The World’s Cream On Homer’s Table….A Cycle

Mattijs and Mariah as they headed off into the mountains

Thursday, 22 September

My last post was about fly fishing yesterday, and I let go of the fact that I haven’t been able to land a Speckled Trout. I returned from the river in good spirits in despite having a good-sized trout on the fly only to have it snap the hook off and return to its life’s journey, and so instructing me to revert to mine. Standing at the agreed-upon spot for my ride back to Thethi, I watched as truck after truck went by to resupply the asphalt team laying a new road beyond me, down the valley. I was dropped off 4 hours earlier by Besmir, and we agreed that he would stop here to get me around 3 o’clock to take me back to Thethi. Thethi is the name of the actual settlement here in Theth National Park. To call it a town or village would be complete misnomers. There are 2 or 3 actual retaurants, and 1 grocery-type store. The rest of it is a crowd of bujtinas populating elbowing each other for guests. In a few years it will look like Aspen, or any other US mountain town. There is a rough gravel track, bearing little resemblance to a road yet, and only slight drainage when it rains.

While I was waiting for more than an hour, the road manager of the asphalt company approached me and in broken-English explained that no traffic would be coming through until much later. He asked if I was going to Thethi and I nodded, he asked if I wouldn’t mind riding up in one of the massive, four-axle dump trucks, and I shrugged and said yes. I offered him some money and he scowled, I apologized for the disrespect as this is how the Albanians are. They will help if they can, or they will find someone who will. The next truck would be mine. The breeze had increased to fluttering my coat and nearly pushing my hat off my head. I knew that it would be a long walk back to Bujtina Polia, at 12/13km (7/8miles), and it was mostly a grinding ascent. After hopping from rock to rock along the river, and scaling the steep banks, I was well shot physically.

Jimmy pulled up and I clambored up into the cab, with him taking first my fly rod, then my daypack. Again, I asked with no disrespect if I could offer him something for the ride… maybe beer/coffee money, but he refused. His English was very good and after introductions we began to talk about truck driving. I told him that I drove a Mack truck in and out of Chicago and the surrounding area for 33 years and he was in awe. I was in awe of his skill with our Mercedes behemoth. The road was sheer drop-off and barely wide enough for him to expertly navigate. We did the “Brother handshake” as he wished me well. I then began my walk from Thethi up to my bujtina, about a 4k (2.5miles). Looking up and around, I marvelled at the continiously-changing scenery, as the gusty weather was driving clouds in front of the sun and over the peaks, giving the feel of a time-lapse film as I stumbled up and down the rocky track.

The patio, the dogs, and our staff always welcome me as if I had lived here forever. I am always swaddled in their warm embraced, never feeling like a stranger, and offered something to eat or drink upon my return. As I came around the corner onto the patio, I met Geoff, a guide from the UK, and we began chatting. He was an affable man and we got on well as we discussed mountains, travel, people, and our past exploits. Geoff was co-leading a group that was well-peppered with folks from all professions and heritage. Later on when we were assembling in the dining room, I went to the little side table that I occupied most often. The staff and I call it “the little boy’s table”; it has become a running joke among us. The groups that come through here are, for the most part, very insular and exclusive. Every now and then, I will be invited to “the big boy’s table” and join whomever I had connected with earlier, or if there was more space due to smaller groups. The night before, I was invited to join Mattijs and Mariah, a grand couple from the Netherlands. It is not usual for me to be asked to join at the big tables, but every now and then, I am able to sit with “the cream of the world” as I have them. This was definitely the case with Mattijs and Mariah, and tonight with Geoff and his group.

Mattijs and Mariah were among the nicest couple of people I’ve met yet. They are from the Netherlands and really enjoying themselves here in the Balkans. Our conversations were spirited and open, with neither of us having to hold back. I will miss them. Meeting people like them really helps me to get through my odyssey. Later on, after talking to Geoff, he and his lady Ingrid plucked me from the “little boy’s table” and into their group. We pushed chairs down and I squeezed into the group. I was amazed at the life-stories of my table-mates. Geoff and Ingrid, among a couple others, have been leading these “meet-up” groups and hiking/trekking/walking through various parts of the world. I realized a bit of a common thread that runs through most of our lives here. We are on some sort of journey; to replenish, to seek, and to shake off the dust of our lives. The length and breadth of careers among us is varied and vast. Retirees and people actively still working, trying to reset their compasses as it were, and the opportunities to meet people you may not in everyday life. Mattjis spoke of many places near them to get out and enjoy the outdoors. I was surprised, as I am not that familiar with the Netherlands to know how much open space they have at their disposal. My group from the UK was the same in their touting of the innumerable sites to get out and enjoy a walk or more. As I sat and listened to some speak about their travels and travails, it was a modern Homer’s tale of broken-pledges, mis-directed hopes, and sirens and monsters.

The group from the UK. Geoff is on my left, Graham, my right, and the two Steves beyond him. In red is Reg, born and rasied in Baltimore, now living in the UK…they were a true joy to be with.

I also met Paul and Pip from the UK, and they were nothing short of endearing and sweet. They regaled me with stories of their travels all over the world. After doing Antarctica in 2023, they will have been on every continent on the planet. At our table, I was positioned between Ingrid and Steve, across from Geoff and Reg. Reg was born and rasied in Maryland, spent most of his life around the US as an exec, and retired to the UK. Reg is one of many US expats I have met here in Albania, and our reasons for living in Europe are nearly identical. As a solo traveler, it is an immense joy to be welcomed into a group, and to have intelligent conversation about anything and everything. Eleanor Roosevelt is commonly known to have said, “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; and small minds discuss other people”. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I have always tried to adhere to this principle. Here, in meeting the cream of the world, we rarely go any lower that the “events” portion of Mrs. Roosevelt’s adage. Being grateful for this experience never eludes me, and I give thanks in a constant manner, both inward and outward. After talking to the staff, they all agreed that the UK group (Geoff’s group), were one of the best groups to come through since June. I think it’s pretty high praise, considering the amount of people I have witnessed come through the door. I will see Geoff and Ingrid in the future. Geoff has actually swung me on SE Asia; A place I was certain to avoid because of the heat and sun. Thank you Geoff!

