Prapratno to Ston to Split to Rijeka

From Dubrovnik, I hop on a ferry to the Croatian coast’s island of Mijet, and it starts pouring! It doesn’t stop save for 5 minutes once I am on the island, so I wait for the next ferry off the island. 5 hours later I am in Prapratno, a coastal village with a dark campsite, and no houses in sight anywhere near the ferry dock. So I walk, and I walk, and I walk. Then there is a house with no lights, but a street light shining over a directional street sign. Prapratno is back where I came from, and Ston is down the road. 5 or 6 kilometers down the road. It is still raining. It is dark. So I walk.

I end up in a bar, the only open thing in this town. Order a beer, and this guy with sunglasses falling off his nose with a cigarette in one hand and his other rubbing his ear starts talking to me. Quickly it is apparent that he speaks English, but doesn’t understand it. As I say I am looking for some place to stay a guy at another table tells me he knows someone, so that is where I go. Turns out it costs way more than I expected, but hey it was still raining. Here is Ston:

Not much to see there. Then I start on my walk to the gas station where the bus stop for Split is located. A man picks me up as the rain starts falling in buckets. Turns out he is an old sailor who went all over the globe, and knows Canadian and French harbour cities, and women, very well. That is when he goes to the mechanic’s, and I stand under a concrete ledge out of the rain, and wait for the bus. 2 and half hours left outside waiting for this imaginary bus pays off, and I am off to Split. I do not stay in split. Instead I go off to Rijeka on the overnight bus. It is still raining!

Have a dryer day!

Rijeka

After a night in the bus without being able to sleep, I am dropped off at 4 in the morning at the bus station in Rijeka. A smaller big coastal town in the north-western part of Croatia where I wait for the bus to get closer to Venice. Have a look:

Dubrovnik in the daylight

I have found a place to stay the night, and now it is morning so let’s have a walk around shall we:

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I can’t imagine what this city must feel like in the summer full of tourists, but this emptiness gives for a very pleasant stroll around the old city.

Dubrovnik by night

Herceg Novi, rain. Dubrovnik, rain. It doesn’t matter now I have made it to 14 new countries!!!

However, now I still have to find the old town of Dubrovnik and a place to stay. It stops raining. It is night. I am tired, but I want to know what this place looks like relatively dry. Here is what the old city looks like by night:

Now if you want to see it during the day, a sunny day at that, click on this!

Cheers!

Herceg Novi

I get into Herceg Novi and it is late. The room I am looking for is unknown, and now it is pouring! Coffee is had, internet is used, and I am walking in the heavy rain looking for something that apparently doesn’t exist! Then it shows up. The room! Dammit they’re full. Next door I go and another Argentinian is here. After a negotiated price I get a whole apartment to myself, and now I go cook some food. Look at what I found the next morning:

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Kotor

Well it is still raining and has been for a while now, so instead of staying a night in Kotor, I decide to have a quick look around this medieval town, and its close surroundings.

Here is what I saw:

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Now to Herceg Novi…

Going to Budva

From Shkodër I leave with an Argentinian guy, named Martin, who stayed at the hostel last night. It’s a taxi then a bus and a border control. Here’s a word to the wise, when crossing borders on land avoid carrying spices, notably rosemary, and/or tea bags. Trying to explain with 10 Albanian words that we are not transporting anything illegal is not worth the trouble.

COUNTRY NUMBER 13 HAS NOW BEEN STEPPED IN!!!

We go to Ulcinj and we find nothing but super markets, and more super markets. The main road is empty with cars parked everywhere, so we find a place to eat.

3 euros for a meal is a great deal! This is where I found out that you can judge the cost of living of a country by the cost of their chocolate bars such as a Mars/Snickers or what have you. Here in Montenegro they are .35 Euros about a third to a quarter of what they are in France or anywhere else in Western Europe. This gets me thinking: “How much do these chocolate bars actually cost to produce?”. Enough thinking more looking:

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Martin and I part ways here. He goes to Podgorica to get closer to the girls in Budapest that he has heard such good things about. Whereas  I continue along the coast to Kotor, and Herceg Novi.

See you soon!

Byreke

Here is the recipe for Byreke, a traditional Albanian dish whose equal I have yet to meet on any of my travels. It is crunchy flaky dough surrounding some kind of filling. The recipes online require phyllo pastry dough, but this one satisfies all the doughy needs!

