Just me. (lara7) wrote,
Just me.
lara7

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A quest fulfilled! Or, prepare to be schooled about Albania.

Today while Xmas shopping, I found a book I've been looking for that has eluded me for about 7 years. The book is "Let's Go: Europe", the 1993 edition. Though this is the one I had along when I last went to Europe in 1993, there's a particular reason I wanted this outdated edition: The entry on Albania* is some of the most sardonic and bitter travel writing I've ever read. If you liked P.J. O'Rourke's "Holidays in Hell"**, the 7 pages penned by the anonymous Harvard Student that had to endure an Albanian vacation are well worth your time.

Some samples of why I love this part of the book:

(A gift for understatement): "Tourism in Albania , however, is still in the realm of adventure travel. Yet an eventual return to the calmness of the Communist days...is not unimaginable."

(Getting there):
"There is rumored to be bus service ..from Athens...twice weekly"

(Postal service): "Postal rates will vary according to the whim of the clerk behind the counter...Albanians express considerable skepticism about the survival rates of both incoming and outgoing packages."

(Accomodations): Singles are rare and go for USD45. Cheaper hotels exist, but you will likely find them sickening."***

(Laundry): "Hotels...offer expensive, slow laundry service. Bring a sink plug instead."

(Emergencies): "Contact a foreign embassy (if you can find one)."

(Food, drink and customs):
"Unless people start to work again there will be no food in the country when you arrive."
"You probably don't belong in Albania if you are not comfortable with caffeine, nicotine, alchohol and meat. Albanian traditions of hospitality..will even overrride obligations for revenge, so that a house will shelter and feed a man who has killed one of its members. "

(Getting around the capital city):
"Except in Nagel's Albania, it's impossible to find a map of Tirane,**** and there are no street signs. Bring a compass."

"Public buses..are usually retirees from the fleets of French or German cities. The only route information may be placards left over from one of these past lives ("Place Des Invalides", for example). A native's help is usually neccessary."

(Sights and entertainment):
"You may be driven to the conclusion that you, the tourist, are the most interesting sight in Tirane. Meeting people who are thrilled to talk and show you around takes no effort at all."..."In the midday heat, order a lemonade- if you can find a waiter, if he can find a glass, if the water is running....and observe the most exotic society in Europe."

Perhaps the weirdest thing about Albania (if the above didn't do it for you) as described by this guide is the fate of the Enver Hoxha Museum, a glass pyramid built at a cost of USD 70 million to house the personal effects of the Albanian dictator, after his death in 1985. It was decomissioned in 1991, and is now (or at least was at the time of publication)...a discotheque. Apparently its quite amazing architecturally (I guess it ought to be for $70 million, though).

I haven't read up on what happened to/in Albania after communism collapsed and capitalism took hold to such a degree that the citizens looted everything until there was nothing left to steal. Last I heard, Albanians were fleeing en masse for the relative political stability of Greece and Italy. Which should tell you something right there about conditions in Albania.

*The 1993 ed says that they've reprinted the essay from the 1991 ed, since due to the unrest in the former Yugoslavia, they couldn't send a researcher there in 1992. If I remember correctly, editions from 1994 to the present have since scrapped Albania altogether.

**Or if you remember the twin essays from P.J.'s "Eat the Rich": "Good capitalism- Wall Street" and "Bad Capitalism- Albania"

***note that this is a book aimed at the backpacking college student, and contemplate the gravitas of "you will likely find them sickening."

****Note that Tirane is the capital city and in 1991 had 300, 000 inhabitants.
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