I have been reading Homer’s Odyssey, I think it is only fitting, and I have been through some of Odysseus’ trials. I am not sure if I can claim ownership of the Trojan horse, nor have I shoved a stake in the eye of the Cyclops, but I can fully grasp the loneliness, and the sporadic good fortune mixed with confronting people and events that test my resolve. I will omit my lost weekend with the Norwegian goddess a week removed from now. Let’s just say it involved a trip all the way down to Tirana, two pairs of socks, and a lost bank card… we will leave it there.

Monday 25, September

As of this moment, on Monday morning, I am in the dining hall watching a group load up to head off into a pouring rain. It has turned cooler, and fall will be fleeting as the rain we had dusted the remote peaks with snow. The rule is if it rains down here, it is snowing up there. I leave here a week from tomorrow, 4 October, and I will truly miss everyone here. The next post will entirely cover the staff, Pavlin and Vlora, and my inclusion in this place.

The South end of the gorge from the open floodplain, looking back North up the Shala River into Thethi.

In the end, it has been a wonder-filled trip here to Theth. From stepping onto the bus at Nivy in Bratislava, to Belgrade, the train to Bar Montenegro, and my transportation to this Shangra-la has been nothing short of an Odyssey that continues yet to Tirana next week. The people I have met have been , for the most part, long on kindness and warmth. I am a European now. I have reset my standards of living and desire more than the US could ever offer…better quality of food, less work, less pay, more “being present” in life, and the lives around you. I will post from Tirana, once I have settled into my apartment in Blok. Thank you for following me. Please take care of yourselves, and take car of each other.

From The Sea To The Mountains, With A Wrinkle In The Landscape….

Into the mountains, with one last look at the Adriatic Sea.

Friday, 8 September. This morning early, today’s rain moved in ahead of schedule…that’s life in the mountains. I will fish today, but I am wisely going to hold off until the lightning moves on. Common sense would dictate that standing in a lightning storm with a long stick studded with metal, is just not prudent. The fish will be there. I went out yesterday after getting settled in here in Theth. I was reminded very quickly of the difference between the trout in the US and their cousins here in Europe. The European trout are much more wily and they don’t attack the fly like they do in the mountains of the western United States. Yesterday the score was: Albanian trout 4/ Niel 0.

I would like to finish the rest of my journey, to the end point so far. Wednesday 6, September I left Bar Montenegro. I explained that I was going to drop the idea of the train and bus; the idea of traveling North to go South didn’t make good sense. Yes it was incredibly cheap, and yes I would see more of the countryside. Bar lies almost directly west of Shkoder, a one hour (+/-) drive, and I thought it would’ve been fun to drive it. I talked to Zuzana at the front desk about this prospect, and she quickly connected me to Dusan (Dushahn). He was concerned with “manual or automatic transmission” and the price was 60 euros. I thought that even though it was twice the cost of train/bus, it would be fun to drive, and stop and look at some sites that Elton ( had pointed out. Well, Dusan was at my hotel right on time, very nice fellow, and as we were looking over a very sporty little Peugeot, I asked him where I would drop the car in Shkoder. Dead stop. Apparently they don’t rent cars from country to country here. If so, it would be 7/800 euros. A day rental was 60 euros and a great bargain. We laughed at my miscommunication, and he was very kind about it.

Now with gear in hand, I trundled back into the hotel and saw Jazzmina, at the front desk. I had just checked out, and we had spoken. Her face looked troubled as I reappeared. I explain to her what had just happened, and she smiled as she reached for phone. We were talking about shared experiences earlier, as I had worked in hotels in my younger days. It was all about problem-solving. She spoke to Emil (eh-mil, or eh-mi), and she got excited as she hung up. “My friend Emil is going to Shkoder today, as luck would have it…does that sound good?” I couldn’t believe my luck. “He is asking 50 euros, and I told him no problem, because I knew you were going to pay Dusan 60 euros for the rental car”, her voice trailed off. I said, “ano”, and insisted that she take the 10 euro difference for her. After a back and forth, she relented. Very sweet, and very smart, the qualities that ring true for me. I thanked her profusely, and she came around from the desk to give me a kiss on both cheeks to wish me well

Before we knew it, Emi was walking in the door. His English was good, and we worked through with basic Slavic root words. Thank goodness that I have begun to grasp Slovak, it really helped. Emil was driving a sleek 5-series BMW. “Wow!…really?” was my reaction. He shrugged like it was no big deal. We loaded my bag into the trunk and he insisted that I sit in the front passenger seat. Emil asked if it would be ok if we stopped at his house to pick up his luggage since he was going to stay in Brajse (bry-shuh), just inside the Montenegrin border from Albania. I told him it was no problem, of course. To my great surprise he lived in Stari Bar (Old Bari). It is a very famous fortress town, and a trip that I missed with Marcel and Max the day prior. It was incredible! Very beautiful hillside fortress, overlooking the modern Bar down below and the Adraitc Sea. Of course it was his home town, so we stopped alot and talked to his friends, and yelled as we exchanged horn-toots with others in town. It was clear that we weren’t going to take the highway as we began to climb up into the coastal range. As we weaved in and out of mountain shadows, windows down and a perfectly dry 75F day with music blasting…we talked, pantomimed, and laughed our way through a laid-back and scenic drive to Shkoder.

