Tuesday, October 22, 2013

SLEEPING IN TIRANA AND LEAVING ALBANIA

Our hotel was not exactly in Tirana, the capital, for which we were really grateful. We had had enough of trying to navigate Albanian cities.  Bob had found a hotel for us right next to the Tirana International Airport Nene Tereza (Mother Theresa), which is about seven miles northwest of Tirana.  The recently expanded airport has traffic of about 1.5 million passengers per year.  (Compare that to LAX, with 64 million passengers per year).

There is no real city surrounding the airport, just a bunch of hotels.  Our favorite was this one, the Vila Aeroport Hotel. If we ever return to Albania, I want to stay here:

We stayed in the Hotel Airport Tirana, a really nice hotel with great rooms, a large, elegant dining hall, and wonderful service.
The only problem with the hotel is that we were the only guests, or it seemed that we were. For example, when we went to the dining room for our cooked-to-order breakfast, which was included with the price of the room, we were the only people in a large restaurant that could seat 100 to 150 people. Just as we were leaving, another couple came in. They were the only other guests we saw the whole time we were there.

There were advantages to being the only guests. The hotel appeared to be fully staffed, and everyone was waiting to take care of us. Literally. For example, when we came out of our room, someone was waiting down the hall to direct us to the elevator. It was a little creepy, kind of like living in the movie The Truman Show. 

The other advantage of an empty hotel is that it is very quiet.  However, Bob thought it was hot, and so he opened a window, but our hotel was right across the street from the Tirana International Airport. 
The Tirana Airport
While there really weren't a lot of planes coming and going at night, I decided to use the ambient noise machine that I carry with me when I travel.  It provides a nice, steady static that covers up any other noise. It wasn't enough noise, however, to blot out the phone ringing at 4:30 a.m. 

I hate middle-of-the-night phone calls, and they are even worse in a foreign country. My heart was racing when I picked up the receiver. (Why is the phone always on my side of the bed?)  It was the hotel manager.  "We are worried by the noise coming from your room," he said in his thick accent. He said it sounded like a hairdryer (true), and they were concerned that something might have happened to us. (Maybe we'd been electrocuted and the dryer was still running?)  He apologized profusely for waking us, and we wondered how long the staff had stood outside our door listening to our room and trying to decide what to do. We were on the third floor, so it's possible but not likely that they heard the noise through our window. Perhaps they stood on the neighboring balcony and listened. No matter how you look at it, it's not a pleasant image. In any case, we did manage to go back to sleep.

Another funny story is that we decided to have the hotel do our laundry for us (we had not had any access to laundry facilities on the trip, and we'd been out over a week), and we gave them quite a bit, but we figured it wouldn't be a problem as ours was probably the only laundry they had to deal with. When we called at 8:20 a.m. to see if it was done, the hotel receptionist said, "There was so much and it was so dirty. We need 20 more minutes."  We racked our brains, trying to figure out what was so dirty, but couldn't come up with it. Perhaps they washed everything by hand? They eventually brought it to us spotlessly clean and beautifully pressed, and we paid a total of about $35 U.S., which included a generous tip. The same amount of laundry on a cruise ship would have cost several hundred dollars.

All in all, would we recommend this hotel? Absolutely! It was clean, nicely decorated, and comfortable, and the staff definitely took good care of us. The Truman Show part was a little bizarre, but I think their intentions were good.

We headed out in the morning, stopped for our car wash (see previous post), and fueled up at a gas station with an interesting name:
That price is in Albanian Leks per liter.  It converts to $6.71/gallon.
We planned to stop in the nearby city of Kruje to see a castle, but the traffic through town was so horrible that after 15 to 20 minutes of trying to negotiate around it, we abandoned Plan A for Plan B: Head straight to the border.

It's a good thing we did. It was the slowest of all our border crossings.  There was just ONE line open out of a possible four stations. People were out of their cars, walking up and down the line.  We had been there quite a while when they finally opened a second line that drew from cars behind us. No effort was made to let cars that had been waiting longer go first, and for some reason, the new line moved much faster than ours. It was very, very aggravating. When we finally got to the front of the line, 1 hour and 30 minutes after arriving at the border, they searched our car, the only time that happened on our trip. It was a cursory search, but a search nevertheless.
I can read the word for "Republic" below, but how does "Shqiperise" translate to "Albania"?

This is a country I would love to visit again in ten years or so.  If the Balkans have peace for another decade, I think Albania will find itself. The culture is rich, the people are friendly, and there is a desire for visitors. Being able to experience the country in a less Westernized form, however, made this an especially fun part of our trip. 

5 comments:

  1. Just when I think you can't possibly top your travel stories of previous posts, you come up with some doozies! Killer sound machines? Check! Filthy laundry? Check! Mysteriously empty hotel with lurking workers? Check!

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  2. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Shqipëri#Albanian

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