To Rent-A-Car or Not-To-Rent-A-Car?

Renting a car in Albania seemed like a great idea: the rates are very low and countries such as Montenegro or Kosovo, otherwise difficult to get to, are only a few hours away. It seemed like a great idea until I actually got behind the wheel and my Albanian car rental nightmare began. Seriously, mind my words! If you are not Albanian or have not participated in at least 5 desert rallies before, DO NOT DRIVE IN ALBANIA!

Obviously, nobody warned me before so I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into…

Meet the rental car

It was 4 PM on a cold October day, and it was starting to get dark. That’s when I realized that there are no street lights in Albania. And by no street lights I mean no lights at all. Not on the highway, not on the main roads, not even in the cities. It is pitch-black. That’s when I realized that I could only manage to see something if I kept my headlights on full the entire time. That’s when I realized that everybody else was doing the same. That’s when I realized that a) the dim out function of my rear view mirror didn’t work, b) my windshield was so dirty that it reflected the headlights of the cars that came towards me, and c) the windshield wipers were so rotten that when I tried to use them to clean my windshield it only made matters worse. That’s when it started to rain. Not a slight drizzle but a heavy, torrential rain came pouring down. That’s when I realized that I basically couldn’t see anything any more and had to drive about 20 miles per hour. That’s when I got pulled over by the police (in Albania there are police check-points pretty much every 500 yards). I am pretty sure the officer didn’t feel like dealing with the bureaucratic monster of filing a police report for a foreigner, so he just let me go … well … creep on. That’s when we ran out of gas and realized that at Albanian gas stations you can only pay with cash. That’s when we started praying that our 5 dollars of gas in the tank would last us until getting back to Tirana. That’s when the highway ended and the moon crater of Albanian roads began, and no, I am NOT exaggerating!

Albanian road crater

That’s also when the Albanian drivers started swerving around these holes at about 90 miles per minute, honking and swearing each time they passed us and our snail-mobile, splashing puddles of water on my windshield while whizzing ahead, only to hit the breaks two seconds later because they had seen a police check point. That’s when I thought it couldn’t get any worse and that we would never reach Tirana. And that’s when it got worse. While trying to deal with some blinding headlights and a mad Albanian driver behind me, I missed a hole.

*shake* *jolt* *crash* *car dead*

Luckily, that’s when our rental car decided to take one for the team, and I managed to restart the engine. Happily, I drove on until I realized that this time the Albanian drivers had a good reason for slaloming around me, swearing and honking. I was driving in the wrong direction on a one way street. And that is when, 100 miles and 4 hours later, we arrived in Tirana.

Posted in November 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where did all the travel stories go?

It’s been awfully quiet around this site for the past 7 months. Why?

question mark

Because I realized that even though I might call myself a (wannabe) travel blogger, I simply don’t have the time to blog while I am traveling. I am seriously at awe at how others do it, and please, feel welcome to share your travel blogging secrets with me, because I just can’t write and travel at the same time. Mainly, because a typical Wanderstrudel day looks like this: get up really early, typically any time between 6 AM and 8 AM. (Yes, mom and dad, I actually CAN get up before 10 AM!) Pack my bags. Run to catch a bus/train/plane/ride. Arrive at a bus station/train station/airport and figure out WHERE the heck we are on the map. Fight for the next 20 minutes about where we have to go. Walk up some really steep steps / struggle with my giant backpack along narrow, windy roads. Going in the wrong direction for 30 minutes and fight and cuss some more as we try to find our hostel or Couchsurfing host. Spending the rest of the day sightseeing. Spending the evening hanging out with fellow travelers or our Couchsurfing hosts. Working at night until I can’t keep my eyes open any more. Sure, there are some (rare and cherished) moments where I actually have some free time. This is when I try to upload photos, or figure out where we are going to sleep tomorrow night, or find out what there is to see at our next destination, or how to GET to that destination or WHAT the next destination will be, or email my worried parents because they haven’t heard from me in days and probably think I got abducted by the Albanian mafia (yes, I do have to write an email to my mom pretty much every day!). In other words: traveling is more stressful than you think, and in my case it keeps me busy 24/7. So please forgive me if I haven’t posted a lot, but rest assured, now that our amazing Europe trip has come to an end, I have many, many stories waiting for you, and finally I also have the time to share them with the world. Or, at least with the 20 or so people that have been patient enough and still read this blog. Stay tuned!

Posted in November 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Italian Men: A Very Subjective Study

The Italian Man

Italian men are hot and sexy. They are romantic, great lovers, and they treat a lady like a princess. At least that’s what I thought when I was 13 and read teenage novels with titles such as “Ciao, Bella”. Now, traveling around Italy, I am seriously considering writing some angry letters to the writers of these books. How dare them deceive me like that? Have they even been to Italy??? How dare them paint the image of the perfect southern European lover when it is all lies, lies, lies? Yes, I have a boyfriend and I am not looking for a love affair. I am of course speaking only out of pure anthropological interest. But still. Which girl doesn’t like to look at handsome men? Especially if she has been sold the story of the Italian Adonis for so long. Well, if you ever believed the fairy tale of il bello italiano, let me tell ya girls (and boys), forget it! If these men exist, they must be hiding in a very special place because I have not seen them so far. I am not saying Italian men are ugly, but … well … they are just not real men. And no, this is not the blog entry where I am talking about cultural prejudices of gender roles nor the blog entry where I am trying to be as scientifically objective as possible, nor the blog entry where I mention all the exceptions to the rule (that I am sure exist!). This is the blog entry where I will be as straight forward, basic and honest as a simple pizza Margherita. I think any man in the world can be, do and wear whatever he wants if it makes him happy. BUT don’t ever try to convince me again that the Italian man is the man. In two weeks of intensive watching and observing, this is what I found:

  • I have seen Italian men with unbuttoned shirts, showing their hairy chests and their beer bellies – wearing a pink shirt with a floral print.
  • I have seen Italian men wear shirts that say: Mamma, Mamma e solo Mamma (translation: I am 35 years old, and I am still living with my parents).
  • I have seen Italian stare intently into their Vespa mirrors while styling their hair.
  • I have seen Italian men run frantically to the bathroom to make sure their make-up is still perfect.
  • I have heard Italian men talk to their mothers on the phone for hours (!!!) at parties / in buses / on the street / in restaurants / while looking into a Vespa mirror and fixing their hair.
  • I have seen Italian men care more about a broken finger nail than about holding hands with their girlfriend.
  • I have heard Italian men talk without shame about their last pedicure appointment.

And last but no least:

  • I have seen 4 out of 5 Italian men wear a Justin Bieber haircut with pride.

So you tell me: Where have all the real Italian men gone????

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