At Brajse, the innkeeper insisted that we have a coffee and rest for a bit. He spoke English, German, French, and of course Albanian and Montenegrin. Azo was very nice, and upon learning that I decided to retire in Europe, announced that coffee and water (sparkling) was on him. Emi joked that it will show up on his hotel bill, and Azo smiled. There was never any hint of hurry, and when all had been consumed, we bid him farewell, Emi would return here later. We jumped into the Beemer and headed for the border. We smiled because there were no cars as well pulled up to the post, the guard smiled as Emi told him what I was doing, welcomed us to Albania, and in 20 minutes were winding through Shkoder. Emi found my hotel, “Petit Hotel Elita”, Pavo set me up, and I spent 64 euro for a suite. Emi wished me luck, handed me his card, as I pressed another 10 euro into his palm. He put up a valiant fight, but I won in the end. He drove off, honked once and disappeared down one of the narrow alleys.

After a short chat with Marija, my front desk head, I stumbled into my suite, and couldn’t believe my luck…again. I truly believe that some of the snags that I encountered along the way, were easier handled because I may have access to a bit more money than most travelers. It has helped to no end, and I am by no stretch a rich man, I have saved, and I am careful to not broadcast it. I cooled down in my suite for an hour as it was much warmer down in Shkoder (85F/30C). I actually watched tv for the first time since I arrived last December. Aside from going to a coffee house to watch football or Formula One, this was the first time that I pointedly turned on a television. I have one in my apartment and it has never been on. I spoke to Marija on my way out for a bite and she confirmed that I had a reservation for the minibus to Theth the next morning at 7am. Thanking her (bowing), I headed out onto the streets of Shkoder.

Shkoder sits on the shore of Lake Shkodra, the largest lake in Southern Europe. Lake Shodra is shared with Montenegro, and is split evenly by the two countries. Shkoder is a brawny, up-and-coming town in northern Albania, and besides being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Balkans, it is also considered to be the “Gateway to Theth National Park”. The architecture of Shkoder is dominated by both mosques and churches, it is very diverse, and the mood is very ebullient and light. I was looking for surf slippers to fly fish with, and despite the language, all the shopkeepers were very warm and accommodating. I didn’t find them, but they weren’t key. Lunch was a pizza and sparkling water, it set me back 7 euros ($7.10). Now superbly sated, I wandered back to Hotel Elita a sweating mess, addressed Marija, and laid out in the air conditioning watching a football match. I slept hard for three hours. My trip with Emi was a fun-filled 2 1/2 side trip to Shkoder arriving at 1230/1 o’clock. I awakened at 5pm, and took a cool shower, feeling refreshed, and headed out to take a walk in the breezy warmth of early evening. If midday seemed busy to me; now there were people everwhere. Families with kids, young women dressed well on their way to a party or disco perhaps, and always the older folks milling about the innumerable cafes. The cafes, with the rich smell of coffee and tobacco wafting and then lingering in the soft warm evening breeze, what a heady mixture for this midwestern boy. There is something here in the Balkans, an intangible, that has a sense of the exotic for me. “Two worlds colliding”, if you will. This land has an incredibly “ancient” feel about it. I know..I know, I have stated this many times, but for someone who revels in a connection with the past, to be standing in it, eating it, consuming it , and in turned being consumed by it… is a dream come true.

Of course I didn’t sleep on Wednesday night, in anticipation for my drive to Theth early. Thursday morning I was up early at 5am in order to meditate and chant prior to the start of my day. I re-packed the evening prior and was set to go at 6:45am. I said goodbye to Marija, and promised to stay again at Petit Hotel Elita, and loaded into a car to be taken to the bus. My driver for the minibus was Zimi, and this wasn’t what I expected. I thought I would be in one of the little 4×4 Mercedes buses from the ’90’s…yeah but they are so beat up they look like they are from the ’60’s or ’70’s. Zimi’s minibus was a newer model, and in great shape. We drove out of Shkoder and swung northwest around the lake to Koplik, and then veer to the northeast into the Albanian Alps. As we ascended, I could look down and saw Shkoder, lying alongside the glistening lake, and ringed with a lofty necklace of mountains. I could also see the Buna river meeting the Drina and turning 90 degrees into Lake Shkodra.

As I walked down the driveway to Bujtina Polia, Pavo appeared out of a mass of Germans, and smiled ear-to-ear. We bowed to each other and I gave him a big hug. Bujtina in Albanian means “inn or hotel”, or more simply put “home”. I am home now until at least the end of September, and maybe a week or so into October, that is unless Pavo and Vlora get tired of me and I get booted. Thursday was spent decompressing, and about 1:30pm I got on the water. I found a nice pool among sharp falls in a steep drop. First cast, strike but I wasn’t quick enough and missed him. I stayed with the pool and lost another two strikes. Further down the river became less steep, but the pools were non-existent. I went with a smaller fly, and still was not quick enough to bring the strike home. Done in by the relentless Balkan sun after almost 3 hours, I hiked back to Bujtina Polia, retired to the patio with an Italian lemon soda, and the shade. The bujtina was inundated with a massive group of Germans, and dinner last night was their last night and a loud, alcohol-fueled din filled the hall. Our meals here are beyond imagination. Vlora and the staff put on a full spread for both breakfast and dinner. I am quite used to these breakfasts with fresh cows milf and granola, tomatoes, slaw, eggs (hard-boiled & scrambled), breads, and coffee. Breakfast is included with stay. There is always a side table overflowing with meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables, and yogurt spreads; this is the “pack-a-lunch” table.

From my window…the river is just over the blue car

…. and now we are all caught up. I have had a great time getting here, and the journey continues. Although I am nestled here in Theth, everday seems still a passage to somewhere else. I have yet to take a hike down to “Theth proper”. It’s a nice 1.5km (+/- 1 mile). It is 1:30 here (6:30am/Chicago) and the clouds are becoming lighter. I am going to venture further down the river. I had not intended to write a post of this length, and so soon after my last post, but I will busier from here on in. There have been several requests for more pictures and once I learn how to get the photos into my WordPress cache, I will populate the posts with a few more than usual. For once in my life, I am writing for you the reader, please feel free to let me know what you like. Since I began writing in my teens, I have always considered writing a “personal exercise in art”, I was not interested in being read, and worked at crafty an expression of my own art. I am now in some sort of umbral stage, where I am writing from inside the shadow of my own sun. I would like to be read. It should be known also, that the following posts will be geared a bit more to the fly fishing world and a bit less on my travels and travails. My goal is to let the world know about the fly fishing here in Theth, and Valbonne should I get there on this trip. The waters are wild, and the conditions are a bit more difficult than anything I’ve fished in the past. I will be plugging Bujtina Polia shamelessly, and my many connections along the way.

