Albania and Beyond

Hello friends and family!

When we last left off we were heading out of Greece and making our way to Albania.  To be honest we didn't know much about Albania but we needed to work our way up the coast to meet our friends, Mike and Lynn in Dubrovnik so we were off!  We looked at the map and chose to cross over the Southern border into Saranda on the Adriatic coast.  Another bonus is that there is the ancient city of Butrint within striking distance.  This was attractive to us because we wanted to get away from the usual tourist path and see something a little less known.  After a little bit of confusion we were finally on the right bus and settled in for our 18-hour bus ride. 



At 3:00 am we had to get off of the bus to show our passports and cross the border.  We were the only foreigners on the bus and we were the last to cross over.  As we looked up, the bus was pulling away.  Leanne panicked and started sprinting to catch up with the bus.  Fortuantely, it made a short stop at the duty-free shop up the road.  We climbed on board and Josh yelled at the bus driver "Don't leave us when we cross in Albania!"  He had no idea what Josh was saying but he knew Josh was furious.  When we crossed in Albania they actually made sure everyone was on board before taking off.  Crisis diverted!

When we got off the bus we had a "What have we gotten ourselves into" moment.  It was 7:00 in the morning and we were in a city that Josh thought looked like the Soviet block.  Wow, we'll never forget the feeling of rolling our bags through dirt roads filled with dilapidated buildings covered with graffiti and trash thrown down the side of the hills.  Oh boy, here we go again.  We found our place and found out it was actually 6:00 AM.  Huh, we went back an hour?  Ok...

Luckily for us we got in so early that the owner and a couple of employees were still up drinking from the night before.  It's that kind of place?  Well maybe it's not so bad here.  The owner was very cool and let us check in when we arrived.  You have no idea how grateful we were.  Especially after a bus ride all night long.  After resting up we hit the, errr, town.  The beach was very strange with concrete blocks and old tankers sitting in the bay.  How is this a resort town?  After checking things out one thing became very clear.  NOBODY spoke English but they were so nice.  Another thing was that everything was incredibly cheap.  Things were definitely looking up.  Nice people and cheap?  We like it!


The nights turned into some weird 80's carnival with Christmas lights and half of the rides actually worked.  One bonus was that the bumper cars worked and they cost next to nothing.  We spent quite a while at this place.


Oh yeah, we forgot to mention that we were the only ones riding the bumper so it was pretty much us chasing each other around while unusual Eastern European electronic music played.


The real purpose of our trip to Saranda was to check out the ancient city of Butrint.  It is an ancient Greek and later, Roman, city dating back to the 10th century BC.  Yeah, pretty old.




A little time out of some turtles


The highlight for us was a beautifully preserved mosaic in the old church.  This was the best mosaic we have seen on our travels so far.  We've seen more mosaics than we like to admit.  Josh has kind of gotten into mosaics since we started traveling.  That's not a typo.



How short were they back then?


After visiting Butrint for the day we took time out to watch some fisherman collecting mussels.  These guys put a lot of work into catching these things.


Not a bad haul though.


In Saranda, everything was up for grabs.  You could "shitet" or "shiten" to your heart's desire.  We are not being crude. "Shitet" means for sale and "shiten" means for lease.  Most of the buildings and cars displayed signs. The next time you try to sell your car put a sign that says "shitet" in the window and see how you do!



We mentioned that things were cheap and that even applies to good beer.  Well, we are not sure Lowenbrau is classified as a "good beer" but it tasted good to us.


We wanted to check out the capital so our next stop was Tirana.  Yep, it's a city and we continued to feel the former Soviet block feel.


We were only supposed to stay in Tirana for two days but we decided to extend our stay an additional day.  There really wasn't much to do but the people were so incredibly nice and everything was so cheap that we couldn't leave.  We were getting sucked in by the generosity of the locals and enjoyed eating on the street with them. We even splurged and went to see World War Z in 3D.  It only cost $7 to see a 3D movie and that wasn't for a matinee movie showing.

We happened to be there during their presidential election.  At first we were a bit apprehensive because people were driving around the streets, hanging out of their windows, frantically waving large flags, chanting and honking their horns. This continued for two days.  It was all in good spirit and peaceful which was a relief for us after being in Turkey during the not so peaceful protests.

