Trains, furgons and Korçe

korçe

When I think about all the things that happen to me in a week, or even a day here in Albania, it is a comical and never regular slew of experiences that paint a collage of collective experience and create what it is to live in Albania as a Peace Corps volunteer. It’s an experience that is entirely impossible to describe, is never boring, and is eternally changing.

One of the most interesting, frustrating and entertaining elements of this crazy culture is transportation. Getting anywhere is an adventure. There are no transit schedules posted and most things “leave when they are full.” Keeps life interesting. This past weekend I took a trip with a few fellow PCVs down to Korce for their annual beerfest (festivals are a new phenomenon here in Albania, but they are catching on fast). My transportation on the way down included:

1. Trying to hitchhike to Tirana then accidentally getting in an unmarked taxi. Talking the taxi down to a furgon price (300 leke). Talking to the taxi driver’s daughter on the phone in English while on the road after he figured out that I knew English and Shqip. Time: 1.5 hours

2. City bus across Tirana to the Peace Corps Office

3. A furgon from Tirana to Elbasan with friends along the mountain ridge road and watching the sunset over ¾ of Albania – we could see ridge after ridge and the reflection of the sun on the Adriatic beyond. Time: 1.5 hours

4. A train (yes, we have trains….! Though they are few and far between and seldom used) from Elbasan to Pogradec with 8 others including many card games, a 7 minute tunnel, views of lake Ohrid, broken windows, and a lot more time than it would normally take to get between the two locations. Time: 3.5 hours

5. Furgon from train station into Pogradec

6. A furgon to Korce. Hot and dry… Time: 1 hour

traveling in style on the train

Not a super crazy trip by any means, but definitely diverse. I love this kind of travel though, especially with friends and to an interesting destination. I really liked Korçe – lots of historic buildings from the Ottoman period. We stayed in a rickety inn that has been a boarding house for 200 years, explored the city and drank a fair amount of beer at the fest in the evenings – while listening to Albanian music, of course.

Updates on the camp to come!!

our ottoman abode

****To clear up what a “furgon is” – it’s a small mini-bus or van that is the predominate mode of transportation here in Albania. Usually the driver goes back and forth along one route and lives in one town on either end. There are no furgon schedules – you go to the area of town where the drivers usually hang out for your particular destination and wait….sometimes for a while, because furgons only leave when they are full. Sometimes I have tried to get out of one empty furgon and get in another that is filling up more quickly, but this is a bad idea because the drivers will get really upset with you. But, if I really want to just get on the road sometimes it’s a risk I am willing to take. Also, furgons stop often (which is  annoying if you are actually trying to get somewhere) because people flag them down on the side of the road, BUT that also means that you can stop them and get out wherever you want along the route. Often, riding in a furgon is a smelly, squished and bumpy experience. However, in the summer I prefer them to a bus because they are faster AND they have windows – a breeze is essential to surviving a ride here!

3 comments
  1. Susan said:

    How fun!! What amazing adventures you are having! What’s a “furgon?” Be safe!!!

    • To clear up what a “furgon is” – it’s a small mini-bus or van that is the predominate mode of transportation here in Albania. Usually the driver goes back and forth along one route and lives in one town on either end. There are no furgon schedules – you go to the area of town where the drivers usually hang out for your particular destination and wait….sometimes for a while, because furgons only leave when they are full. Sometimes I have tried to get out of one empty furgon and get in another that is filling up more quickly, but this is a bad idea because the drivers will get really upset with you. But, if I really want to just get on the road sometimes it’s a risk I am willing to take. Also, furgons stop often (which is often annoying if you are actually trying to get somewhere) because people flag them down on the side of the road, BUT that also means that you can stop them and get out wherever you want along the route. Often, riding in a furgon is a smelly, squished and bumpy experience. However, in the summer I prefer them to a bus because they are often faster AND they have windows – a breeze is essential to surviving a ride here!

  2. Mary R. said:

    Hey Laura Margaret,
    I think about you over there in Albania even when I miss your wonderful commentary. Glad you have a sense of humour about transportation; sounds like you need it. Glad there are so good views of the Adriatic as you go along–
    And being half Albanian, now that’s a surprise. No wonder you like it so well!

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