I am grateful for those of you who are taking the time to follow me. I am cautious to keep my posts short as I know most you don’t have a great deal of time. There will always be exceptions to that rule. It is time to get on the water and figure out how to land an Albanian Trout. I wish you all well, and thank you for staying with me. Please take good care of yourselves, and take care of each other.

Last Thoughts On A Fortnight Past

It is feels very comforting to be back home now in Bratislava. I arrived last Monday 6, June in the early evening. To say that I had to “dig deep” to get here would be putting it mildly. My last 4 days In Tirana were spent in sickness. In the early morning of Friday, 3 June, I woke with an intense pain on my right side. From my shoulder to my hip, whenever I would move. It worsened if I had to cough, or get a quick breath. I had fallen twice in the mountains, both times on my right hip. I thought that by this time I had “walked it out” and wasn’t feeling any discomfort. It had been nearly 3 weeks to this point and I was feeling only mild discomfort. From nowhere this had spread up to my rib cage and continued to my shoulder. I could not figure out what was causing this.

An attempt to calm myself and breathe easy brought more pain. I began walking around my flat and didn’t feel anything in my hip. Pressing and prodding it, looking in vain for a site that was affecting this disturbance. In my mind I was running down a checklist; water?..yes; I had been eating, I had been moving – daily walks af good length. I sat and tried to relax everything, I began to meditate slowly – away from the distrubance inside of me – into a place that I found comfort. At once I hiccuped, and the pain shot through me like an eletrical current. Okay…”calm down”, I told myself. This went on most of Friday morning and into the day. I wasn’t hungry and couldn’t force myself to eat, only water.

On Saturday morning, the pain was more than I could bear. I phoned my host Dafne and explained what was happening. She was a complete angel;she was very quick to act. In a matter of minutes I was dressed and down on the street where a taxi was waiting to take me to the hospital. I was preparing myself for a 2 hour wait in the ER, paperwork…all the hoops like back in the US. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There was hardly anyone there at 8am. The young doctor met me at the door and immediately began grilling me about my condition. Into an exam room and all the precursory signs showed I was normal. She drew blood, and then ordered an x-ray. Within minutes I was on the table, and it was over. She met me in the exam room, and explained that she was truly baffled. There were no signs of trauma, except my right hip (on which I fallen) showing a bruise that was nearly healed. I denied pain meds, as I was in recovery and she understood. She gave me her personal phone number and asked me to call her on Sunday (the next day) and let her know how/what I was feeling.

She gave me a hug and sent me to checkout and see the nurse for payment (it was the same person who did the x-ray!). The total bill came out to almost $300. I nearly fell off my chair. I paid it upfront with a card, a cost that am getting back from insurance…no questions. There was a taxi waiting to return to my flat, and once there I sat and fell asleep sitting up. I awoke late in the afternoon feeling refreshed and with very little pain…I was just tired. At this point I was wondering what my trip home was going to be like. Saturday evening laid me down to sleep unquietly until mid-morning Sunday, without pain. Feeling better, I took a warm shower and began to pack for my flight on Monday. I called the young doctor and let her know that I was feeling better, with no appreciable pain, and only that I was still not hungry. She suggested something light, expressed her thanks and wished me well.

I sat on Monday morning and relected on my time in Albania. The first 2 months on the Adriatic were fun, but not my best time. My trip really began when I became engaged in the mountains with Alfred in Valbonne, and then with Pavlin and his family in Theth. I met more people of interest in those places than my whole time in Durres, on the Adriatic. There were some highlights there too, but everything turned dramatically after contacting Elton and Alda at Albanian Trip. For me to exist in the mountains again was refreshing. I am excited at the prospect of getting fly fishing onto those two great Albanian rivers, and to awe people with the breathtaking landscape. I am eternally grateful to Alfred, Pavlin, and most importantly Elton. I was gifted with a few moments of his time and wisdom. He, and Pavlin, and Alfred have becomes Brothers to me in this spirit of adventure and forging ahead with new ideas. I will grasp those notions firmly. The history alone is stunning, and to stand in some of the places were it occured was humbling. I shall not soon forget my experience there.

My checkout time on Monday at the flat was 10am. I was up early, and ready to leave by 9. I checked into my 3pm flight, and everything was go. My strength was beginning to flag by this point, but I still had no interest in putting anything in my body when it didn’t want it. I’ve been there many times before and was not prepared any “accidents”…in either direction. I heaved my over-stuffed duffel onto my body, which by now was considerably lighter as I had lost some weight over the last 3-4 days. Luckily for me there was a cab stand just a few meters from my flat entrance and I staggered up to get to the airport. It was a quick ride to the airport, inexpensive and my driver was a nice middle-aged Albanian that liked to listen, as well as talk. He gave me a hug and wished me a safe trip. I reeled into the airport and it was just the opposite of what I was hoping for on a Monday. To call it a beehive would be a misnomer. I had 3 hours before boarding, and was lucky enough to find a New York Times to do a puzzle to pass some of the time.