Leanne noticed that so many people had a black mark across their left thumbnail. There was no way that all of these people slammed their thumbs in a door.  We were convinced that it meant something.  Was it an indication of status? Did it mean you were married? What did it mean?!  Finally, we asked the lovely lady that owned our hotel as we noticed both she and her husband had the mark on their thumbs.  Josh asked her "Does that mark on your thumbnail mean something?"  She laughed and replied "It means that we voted.  We don't have a sophisticated system of tracking who has voted so they mark your thumbnail with a permanent black marker." We all laughed and couldn't believe that was Albania's tracking system for voting. We were hoping for a deeper meaning than that. Oh well.

We saw this book stand on the side of the road and both of us became nostalgic at the sight of the book in the upper right hand corner.  Who else remembers reading that book as a child?


It's amazing what a coat of paint can do to spruce up the old buildings.


These buildings were the old government buildings.  


Josh visited the inside of the town's mosque.  Leanne waited outside since she forgot her scarf to cover her head. 


From its exterior it was a small mosque but large in its beauty on the interior.


Written on the wall outside of the university were the words "President Obama... I love you." Hopefully, their new president doesn't take offense to that. 


On the grounds of the university is a modest statue of Mother Teresa.  She was actually born in Skopje, Macedonia (a place we will visit later) but had an Albania ethnic background.


Mother Teresa Day is observed on October 19th and is a public holiday in Albania.  Hugs for that!


We spent a few hours at the National History Museum getting our fair share of Albania history.  The mosaic (there's another mosaic) on the museum's facade represents the history of Albania.  The Soviet Star was actually removed from the flag after the fall of Communism.


Pretty scene from the city


Leanne became friends with the owner of our hotel.  Bummer that we forgot to take a picture with her.  We take pictures of everything and everyone we meet. Guess we got too caught up in talking and forgot to stop for a photo.

She took Leanne to her hair salon and told the owner of the salon to give her a funky Albanian color.  It's cool to have funky colored hair in Eastern Europe.  Leanne joined in on the fun but became nervous when the lady busted out the peroxide and started bleaching her hair.  The hairstylist wanted to remove the black. Yikes!  Leanne was praying she knew what she was doing with that stuff.  When asked if she could "trim the hair" Leanne said sure.  The lady cut almost 5 inches off and did some weird layering, thinning thing.  Oh well, it's just hair and it will grow back, right?  The color was fun and luckily all of her hair didn't fall out...yet!


It was time to say goodbye to the lovely people of Albania and head to Montenegro.  Even though there wasn't much to do in the parts of Albania that we had time to visit, we walked away with fond memories. 


When we were researching how to get to Montenegro from Albania it was really, really tough.  It turns out that there isn't any information and we were starting to wonder if this had ever been done.  Really?! Why is this so difficult?!  On top of this Albania hasn't quite figured out the whole bus station thing.  You had to know where you were going and what street corner to go to get a mini bus to your destination.  It wasn't too hard because we did a practice run a couple of days before.  This practice run consisted of us saying "Shkodra?" to a local and following the direction they pointed.  Shkodra, just wanted to throw that out there one more time.  Josh read there were two options.  Both involved getting to Shkodra (what a fun name to say!).  From there you could take a bus or take a taxi for 10 euros.  When we arrived in Shkodra we realized that the next bus didn't leave for 8 hours.  We were not interested at all in waiting 8 hours so we took a taxi to the border and tried our luck at catching a bus on the other side of the Montenegro border.


