From Durres To Kosovo, & Into Valbonne’

Tuesday 10 May, 2022. My driver Denis picked me up at the Hotel Adriatic at 9am this morning. We began a 5 hour drive from the coast northward into the mountains. Denis is 24 year-old who works for Albanian Trips. He just drives. He is bright young man who understands the realities of Albania’s growing pains, and the path to the EU. We drove to near Tirana, the capital, before veering off toward Kosovo. The other routes were a 1 1/2 hour ferry ride (which I will do on my trip back), or a gravel road that would wind up and down through the mountains and take its toll on our bodies and Denis’ car. Kosovo!! I was incredibly excited to see even a bit of this fabled country, and get another stamp in my passport. It would seem that the only difference between Albania and Kosovo was in the construction of their houses. Outwardly, they looked much like Albanians, and Kosovo seemed like Albania.

The route wound through some interesting towns. In one town, name unknown, we drove right through what seemed like a flea market, or an open bazaar. The street was shaded, and packed with anything you could think of. At the end, about two or three blocks down were chickens, sheep, goats, and a few cows. This is truly an experience I will find hard to forget, and it is just my first day! As we left the open plain-like areas of Kosovo and began to climb back up into the mountains, the landscape became a bit more closed and not so wide open. The immense panoramas were giving way to tighter canyons and steep stone walls. Denis and I arrived at the border again to head back into Albania.

We continued winding slowly upward, as the roads twisted and turned, crossing the Valbon river on narrow bridges that bore the weight of concrete trucks. I was gobsmacked at the thought of that much weight going over such a little bridge. Denis didn’t think it was a big deal as we continued on way until we found Rezidenca Hotel (hostel is used also). 1 kilometer through the the trees was Rilindra restaurant where I am writing from as the wifi is here. Between Rilindra, and Rezidenca is where my stay will be. Alfred and Skender are two Albainian brothers that run this outfit. Alfred started it ten years ago, and now they are a full-service hotel and restaurant. People from all over the world are here right now. From Australia, Germany, Brazil, Switzerland, and Denmark… the world is slowly starting to discover this stunning area. I am staying in the mid-point of the upper valley and I am struggling to find words to describe this place. The scenery is beyond anything I’ve seen in my travels. I was sitting at a table this morning and heard bird songs that I’ve never heard before.

Wednesday 11 May, 2022. Alfred picked me up this morning to fly fish and we were off down the valley to go to a shop to get flies that are specific to this place. I am finishing this blog today and will write more about the fishing today, and tomorrow on Friday. I am focusing this blog on Albanian tourism, and fly fishing, as much as I want to inform my readers what I am up to. This trip is possible through Alda and Elton at “Albanian Trip”. They will be a frequent reference in this blog until next week. I want the world to know what is possible here in Albania.

Alfred and I will be fishing this late afternoon into the evening. The river is still moving very fast and we are going dow-valley to where it widens out and slows a bit. I am heading out to sit under the trees and re-rig my fly line. I thank you all for following me. Talk soon.

Full Circle..With An Upgrade

It is hard to imagine that I would ever need to be back at this 5-star hotel that was my saving grace, but I am here to fill a gap. My stay had ended at the last Airbnb I had booked, as of today (7 May). I leave for my fly fishing trip in the Albanian Alps on Tuesday (10 May). I was trying to figure out a decent place to stay for the three night gap and this hotel sent me a invite as a “treasured guest”. I was asked to write a review of this hotel after my “taxi-cab hijacking” event and since my review was so glowing – they rewarded me. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. On the exchange (euro/dollar) it came out to less than $47/night. I checked in at 3, after dragging all of my stuff on more time. From here on in, I move by car…easy-peasey. I took my second swim in the Adriatic and then showered off and took a dip in their indoor pool. I hit the sauna, showered here in my room, and had a hamburger in the dining room. I it is the first time in at least a couple of months that I have had red meat. It was delicious!

I had to have the a/c on in my room as the temp soared to near 27C (80F). It has begun to cloud up now and I have my windows open to catch the cool breeze off the Adriatic. The excitement level for me is back up again. I have finalized all of the arrangements for my trip to the Albanian Alps. I connected with Elton on the phone yesterday. Elton and Alda run “Albanian Trip”. They are a young tour business, and I will be their first fly fishing customer. I will have a driver, not a fishing guide. I will be going into unchartered territory for Elton, giving feedback, along with tips , and suggestions on how things should work. I have “guided” friends out West on our blue ribbon trout streams, so there is no reason why I can’t help Elton and Alda get their business going in the right direction…I hope.

We will leave here early Tuesday morning headed for Valbon, at nearly the border with Montenegro. The river, Valbone i Lumi is a wild, un-dammed river, and has Speckled Trout, along with Rainbow Trout, and a variety of smaller game fish. I am also hoping that the lodges we are staying in will have wifi. I would be tempted to send out a few photos and maybe a video here on my blog. Please stay tuned.

I have to add, that I had a wonderful time meeting a couple from Abu Dhabi. Malcolm is a schoolteacher and Liz is the school’s “Secondary Librarian”. We had three night of the best dinners and conversation. Klejdi (Claydee) my fave waiter at Hemera, was serving them and told them that I was an American from Slovakia. He was a little hesitant after the “Dutch Couple Fiasco”, but I assured him it was ok. Liz was from Alberta, and Malcolm was South African. They decided that the Western world was crazy for “working themselves to death” and sold their home in Calgary, took the jobs at the Canadian International School in Abu Dhabi, and now with their kids, they have seen almost every continent on the planet. They were even staying in my building, unbeknownst to all of us. Thursday morning Liz rang my phone/intercom (I was in Apt. 1…it happened alot) and said that she had forgotten the number for the keypad entrance.She didn’t know that it was my place. I buzzed her in and we had a laugh. I wrote it on the back of her hand, and she still had this morning when we said our goodbyes. It is a shame that we didn’t swap email addresses, because they were definitely a very cool pair of human beings. Kathleen, their 7 year-old daughter was very bright and well behaved. Their son Austin, was an unbelievable 2 year-old. He was very calm, and did not challenge his Mom and Dad; I haven’t seen kids like that in quite some time.

I didn’t expect to write this much. I merely wanted to bring you all up to date. After 2 months on the beach, I am looking for a change of pace. I really don’t care about my residency visa anymore, as I have no control over any of it. As a matter of fact, when I return from my trip to the mountains, and I have a long 2 weeks in Tirana, I may set about thinking about a “Plan B”.

To all of the Mothers out their, I wish you a sincere Happy Mother’s Day. From my heart to yours, and you know who you are; you represent the best in us. I love you and your kids…you’ve done a great job. I thank all of you for following me, and I will give an update as soon as I have something good to tell you…hopefully mid-week/next. Goodbye for now.

Out and About…Discovery (Self & Otherwise)

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.