I heard a pair of US tourists before I saw them. You know the type: loud, complaining, and acting as if they were the only ones there. Mixed into this were a few boys playing football in the waiting hall, some on 3-wheeled scooters zipping around, and your usual crying babies…we had it all. Funny though, with all of this going on, in a stream of people moving, and the heady miasmic atmosphere…the security guards (not TSA – these guys and gals had military everything on them) were concerned with the crying kids. They would walk by and kindly ask the parents to the “quiet room” until their flights were called. Bravo!, I thought it was brilliant. We loaded more than 45 minutes late, and then had to sit and wait as there was “a problem with the airspace” over Vienna Airport. I didn’t care, at this point I was starting to flag and decided to take a nap. Before I can recall we were off and after what seemed like a very short flight were landing in Vienna. I went right through passport control, claimed my bag and waddled out to catch the bus to Bratislava. I would take it to Nivy, our new shopping mall built over the bus station. It is hardly a 4 block walk to my apartment on Grosslingova. I had already planned on a taxi. I was done dragging this duffel any further. I was about text my landlord Vlad that I was at Vienna. He beat me to it and offered to pick me up at NIvy. I took it. By 6:30pm I was in my apartment and talking to Vlad. I was a few yards away from tears of joys to be back in my space finally.

It took a few days to recover, I’m eating again, and have gotten out to walk. I feel no pain, and I am leaving that mystery lie in Albania. Mysteries….there are so many in this life. I had checked in to let those that I know and love that I was home and safe. I was informed that my dearest niece and her husband had lost their child early in pregnancy. Maybe the trial of traveling in a weakened state, maybe having been worn down mentally after living by myself, or perhaps simple grief had me crying for quite some time over the last days. All the memories of the birth our daughter Ana flooded down the canyons of my past. It was a girl, and they were going to name her Charlotte Rae. I connected with her during my meditation yesterday as she went skyward. I am beginning to tear up now as I push this recollection to memory. Our time here is incredibly fleeting. Our lives and the time we are given with those we love is truly “given” and can be taken from us at any moment witout any explanation. The past fortnight has re-affirmed this notion, as I too felt like I was “close to the edge” at times during my ill health. If I have learned anythingfrom my voyage over the last 3 months, I have garnered the truth that I am a social being with an obligation to be connected to those that I meet…a social animal, if you will. Being entirely alone is perhaps not what I’m built for. I derive profound spiritual strength from human interaction. I know also (and have known), that we are spiritual beings having a human experience… not the other way around. (Thank You Sean O’Keefe) Once again, I thank all, or any, who are following me on this trip, and I wish you well. Please take care of yourselves, and take care of each. I will post again soon hopefully with news of my visa search.

Summertime. Football, & Hooligans

Everyday after breakfast I walk up to Skanderbeg Square to the bookstore Adrion It’s about a 4.4km (2 3/4mi) roundtrip and I look forward to it. I try to get up there to get a New York Times and walk back to my flat before the hottest part of the day. Lately, it seems like summer has set in here in Tirane. This week past has been in the upper 80’s/low 90’s. On Wednesday there was a presentation of the trophy for the first-ever UEFA Europa Conference League. The teams were AC Roma and Feyenoord (The Netherlands). I knew it was a big deal because many of the streets were blocked off and the entire area where I ived, called Blloku, was a “pedestrian zone.

There were far more people than I am used to seeing. I heard Italian and Dutch spoken at Tony’s as I ate breakfast in the usually quiet space. My waiters were hopping, and stopped to caution me to make sure that I was back at home here in Blloku before 4/5 that evening. After I left and began my walk up to Skanderbeg, I understood perfectly. At each major intersection that wasn’t blocked by fencing were at least a dozen policemen and women. It was actually nice to walk down and cross the tree-lined streets without traffic. Traffic here is a major problem, especially in tighter neighborhoods like Blloku (or Bllok…locally). I’ve mentioned that it’s like Lincoln Park without the threat of the inner city problems… I still stand by that statement. The square was full of both fans and Albanians celebrating the opportunity to see the trophy. A carnival had sprouted, and a huge screen as well. Air Albania stadium has a seating capacity of nearly 23,000, and it was reported that there were more than 100,000 fans for both sides in Tirane.

The Tuesday night prior, I read that Albania “deported” 48 Italians and 12 Dutch fans for being hooligans. I looked toward the stadium after I crossed the bridge over the Lana River at Bajram Curri Blvd, and noticed glass and debris still on the street. I’m glad I was invited to watch the game at Tony’s. My walk home is less than 5 minutes from there. As I walked through the shade, I marveled at how intense the heat from the sun became, even through the trees! My usual m.o. is to get my walk to Adrion in and maybe stop at the supermarket before 11;30, and be in my flat from Noon until 5/5:30. After that I’ll take a walk through the park (in the shade still) and end up at Tony’s for dinner around 6:30/7. Wednesday night was still a bit warm at 7 but I brought a long sleeve shirt because it cools off quickly ( nearly 70F) always with a nice breeze.

Last week I looked into tickets for this match, wanting to see real football from the stands. It would be my first since watching Ruzomberok vs. Zilina on my 2017 trip to Slovakia. I nearly fell off my chair at the price. I decided it would be best to watch it from a coffee house, with a macchiato in one of my haunts. I met “Tony” from Tony’s cafe last Sunday and he invited me to watch it there. It’s my “go-to”. The waiters there are great and I’m totally at home. Tony as it turns out, is actually Albanian, but has a sister in Idaho. He loved the bar and grill setting so much that he gave up his job running a large hotel kitchen and opened up a few years ago. I ate a late dinner and settled in with my New York Times until kick-off. I should point out that I was skeptical when it showed up on my phone for close eateries. I had checked into my flat and was hungry, it was the closest restaurant. When I walked in, there were old New York Times from 2019, and I quickly scoured them to see if the puzzles were done. After nearly three months of doing the puzzle online, I was ecstatic to actually write on paper.

At 9 o’clock, the game started, and I had a perfect seat on the patio. Owing to the fact that my dear friends the D’Amatos were Italian, I checked to make sure it was alright to root for a team that wasn’t their “house favorite”. I was worried from the beginning as the Dutch were always in the Roma pitch. A 1-0 start to the first half had me jump at the goal and hope that Feyenoord could be held at bay. Late in the second half I was seriously flagging and prayed that AC Roma would keep the Dutch away. I trundled back to my flat, with the roar of the stadium, less than a half-mile away, floating through the starry sky above me.

