Saturday, September 13, 2014



Before arriving here, I knew only two things about Albania.  One was they had mentioned it in the movie "Wag the Dog".  The other was they might have 'cheap Italian food' here.

That's about it.

As long time readers know, I scoff at studying a country before I arrive, preferring to learn as I go.  For the people who can rattle off lots of facts about places and listen endlessly to tour guides, lets give them a written test in six months to see how much of that they've retained.  Although there will be some freaks who actually remember it the words 'fleeting entertainment' apply to most.

Hence, I prefer just to show up and shamble around the country to get a feel for it.  Make some friends, have some drinks, smoke some cigarettes.  It's a good time that others.  Sadly, I often forget what city I'm in.  Sometimes I forget what country I'm in.  I may have Alzheimer's - don't remember.

So, unlike other travel blogs, I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of facts and dates you'll forget right away.  Lets just say that like lots of other countries (maybe all) in Europe, Albania is built on the ruins of 'excessively old' civilizations.  There is a 'crap ton' of history here.

They use to be in the USSR and have lots of the old fashioned USSR housing around.  I refer to that sort of architecture as 'shit box'.  Although the insides may be elaborate and beautiful, the outsides always look...  Well...

I'd heard the concrete prefab apartments the USSR littered (and I do mean littered) Europe with were meant to be temporary until they could figure out how to build something that sucked less.

Of course, this brings to mind the immortal words of Milton Friedman who said "Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program."

Sadly, over fifty years of keeping people in the country they wanted them in just wasn't enough time to build more attractive buildings hence today, people still live in the old ones.

From a short time here, I am discovering a very warm giving people.

The host of the guesthouse I am staying at brought out the rakia (alcohol) and we did several shots and chatted with the translation help from his teenage daughter.

The next night, I retaliated by purchasing a couple bottles of wine, so that the owner's wife could also drink with us as she doesn't like rakia.  So, it became a full fledged party with him, his wife, his mother, his daughter, her friend and cousin.

Then the cousin (who became the new translator) the owner and I moved down to the bar.  Many bottles of wine were consumed.

It was an extraordinary fun experience I felt grateful to have.


A lot of these things will sound very obvious but after listening to hundreds of tourists attempting to communicate with locals, it is obvious that they are not.


A lot of these things will sound very obvious but after listening to hundreds of tourists attempting to communicate with locals, it is obvious that they are not. Remember that even in countries where English is taught to kids, the kids don't get to practice with locals and are often taught by locals.

I've spoken to a few 'English teachers' that I had difficulty communicating with due to their strong accents and misuse of words. Hiring locals is cheaper than native speakers.

 Of course, learning the local language or hiring a guide is better but if you are lazy and poor like me, there are some easy workarounds.

1. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)  Don't use more words than needed. Use simple words. Instead of 'Excuse me sir, where is the main bus station?' a small bow and smile with "Bus station?" works better.

2. Simple mime is your friend. Shading your eyes and extravagantly looking around is easier than attempting to explain 'seeking', even if you think you are Harry Potter.

3. Avoid slang and colloquialisms. "Hey, how you doin'? OK?" is likely to result in confusion. "Hello! Good?" is a better.

4. Avoid swearing. "That was a fucking good meal!" will likely result in insult or confusion. Telling someone "That is great shit!" means you are saying whatever it was is poop. If the person is young and has seen enough movies from the USA, they may realize that the words are merely intensifiers.

5. Make it fun. Remember, it is your fault you don't speak the language of whatever country you are in. Make people interested in helping you by doing some fun pantomime. For example, if I want cow, I always make horns with my fingers and make a loud 'mooo!' noise. If you can pull a silly facial expression while doing it, that's extra points. This is often the difference between people wanting to help you and admitting defeat by shutting down, becoming disinterested and muttering "No English."

If you follow these simple guidelines, speaking with the locals will be more fun and informative for both of you.


Room in guesthouse with own bathroom, $15
Espresso (the further you move from the pedestrian zone, the larger the cups), .50
Average meal with drinks, $6
Bottle of pretty darned good wine, $4

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