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Europe: Eastern From Russia to Croatia, the Danube, Iron Curtain era vestiges, Pilzner beer, Czech it out!

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Old 06-24-2006, 04:55 AM   #1
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OK, I will start of with this: Albania is fucking awesome!

Now onto the details. The coach journey was pretty cool and I got to meet some Albanians for the first time (actually every single person on the coach bar me was Albanian). I sat next to an old guy who was very friendly and despite not speaking any english we were talking (using sign language mostly) for a while and he even offered to buy me breakfast when we stopped for a break in Albania as I had no Leke on me. I also spoke to a very sweet girl who could speak a bit of English. As soon as we crossed the border to Albania the roads practically disappeared and the rest of the journey was very bumpy. I also noticed that there is rubbish littered absolutely everywhere, but looking past that, the landscape is absolutely amazing.

Upon arriving in the city I found a hotel for 20 euro, bit of a dive but I was too tired to look around. Vlore is nothing special, even being Albania's second largest city I'd walked right through the centre of town and seen everything worth seeing in about 2 hours. I then headed to the beach, sat on the wall and immediately I was approached by a girl who asked if I wanted to make a baby with her?!?

After this however, Albania and its people have been nothing but amazing. That evening I went into a bar to watch the Holland vs Argentina match and started talking to a guy sitting next to me (women don't seem to go to bars at all here), within minutes the whole bar were trying to talk to me in any common languages we could use. They even bought me crisps and one guy got his son to come and translate.

The following morning I took a bus to Llgora and walked the remaining 2km to the summit, passing many groups of teenagers collecting different kinds of flowers and insects, school project I assume. Everyone stared at me as if they couldn't believe what they were seeing and a few of them tried to start a conversation. A couple of cars stopped and tried to talk to me as well but next to no-one speaks English so it's difficult. Upon getting to the summit and enjoying the incredible view of the hills plumitting into the crystal clear sea below, I hitched a lift down the other side to a tiny village called Dhermi, where I spent all afternoon on a huge practically deserted beach with the most amazingly clear and warm water I have ever seen.

That evening I decided to hike to Drymades, another beach 3km away, 1km uphill then 2km back down. I made it to the top and nearly passed out so I sat down to have a drink and this kid on a motorbike stopped and asked where I was going, I said Drymades and he told me to get on the back. He then took me all the way to the beach, dropped me off and went back the way he came, how about that for hospitality! I found a wooden chalet (centre parks style but smaller) for 15 euros so decided to stay there, it was practically on the beach and I could hear the sea as I was laying in bed.

The following day I hiked back to the main village and hitched a lift back to Vlore and could a shared taxi to Berat where I am now. I've had people call out from across the street "hello tourist" and I feel like a bit of a celebrity. One more night here and then off to Tirana tomorrow.

Transport here is not easy, there are no designated bus stops or timetables, you flag down a bus when one passes and get on, so a lot of the time it's much easier to hitch a lift. Also hotels are easy to find, always seem to have room and generally cost 15-20 euro a night.

Take it easy.
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Old 06-24-2006, 09:16 AM   #2
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Thanks for the update Mr Celebrity lol

Sounds like your having a brilliant time. Does Albania seem expensive to you? I thought it would have been a lot cheaper than 20 euros for a hotel
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Old 06-25-2006, 06:43 AM   #3
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Sounds amazing. Keep the updates coming. It's so heartwarming to hear about the hospitality of people who are so unused to visitors and so far off the beaten track.

Keep the updates coming, my friend!

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Old 06-26-2006, 06:27 AM   #4
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The longer I stay in Albania the more I love the country. After Dhermi I went to Berat, an amazingly beautiful city. I went to a bar to watch the football and started chatting to a guy who works as a waiter at the hotel I was staying at. That evening he got a load of friends together and took me out clubbing. They were all incredibly nice and kept buying me drinks, refusing to let me pay for them.

I'm now in Tirana were 1/3 of the population live and finally discovered where all the attractive women are hiding! Met some really cool australians at the hostel so going to watch their match later this afternoon.

Two more days here then it's off to Kosovo.

As for costs, hotels are by far the most expensive thing, everything else is very very cheap. I went out last night to a bar in Tirana and paid only 100 leke (about 60p) for a 0.5l glass of beer. A furgon (shared taxi) from Berat to Tirana, which took nearly 3 hours, cost me 400 lek (so just over 2 pounds).

Also the entire country looks as though it's being built, laying new roads everywhere, building etc, the locals say things are improving very rapidly.
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Old 06-26-2006, 06:45 AM   #5
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thanks for the update...any photos or are the internet cafe's scarce?
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Old 07-02-2006, 07:58 AM   #6
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Northern Albania is much poorer than the rest of the country, there's a lot of abandoned factories and the roads are in a terrible terrible state. I spent one day in a town called Kruja just north of Tirana and they had constant power cuts while I was there.