I awoke yesterday (Thursday 25 May) to check the score before my meditation and chant. I was happy to see that AC Roma held. It was already warm when I began my walk to Adrion, so being a “sissy” to the heat, I turned back and walked under the trees back to flat. Dripping wet already, I jumped into a cool shower and sat down to read for the afternoon. It was a smart move as it was 34C (94F). Today I thought about my coffee meet-up with Calvin. We met at Rilindja in Valbonne, as he was staying there as well. Calvin – a Canadian, is here as an educator. A more gregarious fellow would be hard to meet. He is well seasoned here in Albania, and offered some tips about living here full time. Our 2 hours at Tony’s went by quick, but we agreed to meet again as his schedule allows.

In the end, this afternoon I am writing from a cool space. It’s 5:30, for me, and I most likely will be going out for a late dinner. The temperature should be a “cooler” 26/27C (78/80F). Looking through the news from the US (I shun the news online), I see that there was another school shooting, and I’m not surprised. I don’t know when people in the US will stop talking and start listening. Everybody has an opinion, from poilitcians to movie stars, and people famous for doing nothing but staying in the news cycle. Most, if not all, offer no creative solutions and more of the same is going to be the order of the day. The answer lies between the Left and the Right. It’s a complete shame. More kids are dying from guns than disease. I still think the US has more potential than most nations in the world, but I also believe that potential has eroded sharply. Nobody wants to listen. I hope and pray that this violence is not visited upon my family and friends. There are moments that I feel like a coward for not staying. There also moments when I am glad that I made this move. There is no replacement for the safety I feel here in Europe. I have some decisions to make when I return “home” to Bratislava; returning to the US isn’t on the board.

I want to thank you all for following me. I wish for your safety, and hope you are well. Please take care of yourselves.

The Road Through Trees And Rocks

My time in Tirana in the last near week has been an education in itself. It doesn’t mater what the day of the week you are here, this city is on the move; people are what makes this place so electric to me. The young seem to power it now. Monday nights are just like Saturday nights. The cafes are packed with people drinking coffee, with some smoking – some not. During the day older men sit in the shade of a tree or awning talking through the hottest part of the day, and it’s countrywide. Everywhere I went I would see it.

If I had briefly touched on Skanderbeg, I would like to just give a short look at him here. Gjergj Kastrioti, also known to the world as Skanderbeg, was born in what is now the central portion of Albania. I pored over maps from the period of his birth and many were difficult to divine as being an accurate. Many early polities and most modern countries claim him as one of their sons. Even cultures as far away as Serbia and Greece have tried to co-opt Skanderbeg into their historical narrative. One thing is clear, myths and legends aside, Skanderbeg was the real thing. Just as the US has George Washington in myth, and legend, so does Albania. Skanderbeg most certainly makes Washington look like a chicken farmer with a sword.

In those early days of conquests and empire building renewed. The Ottoman Turks were THE force to be reckoned with. The Church in Rome was feeling the threat from the Ottomans, not only in the realm of religion, but politcally as well. The two (religion and politics) were deeply intertwined during this period. He was born to a father who was a vassal to the leader of the Ottomans. Albania at this time was a shifting sand of two rivers; one being the powerful Republic of Venice, and the other was Ottoman Turkey. At birth, Skanderbeg was given to the Sultan to make sure of his father’s allegiance to the Turks. In his late 30’s, during battle he deserted and went back the Albanians. He would lead a resistance to the Ottomans that would make Robert E. Lee seem like a mere checker player. For many years he would fight against overwhelming numbers, and thus held back the Turks from completely covering the rest Europe in blood.

It has taken me about 4 hours of reading to feebly attempt to winnow truth from fiction, and with Albania’s national hero it is an impossible task. His exploits are real, as countless historians can attest; where the myth-making comes from…well that’s history! Skanderbeg died in Kruja (Krew-ya), not far from Tirana. He was 63 years old and passed of old age. I would encourage anyone to Wiki this man and take a cursory look at what he did, and why Europe owes him a debt of honor. Indeed there are statues in Belgium and Italy. There are operas and poetry to pay homage; Lord Byron wrote one to honor Skanderbeg. The Turks would eventually extend to Hungary, across the east to Ukraine and surround the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov. The siege of Vienna in the fall of 1683 would call an end to Ottoman expansion into Central Europe. The players are too numerous to count, and the politics too complex for an overview of this nature. The Balkans would remain in the hands of the Ottomans for another 230 years, bringing their grand total in the Balkans to 500 years…give or take.

My point here, dear reader, is that this ancient place is finally free of the rulers with their own agendas. From the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, to the Ottomans, and guys like Enver Hoxha, whose despotic rule has abated; there is a strong sense of culture and hope here in Albania. I have seen it and heard it from the Albanians that I have been graced to have met…and it will carry on for another two weeks. I really like this city in the south of Europe. We will see what the “grand plan” has for me. Add this wonderful country to your travel plans. It is important to remember that I have only seen a rather small portion of what Albania has to offer. There is the south, Berat and the crystal waters of of the Vlora area. I still have much to see to properly asses this country overall.