What you’ll need for the dough/pastry:

  • 1kg flour
  • ½ litre water
  • a small pour of oil
  • mix and let sit for half hour

What you’ll do with that:

  1. Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly and let sit for half an hour
  2. Cut the dough into half egg size blobs
  3. One at a time, flatten them into 3 inch floppy disk sized things
  4. Do this for around 5 of these
  5. Flour both sides of each one very well as you stack them
  6. Once stacked, flatten them with a rolling pin until about 14″ in diameter
  7. Place these crêpe like things in a dish, generously oiling both sides of them each time
  8. When 5 or so layers are done, place the filling on it before covering it with a repeat of the above.

What you’ll need for the filling:
Option 1:
Ground meat, about a pound or a kilo, depending on how thick you want it
Mix it with fried onions and garlic, some salt, and spices.

Option 2:

  • Spinach
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Peppers

Mix it all together it will cook in the oven when everything is baking.

Once all of that is done, cook for 30 to 35 minutes at 250C, or until the crust is golden and crispy.

NOTE: I tried to make this once I got back to France, and the dough must be made into extremely thin layers otherwise your whole byreke will be dry.

Enjoy!

Virginity bunkers!!!

Albanians call their country the country of the occupiers. Before the 20th century they were occupied and unoccupied by the Greeks, the Montenegrins, the Serbians, and the Ottoman empire.
Having been independent since 1913, they were a principality until 1925, then a republic before becoming a monarchy in 1928. After all that they were annexed by Italy, and then Germany during the second world war.

That’s when the Germans went back home making Albania part of the communist world. Under the rule of some crazy guy called Enver Hoxha (pronounced Hoja). He has been quoted as calling Albanians the “whitest of the whites”, the “purest whites” as well as the United-States as “the worst thing on this planet!” He also had built about half a million bunkers all over the country during the cold war. These bunkers could have been converted to homes for most of the families in Albania, but instead they were left abandoned. These bunkers are known to have facilitated the loss of many ones’ virginities.

This last point seems to contradict the often repeated stating of any serious heterosexual conversation leads to the lady asking to get married. I am not quite sure what to make of this, but you know: “give a little and receive a little”.

Similar to rural Portugal you would be hard pressed to sell any of your wine seeing as most people who have a piece of land use it for vineyards. The same goes for vegetables. They also make their own bread, and a corn bread that is better warm.

A dish they seem to be fond of here is “B(u/y)reke”. A combination of sheep’s meat, onions, and a crunchy flaky crust. Often we have had bread ripped to pieces in a bowl covered with very runny yogurt that is close to sour milk. Other things include cabbage soup with chunks of pork, veggie (peas, carrots, corn?, and other things) soup with rice, and finally, complementary chunks of onion and esophagus incinerating garlic cloves. The diet seems to consist of television, and carbs with other stuff. Check out this post on Albanian recipes! onions garlic

As for the work here, it is pretty simple. Wake up go downtown for a coffee with Florian, the owner. Go back to the hostel, have breakfast and go on the computer to sign his hostel up to different online booking sites. Oh and signing Florian up to online dating websites, walking him through the process of sending messages, and appeasing his outbursts of excitement when automatic welcoming messages disguised as girls pop up.

In the end, I suggest you have a look at his hostel on all the following links, and go visit him and his family because they are awesome!

http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Florian-Shkodra-Guesthouse/Shkoder/46642

http://www.tripadvisor.fr/Hotel_Review-g303166-d2070759-Reviews-Florian_Shkodra_Guesthouse_and_Hostel-Shkoder_Shkoder_County.html

Sour Pasta

Very unfortunately, one of Florian’s mother’s cousins passed away this week so on this Sunday she is in a town close to Tirana for the funeral. An interesting thing about Albanian television, as you might have gather from my earlier post, is always on. The interesting thing is that it shows obituaries as public service announcements. So, every houror so, pictures of people will show up on the screen along with some text stating their name, age, the location of the funeral, and who to address donations to.

On a more cheerful note, I’ve been sitting around the living room working on a few things for the hostel when I got to discover a new extremely simple pasta recipe. You might remember some pasta recipes that I have mentioned before such as these in Portugal, or this one in Palestine.

You’ll need:

  • 1kg of spaghetti
  • Sour milk or yogurt (sounds gross, but it’s pretty good!)

What you’ll do with ’em:

  1. Cook the pasta it until they have doubled or tripled in size
  2. Place them in a 1 or 2 inch deep dish
  3. Drown them in sour milk or yogurt and place in the oven
  4. Cook and stir randomly when the television isn’t being very interesting.
  5. Do the previous until there is practically no liquid left, and all you have are white crumbs sticking to the pasta.

Enjoy, or don’t if sour milk doesn’t sound like it’s to your liking!

