After a few months of anticipation, my Christmas trip had finally arrived! I was in need of a little break after teaching for two weeks in the schools. Part of me couldn’t believe that the end of the year had arrived. I couldn’t think of a better way to ring in the new year, than traveling with some great friends.
As you may have guessed from my numerous complaints, traveling in Albania is a tad frustrating. Since I live in the far south, any time I would like to fly, I need to venture to the capital city of Tirana. If we’re keeping score, my Christmas trip started out as a 9 hour journey to Milot. I left Permet at 7 am, had to run across town because I almost missed my bus. I am sure I was a sight for sore eyes as I was trying to sprint, lugging my backpack and purse and obviously out of breath. I made the bus and sat down with a satisfied smile. Off to a good start! My smile gradually disappeared as the furgon took off and I realized the driver didn’t know how to defrost his windows. For the first 1 1/2 of our journey, he continually wiped a small, volleyball sized hole, that he could peer through. The road to Permet is more or less, on the side of a mountain. You can’t see another car coming towards you until the last second as you round countless curves. Which is why, I sit in the back of the bus and don’t look up if I can help it. Or, I peer out the side windows and check out the cows, sheep and goats that might be grazing along the road. This morning however, I sat encased in a completely frosted over furgon and decided it might be best to close my eyes.
When I arrived in Tirana, 5 1/2 hours later, I met up with another volunteer that was coming on the trip with me. Emilie and I had lunch and then set out searching for a ride to our friends site, Milot. We ended up only being able to find a furgon to a nearby city but was told he would stop in the vicinity of MIlot so that we could get off. Well, we realized once we arrived in the neighboring city that he was not going to stop in Milot for us and we were now in a larger city nearby. After learning we were American, an Albanian girl started talking to us on the ride there and wanted to know everything about us. She also decided that she would take us under her wing once we arrived at the wrong city. She brought us to meet her family and have coffee, and then had her husband drive us to Milot. It is never a dull moment when traveling in Albania, you usually don’t know where or how you will end up at your destination. Emilie and I had changed a lot since arriving in Albania. In PST we both would have been freaking out about heading to an unknown site. We both shrugged off the wrong turn and decided to just roll with it. That evening, we made it to Milot and met up with our other friends that were coming on the trip. We made lasagna, listened to 90’s music videos and somewhat patiently waited for our driver to pick us up at 1am to go to the airport. Our flight was taking off at 4:30 am and we were more than ready to leave Albania for a little while. At the airport we had hot chocolate and circle danced around the cafe to help liven up the waiters nights. It was obvious that they didn’t normally see a group of American girls circle dancing, speaking Albanian and asking for raki on very many shifts.
A couple hours later we arrived in Vienna, all looking a little weary eyed but nonetheless, excited for our vacation. We found our hostel in Vienna, dropped off our bags and set out for some real American style breakfast and coffee. We found a perfect coffee bar and ordered some delicious coffees that literally lighted up our faces when they came out. Followed by bagels and free wifi; so far we were really liking Vienna.
With the help of caffeine, we powered through the morning. We spent the day walking around the Christmas markets, enjoying first world comforts, touring the palace and Library, and of course, taking photos.
We were literally running on no sleep for over 30 hours and we started to show it. After a power nap at the hostel, we were ready to check out Vienna at night. We spent the rest of the evening walking around another market, drinking mulled wine and just enjoying the Christmas atmosphere.
After a much needed full nights sleep, we awoke the next day ready for some more sightseeing. We went to the same cafe and ended up making friends with the waiter and decided to meet him and his friend at one of the markets that evening. He brought us free brownies at the end of our meal and succeeded in getting on our good side, as you all know, chocolate is the way to my heart!
The following day, we mastered the subway and tram system. We saw the Ferris Wheel, more of the streets of Vienna and, of course, numerous Christmas markets. My favorite of which was the Naschmarket, an entire market dedicated to all the food delicacies you could imagine.
Vienna was an amazing city and had treated us well. Funnily enough, it ended in the same way that my trip from Permet had started. But this time, with me running across the train station, equipped with my backpack, souvenirs and a few breathless friends!