So, I continue my road through the trees and stones. I have to give a mention to the shops and cafes that I frequent. I bought a new pair of eyeglasses at Lux Optika on Rruga Ibrahim Rugova. I was warmly greeted and taken care of like I was the only customer that mattered…I can’t wait to put them on and not squint in the sunlight. The doctor who gave me my eye exam nearly scolded me for waiting so long to get new glasses. The pair that I have are from 2017/18…can’t remember. The transition is no longer darkening, and I am pushing my eys through the bottom of my progressives. I was just passing by, and curious to see what they would cost. The glasses will cost me less than 1/3 of what I would payed (with my union insurance, I shouldered 10% of the cost…$900) in the US. Since my watch band fell apart, the young man at Lux Optika directed me a few doors down to Tuffina. The wonderful young lady there jumped right on it, attached the new band, and it was very, very inexpensive. Conversely, all of the watch shops prior wanted to sell me a new watch. Also, I have settled into a coffee shop rotation. I have a sumptious breakfast and dinner at Tony’s right around the corner from me. I met “Tony” yesterday and he is the best! I have “my guys”; Lawrence, Donald, Ulie (Yuly), and Ares are simply the at the pinnacle of service. They are very good about directions to a place I am looking for, and never hesitate to be tableside when needed. In the end, during my walk after dinner, I end up at Dua. There are always football matches, and yesterday I went to watch The Spanish Grand Prix there. It was a disastrous day for Ferrari, but I enjoyed the coffee and comradery.

I have offered only a thumbnail sketch of my time here in Tirana. I will post again soon. With more photos, and more events, it will be easier for you to grasp why I like it here so much. Thank you for following me, and I wish you well.

Theth In A Fleeting Breath

As Pavlin and I pulled through the gate, we were met by Pavlin and Vlora’s daughter Era. She was so happy to see her Daddy she jumped on the step hanging on the side of the Cruiser. Bujtina Polia is a mountain hotel, stout and soaring. I was struck firstly by the activity around it. There are 4 dogs attached to it and they always present. After meeting Pavlin’s wonderful wife Vlora, I dragged my gear to my room. I tidied myself and went down to the main room. It serves as a the main dining hall, a meeting place, and the coffee outlet. Pavlin and I sat at a table on the patio and talked about the fishing, the mountains, and the tourism to this valley.

The mountains climb up from the valley floor on three sides. This valley has a defined “U-shape”, unlike Valbonne which were complete walls going up on both sides. Theth valley has a more defined glacial-finished profile. Our conversations were so varied and touched on some many things…mountain life. history, sustainability, gear, the change of the seasons, and fly fishing. I was anxious to see what the river offered in terms of access, and flow. In spite of everything that Pavlin was shouldered with he found the time to give me the attention that I needed. I am forever grateful to him. Just like Alfred at Riindra, Pavlin was very attentive to what his guests needed. There are very few men like this. The children would come and go as we talked, and Pavlin didn’t even miss one beat; he would answer their questions, and see to their needs – returning to our conversations as if we were not put out.

Vlora was no different, as her patience seemed a bottomless well. The children, Era – the oldest and a sweet near- preteen, followed by Tom, and the youngest Arian; were a delight. Also, as we talked, people stopped by to visit, it was a busy hub of action. We had a nice supper and I retired early. Saturday, 14th/May was my only full day. We had great breakfast and headed out to some of Pavlin’s best spots to fish. It is important to remember that the Theth River was no different than the Valbonne. Wherever you are in the village, you can hear the sound of the tempestuous waters rolling down the valley. I slept with my window open to fall asleep and to arise to the rhythmic count of the waters; not a 4/4 beat – more like some ancient Gheg folk ballad.

Saturday was an education in just-plain-fishing for me. Pavlin took me down a rocky track above the river, and as we descended to the valley floor we could see areas where the rush had slowed. We parked across a river channel from an inn and restaurant hidden entirely from everything. Here the Theth was fed by water emanating from a single source in a grotto-like gorge.

From this gorge/grotto the crystal clear water washed down to the Theth. There were two footbridges that spanned the channel to the hidden inn and cafe. Pavlin set a course down the banks and I tripped and skidded behind him, still sore from my mishap in Valbonne. It didn’t take long to find pools and low-rapid flats.

I noticed what looked like Mayflies, so I switched to a ragged Adams Wulff that I had in the only flybox I brought along. I found a nice poolwith some aerating riffle sending water into it. I kept putting on the edge to drift into swirling pool. I wasn’t rewarded with a flash, or any movement to make out. Pavlin was using a casting setup, much like Alfred earlier in the week. I retied a Chubby Chernobyl terrestial to see if I could get anything to come up. Both flies were the smallest in my box, #14/16 hooks…small. The harder I worked the more I realized the merciless Balkan sun was cooking my head. I decided to have a sit in the shade and watch Pavlin, and to eyeball the other pools to see if there was anything moving.

I marveled at the scenery, the intense color color of the sky… a dome of uncut lapis lazuli above me. In the shade the breeze cooled me. After quite some time of changing location, my hip pushed me to relent my search. Pavlin and I headed back to see his friends at the cafe near the grotto. In all honesty, I couldn’t figure how people walked on this carpet of rocks and talus, and as I bucked and skidded behind Pavlin, I tried to imagine a conquering army moving up this valley. Sheer madness.

We sat with Pavlin’s friends for a bit, cooled off, and headed back to Bujtina Polia. Still discussing how to bring fishermen in from the outside without turning this valley into “Disneyworld-with-rocks” words, not his. I have been to a few rivers in our Western US where it looks like a hallway of grade-schoolers between classes. Too many people in one place with intentions that are opposite to what this endeavor is meant to be. To the uninitiated, fly fishing seems like a chemistry class with the casting, and entomology involved. That might be a half-truth; what is the most important is the connectedness with your surroundings, the water, and of course – the fish. Trout can be the wiliest fish to cast for, and require you to be a bit “plugged-in”. The wilder the river, the least a chance to have a fish that is going to be a pushover. I believe that would be true here in Theth (and Valbon as well)

Later on Saturday the weather changed drastically, as it often does in the mountains. Rain came down in buckets, as we retreated from the bench outside of the bujtina to the main hall, Pavlin and I weren’t sure we would get one last shot as we had hoped. When fishing it is sometimes better to fish in the rain – most species become more active. The rain slowed down enough after a few hours for us to go out and try our luck. Again I was given a few polite nibbles. Pavlin was gifted with a beautiful Brook trout. I had to chuckle as we leap-frogged around each other, and he with a fish tail sticking out of his jacket pocket. We headed back to Bujtina Polia to help Vlora and crew set up for a large dinner crowd. Bouncing along in the Cruiser with the fish tail hopping nad bopping as it stuck out of his jacket…a memory that I will not give up anytime soon.

