Thursday, 8 November 2007

STEPH Tirane 06/11/07

This morning I wake to delicious stillness and silence, stretching between clean white sheets and sinking into the comfort of knowing I don't have to go anywhere.

It's an illusion, I know. The price of this room is a once in a pilgrimage event and today's mission is to find another motel, so that I might rest with the darkening moon . . . at least until Ben turns up.

Much as I love the material comfort of the Rogner, the staff were incredibly unwelcoming. How ironic that in fabulously hospitable Albania I must pay so much to be treated so rudely by children with impeccable English and a horizon as wide as a 10 leke coin. It shouldn't matter; today it gets to me.

When I blew in with the cold last night, the receptionist inhaled sharply, inquriing with a certain tone about whether I knew what the room rates were. I said no, would she like to inform me. She did and I handed over the Mastercard. If I'd been quicker I would have used that fabulous Dolly Parton line: hey, it's costs a lot of money to look this trashy!

The Rogner is set in parkland in the middle of this chaotic city and it's certainly a beautiful place to park. I had read online about the friendliness of the people of Tirane and, well, compared to the warm hearts out there in the fields and the mountains, Tirane is just another busy grubby city going round in frantic circles filled with expressionless no help at all people.

And an awful lot of men standing around standing around, like pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

It is there, just behind them, that I find the much more affordable though still ridiculously expensive for where we are Miniri Hotel, which is just across the road from the Tirane International - where I spend the evening drinking mineral water and accessing their wireless.

Ben rings in the afternoon. He is walking along a dirt road running parallel with the railway tracks. I envy him his afternoon sunshine and wide blue sky, knowing all the while that this time of rest is right for me.

Later in the evening, lying in my hard and narrow bed in a room that smells of old tobacco smoke, I think of Albania and the conversation I had with Ben in Shkodra yesterday: how on Earth did this country get left so far behind?

Way behind.

Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, all in various stages of recovery from war. We get the feeling war is irrelevant to present-day Albania. There might be a little more rubble than usual . . . but the poverty in this country is undateable and beyond reason.

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