Petula Thursday

It’s the first Thursday of February, and in Albania that means that it’s Petula Thursday! “Why?”, you might ask. Well, to tell you the truth, I am not quite sure, but it is so deal with it!

A Petula is a very simple dish that Florian describes as: “A very old food, like 500-year-old food, that when invented was revolutionary! However, now it is very simple.”

In honour of this special day, when we went over to Florian’s cousin’s to hang out in the evening we had some hot off the frying pan! Then when we went to have dinner back at the guest house we had some again!

Here’s how you make them:
You will need:

  • 500 g flour
  • 500 ml water
  • salt
  • Oil for the frying

What you will have to do with that stuff:

  1. Mix the first 3 together until it all becomes a homogenous pancake batter like consistency.
  2. Heat your oil, and drop spoonfuls of the mix to fry them until right before they are golden so that they are mushy.
  3. Now, enjoy them with honey and/or salty cheese.

Enjoy, but remember to eat them only when you’re supposed to!

Albanian breads

Regular bread, called Buke, pronounced book. You can also find it at the “Furre Buke” which in Albanian means bread oven, better known as a bakery. Knowing some romance languages is quite useful in Albania as there are many similar words between them and it. Such as the previous “furre” that is close to the French, or Arabic, four (for the English speaker it is pronounced foor).
Yes, I know it is not a romance language, but Albania was part of the Ottoman empire for 500 years so inevitably they have some Turkish/Arabic words in their vocabulary.

Enough of that, here is how it is made:

To make 6 10″ loaves, you will need:

  • 2kg flour
  • 1 – 1⅓l of water
  • 2tsp yeast

(In order to make less bread use a 2 to 1 proportion for the flour and water, and adjust the amount of yeast according to the amount of flour.)

What you’ll do:

  1. Mix all of those ingredients together until they form a liquify plasticine textured blob.
  2. Leave it in a bowl, with the lid on, and let it rise for 3 hours.
  3. Grease some deep dish pans.
  4. Separate the blob into 6 roughly equal parts, and place them in the dishes.
  5. There is no need for a second rise, but seeing as you are making 6 the ones that aren’t in the oven will rise while the others bake.
  6. Cook in the oven at 180C for 40 mins, or until the crust is golden.

I saw Florian’s mother, Age, test the readiness of the bread by tapping the crust quite hard with her index. It’s worth a try if you are not sure if they are ready.

Florian’s family also makes a type of corn bread that uses the same proportions of flour to water as the regular bread, but replaces the regular flour with corn flour.

WARNING: it has been my experience that this bread is so much better when it is hot/warm. When it is cold it isn’t that special and doesn’t taste like corn. It is the equivalent of eating a dry puffy flour with a crust around it.

In case you weren’t paying attention, here’s how you make it:

  • 2kg corn flour
  • 1l water
  • 2tsp yeast

What you’ll do:

  1. Mix all of the above ingredients together
  2. Put straight into the oven

(I asked about the use of the yeast if the dough goes straight into the oven, but the comprehension was lost on both sides of translation.)
Cook in the oven at 180C for 40 minutes, or until the crust is nice and golden.

There you have it, the Albanian breads that I have tried!

Going to Shkodër, Albania

After spending the night at the airport in Istanbul, I am on another plane headed for Tirana, the capital of Albania. I haven’t slept much so everything is going by slowly and fast at the same time. I’m a little confused. Like Krakow, there isn’t much around, the passport control is a breeze, and I get to change some money. Oh my! The man behind the desk has changed my 50 euros into 6500 Leke. 2000 for a taxi ride to the bus station? Great there go my aspirations of being an Albania millionaire!

People go in and out of the taxi I doze off, and get dropped off, awake, beside a minivan. The sign says he is going to Shkoder, where I am going as well. My head is bobbing back and forth, in and out of sleep. The driver wakes me up. Now I am at a roundabout with people telling me to stake their taxis. Not having a clue what I am doing here, I go into the first internet café I am directed to. Not much help there, but I am in the right place at least. I walk around some more looking for some taxi driver with a sign. Yeah right! He didn’t have a sign.

There are only taxi drivers and kebab trolleys around! So I head into a café where they have wifi, and start sending Florian emails about my whereabouts. Then comes in a tall man sun glasses over his bald spot that turns into grey Antonio Banderas hair style. He walks up to me says “Florian!”, and hands me a phone. I talk with Florian, grab my stuff and hop in to the taxi for a 5 minute drive. Florian greets me upon my arrival, and shows me around to my room and his family. Shortly afterwards it is lunchtime. A soup, and a few conversations before dinner and bed.

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Tomorrow my computer services start. Good night!