The adventure begins…Kosovo

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I began my backpacking trip through the Balkans and Eastern Europe the day I closed out my service (COS): May 23rd.  That afternoon I caught a 3 pm bus out of Tirana.  The bus ride was supposed to take 3 hours, but of course I ended up making it last a little longer.  I ended up missing my stop in Prizren and got almost all the way to Pristina.  I figured I’d just have to take a taxi back to Prizren that night and enjoyed the view out my window.  Finally the money collector noticed I was still on the bus and asked why I didn’t get off.  Apparently he thinks that people sitting in the back of the bus can hear him speak from the front of the bus when music is blaring.  I clearly couldn’t, and missed when he said we were near Prizren.  I had expected for the bus to take the road that goes through Prizren, stop for a few minutes at the bus stop, and then continue on the road out of town.  I don’t even know how close to town the bus stopped.  The money collector was very helpful and flagged down a bus going in the opposite direction, towards Prizren, and put me on it.  All I can say is the buses in Kosovo are awesome.  There were short comedies playing on the bus and they served everybody a complementary glass of Coke!  I finally made it to my hostel a little after 8 (s0 5 hours after leaving Tirana).

Prizren is absolutely beautiful!  I was expecting it to be much more similar to Albania.  The language spoken here is Albanian, though I am having a very difficult time understanding them…they have a much different and heavier accent than Albanians, especially Albanians in the South. The housing style is very different.  The houses are still built the same way (with bricks and concrete), but the exterior is designed much differently.  There are some old houses throughout Prizren that look similar to some old houses in Gjirokaster and Berat, which makes me feel at home 🙂

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Mirupafshim

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Today I officially become a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV).  At 4 pm I’m off to Kosovo to begin my month-long backpacking trip through the Balkans and Eastern Europe.  Once I get back stateside I’ll post more about my last bit of time in Gjirokaster and Albania.

Little Permetares

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I went to Permet last weekend for my final goodbye to a place that was like my second home here.  During my first year when I was really struggling it would be my place of refuge.  While I was recently there we had a few picnics.  On one of these picnics we met the cutest little Permetares (people of Permet).  There were four boys who became our friends.  They were in about 4th or 5th grade and had little crushes on us.  They asked us what grade we were in, they guessed we were in 9th grade, even after we told them our ages.  It was really cute.  Then they asked us if we had facebook, which we told them no, we didn’t know what it was.  So they explained it to us.  I asked them if it cost any money, and then said yes.  I think they meant it cost money to use the internet cafes to go on facebook, because when I asked them how much it costs they said it depended upon how long you wanted to stay on it (which is how internet cafes work).

Also on one of these picnics (the one we had by the river) we saw a dead sheep go floating by.  Maayan almost died.  It reminded her of the time she was tubing in that very river and saw a dead horse in the water.  Yum.

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2 weeks

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I have 2 weeks left in Gjirokaster.  2 weeks.  I can’t believe it.  I am not quite sure how I’m going to go to bed at night without this view:

People are starting to ask me when I’m leaving and if I’ll ever come back.  Many think I’m just going back to the states for a visit and have such sad looks on their face when I tell them I’m done here.  I just cannot imagine saying goodbye.  I don’t even know how to begin saying goodbye to my friends here or how to thank them for letting me be a part of their community for two years.  I will be forever grateful for having spent this time here and meeting the amazing people that live in Albania 🙂

It is going to be a sad 2 weeks.

Gezuar Krishtlindje (shume vone)!

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Ooops, I wrote this about 4 months ago and never posted.  But late is better than never, right?

Gezuar Krishtlindje dhe Gezuar Vitin i Ri!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  Hope everybody (who celebrates) had a wonderful Christmas.  I spent this years Christmas in Albania again, though in another site with a different group of volunteers than last year.  It was nice to not be in charge of cooking all the food.  I was responsible for dips for Christmas eve and the desserts for Christmas day.  I made all the desserts ahead of time and the dips the day of.