I sat with Kristina for dinner. She was lovely young lady from Hamburg, Germany travelling by herself. She reminded me of my own daughter in many ways. We had a great talk as we ate our way through a very generous dinner. I bid her a good night after coffee and dessert. I was completely done at that point, and looking over at Pavlin still serving the big group of Italians (I think), he made everything look effortless. Oh to be a younger man!

Kristina and I were seated together for breakfast, as the group took up all of the other tables, and why not? Our conversation was spirited and sunny like the morning we looked out at. We bid each other a safe trip after breakfast, replete with kisses on both cheeks,,,yeah, I’m so continental now! I headed to my room to finish packing as Pavlin and I would leave for Tirana as soon as we could. Our drive would take some time to Tirana. I felt honored and grateful that Pavlin would take a day away from his duties to drive me.

Back up and over the mountains we went, winding our way down and out of Theth to Shkoder and into the flatlands to Tirana. As we neared the capital the traffic increased in volume. In the 3 1/2 – 4 hour drive we spoke of many things, and I felt some inner calling to get in the mix here and do what I could to keep the Albanian Alps wild by introducing the world to them. Our conversation always returned to the same point; how to bring the world in on our terms. There are no easy answers, and to be involved in the growth here would be an opportunity I’d invite at this stage in my life. I have the utmost respect for Alfred and Pavlin fir doing what they do.

Pavlin drove me right to my hotel, and made sure I was all set; and the hardest part of ny trip arrived. I was in near tears at departing, we became “brothers-in-soul”…at least I felt that way, I won’t speak for Pavlin. I owe Elton, Alda, and Vilma my wieght in gold for arranging my trip. Albanian Trip is THE tour operator here in Albania, as far as I am concerned. I had a day to let the week behind me bounce around in my head as I would debrief Elton, and in turn, be debriefed. I will post again right away to bring you all up to speed on my past week here in Tirana. All I can say is that this town is electric.

I will, in turn, touch on the last few remaining ideas about fly fishing in Albania. I appreciate any and all of you who are following me on this odyssey…yes there have been many changes in fortune so far. I have many tough decisions to make upon my return to Bratislava. Until that time, I’m going to wring every last drop from this cloth wrapped around me here in Albania. Please take care of ourselves, and take care of each other. I will post again very soon. Thank you…many times over.

Corrections & Connections

Dear reader, in my last blog I made two statements that need to be emended. Number One: Alfred started Rlindja in 2004 (not 2012) Number Two: The name is RILINDJA (as you can see from the above photo). My Thanks to Alfred for pointing these errors out to me.

I am a bit later than planned to post this. Since Alfred dropped me off at Fierze to take the ferry down to Lake Koman, the whole tenor of my trip took on a much different feel. Alfred and I did our best to find pools and places that the trout might sit out the rushing mountain torrent. As I might have mentioned previously, we knew at the onset that I was still early for any productive fly fishing. There were portions of the lower Valbon that ran gray-white with silt and sediment. Alfred and I agreed and he was undaunted in finding productive water. Alfred has a very easy manner about him, laughs easily, and doesn’t seem to get upset about the little speed bumps in life. I am not saying this because he will be reading this, I am writing what I have experienced. We traveled to and from Rilindja, there was always a history lesson. There were questions from me to Alfred and he answered every single one. The subjects varied as we talked, and he was always patient as we would swing through culture and politics, family and religion, and somehow finishing with the river valley and existence in those mountains.

The section we spent a good deal of time in was called Dragobi, and this was the home of Alfred’s family going back many years. I must discuss Bajram Curri. Here in the mountainous north of Albania, just a short leap from Kosovo, is land that has been won and lost for the entirety of human history. You name them and they have tried to hold this place in conquest. The Illyrians were conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century bce, and that held until the 4th century when the forerunners of Albanians had become dance partners of the Byzantine Empire. Long before this time, at the beginning of the Bronze Age (2000bce), the Illyrians dwelt in this stone fortress provided by the Dinaric Alps. They were aided and protected further by many factors that worked in their favor…complex social and cultural practices. This peninsula has always been a bridgehead for conquering nations. After centuries of a revolving door of invasions (Visigoths, Huns, Bulgars, and Slavs), the Ottoman Turks found the combination to unlocking the gate and ruled the Albanians from the 15th century until the late 19th.

Bajram Curri (By-rahm Tsurry) was born in what is now Kosovo (16 January, 1862). He would become a hero for standing up for the Albanians against the Ottomans. He was prominent in gaining independence for the Albanians and in some circles holds the same status as Skanderberg. Alfred pointed out the area above us while we walked along the river looking for a suitable place to fish. Curri had by early 1925 been defeated in revolution and forced to hide in a cave in Dragobi. He was killed by his own friends so their lives would be spared by Zogists (Albanian nationalists). I stood there for a few minutes and marveled at how impossible it would be find someone in this valley of sheer rock torsos and girdles of trees along its waist above the rushing Valbonne i Lumi.

Alfred’s nephew Reuben is the waiter/houseman/gap-filler for Rilindja, and he made a great cup of macciato for me. Reuben did many things and he did them well. He certainly deserves a mention and I am thankful to have crossed his path. He is an affable and sweet soul that I hope I get to see on my next visit. Our meals were nothing short of perfect. Breakfast was my favorite meal of the day. As you can see there was never a shortage of food for a good start. It seemed like I started to lose some of that weight I gained from all the seafood risottos and pizzas I ate on the beach. The photo above was my last breakfast at Rilindja and so my next blog will cover Friday 13 May through to today.

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.