The Albanian Alps, Part 3: Meeting Horses On Their Way to Church

02 June, 2018: When I woke up I was slightly sore, but eager to start the day. It was beautiful and sunny and I had several hours to kill before my ride back to Shkodër, so I started off with a walk.  Continue reading “The Albanian Alps, Part 3: Meeting Horses On Their Way to Church”

The Albanian Alps, Part 2: Up and Up and Up

Up to the neck

01 June, 2018: I woke up early and headed over to the dining room for breakfast, which consisted of eggs, hot dog links, and bread with butter, homemade jam, and cheese. Having skipped a proper dinner the night before, and with a long day of hiking ahead, I enjoyed it very much. Skender made me a perfect cup of coffee, lamenting that he hadn’t yet managed to train the village boys as proper baristas, and then got out a full-size topographic map to direct me on my hike for the day. He also offered to drive me through the valley to the trailhead, which I accepted gratefully as my leg had been bothering me the day before and this would shave nearly two (fairly uneventful) hours off my overall hiking time. I waited for him to finish up his morning tasks to get the guesthouse running smoothly for the day, and then we hopped into his old pickup and were off.

Continue reading “The Albanian Alps, Part 2: Up and Up and Up”

The Albanian Alps, Part 1: I Went to the Accursed Mountains and I Never Wanted to Leave

At the very beginning of June I hiked the Albanian Alps, also known as the Accursed Mountains. It was one of the more challenging hikes I’ve done, and it was absolutely gorgeous. Along the way I met some of the most welcoming people I’ve encountered anywhere in the world.

Continue reading “The Albanian Alps, Part 1: I Went to the Accursed Mountains and I Never Wanted to Leave”

Outside Tirana: Two More Stops in Northern Albania

I spent the majority of my time in Albania in Tirana, but I did venture beyond for 10 days or so. I’ve been told repeatedly that southern Albania is where it’s at — pristine beaches, even fewer tourists, etc — but I didn’t make it that direction on this trip. Instead, I spent a day at the beach in Durrës, a week or so in Shkodër, and then a couple days hiking in the Albanian Alps, which will be the subject of a separate post.

Continue reading “Outside Tirana: Two More Stops in Northern Albania”

Weird and Wonderful Albania

I spent a month in Albania this spring (May 2018), and I loved it. Because it was almost completely isolated under an extremely repressive communist regime from the 1950s through the early 1990s, it looks and feels like a slightly alternate universe. Those who are up on their Albanian history, skip ahead; I knew nothing about it before I went, so here’s a little bit of backstory in case you’re in the same boat. Continue reading “Weird and Wonderful Albania”

Pickling My Way Around the World

I made several plans before I started this adventure, to give myself ways to stay grounded and feel at home regardless of place. One of those plans involves pickles, and the strangest item in my luggage: a glass pickle weight (thanks, mom!).

I decided that every time I stayed in one place for long enough, I would make a small batch of lacto-fermented (aka naturally fermented, without adding vinegar) pickled vegetables. I experimented before I left with a few batches of pickled green beans, carrots, and cauliflower (including one miserable failure and one smashing success). I also tried an experimental batch of sauerkraut, but it didn’t go well – partly because I made it too salty, but mostly because I remembered that I don’t like sauerkraut. Oops. Continue reading “Pickling My Way Around the World”

Black Mountain

01 May, 2018: I spent a week in Montenegro (or Crna Gora, in Montenegrin), in Bar on the Adriatic coast. Bar is a port city (the main port of the country) and border crossing (by ferry) first and a tourist destination second; it’s really only a tourist spot because the spectacular Belgrade-Bar railway ends there (more on that in the previous post!). I wandered into the port by accident while trying to photograph something interesting and industrial, and got yelled at by the border police. I gave them my best tourist smile and made camera-charades, and they laughed at me, so it all worked out.

I also managed to arrive on a national holiday (this is becoming a habit, after hitting Hungarian National Day my first weekend in Budapest and Easter parts 1 and 2 in both Vienna and Belgrade) — May 1 is Labor Day. Most shops were closed, and the cafes were more crowded than usual. I also got accidentally caught up in yet another parade/procession, this one featuring the mayor(?) and a bunch of fancily-dressed townsfolk waving flags, and ending with news cameras (probably the entire news corps of the town, all two of them).  Continue reading “Black Mountain”

Wide Awake on a Sleeper Train

I took my first sleeper train! It was fantastic. I decided to start on a high note, with one of the most spectacular train lines (according to the internet) in Europe: the Belgrade-Bar line.

I did a bunch of reading first, of course, and in the process I learned that sleeper trains (at least in Europe) are disappearing. Cross-border railway fees increased in 2000, making the trains more expensive to run. They hold fewer people than regular seated trains, so even when they’re full there’s less revenue. The rise of low-budget airlines makes them less popular, and faster modern trains means that trips now don’t take nearly as long, so many runs that formerly only made sense if you could sleep on the train can now be accomplished in less than a day.

With that in mind, I feel exceptionally lucky that I got to take not only *a* sleeper train, but this particular one. It was like a trip back in time, with a distinct Wes Anderson flavor.  Continue reading “Wide Awake on a Sleeper Train”