The menu was as follows:

Christmas eve:

  • Stuffed grape leaves
  • Potato and corn soup
  • 7 layer dip (I made this…and it was really only 5 layers)
  • Creamy spinach dip (made by me)
  • Hot broccoli dip (made by me)

Christmas breakfast:

  • Mimosas
  • Quiche
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • an assortment of hot drinks (FILTER coffee, pumpkin spice syrup, white hot chocolate, hot cider)
Christmas lunch:
  • Roasted chicken (cooked by the host, a vegetarian)
  • Lentil and rice dish
  • Deviled eggs
  • Cheesy, garlic mashed potatoes
  • Fruit salad
  • Mini cinnamon cheesecakes with pumpkin pie frosting (made by me)
  • Mini walnut pies (made by me…walnut because there aren’t pecans here)
  • Mini cream cheese with white chocolate pumpkin pies with streusel topping (also made by me)
  • And we decorated sugar cookies, which I snacked on

I weighed myself when I got home…. definitely packed on a few pounds!

After the Christmas lunch I took a nice little nap before getting ready to go out with one of the volunteers and her Albanian friends.  There was a party at one of the clubs in town, so we went out dancing, for about 3.5 hours (but don’t worry, we were home by 10:30).  I had so much fun!  It was almost like going out in the states! 🙂

For New Years I went up to my host family’s house and had the most AMAZING New Years ever!  Before I got there I had to catch a few buses (about 4 hours on one from Gjirokaster, a furgon to Elbasan for 1.25 hours, then another 45 minute bus ride from Elbasan to Gostime where my host dad picked me up and drove me to the village).  The bus I catch in Elbasan sits right next to the market, which was PACKED with people getting their goodies for New Years.  Fireworks were being sold in the road; entire truck loads of mandarins and apples were on the sidewalk; village wine and raki were being sold in plastic Coke bottles on the side of the street.  It was chaos!  Once I got my host family’s we had a nice relaxing afternoon, ate a HUGE feast consisting of: pan fried turkey (like you’d cook pieces of chicken), a dish similar in texture to mashed potatoes that was made from cornmeal and the juices from frying the turkey, bread (of course!), tomatoes, feta, cucumber, french fries, fruit (apples, bananas, oranges, pomegranates), and Baklava (the most delicious homemade baklava EVER!).  After dinner we watched some specials on TV (New Years is their biggest holiday, so the TV was full of specials for the night).  I was exhausted and was not going to make it, so I took a little nap.  At midnight my host brother, host cousin and her brother all went to the village lokal (restaurant/bar) for the New Year’s celebration.  Pretty much all the younger people in the village were there, as well as some families.  Live music was playing and the Fanta was flowing.  I circle danced a few times and a few songs they let us do some “American dancing” (my host brother went up to the band and told them an American girl was there and wanted to).  It was a very interesting setup.  For each song a group of people went up and picked the song (much like you would in Karaoke) and they got the dance floor to circle dance.  During the dance those dancing would toss money in the middle of the circle and at the end of the song they’d pick up the money and give it to the band.

The next day I headed up to Burrel to visit another volunteer and we spent the weekend relaxing and seeing around the town (including the prison used during communism that is still in use today…well we saw it through the barbed-wire fence).

Byrek me fasule

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I tried my hands at making byrek today.  There isn’t quite a work in the American English language for byrek.  In British English it would be called a pie.  In the states pies are desserts, where byrek is savory, contains veggies, cheese, and sometimes meat.  It is a pastry, usually consumed in the morning hours, though sometimes as an after school snack.  It is made with layers of phyllo dough, containing the filling of veggies, cheese, meat or beans in the center.  In Elbason there is an amazing byrek place that sells byrek with beans (byrek me fasule).  With all my begging over the past two years I just cannot convince the people of Gjirokaster that it is a good idea to put beans in the byrek.  Every time I mention it they laugh at me and shake their heads, all the while thinking that is the worst idea for byrek they have ever heard.  So today I decided to make some myself!  Mine is a little fancier than the byrek me fasule in Elbason…I used pinto beans rather than the usual white beans, and I tossed in some onions, tomato and garlic.  Heaven!

Disclaimer: I did not make my own phyllo dough.  I’ve seen my host mom make that…it takes all day!  I have a paper to write! 🙂  I did however boil my own beans.

The filling

Folding up...

All folded and ready for the oven.

Cooking in the oven!

Ready to eat!

Delicious!

Later this week I’m taking it a step further.  I’m going to create what I call the burrito byrek.  I’m going to add in some beans, ground beef, cheese and then top it with sour cream and homemade salsa.  🙂