We made it! There were a few bumps in the road but we made it! Our journey began with checking in at Dulles on Friday night. Ruth one of our members had issues with getting her boarding passes with some paperwork issues but once that go sorted out we made it to our gate. Once we boarded Turkish Airlines a ton of us were in awe of the plane. Everyone was excited when they were handing us little red pouches that had an eye mask, socks, head phones and slippers; as well as blankets and pillows. Once everyone got comfortable you could take in the amazing TV, phone and internet set up they had in the back of each seat. For the most of us that have never traveled outside the U.S. before. While in flight they did serve us two full meals the first being dinner the two options everyone chose from was beef with vegetables and potatoes and the other was pasta. Everyone was very impressed by the food that was severed. The only thing that was a bit of a problem with was two screaming babies. It happens in travel but it was during the sleep part of our flight. Time must have flown by. When everyone woke up for breakfast there was only an hour and half left in our flight.
GCP Albania Blog #1: Go with the flow:
Once we landed in Istanbul, Turkey we hand two hours or so before our connecting flight. It surprised that when we landed and got off the plane we had to go through security again. For some they just refilled water bottles or even bought drinks at Dulles that they needed to get rid of. We did get to experience Turkish Coffee for the first time. Alex didn’t care for the first one that he got because it seemed like all of the coffee grounds weren’t blended in. Once we did get on our connecting flight we ended up being delayed for an hour because they forgot to refuel the plane before all the passengers got on it. But during that time we made friends with a group of young students that were heading home from a field trip. They taught us some words and phrases that they thought we should know.
Finally once we made it to Albania we got to head to the Hotel. Zeff and Jewel our tour guide and driving team told us different stories about the city as well as what to expect from native Albanians. The first thing that we learned is that no one drives the speed limit what so ever. They will zoom in and out of traffic and jump in to the correct lane with little time to spare. The second, once we got to the city center natives will walk right into the middle of traffic. At the hotel we got a lesson of how great a driver Jewel is. He somehow got our van to fit through tiny little spaces and tight corners without getting a scratch on the van.
Once we all got checked in we found out that Estela, Nikki, Ruth and Jordan got the apartment suite. This included a kitchen, dinning room, living room, two bathrooms, and two bedrooms which had four beds total. After getting cleaned up we headed to the restaurant Serendipity which is owned my Estela’s uncle. Serendipity was a Mexican-Albanian Restaurant that had an American flare. The music was definitely American with the band playing songs like “Country Road” and “Georgia” it felt like home.
We had an early start on Sunday morning. Zeff brought us a traditional breakfast called Byreck which is a pastry filled with cheeses or cheese and a meat. Everyone loved eating them with their morning coffee,espresso or tea, Once everyone was done we left to go to the city of Shkoder which located in the northern part of the country.
While driving we ended up being pulled over by a police office and he asked our driver where we were going he told him and he let us continue on without another word. The funny part is that the police office had an amazing beard. We all wanted to take a picture be we all decided against it.
Once we entered the city we met up with Danielle and Brandi who are peace core volunteers. They showed us around the city. Our first stop was a museum of a traditional Albanian home. We got to see different artifacts as well as traditional dress. Joey got to hold a Winchester rifle of the period. Which we all died laughing of. Once we got done with the tour we got our money exchanged to Lek.
We headed to lunch. At lunch we were all told that Albanian meals can take a long time. They were telling the truth. The food never stopped coming we ended up sitting around talking and eating for a solid two and half hours! We were all so stuffed by the end we never wanted to see food again. But after we got to walk around a ruined castle.
This castle was called the Rozafa. We all got to walk around the ruins in this area has some of the best views of Shkoder. While walking around a few decided to take part in going in the underground tunnels. Also Alex tried to go on top of the prison roof but was immediately told to get down by an employee. To be fair you were allowed to climb everywhere else. Once the sites were done we all headed to the hotel to rest up for dinner.
Dinner was amazing, here we met up with Danielle and some of her students. Here we ate pasta and pizza and learned traditional Albanian dances. This is where Heather found herself she was the first on the dance floor and the last to leave. The group also tried a traditional liquor which is very, very strong. Tomorrow will be another crazy adventure for our team!