Jan 2, 2015

Gëzuar Vitin e Ri! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Elbasan, Albania!

I'd mentioned that the wind was a factor during my walk from Peqin to Bradashesh, and this was also the case for the 5 km jaunt to Elbasan on New Year's Eve. My windproof nylon shell (both jacket and trousers) worked admirably, but nevertheless, it was a bracing experience. And by that I mean, I was leaning into the headwind, and the occasional gust still managed to knock me off balance. I am rather sturdily built, and tend not to be easily pushed around, especially when I've already braced myself.

On Wednesday I was still quite sore from my fall‎ three days earlier and bending over to pick something up (or even just sitting down) was a procedure to be carried out gingerly. It wasn't impeding my stride at all, but I was just as glad to have a short walk to give myself extra time to heal before the gains in altitude ahead of me.

I wandered around the heart of Elbasan a little, enjoying the sunshine and the views of the mountains surrounding the city on three sides. My guidebook had mentioned two hotels in Elbasan by name‎. The first, constructed during Communist times, was "not comfortable at the time of writing" but I stopped in anyway. And then I left again. The other hotel, Real Scampi, was described as a luxury hotel. The appeal for me was its location, nestled in a corner of the old Byzantine and Ottoman fortress, and incorporating an archaeological display. At €35 per night, it was reasonably priced by western European standards, but surprisingly enough, they don't accept credit cards. (I've learned to ask, rather than simply assuming.) I made a note to return for dinner in the hotel restaurant and resumed my rather aimless wandering. 

I wound up checking in to a "3 star" hotel a few short blocks away. The room was cosy enough, and the balcony faces east towards the heart of the city with mountains in the background. Unlike the three star hotel in Durrës, they only accepted cash -- preferably up front. Breakfast was included and they have WiFi, so I parted with my 4200 Leke for two nights and settled in. On heading back downstairs for the WiFi password, I was informed (very apologetically) that the restaurant would be closed the next two days because of the New Year. Apparently "everything" in Albania is closed on January 1st and 2nd, so I went to the supermarket across the street and bought enough to feed myself for a few days.

Normally, my first priority on securing a place for the night is a long hot shower, but since I'd done so little walking that day, I put it off until evening. I did some laundry in the bathroom sink and then discovered that running water wasn't something I could take for granted. I'm not sure how long it was out. Perhaps the pressure had dropped due to excessive showering by one of the other guests, I don't know. Water flowed from the taps normally the next time I checked, but I was reluctant to start a shower in the unheated bathroom in case it cut out again. (Central heating is another thing I've simply taken for granted‎ all my life.)

Still, the wall mounted a/c unit ‎was keeping the room very warm, so I settled in to find some way of observing the hockey game between Canada and the US. I wound up listening to a Toronto radio station, streamed over the internet. The last ten minutes of the game must have been amazing to watch! That also coincided with the start of the New Year's fireworks in Elbasan. 

People had been lighting firecrackers pretty steadily all day, and the first few fireworks made their appearance very soon after dark, but the city fireworks display was something else. Elbasan has a dozen or so ten floor buildings‎, with the remainder ranging from single storey to four floors. It's a low profile city and (perhaps in part due to the prevailing wind) the fireworks didn't soar that much higher than the tallest buildings. What impressed me mightily was the length of the display. The barrage continued for a solid ten minutes, and this was not a simple one site display. There was a wall of light and sound stretching along one of the north-south arteries of the city for as far as I could see in either direction. And the Canadians won the hockey game. (I took the photo from my balcony after the game, by which time the city fireworks had come to an end.)
I wasn't at all sleepy, so I spent some time on Facebook and then jumped aboard the Pequod. I spent a few hours reading Moby Dick, and finally went to sleep a few short hours before dawn. As a result, I only left my room twice on New Year's Day. The first time was to complain about the water. Of course, by the time someone came upstairs to check, it was flowing again.‎ By late afternoon, I noticed that the supermarket across the street was open, so I went and picked up a few more things. Apart from that, I spent the day in my room, reading, watching TV (a local channel was showing The Interview with Albanian subtitles, but I had missed the first hour), sleeping, and listening to the CBC Radio2 Top 100 songs of 2014. My family called and we chatted briefly. Because I'd slept so much during the day, I read into the wee hours of the morning again, but I'd already decided to stay in Elbasan one more day, if not at the same hotel.

Friday morning, I actually woke up before my alarm, and leisurely readied myself for the day. I collected my garbage into an empty shopping bag (no garbage can in the room), ‎dressed, and packed. From my balcony, I'd spotted two hotels just a few hundred metres away from where I'd been staying, so I headed away from the city centre towards them. The very first one had a sign at the roadside listing the amenities and the word "sauna" was included. And yes, they accept credit cards!

I won't be listening to the Canada - Denmark hockey game live, mainly because it begins at 2:00 AM local time, and tomorrow I'll be walking again. After looking over the sections in my guidebook ‎that cover the next few days, I've decided to stick with the road and forego the majestic views from the mountain passes. The snow I saw on my approach to Elbasan has retreated from all but the highest peaks, but I rather like having coffee and conversation breaks along the way. Of equal importance (to me, at least) is that the road is a much more direct route to Librazhd. The 26 kms I intend to cover tomorrow would be half again as much were I to follow the trail. With slightly more than nine hours of daylight, I could very well get caught on a snowy untravelled mountain trail after dark in January. Adventurous I may be, but that's something I'd rather avoid if at all possible.

And now I'll be heading off to the sauna just as soon as I hit Send. Happy New Year!


  1. Happy New Year, bro !

    Hope the sauna didn't stop working half-way. Glad to hear you're doing well and improving on your Albanian. We missed most hockey games here, too much partying going on. Will watch the one against the Danes now that you mentioned it. Go Canada!


    1. This is a four star hotel (for €30 a night!), so the sauna worked just fine.

      A friend of mine summarised Denmark's likely response at advancing to the next round.

      "We advanced to the Quarterfinals! We advan.… What? … Who? .… CANADA?


      bloody hell."

  2. Your hosts might be pleased to learn that Max Domi's grandparents hail from Albania.