If I were to ask myself 10 or 5 years ago, or even last year, where I would be x years from now, I would not dream of answering Tirana, Albania. And yet here I am, sister in tow (she's been done with the internet for ages and is reading a book. we just had an incident asking where the bathroom was because it's quite an unpronounceable word in this very unique language, I had to whip out my phrasebook and point, we've been doing a lot of pointing, nodding, and grinnning in this country--luckily I've gotten used to nodding for yes and shaking my head for no in Bulgaria, they do that here, too. Also they don't know much English but like Italian, so I've been throwing around some Spanish...tomorrow when we get to Montenegro, and then from there onto other Slavic-speaking countries, we should be able to get around just fine using Bulgarian...)
I'm going to give just a quick brief of our trip since I've already been sitting at the computer for an hour and a half making reservations and that sort of stuff and am runnnig out of patience for this sticky keyboard and the girl puffing away at her cigarette beneath the no smoking sign.
So after a blowout goodbye party, and all-night packing marathon, and a sad bus-station-farewell, I met my sister in Sofia and we took off on a night train to Thessaloniki, Greece (smallish, hippish, youngish city, could go on about it's fascinating history as long-time "2nd Jerusalem," etc...another time), a day in Meteora (impressive monastaries on high cliffs--though nothing to rival the landscape of Cappadocia!), skimmed across the north of Greece to Corfu, a fun, touristy, overpriced island with winding streets of restaurants and cafes over the sea--I think my sister's favorite so far and our jumping-off point to Albania (25 min by ferry!) From Corfu we took the boat to Saranda, Albania, which is a cute little beach town currently also a construction nightmare, skeletons of huge geometric hotels and apartment complexes everywhere and the hum of the jackhammer so constant that you forget it's there. Still I think this has been my favorite town so far, there's something impressive about a seaside town so anxious to remake itself, and in pastels, too! A day trip to Butrint, a woodsy, UNESCO protected penninsula-ish town of archeological ruins and the hugest bugs (yes, live) you'll ever see. Then a winding, slightly sickening ride to the UNESCO protected town of Girokastra, the birthplace of communist dictator Hoxha (Hodja) and one of two places he protected as a museum town (everything else he basically demolished.) A tiny, quiet, pretty town of steep hills, patterned cobblestones, and fortified old whitewashed houses with gray stone shingles. And a fortress with the shell of a US army jet that had made a crash landing. More fabulous facts about Albania for another time. For now we are in Tirana, the town the mayor (a painter himself til he got caught up in the political game) had painted everywhere with fun blocks, stripes, and swirls of color to give the city a little cheer, an attempt, probably, to symbolize a progress he's working at behind the scenes. On tomorrow (early!) to Montenegro, the newest country in the world! (Though I haven't read the papers in a week and a half, who knows these days!)
So far, it's strange to talk about my BG experience in the past tense, but I'm slowly getting used to it and excited to be an American in America again very soon. That's all for now, more quick updates as we go! Dinnertime--Italian food here is a thousand times better than in Buglaria :)