I'm now in Prishtina, Kosova. The journey here was an overnight bus ride through the mountain roads in the north, my god that was the worst journey of my life! I got no sleep as it was so bumpy, they were playing terrible Albanian music all night (sounds a lot like Arabic music), and the roads were half falling down the cliff with no barriers or anything.

Anyway, I got here and it's a pretty cool place. I'm staying with a guy from Couchsurfing (whose phone number i noted down before the website died, apparently permanently!) in Pristhina. There are KFOR soldiers and UN vehicles absolutely everywhere, never seen so many soldiers in one place before. It was even more intense when I went to Mitrovice earlier today, it's a town with a serbian enclave on one side of the river, so very heavily protected. There was even a soldier keeping an eye on some serbian children playing football. Crossing into the enclave is like going to a different country, they use the serbian language and cyrillic alphabet (as opposed to albanian and latin in the rest of kosova), they use dinars instead of euros, and all cars have serb number plates.

I've uploaded a few photos here
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Old 07-03-2006, 09:29 AM   #7
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Cool photos...whets the appetite for more. I've actually read about Skanderbeg...ballsy dude who stood up to the Ottoman Turks in Medieval Albania. Not 100% sure, but think he was fairly contemporary with Vlad the Impaler...aka Dracula.

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Old 07-14-2006, 04:07 AM   #8
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A quick update. I spent a couple of days in Skopje, Macedonia, got bored so left early and went to Istanbul, then Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria, all the typical tourist bollocks so nothing really interesting to report there.

Yesterday I attempted the mammoth the journey from Veliko Tarnovo to Chisinau in Moldova and it didn't exactly go to plan. The Veliko Tarnovo train station and in fact the whole line running through it is shut for the next few weeks, meaning the istanbul-bucharest train I intended to catch is now routed miles away. Not a problem, I'll get a bus to Bucharest instead I thought, off I go to the bus station to be told "no bus, only train", interesting.... So then I get a bus to a train station on the sofia-bucharest line about 15km north of Veliko Tarnovo and find out the train would arrive in bucharest only 30 minutes before my connection, which only runs once a day. I didn't have a choice so I took it, and it got in 4 hours late.

So there I am at bucharest train station at 11 o clock at night with no trains to Moldova. I'd been chatting to a romanina guy on the train who was getting a connection to Sibiu which didn't leave til midnight so I hung with him at the station while he waiting for his train and a mate of his turned up who was british. As soon as I was introduced this british guy offered me his floor to sleep on, result! So after the romanian guy leaves, we go off to this beer festival and I met loads of expats, then we went clubbing and finally back to his and it turned out he lives in a penthouse in central bucharest! I'm now at his and going to stay for a couple of days just chilling out before continuing on to moldova.
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Old 07-14-2006, 06:27 AM   #9
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well what a result..im loving these updates just photos needed now
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Old 07-14-2006, 04:40 PM   #10
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Damn, I can't even express how exciting this all sounds. I should be doing a very similar trip in about ten months. Thanks for all the updates, these are awesome!
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Old 07-15-2006, 08:54 AM   #11
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I was just talking to Jengt yesterday, saying how I hadn't read an update from you and was wondering how things were going with you. Sounds like -- except for train/bus problems -- wonderful, as usual.

Sorry I steered you wrong on Plovdiv and Veliko Turnovo. I guess the history in them makes up for the touristy-ness, for me. Ah, well....we each have our own things that really make a country come alive for us. What some may consider the touristy things, others may feel are the sights that they can lose themselves in and make their visit memorable. Anyway, I'm enjoying the heck out of your updates, as usual...so keep 'em coming!

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Old 07-15-2006, 09:52 PM   #12
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I'm really enjoying your descriptive travelogue, keep the news coming. I relate to your travelling style and look forward to reading this thread!

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Old 07-16-2006, 01:25 AM   #13
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Mike don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the time I spent in those two towns. I was just implying that people have been there before and reported on them and nothing out of the ordinary really happened so I didn't feel them worth writing about.

A quick update. I've just arrived in Chisinau, Moldova and discovered the budget hotel I was going to stay at no longer exists... I spent half an hour walking in circles thinking "it's got to be here somewhere", finally found someone who understood what I was saying (how difficult is it to understand "hotel meridian?"), and they said "hotel kaput". I'm tired of walking though so come to an internet cafe for a bit, then will try and find somewhere else, maybe after a beer as well.
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Old 07-16-2006, 03:30 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally posted by ajb3000@Jul 16 2006, 08:25 AM
(how difficult is it to understand "hotel meridian?"), and they said "hotel kaput".*
[snapback]131179[/snapback]

Hotel Kaput...that's great. Good luck on finding a place in Moldova. If there's any TPer that can land on his feet there, it's you, buddy!

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Old 07-22-2006, 06:56 AM   #15
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So I managed to find somewhere to stay that was pretty cheap in the end. I ran into a woman who spoke English and said she had a friend I could stay with for 10 euro a night. Her friend turned out to be an 80 year old Russian woman who didn't speak a word of English, but I did get my own private room and it worked out pretty well.

