One wild and crazy Albanian weekend

What happens when you rent an older model 4×4 jeep with three other friends, name the jeep hot dog, and decide to drive around the country? Read on to find out.

Friday was a day off in Albania for the holiday of Nowruz which I was told is a muslim holiday in which one eats the special pastry. This was literally all the information I could get out of the Albanians I asked. Later through my own research I learned it was persian new year, but regardless a day off here for me only meant one thing – ROAD TRIP!!

Meet my accompanying cast for this adventure:

Anouk

Anouk, an intern at the dutch embassy, who is pumped!

Nuno, the spanish embassy intern. Nickname: our little  spanish monkey.

Nuno, the spanish embassy intern. Nickname: our little spanish monkey.

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Andreas, the fearless and intimidating german embassy intern.

and last but a crucial member…

Meet hot dog - our jeep!

Meet hot dog – our jeep!

We met at the German embassy at 8am on friday, none of us really knowing what to expect. Andreas had arranged the car and before we knew it we were off, and I was catapulting hot dog through the wild streets of Tirana, the capital city of Albania, with no real destination in mind expect head south to the coast.

My eyes on the road, no messing around here.

My eyes on the road, no messing around here.

The only strict driving rule as far as I can tell here is don’t hit anyone else, but beyond that things seem to be fair game. I had only been driving for about 20 minutes when we actually got waved over by a policeman. We never really did find out about the nature of the infraction or if we even if there was one, he pretty much took one look at us and then waved us on. Apparently foreigners are too much trouble, good for us as I am not sure I have been in Albania long enough to try out my skills in greasing a transaction with a police officer.

Our first real stop that we decided on ( of course only after fueling up with snacks, beer and other essential items for a two nights on the road) was the ancient greek city of Apollonia founded in the 5th Century BC, a major roman city in Albania later on.

However, before we got to Apollonia, we happened on the most famous bunker in all of Albania. Under the communist leadership of Enver Hoxha over 700,000 bunkers were built in the country – one for every four inhabitants. The bunkers are still a ubiquitous sight in Albania, with an average of 24 bunkers for every square kilometre of the country. Most of them are now abandoned and they have long ceased to fulfill any sort of military purpose.  According to rumors and lonely planet, many an Albanian youth has also lost their virginity within the romantic scene of a bunker.

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This one is the most famous for us, purely because it is the one in the Bradt guidebook, coincidentally it is also for sale (shitet in Albanian)  and apparently has been for some time.

Well, what happens next should be pretty clear… Boys will be boys, so we couldn’t drive on to the ancient city before the bunker had been conquered.

bunker jump

I was so worried someone was going to get hurt…

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Chest bump

A little bunker bromance

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The people and animals just didn’t quite know what to make of us.

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I will admit after all of this, we just did not get as excited about Apollonia… I mean it was nice, but how do you beat the most famous bunker and all of those sheep?

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We hung out in the amphitheater, got a sandwich assembly line going, and in general just soaked in the sunshine and our peaceful surroundings. Living in Tirana, it is never just quiet and peaceful, so this was a great change of pace for all of us.

Testing the sandwich meat, can you eat that skin? As a group we could not decide.

Testing the sandwich meat, can you eat that skin? As a group we could not decide.

Apollonia me

What a mighty fine sandwich!

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Only near the end of our visit did we discover a staircase up the hillside that lead to a true treasure of Apollonia – a mountain top beer stand!

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You can take a dutch girl out of holland, but you can’t keep her away from the Heineken.

We blew out of Apollonia, and continued the journey south to Sarande along the coast. I cannot stress enough how much I under estimated the beauty of Albania, the coastline is spectacular.

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A lot of the above photos were shot from hot dog as we whipped around the curvy cliff side road on the route to Saranda with Andreas smiling manically as he skill fully navigated the curves and obstacles.

When we finally arrived in Saranda, we sought out the hairy lemon hostel and had the pleasure of getting to be the first guests of the season. The hostel was run by an amazing Israeli couple who are lots of fun, like to play games and also make great pancakes for breakfast. Is there a better combination than this for a hostel situation? I think not.

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Day 2: Hot dog rolls on but this blog post stops here. Part two scheduled to be released monday april 1st, I know you can’t wait. In the meantime, have a great easter everyone.

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