Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beer and Albanian Bumper Cars

The Paris of Albania. That is what Korçë is considered to the rest of Albania. It is a larger town on the Eastern boarder of Albania (next to Macedonia). The streets are clean and there are well kept parks and green areas all around town. There is also a big, beautiful Greek Orthodox church in one of the main intersections in the town. The town is also home to the first school in Albania. Korçë not only has beautiful parks and historic buildings, but is also has tons of small neighborhoods that can be found on small side streets and in between the larger/main roads. These neighborhoods are composed of small dirt roads (almost trail-like) with home made of stones that have been white washed with a paint made from limestone dust. The homes also all have flowers and/or vines growing on top or on the sides of the buildings. Most Albanian towns or villages do not have distinct neighborhoods like Korçë does.

Just getting to Korçë was quite an adventure. A small group of volunteers from various areas of Albania met in Elbasan. From Elbasan we rode a train to Pogradec. It was an absolutely beautiful ride, but it was also painfully slow. What was so unbelievable was that it only cost 120 leke (about $1.20), which is pretty cheap for a ride from the middle of Albania to the Eastern boarder. Once we arrived in Progradec, we had a nice lunch and then continued on our journey to Korça in a furgon (small van). We got to our final destination around 2:30 or 3:00 pm. It was a long trip, but the experiencing the train was really fun. We were able to start celebrating a friends birthday, as well as see some pretty spectacular views.

While in Korçë, a group of friends and I stayed in an old Ottoman boarding house that was literally in the middle of Korçë's large open-air market. The building was round and several market vendors were even set up in the center (hole) of the building. The second floor was where all the rooms were. Each room faced the center of the "circle" and opened to the outside. The rooms were quite small, which really wasn't an issue because we only slept there and spent most of our time exploring Korçë and enjoying the Beer Fest. The bathrooms, on the other hand, were a completely different story. There were two "toilet" rooms, one for girls and one for boys, on one side of the boarding house. There was also a sink/shower room next to the two "toilet" rooms. The sink did not connect with any type of drainage system so when you turned the water on, the water when through the hole in the sink and onto your feet. That was quite a surprise on my first visit to the bathroom! The "toilet" rooms each had one turkish toilet. A turkish toilet, for those of you who have not had the pleasure of using one, are fancy (if you could really use this word in this context) holes in the ground. Because of this set up, the bathroom area reeked! The whole boarding house experience made me feel like I had traveled back to Medieval Times. I am not one to complain about dirt and grime, but this place was just plain nasty! Needless to say, I will probably not be staying there again.

The actual Beer Festival part of the weekend was really fun. There were lot of people from all over Albania, as well as quite a few Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV's). It was also nice to see some of the volunteers I hadn't seen in a while, as well as, get to know a few I really hadn't spent much time with. The festival featured Albanian beers, with a few Greek ones thrown in for fun. Each beer cost the equivalent to .50 US cents. What a bargain, right? There was also great live music and group grilling out. There were also bumper cars, along with other carnival-like activities. Of course we all took part in the bumper cars. We had to show the Albanians the REAL way to do bumper cars. What is so fascinating about Albanian bumper cars is that everyone drives around and makes a huge effort not to hit each other, but while driving real cars Albanians are pretty wild and not many driving laws are enforced. Lets just say us PCV's showed them how to do it right. All and all is was a super fun weekend!

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