost came out to be .40 leke one way… it doesn’t even show up on the exchange rate. At .80 leke, the exchange is .01 Euro. It becomes even more apparent how de-valued the Lek is when I eat dinner out. I have only done it a couple times. I had a full dinner, with Calamari, soup, salad, and bread, with sparkling water. The total cost was 10 Euro! My waiter, Franck, would not take a tip, it is included in the VAT (Value Added Tax). The hardest aspect of going from “American” to “European” is the fact that tipping is frowned upon. Franck told me that it is a nice gesture, but unnecessary. His service is second to none, and I am driven to give extra.
The bus ride was a total trip. I believe it’s Spring Break because the whole area is jammed with kids of all ages. The weather has a good deal to do with this too. Today was nearly 16C (60F) and it felt much warmer. I had my jacket off and I was still warm in a fleece pullover. I think once we get into the 70’s (F), it will be outstanding. I can feel the heat of the sun through the cool breeze coming off the Adriatik. Here it is spelled with a “k” at the end.
Looking at the faces on the bus, and on the street in Durres, I can see the mix of this “Balkan Crossroad”, Some people had features that were expressly Turkic, some appeared even darker…in a classic Greek/Italian look, and yet others, were fair-skinned and had light-brown or blonde hair. As I understand it, nearly 60% are Islamic in belief, 17% identify as Christian, and 24% are undeclared/no religion. As I walked past the mosque in town on my way to the Amphitheatre, it didn’t seem like there were many women in hijabs. I am not sure what the fundamental population is, but it seems very laid back here.
Asking for directions, everyone was eager to speak English. I stopped at a cafe and had schnitzel (really a hot dog) and was content to just sit and people watch for a bit. This land has changed hands many, many times over the course of its history, and it can be seen and heard; I could make out Italian, and Greek spoken…along with Albanian. The kids are very well-behaved, and some that I talked to were funny, but not overly silly. I found it refreshing. Overall, I spent about 3 1/2 hours walking around Durres, actually in search of some chewing tobacco. I stumbled upon a tabacchino shop in a pretty ritzy section, nearest to the high-end international hotels. The ladies there were excited to speak English, and had what I had been searching for. We spoke for quite a bit; I was invited to a cup of Turkish Coffee. They were of Serbian descent and grew up here, taking over the store from their father after he passed. When asked what I was here for, they thought I was making the right decision to live in Europe. The sisters have been to the US and think that the quality of life here is much better. They are happy with the prospect of Albania joining the EU. As I called out all 7 of the civilisations that overcame Albania, they couldn’t believe that an American would know these facts. I laughed and told them that I became bored with 3/400 years of US history and looked to Europe when I was very young. For the record: 1) Illyrians, 2) Thracians, 3) Greeks, 4) Romans, 5) Byzantines, 6) Venetians, and 7) The Ottomans.
As I walked away from the oldest part of Durres, I realized how easy it was to get here. The weather will be much the same tomorrow, and I am coming back. I will get off the bus earlier and walk the length of the beach back to my neighborhood. I’m sitting on my patio now, watching the night fall. Listening to a little Roxy Music, and having my last coffee for the day. For someone like me to be as close as I am to history, real history….it is just beyond fascinating. My experience with US history has always pushed to me to see where it came from. All history is circular, and what we live through now, is no more than the same play with different actors. There is very little talk here of Ukraine, but those that I talk to are feeling for the Ukrainians. Thirty years ago these very same people were faced with an unknown future. Now, they see that with Ukraine. It was able to throw off the Soviet past and lift theeir chins to the sky. The Albanians are determined to have that chance (admittance to the EU), and not let anyone take it away from them. I enjoyed talking to the ladies in the shop, and thought about how happy these faces were as I passed them on the street.
My step was sure yet light as I got off the bus. There is familiarity here at my stop. I am still always looking, and careful to not get too complacent. I am still a stranger in a strange land. It is the exact sense of self I had when I left the US. This is all still new, and not quite comfortable, and that’s okay. When I got on the plane at O’Hare on the 6th of December, I knew there wasn’t going to be a real “comfort zone” for some time to come…and that was all right with me. Looking out at the snow-capped mountains from my balcony, I have to look at the “constants”. Those “constants” will always be to accept, be open, and learn as much as I can. Bratislava was steady, and I inherently knew what was next; here I have to create that “next”. I send you all my love, thank you deeply for following me, and hope to see you soon. I’ll post again when I have something to share…until then – take care of each other.