Chisinau is a pretty awesome place to just explore. There aren't many sights but there are lots of bars and cafes and I did manage to make friends with a few local people who spoke pretty good English and told me all about the countries history, and their views and things like the Soviet Union and Transdneistr, it was all very fascinating. I even met one girl who studied Computer Science at University in Chisinau, could speak 4 languages and now works in a travel agents earning only $100 a month!

I took one day trip to a monastry that was cut into a limestone cliff at Orhei Veche and it was such a fucking mission I decided against trying to go anywhere else. Their roads aren't great although much better than Albania's, however, they cram so many people onto a bus it's unbelievable. They just keep pushing more people on until you have people literally standing on the backs of seats, and being so tall I was bent over double trying to hang onto something for the 2 hour ride. Then because the monastry is in the middle of nowhere with only 1 bus a day (which I missed), I had to pay a taxi driver to drive me 11km from Orhei to Orhei Veche, wait 1 hour while I looked around and then drive me back to Orhei, which actually only cost 6 quid, but still... It was actually worth it, the place was incredibly as you'll probably all see from my photos when I get back.

I then travelled to Trandsdneistr a couple of days ago which was, well... not amusing. At the "border" I was ordered off the bus with my bag and told to stand up against a wall that looked like it had been used by a firing squad! Then about 5 million soldiers took it in turns to look through my passport, after which one of them took it and walked away. After about half an hour he came back and asked me loads of questions, then I had to go and speak to someone else who asked me all the same questions again. After they were both happy I had to go to another room and fill in a 2 page form that was in very badly written english so I have no idea what I was actually meant to write and I made half of it up anyway. I then had to wait while they discussed how much to charge me to enter, after paying it they informed me I had to register with the passport office in Tiraspol within 3 hours. There went my plans to visit Bendery on the way.

So I get to Tiraspol, find the passport office and it's absolute bedlam. There are hundreds of people all over the place and about 5 different queues, all at least a couple of hours long. As everything was in Russian I had no idea where to queue and couldn't find anyone who could help me, so I decided to forget about it and go find somewhere to stay. Having done that I went back and found someone who told me in broken English to go to a particular police station where they could do it much faster. I did this and finally got registered (after paying another fee and filling in 2 more forms). I then tried to find a cash machine, only to be told there are none, so I'm living off bread and water until I get to Ukraine.

Anyway, I'm now here legally (I think) and it is seriously cool. The "capital" isn't even really a city, like a small town in the UK. It's got such a soviet feel to it though, it really is like a huge outdoor museum. Tomorrow I leave for Odessa, Ukraine. I'll let you all know how that border crossing goes
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Old 07-22-2006, 09:16 AM   #16
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I want to be on your trip NOW!!!!!!! Sounds absolutely amazing and im waiting in anticipation to see some of these photos.

You write in such a descriptive manner it really makes the reader want to go there!

Your definately an asset to Travelpunk...well done you!
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Old 07-22-2006, 11:35 AM   #17
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WOW! What an incredible experience. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us!

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Old 07-22-2006, 01:57 PM   #18
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Yeah, keep these stories coming!
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Old 07-23-2006, 03:25 AM   #19
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Da, comrade, keep the stories from behind the former Iron Curtain coming...! Can't wait to see the monastery pics....

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Old 07-28-2006, 07:58 AM   #20
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Well crossing the border into Ukraine was completely uneventful. I was all psyched up for some serious bribary, hassle, interrogation etc. but it was one of the easiest crossings I've done yet! The journey itself was horrible though, standing up in a bus for 4 hours with no air conditioning. Anyway, I got to Odessa and had the most amazing time of my entire journey. I made friends with an incredible group of people at the hostel, all of which were solo travellers who had met there, so we were all in the same boat.

I spent 4 nights living it up at the best clubbing strip I have ever been to. Forget going to Tenerife for a week long boozing session, Arkadia in Odessa blows it out of the water. The clubs are all open air and overlook the sea giving impressive views of the oil rigs at night and the sunrise in the morning, plus the girls in Odessa are probably the most attractive and friendly anywhere in the world, two characteristics that seem to be mutually exclusive everywhere else. I also managed to get rather sunburnt; it's not a good idea to go clubbing til 8am, then straight to the beach, you're gauranteed to fall asleep.

Getting my train ticket from there to Kiev was a mission. When I went to the train station 3 days before I wanted to leave they said there were no tickets for 9 days! I was slightly baffled as there are 15 trains a day, but it seems the entire soviet union go to Odessa for their holidays. Fortunately I managed to get one though by going back with a Russian speaker; locals buy tickets from a different office and they had a couple left for the day I wanted.

Now I'm in Kiev and tried to buy my ticket to Krakow for my flight home on the 3rd but they had nothing until the 5th, and that was in the office for the locals! I've managed to bag a seat to Warsaw on the 1st though, so I'm hoping I'll have no problems getting a last minute ticket from there to Krakow or I could be in trouble.
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