This idea did not work out at all.  We got across the border and there was nothing there.  Just farmers and sheep and nothing else.  We started walking wondering what we were going to do.  We knew we could walk for 8 hours and eventually a bus would come by but that sounded horrible.  Leanne went into a small market and said "Bus?".  The lady typed on her calculator the number 12 and pointed up the street.  Leanne replied "Thank you" with a puzzled look.  So, does that mean there is a bus that comes at noon and stops up the street?  What?  It was 11:30 so we decided to walk up the street to what might look like a bus stop.  No success there.  Leanne turned to Josh and said "Now we try our luck at hitchhiking."  Josh wasn't a big fan of this idea but it was our only option.  Leanne noticed a small blue truck pass us by and she thought to herself, "if that truck turns around, we are hoping in the back." Guess what?  That truck came by again and Leanne's thumb went out for the old "pick me up" sign. Josh was starting to freak out a little bit at this point.  There were two guys in the truck and they stopped and waved for us to come over.  "Let's do this" Leanne said with a smile to Josh.  The guys told us to put our stuff in the truck bed and get in the back seat.  They also picked up an Argentinian guy that was walking just ahead of us. 

The guys were from Kosovo and and they were crazy.  They were chain smoking the whole time and talking about everything that came to mind.  They were definitely in love with America to the point that we were squirming in our chair. This is where we learned about a huge Bill Clinton statue in the capital of Kosovo. They knew every single country that hadn't recognized them as an independent nation and Argentina was on the list so we spent a good majority of the ride listening to them give our riding partner a hard time.  They were so nice though and really helped us out.  They dropped us off about 25 kilometers away from our final destination.  Five minutes later a bus came by and took us the rest of the way.  What a wonderful world we live in.


When we arrived in Budva we managed to find our place after knocking on several doors and asking if we were at the right place.  Finding your rooms in Montenegro is a complete mess unless you stay at a well-known place.  So after we finally got everything sorted out we headed to the walled-in old city.





Beautiful views of the town from the top of the wall.


Budva is a very, very interesting town.  On one hand there is a beautiful walled-in city with beautiful water that is second-to-none on the Adriatic coast.  On the other hand the beaches are jam packed with Russian tourists.  Nothing against our Eurasian comrades but...WOW!  Put on some pants!!  These guys love to bump weird Russian electronica, wear gold chains, and of course budgie smugglers (banana hammocks, speedos, etc.) are in full force.


We walked along the coastline for some nice views and a nude statue which really fit in.  After a few days we were forced to call uncle and head to the stunningly beautiful Durmitor National Park in the mountains. 


After yet another disaster of a time trying to find our place we finally got settled into our mountain home.  No, this isn't it.  We just really liked this picture.


We kind of felt like these guys after an hour of trying to find our place.  There aren't street signs or numbers on any of the houses so you kind of have to ask around until somebody knows who's house it is.  Very strange.  Side note, those meatball things look disgusting!


We spent the next few days hiking around and enjoying the cool weather and natural spring water.  The world's second deepest river canyon runs through the park as well.  Does anybody know the deepest?  The Royal Gorge in Colorado!  It was funny because a lot of our friends were rafting the Gorge that weekend.


We finally had a little kitchen so we cooked almost the entire time.



Duraitor National Park beckoned us.


The mountains sure do remind us of home.  We find comfort in the fresh air, the cool breezes and the mountain vistas. It was down right cold at night the first two nights of our stay. We actually had to use a heater.



The hiking signage was lacking so we found ourselves lost a few times and wound up in these quaint mountain neighborhoods.  Living here wound't be bad at all.




Josh and his signature pose again.



There were still patches of snow on the trails.  What little snow was left was packed so there wasn't a threat of postholing which was good for us because we didn't have any gear with us.



The perfect spot for a picnic lunch.



We visited Zabljak on June 29th - July 1st (yes, we are still VERY far behind on our blog) and it was officially the start of summer hiking weather on the 1st.  All the locals were hanging their laundry and cutting up the dried out wood for this winter's firewood. Mountain folks always have to prepare for the winter season.


We rewarded ourselves with a true Montenegrin dinner; a plate FULL of meat.  Leanne had a few bites but it was mainly Josh that put this heart attack on a plate down the hatch.  Let it be known that it's Leanne's fault if Josh gains weight on this portion of the trip.  She doesn't pull her weight (no pun intended) when it comes to eating the food in this part of the woods.


You know what makes Josh really happy? A 2 liter bottle of beer for $2.  Leanne would like to revoke the previous statement that it is her fault if Josh gains weight on this portion of the trip.


