The Balkans – Gjirokastër, Albania

#nofilter

A big reason for my Sarandë stopover was because of Syri i Kalter or the Blue Eye, a bottomless (I’m sure) spring that’s the bluest blue you’ll see.The craziest bit isn’t that the waters are that blue but rather, how the brown, barren surroundings suddenly make way for a technicolor scene. It might be the flattering midday sun but the green and blue hues are surreal.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Balkans – Sarandë, Albania

First of all, I’ve to say that I think I’m too old for travel speedruns. My initial rough route was quite tight on time but as travelling does to you, I found interesting on-the-way detours that I had to visit. That ended with me spending only a night at too many places, then walking through part-way sights, backpack and all. I’d suffer at the end of the trip.  This part of my travels took me from Meteora (Greece) to Sarande (Albania), Gjirokaster and Berat before exiting to Ohrid (Macedonia).

albania

The Balkans is a very interesting area for me. I’ve read the requisite literature about the Ottoman Empire and have some semblance of knowledge about Alexander the Great. Also, in the last years, I have come to the realization that the history we know of the world is very much skewed towards the perception of the conquerors so it intrigues me much to get a feel of the area. Albania for one has had a rough but proud history – there’s enough heritage sites to interest the average traveler but it suffers from a lack of exposure to the outside world. If you think about Croatia, you’ll think about the splendid beaches but you don’t have that sort of perception about Albania though they share the same coastline. What may come to mind though is unrest and poverty.

From Meteora, I headed towards Ioannina and prayed for a bus to take me to Sarandë (there is one). Transport routes aren’t the best in Albania since you rely on furgons (local public minivans) that seem to run on a schedule known only to locals. Entering Albania is a bit of an experience. None of the foreigners on the bus got a passport stamp which, according to the internet, isn’t a strict practice. Passing through the Greece border, the route followed was rocky and the landscape grey and dull, also due to the fact it was a bit of a cloudy day. It feels quite somber and a reminder of how roads and structures are built mostly with stone. Through the trip, I’d see city squares paved with marble and majestic stone sculptures that are quite unique to the geography.

My first stop was Sarandë, a small coastal town that looks like it doesn’t see a lot of tourists. It might be that I was travelling completely off-season (through the trip, I’d be staying alone in hostels…more on that later).

albania

2 Euros lunch (1 for beer and 1 for a Souvlaki) by the beach

If Croatia is becoming hot summer property, I can’t see why Albania can’t follow likewise if they had a higher tourism budget. The main town runs alongside an open beach that well, is empty because it’s cold and cloudy. Restaurants don’t open until mealtimes and most parts of town are being constructed, possibly in time for the tourist season. Read the rest of this entry »

Lingo.

A year and a half ago, I left my job to travel the world and work on some personal projects. Well, that was the aim anyway. I did some of the latter with varying degrees of achievement but I’ve learnt much through that so I wouldn’t call it wasted time. I’ll write about the travelling though.

I’ve always been very intrigued by languages – except for Chinese mostly because we didn’t have the best learning experience in school but I do regret not being more proficient in the language I grew up speaking and still do with family. In my early 20s, I did my first – and only – phone interview for a job in mandarin, blew it completely because I was too shellshocked to speak up and had the realization that there’s no reason why I should be that bad at the language. Humility is an important lesson. I don’t want to have a billion and one excuses for why I’m not as good as I could or should be which has always been the case for Chinese and since then I’ve been actively speaking with taxi drivers or just reading a bit more of the papers. Read the rest of this entry »

Theme Song for My South American Experience

So, all through Argentina and Chile, this is what I’ve been hearing and watching people get very excited over (apart from songs about Maradona). I’ve never managed to figure out the title until… I’M HERE IN BULGARIA.

It’s been quite random here in the Balkans.

The other day, I asked for directions to a bus station and the following happened-

Guy: Parlez francais?

Me: Uh… un peu….?

<silence>

Me: Et vous?

Guy: Non. Hehehe

No, I don’t quite understand either.

Today, I got on a bus with a couple of Spanish people and it seems the driver speaks Spanish but not a lot of English which is fine because all I needed was time and directions. The other day on the bus from Skopje, I spent half of the 5h ride listening to Enrique Iglesias. I now have enough pickup lines for Spanish-speaking college girls.

Anyway back to the song. So I got back to my hostel and surprise, they’re playing the song that’s been played so often through my South American hiatus it’s in my head for the last half a year. It seems to be the go-to song when drinking and when partying.

I do like the album though and I hope you do too.

 

How to Pack Light, Very Light

One of my earlier trips involving unicycles (ie. heavy metal objects) was to New Zealand. I still have no idea how I managed it but I guess that’s what youth does. I travelled with a trolley luggage to Wellington via Auckland with not just one but TWO unicycles – a 20″ trials and a 29″ cross-terrain uni – and I wiped most of the details of how I got from point A to B from memory. It was an amazingly fun trip and to make it more challenging (cos, youth), one of my pals managed to convince me that the key to surviving a 20h flight back is to get drunk and sleep through your flight. It’s not a bad idea EXCEPT the part where you have to make your way, drunk, from your hostel with all the above crap you’re lugging around to the airport. I can assure you I’ve never been more sober in a shorter time as when I was chasing down the bus.

Never again. Read the rest of this entry »