Monday, 22 September 2008


Unfortunately this is what I will remember Albania for the most.

Albania. Two weeks. Four days in transit on three different trains to get there. 300 euros each. Down the coast. Through the mountains. Hitchhiking. Buses. Walking. Taxis. Boat. Arse end of Europe. Little asphalt. Domesticated animals strutting through streets. Garbage management system – none. Unless you count the burning of rubbish in the evening by the side of the road. First private car to be owned 1990. Until then Hoxha the dictator allowed only state owned vehicles. Hence the lack of roads. And road rules. Car of choice – 1980 Mercedes, the toughest sucker out there to survive Albania’s dirt tracks. Aggressive development. Resort towns popping up with horrid speed. No planning. The sea is crystal and beautiful. Coastline chaotic, packed, uninviting. Freelance camping the go! Mind the turds on the beach. And a week’s worth of rotting nappies and watermelon. The fish is delicious though. And tomatoes taste like tomatoes. They do good coffee too. That’s the ‘Italian’ in them. People are wonderful and hospitable. They still scratch their heads and ask in amazement ‘so why did you come to Albania’? The mountains are stunning as are the villages wedged in between them. Especially at night. When you can’t see the mess. The village roof tops are made out of stone. The fortresses grand. The one rail line is slower than the slowest mini-bus on a dirt track. We did 60ks in 6 hours once. We were still patient then. Ohrid Lake is mind-blowing. 300 metres deep in its deepest part. It is known for its koran fish, the most expensive on the menu (a whole 8 euros). It tastes like a more dignified trout. Nobody goes fishing with a rod. Too deep. The lake is translucent. You can see the bottom even when you’re on a dingy and far out. Interesting since all the sewage flows into it. The beer is served in chilled beer mugs. A wonderful treat, since the days are always furnace hot.

after a 6hr train delay we missed out connection to Montenegro. So ended up in Belgrade. We bribed a Serbian train conductor
to get us a free sleeper. He did. For twice the amount sleepers usually go for. The compartment was the official blanket and pillow storage space of the train. It took us half an hour to move the stuff elsewhere before we could go to sleep.

intimate, cozy, relaxing. We sunbathed standing.

days of searching later we found this secluded spot. Shared it with two Hungarians. Nice boys. Beautiful water.

Trusty mover. Town of Gjiokaster.

stone rooftops. Fortress on hill. Gjiokaster.

Ksamil. Village down south. Apart from the smell and feasting on garbage cows, a nice spot.

Donkey chariots faster than rail. "Shite" means 'for sale'.

Ochrid lake. The owner of the hotel we stayed in took us out on his dingy. For fun. He had nothing else to do.
My favourite place in Albania.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

post this

I have a love-hate relationship with two government institutions in Poland: PKP (Polish rail) and the Poczta Polska (post office). The latter provides me with plenty of amusement, created by its mind boggling archaic ways. Sweet post ladies provide you with string for extra parcel strength, entertain you with their chatter and bleached-blond perms and complain about their wages (one of the lowest in Poland). Despite constant plans and postal policies little is being done to reform the institution. God forbid privatisation! You still cannot make payments either by way of credit card or eftpost (yup – cash only please), but then again there is some news of a mechanised letter sorting system being introduced to the mailing room. Also the postman no longer needs to wear a postman uniform. Idea is to make them inconspicuous. Too many muggings for pension cash envelopes apparently. No, the post bag doesn’t give him away. Nor that load of letters he is carrying in his hand.

By far the most entertaining aspect of the Polish post however, is the ‘post shop’. It is filled with wonderful elements that you would never even think of buying at a post office. Sanitary pads anyone? How’s about washing powder? What about a candle lantern for your grandmother’s grave? You would like a hard cardboard envelope for that CD you want to send? No sorry. Try the stationery shop down the road.

for those who may have sticky fingers, a glass cabinet with key has been installed