Iowa Martins in Albania

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

trip to Albania August 2012

August 16  storms in Chicago.  Standby for alternate flight leaving 30 minutes B4 our scheduled flight.  Good thing.
We successfully got seats on the earlier flight.  Good thing.
Flight actually leaves 10 minutes AFTER our scheduled flight was supposed to leave.  Bad thing.
During the wait on the tarmac, I hear the person behind me talking on her phone.  She is going to Philadelphia at exactly the same time we are supposed to leave for DC.
They tell her that since the problem is the weather, her flight to Philly will probably be delayed by some minutes and she should be fine.  Good thing.
We arrive in Chicago 3 minutes before our flight to DC is scheduled to leave.  We find a monitor that shows departures.  Our flight is not boarding…it is closed, meaning that boarding is finished and it is ready to take off.  Bad thing.
We find the line for United. The line is 2 hours long—weaving back and forth  around the ‘tension barriers’—cloth bands that direct line members to be nice.
We accept seats on a flight in the early evening that gets us to Munich 15 minutes AFTER the only flight from Munich to Tirana leaves. Bad thing…but necessary.
I want to find a way to get to Tirana.  I know there should be a flight from Munich to Vienna and then to Tirana later in the day.  United tells us that we must talk to Lufthansa since it is their flight in Europe.
Lufthansa tell us that we must talk to United since they brought us into Chicago late.  We grudgingly plan to take the flight to Munich at 6:50 and go eat lunch.  An expensive thing.
On the flight over, we each have individual movie screens.  I think that the boys would like “Men in Black.”  Each of us begins the movie on our personal screens at nearly the same time.  After the first scene, Maxim says, “I don’t think this is appropriate for us.  There are guns and explosions.”  A wise kid.

We switch to “Mrs. Doubtfire.”  Maxim likes it, Oskar gets tired of it.  At any rate, after the movie, I convince them to take a nap.  Wonderful!
I have been counting on the several hours on the plane to read some of my textbooks for the class in Moscow.  When everyone is sleeping, the lights are turned off so I plan to use my personal reading light.  Mine doesn’t work; the boys’ lamps don’t work.  The flight attendant says, “Oh, well.”  Bad thing.
I am able to shack up in the restroom for 30 minutes and read.  Good thing?  The boys sleep all the rest of the way—probably 5 hours.  When they flight staff brings morning sandwiches, the boys are awake and happy.  Good thing.

After getting to Munich, we find the line for people who have Lufthansa ticket issues.  The line is only 30 minutes long and we can take a number so we can sit down in the comfortable couches instead of standing like sheep going to slaughter.
I find out that, as I suspected, there is a flight from Munich to Vienna to Tirana leaving in the evening.  We are given three seats on these flights.  Good thing.
My message to a friend in Tirana asking him to call Porto Palermo to tell them that we will not be coming is not delivered, or is ignored.  Bad thing.
We have nearly 8 hours before our flight.  We trundle around the airport finding a place to store some bags, a place to buy food, and a place to buy train tickets into town.  Eventually find success in all three ventures.  We spend a lovely day in Munich visiting a toy museum, climbing a clock tower, eating ice cream, and noticing that every fifth person has a dog on a leash.  I am even able to take a nap on the ground in a park.  We took the train from the center part of the way back to airport, thinking that we might find a park or someplace with a play structure. We didn’t, but we DID find a Bernese Mountain Dog –my favorite breed of dog; they remind me of a Snickers bar.

Munich from the clock tower 
 Dog parking

 Pretzels as big as your face
 Mirrors in the elevator
 Swiss Army knife with USB drive
 Huge bike painted on street
Toy ships in museum

Dancing Oskar in Vienna airport

We leisurely got back on the train for the remainder of the trip back to the airport.  Strolled into the place and retrieved our bags.  Then I calmly look at my watch and the calmness flies out the window because our flight leaves in 15 minutes.  We scurry through the airport like O.J. Simpson, leave one bag at the other end of the x-ray machine, and jog to the gate.  Forty-five seconds before we get there, we hear our names on the PA system telling us to get our tails to the gate before we delay the flight.
We arrive in Tirana. One bag is missing. Bad thing.
In Tirana, we slept for awhile, then we left for Porto Palermo.  I am thinking that we should be able to get there in four hours. There are big, new speedy highways for one-quarter of the trip.  Good thing.  It takes 5 hours anyway. Bad thing.
Arrive at 7:30 with 30 minutes of daylight.
I find my friend Xhemal (pronounced: Jemal).  He acquires a pained expression.
“You are late,” he says.  I explain.  “The problem is that there is no room for you.”  Bad thing.
“Is there anything we can do?” I ask.  The boys and I sit quietly while negotiations transpire in Albanian.  We understand nothing.  After 5 minutes, Xhemal says that a German guy with one son will allow us to bunk in his room.
“Good.  Can we borrow some snorkeling equipment for the boys?” I answer.  As long as we can sleep, I don’t care where.  Ever since the first time I asked Xhemal to reserve our place in July, I told him that we wanted to rent/borrow/use snorkeling equipment for the boys.  I didn’t think this would be a problem because the last time I was at Porto Palermo, all he had was equipment for kids.  At that time, I didn’t have MY mask so I had to use a child’s—quite uncomfortable.
He brought down a couple kids’ snorkels and masks to our room—5 beds, no one else but us—so we went down to play.  Good thing.  Afterwards in the restaurant, while Oskar and I ate some delicious, good-for-people-who-have-high-cholesterol fish, Xhemal came and asked if we could move to make room for a family with three kids.  Sure, we had only three backpacks of clothes—easy to move.
Sunday, we have a delightful day on the beach.  After a few attempts to snorkel, Oskar succeeds and has a ball.  We see lots of fish and interesting garbage on the bottom.  We watch a water plane fly into the beach area, and take off again.  I swim 25 minutes out to four black circles floating on the water.  As I get near, a dude in a boat appears and makes it clear that he wants me to get away.  We chat amiably.  In the end, he tows me another 15 meters so I can simply touch one of the orange buoys, just so I can say I did.

 Maxim in the water
Snorkeling Oskar, plus a bonus video
The three boys, self-portrat
Scorpion in our room. It was under Oskar's jacket.  I tried to get something next to it so you could see its size, but failed.  You'll have to take my word for it that it was 3 inches long.

Here is a shot of Porto Palermo. It is nearly an island that is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land.  On the island is a castle that some say was built by Ali Pasha in the 1800's.  Other say it was the Venetians.

 This is the fish farm as seen from the castle.
 Maxim in the clear water.
 Oskar looking thru a hole in the wall.
 Oskar's hand as taken by Maxim playing with the camera.
 Walking down that steps in the castle.

All is well.  Seven-hour drive back to Tirana. Bad thing.  I take a 15-minute nap in a pull-out area and I’m good for the rest of the trip.  August 19


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