First, before I left Skopje, one of the hostel workers wrote down couple of Serbian/Macedonian songs for me and now I can’t stop listening to them. She gave me the assignment of learning the lyrics or at least the chorus.
I was so tired from the past week that I was able to pass out on the bus. The border crossing took a long time and when they gave us back our passports, they just handed mine to me directly, no name needed, they knew who the only American was haha.
I stayed at Homestal (home and hostel) Albania mainly for the check in anytime because my bus arrived at 5am. It’s also decently close to the station and the center. The owner was tremendous in letting me in so early with a smile and letting me get a nap in before the day officially started.
When I did wake, I met an Argentine couple, M and J, in the kitchen. We decided to go to the free walking together and there I met up with the Spaniard from the Skopje hostel, F. It is always nice seeing familiar faces even after a day or so.
The tour was really great. Our guide gave us his story and the local perspective under the communist regime. This is still evident today with all their buildings. They tried to change them by painting them vibrant colors reminding me of an area in Buenos Aires, La Boca.
Unlike Argentina, Albanians protest differently. On tour and walking around later, we saw the protest in front of a government building. And unlike the noise and banners of Argentina or other protests, this was looked like a party. A tent was set up with music and a big screen.
I didn’t know Albania was very isolated after World War II and before the 90s. It cut off ties with Yugoslavia, Russia, and finally China because they weren’t communist enough. I went to Bunk’art, it’s a bit outside the city center. One can walk for an hour or take the bus. It’s 40 leke for one trip. Like Nis, Serbia, there are people on board who collect the money. I had the same man both ways and on the return he was teasing me and we had a small conversation through charades because he couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Albanian.
Anyways, Albania built so many bunkers during its communist time in case of war- thousands. This one is one of the biggest and has an Assembly Room, which apparently is rare for bunkers. Each of the rooms, for the most part, have information on Albania from World War II through the 90s. It was very interesting. They were occupied by the Italians then finally the Germans.
The ticket is 500 leke separate, but you can buy a combo ticket with the cable car for 1100 leke. So I did that and after the bunker, I took the cable car up the mountain, it’s about a 15 minute ride. The view of the city is amazing! On top are some restaurants, a hotel, and some walking/hiking paths.
I saw more bunkers at the top and on the way down. They truly built them everywhere.
I enjoyed my day with the Spanish speakers. It was a nice change to be the non native speaker for once. My Spanish was a little rusty, but I was talking so it didn’t matter.
I was asking directions from a local to the bunker and she kept giggling the whole time because she was embarrassed. The first time is cute, the 10th time is annoying. If it bothers you that much then just tell me to ask someone else. She was giggling so much I couldn’t get any directions from her. It was the first time I lost patience with a local and I’m not happy about it. I mean, I was polite, but still. Languages are hard, not everyone can be perfect, but the giggling though. You won’t improve if you don’t practice.
Anyways, the four of us got some traditional Albanian food at a recommended restaurant. It was all delicious. M and J went to the bunker while F and I went to get our bus tickets to Podgorica and then walked around the city. He’s an architect and he took pictures of all the interesting looking buildings telling me he was going to copy them. We got coffee and in true Albanian style, sat there for a while and talked.
After a rest, M, F, and I met for a beer. The place was full of locals. The weather was so nice that for both the beer and the coffee, we sat outside.
I’m currently on my way, at the time of writing, to Podgorica and I’m looking forward to meeting with a friend I originally met in Belgrade, A. Then in a few days, I’ll be meeting another friend I met in Argentina. This week is going to be pretty eventful!
I went North, but one of the cities that was recommended was Berat. I haven’t been there yet, but for more information, check out this blog post!
More photos here