Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Taken for granted: loos (graphic warning)

The biggest surprises when travelling aren't people, sights, tastes etc. They are when your day-to-day reference points crumble.

This is the first of a series on this theme, and we will start with loos. In this instance I speak only for the Ladies (except - you have been warned - the last photo!).

1. No loo paper
Seatless + stinky bin
Not the greatest shock, this can happen in the UK, but still a shock. Men, this is why women have handbags. You think they are full of junk but in actual fact we keep a month's supply of loo rolls in there.

2. You aren't allowed to put the loo paper down the pan
Again, not exceptional. But when in a reflex reaction you have broken the rule, and not fed the stinky bin, what do you do next?(!)

3. No toilet seat
In a French campsite toilet block there were signs on the doors indicating the ones without seats. Being the sophisticate that I am I naturally veered to a seat-equipped cubicle to discover that they meant the toilet has a rim, not a seat. Who, intentionally, sits on the rim? On the plus side the skiing pose must be doing good things for my thighs.

No paper + wet floor
4. No lock on the door
Why have a lock for goodness sake? Doesn't everybody do the same thing in there, what's all the embarrassment about?

 Regardless, I class the toilet cubicle as private space and prefer to keep it that way. This isn't too big a deal if the cubicle is small and you have a seat to sit on: you can lodge your foot against the door. More stressful is when there is only one unisex toilet and the door is sprinting distance from the pan.

5. Mystery wet floor
What is that? Has water leaked from the cistern? From the toilet bowl? Is that water? ..... Time for a different cubicle, if there is one.

6. All the above
This configuration happens when you are truly desperate and all other toilet options have failed. You have no choice other than to adopt an advanced yoga pose to keep your foot on the door, get the tissues out of your bag and minimise contact with the toilet rim, and the floor, and the stinky bin.

7. Beyond contemplation
The below was in a church in the Men's.

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Saturday, 12 November 2016

The tiny guide to Albania

An absolute one-off, Albania combines glorious scenery and a savage history with a big, crazy heart. Pretty much everywhere is...

A Londoner staring down the locals
You won't get caught in gangland crossfire and you won't be robbed. Bournemouth is scarier. You're more likely to be suffocated by kindness.

Just be careful crossing the road (Flickr video).

Albert Einstein - CC
Albania = lovely x lovely squared
Albania is the only occupied country that ended World War Two with more Jews than it started with. It also helped Einstein get to America some years earlier.

This is explained by a deep cultural obligation to help strangers, and we saw that first-hand in the hospitality of our Airbnb hosts and the friendliness of every soul we met. Aww.

Albanian coastline, beach
Where are the hotels?
Most of the country is mountainous and some peaks in the north and south are gorgeously immense, if you like that kind of thing.

Then there are the sweeping white beaches with no hotels (yet). And then the rivers, lakes (Flickr timelapse) and islands.

It's the original pocket-sized Eden.

Ksamil demolished hotel, Albania
Another government-demolished hotel. Aha.
In 1950-90 the place was, basically, North Korea. Every third person was detained, there were only 600 cars, 170,000 bunkers dotted the countryside and still do (Flickr photo) and then the place went bust*.

The effects are clear to see in attitudes, infrastructure and sights - and 1990s prices.

More snaps and videos from our 15-day visit (Flickr)

*Thankfully it is getting back on its feet now.

Friday, 4 November 2016

The power of Montenegro

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro
We're not tired of the gorgeous views yet

Having seen Casino Royale we were understandably very excited to be entering this country with its cosmopolitan mountain, lake and casino wonderland. The fact that those Balkan scenes were filmed entirely in Italy is by the by.

This wee country  is certainly mountainous and the speed restrictions appear somewhat drastic.... until you get an appreciation of the condition of the roads. No wonder Bond's Aston Martin rolled 11 times.
Unplanned offroading. Click for video and Jo's whimpers
Montenegro's currency is the euro although it has yet to join the EU, but it is at the top of the list now and things are looking good if it's a one-in, one-out policy.

If you like smoking, it's the place for you: inside, outside, cafes, restaurants, waiting rooms, shops, no-smoking carriages in trains. Whenever you want to light up, go right ahead.

The food is tasty, extremely affordable, and dominated by meat or pizza. Oh and they really like salt. One night we started to dehydrate.

Strong again
Lovely Montenegrins, hic
It also promised to be the location where we could get some welding done on our car, Nellie, to tide her chassis over for another year or two.

Vlatko, our genial Airbnb host knew of a few mechanics who could do the job and so Dave with a spring in his step and a hopeful disposition headed off with him to engage in a spot of car fixing.

Two hours later he returned rosy-cheeked and jolly from the three glasses of home-made Rajika that was "thrust into his hand" while Vlatko and he waited for the elusive mechanic to return.

Long story short, no work was done to Nellie... But Dave did return with a little bag of pears he was given, so not entirely a fruitless expedition.

Nellie's chassis Before and After. It will do.
However three days later, all the worst holes in Nellie were welded up with long slabs of steel. She is now a quarter Montenegrin. All-in for £130. Dave reckons the same work would have set us back around £1600 at home, and without three free shots of Rajika.

This saving has not as yet translated into a week at a five-star hotel but I'm working on it.

Apologies for the slow progress with the blog. We've had several adventure since and are currently in the former North Korea of Europe, Albania, which we are finding gorgeous, utterly safe and delightful. Updates to come.

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