Monday, November 20, 2017

Random Thoughts and Summing Up

  • Sometimes a bus, sometimes a minivan. Each bus has stickers on the back window showing which amenities are on the bus - television, movies, bathrooms, WiFi, etc. - none of those things are ever on the bus.
  • Buses in Albania and Kosovo have a conductor in addition to the driver.  The conductor's job is to collect the fare, to let the driver know when to pull off the highway to pick up passengers and to make sure every one gets off at the correct stop - every conductor we had took his job very seriously.  In Kosovo, the conductor had the additional responsibility of passing out delicious hard candy.
  • Sometimes there is only one bus station in a city (usually next to the train station) and sometimes there are several stations in one city - buses from the north station go north, buses from the south station go south, etc. Sometimes the bus stations are very nice with plenty of places to eat (Ruse, Bulgaria) and sometimes there are no bathrooms or ticket agents (Sibiu, Romania). Sometimes there are no stations - you are told to stand in front of a hotel and wait until someone calls out the name of the city you are traveling to. Sometimes the name of a bus station is helpful - south bus station - and sometimes the names are not helpful - Station Q7 in Sibiu and Stations Alpha and Beta in Cluj-Napoca.
  • Border crossings can be very long, especially if your bus has to go into a shed (complete with a German Shepard on a leash that is way too long) so the guards can check underneath the bus and inspect everyone's luggage. To make things even more difficult, there usually are no bathrooms available at border crossings.
  • It is good practice to ask the drivers if they are going to stop for a bathroom break before you board the bus.

7:30 am disco-themed minivan to Romania

Bus Station Q7, Sibiu, Romania

  • I am not a fan of pensions. I would much rather stay in a hotel or hostel with a reception desk. Pensions usually don't have breakfast and you have to set up a time to meet the owner to get your key. Then you are pretty much on your own; it is hard to meet other travelers. There are some exceptions - we stayed in a wonderful apartment in Lake Ohrid. The owners lived in the building and were available to answer questions and fix the WiFi.
  • I love staying in restored hotels, especially when the rooms have not been overly modernized (its OK if the bathroom has been overly modernized).
Jovanovic Guest House

Great Ideas (all from Romania)

Book vending machine

Egg vending machine

Some sort of machine that disinfects bathroom door handles

  • Places - I absolutely loved Albania and I am making plans to return to Shkodra to take the boat ride we missed due to the weather. I would also like to see more of southern Macedonia. I am looking forward to my third visit to Bulgaria and Romania.
  • Hotels - Jovanovic Guest House, Tradita G&T (also has my favorite restaurant), Hotel Evmolpia, Gurko Hotel 
  • Food - burek, now and forever

Victims of Communism Memorial - Bunk'Art 2, Tirana, Albania

Biggest Disappointments
  • Plum dumplings in Brasov.  I was looking forward to having these again but they were horrible.
  • The Holocaust Museum in Skopje and the Holocaust Museum, Jewish Museum and Great Synagogue in Bucharest were all closed for various reasons.
  • When we crossed a border, all the passports were collected by the bus driver who took them to the border agent.  When we were cleared, the driver would choose one passenger to return the passports to the other passengers.  Despite my best efforts to look like a responsible bus rider, I was never picked. 
What I Learned
  • If you are in a city with a US Embassy or consulate, you can get a new passport in 24 hours or less.
  • People in Albania are really nice. We got a free taxi ride in Berat and the city bus in Tirana made an unscheduled stop for us so we wouldn't have to find our way to a museum. 
  • Most people in Kosovo love Americans. A store owner in Pristina refused to let me pay for a couple of apples when he found out I was from the USA.
  • My new favorite adjective/noun combination is "lobby bar."
  • Never go hiking without hiking poles.

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