11 June 2008

A Grecian Tragedy

Friends, I am ashamed of myself. I have betrayed not only my calling and good sense but also the cause of backpackers around the world. Do you remember when I said that I could easily lie to get into the Acropolis for free as a "European" student? I just couldn't bring myself to do it... and the travel gods have punished me. Oh, I got my look at the most famous monument of Western Civilization five years after the first time I saw it--and it looks more or less the same--but I paid a high cost, higher than the 9VCU entrance tariff.

The following day, I finally got around to buying a bus ticket to Tirana, Albania. Beforehand, I had lunch with John Coleman, the Cornell archaeologist I worked for briefly in 2003, and his wife, Laura. I had a great time seeing them again. John just finished teaching only one of two courses in the history and philosophy of atheism in the United States, which courageous act earned him the ire of many of his enlightened Ivy League colleagues. I doubt he cares much, though, because he's just retired and he and Laura will be building a house in Greece (of course I plan to visit). Oh yes, I had a great ole time, until I went back to Lena's place and 1) discovered one of my three pairs of high performance underwear missing, 2) with only minutes to pack and rush to the bus station, accidentally locked the keys to my backpack inside my backpack... for the second time this trip (scroll back to my first Mumbai post), and 3) on arrival in Tirana, found that I had also left my shampoo and beloved shower poof ("loofah") at Lena's apartment. I have learned my lesson, friends, and will not be telling the truth any longer where my integrity as a scum of the Earth traveler is concerned. Clearly, it angers the powers above.

Despite these mishaps, I at least made it to Tirana. The bus ride took about 16 hours, with a nice 3 am border crossing to keep me on my toes. To gain ingress to Albania, I was charged the princely sum of 1 euro at the border, what for I can only guess. My Lonely Planet said I would have to pay 10, so at least one pleasant surprise was intermingled among the bad news of the day. I was met in Tirana by Irena, a kind Albanian I contacted through the Couchsurfing website. By the way, if you want more information about this whole couchsurfing thing, here is a video report on it from Business Week magazine: http://feedroom.businessweek.com/index.jsp?fr_story=f265eaf6c3ab4de95757e228d778f6851e82fcfc

Anyway, Irena met me and right away we bumped into her friend Tani, the guy with whom I spent most of the day. They brought me to a kind of apartment homestay--really nice place. The young woman there, when I asked the price, said 10 dollars or 10 euros. I said, "Really? Or?" She said, "...yes." "Really? Don't you know they're different?" "It's OK. You decide." Luckily, I had VCUs on me and paid her with that, my currency of choice, but only because I am loyal to my country and prefer using its products and finance instruments whenever possible. The punchline is, as I was later informed, she's studying economics. But, as I was also informed, Albanians, once they say something, don't like to contradict themselves. Certainly works for me. I will have more to say about Albania in my next post. Tani showed me around the city, which looks typical enough, but he, Irena, and I will spend more time together after the nap I'm supposed to be taking, and now will go and take, right now.

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