On the road


 

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I have written here about a bit of the traveling I’ve recently been doing with my partner, Andrés. But I haven’t given these stories any context. For those of you who read this blog, you might enjoy hearing about the Grand Plan. So here it is, the thesis to our travel, the overarching theme that will explain our movements for the next few months:

***~A multi-continental trip via land and sea.~***

We plan on traveling from Bulgaria (cheap flight) to Malaysia (friends to visit), without taking any planes. We want to see what the land looks like, what the water looks like, what it all smells like and even what it feels like. So the only airplanes we plan on taking are those into Europe and those out of South East Asia at the end of our trip. That’s it. Beyond those somewhat flexible parameters, our traveling isn’t particularly poetic or practical. We just decided we wanted to do this, planned our lives around it, and here we are, three weeks into the (one of the) trips of our lives.

Since we are on the move, transportation is of interest. We’ve been moved from place to place by cars, buses, boats and trains. I’ve found that the vehicle (and the company) can determine the mood of the landscape: in shared taxis, fellow passengers interact with one another, and their commentary narrates my taking-in of the various terrain and communities we passs through. On trains, my mind is fed by the world rushing by at a pleasant, swaying pace, and the sound of tracks passing underneath give my thoughts structure and drive. On the ferry in Croatia, we rushed along and stopped, rushing past islands and stopping at ports, where tourists stood out on the deck and smoked. We met a storm and cut headlong into whitecapped waves. We have dragged out suitcases, in some way, across every kilometers we’ve passed through, up and down stairs, in and out of over head racks and piles of unguarded luggage. We’re vagabonds… Glamabonds? Like camping with air conditioning, I can’t really compare our movements or accomondations to those of a true transient.

I’ve been trying to think of a lens through which to write about this trip. Traveling with a partner? Traveling without airplanes? The Mongolian empire? So far I seem to be most interested in the nitty-gritty details of getting from point A to B, in true Glamabond style. For the next few weeks, though, we won’t be moving much: we’ve unpacked our bags in a shared apartment in Berlin, and plan on sticking around for a bit. I’ll have more time to write, and spend less time to

Four ways to get around Albania

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1) Tie on the boots, Fatos

Andrés and I walked into Albania. A driver, lacking proper papers to cross the border, left us with the Macedonian immigration agent after receiving half of our agreed payment. It was a sleepy Sunday, and few cars passed us as we rolled our bags along the countryless mountain road high above shining Lake Ohrid. In Albania, the agents looked at our passports but we received no stamps. It’s as though we were never there.

2) Share a taxi, Megi

The morning we left Pogradec for Albania’s capital Tiranë, we packed our bags and planned on waiting in the grape-strewn garden until 10:30, when we would walk to the bus station. I was stuffing my hairbrush into an outer pocket when Luli, our host, bustled into the room. “You go now! Taxi outside. Ready? You. Go. Now!” He grabbed my heavy suitcase and rolled it outside, past Amy the matted dog and the neat rows of potted flowers. In the street a dusty car was parked next to the public spring. A small old man in faded black sat in the back, and a blond teenager sat in the front seat with her iPhone. Flora and Luli kissed us goodbye and we were off, the hot wind blowing on my neck and the old man wedged into the middle seat, his hot panted leg digging into my own. Whenever we passed the crumbling ruins of factories and train tracks, he would poke me and say, gravely, “comunismi.”

3) Rent a car, Bujar

August is high season in Albania. In every city, the hotels double booked us and we tried again and again to find lodging that would stick. We finally found a hotel down south, on the Ionian Sea and across the border from Greece, but how to get there? Every car in the city had already been rented…but no: our Tiranë host (who had also double booked the room we were planing on sleeping in, and gave us the living room couch instead) knew a guy who knew a guy. We drove out of town on Wednesday morning in a dusty blue Ford Focus, no gas, no AC and no rear mirror. I hoped that the evil eye/ horseshoe talisman hanging from where the mirror used to be would protect us.

4) Travel in style, Bardhyl

Our dusty blue Ford did the trick: we saw it all, and after two 5-hour longhauls and a few day trips, we had the car back in Tiranë, gasless and parked against the same shady wall we found it on. It was time to move on. A gleaming white vehicle with Montenegro plates waited for us, ready to bring us to our next destination. With Momo the driver’s expertise, the 2-hour wait at the Albania/Montenegro border didn’t seem that bad. He expertly handled the winding decent into Kotor along a 200 year road, dropping us off with another patiently waiting host.

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