The mountains were good to us, as they always are, but it was time for us to hit the road again.  We took a short 4-hour bus ride down the mountains to Kotor.  We were especially excited to head to Kotor because we had plans to meet up with our fellow travel buds, Andrew and Liz (thiskentuckygirl.com). This would make our third rendezvous!

It is so much fun knowing you have friends to meet up with on the road.  Andrew and Liz were celebrating their 10 month tripaversay and were feeling a bit worn out.  We shared stories of how we felt exactly the same way when we hit 10 months on the road.  It's a tough spot to be in.  You haven't quite made it to one year but you are beyond 7 months and you just feel exhausted and yes, sometimes you question if you should go home.  However, somehow you get a second wind and you realize that you are on this amazing journey and you just snap out of it. It's not always unicorns and rainbows during an around the world adventure.  We have our good days and our terrible days.  Luckily, the good far outweigh the terrible.  The four of us seem to recharge together and feed off of each other's passion for travel.  It's just what the doctor would order if any of us had a doctor to see.

Why, hello Kotor.  You look absolutely beautiful!


Andrew and Liz arrived in Kotor a day earlier and did all the leg work to find us an apartment to share for the next three nights.  You guys rock and we can't thank you enough for finding our awesome apartment. It was like we were all college roomies. This was the incredible view from our kitchen.


We spent the first night hanging out, catching up over some beers and learning how to play Euchre.  We just had to look up how to spell that.  While Andrew and Liz were solid teachers of the game, we couldn't quite grasp all the rules.  Wait, what the heck was going on with the Jacks and suits and the colors of the cards? It's one tough game to learn! Liz took the below picture as proof that we thought it was hard. 


We spent the days adventuring around and checking out all the beautiful sites.



One of the great bonuses of being in town was this handy natural spring fountain.  We filled many a water bottle from this puppy.


Laundry day!  Not really, these were oversized clothing purposely put in place for pictures.  Guess we're not the only ones who like to take pictures of clothes drying.


In an attempt to wait out the gigantic cruise ships that came in every day we headed to a couple of small towns on the outskirts of Kotor.  Risan is a sleepy little town up the road a bit.  We enjoyed the scenery and calm of the village.



It that a TAMU on the front of this truck.  No, guess not.  When does college football start again?


The main draw of Risan is the Roman mosaics.  Yep, more mosaics!


After Risan we moved along to Perast.  There are two islets in the bay here, St. George and Our lady of the Rocks.  Each has a picturesque chapel.  Our lady of the Rocks is the only artificially built island in the Adriatic.  It was built on the rock after two Venetian sailors found a picture of the Virgin Mary on it in 1452.




Old town Perast.


Josh thought this kid needed to be careful not to catch a little budgee while throwing that fishing line around.


We wish we could take this car home with us.  Wonder how it does in the snow?


Back in Kotor we spent the next day enjoying the beauty and waiting for the cruise ship to clear out of the old town again so we could climb to the ancient walls of Kotor.


Hey guys, is the cruise ship still there?  Yeah, we see it too.


Armed with our flip-flops and a full head of steam we made the climb to the top to get a birds-eye view of the mountains and the city.


Lucky birds!



The old fort.



Selfy-shot time!


A view from the top.



Even the grasshoppers are good looking.


Josh wanted a picture with the flag of Montenegro since we were heading to Croatia the following day.

Andrew and Liz, thanks for the laughs, the fun, the stories and the friendship.  We miss you guys but we already know we will be seeing your pretty faces in our next post.  As the great quote goes, "Once you've got wanderlust in your blood, you've got it for life."


As always, thanks for following!

Cheers,
Leanne & Josh







4 comments:

  1. Here's to breaking through the 10month wall. Good job you 4.

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  2. I love how kind you are about our Euchre teaching skills. bahahahaha! Can't wait to see you both again!

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  3. Hey Josh and Leanne, Glad to see you are still on the road and enjoying the experience. After a busy 6 months of solid work we are now planning our next trip. After reading your blogs we are heading to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia for Dec/Jan. Thanks for your wonderful stories, an inspiration to us all. When in the Uk give us a shout.
    Rob and Lucy (Nepal)

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  4. Thanks for the comments! Good luck on the road, Rob. Lizzie, you were great teachers!!!

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