Dropping down into the Balkans for three weeks in winter to vacation is not exactly what we seniors would likely venture to do on our own, especially after a fine month in Germany and France. But our travel savvy daughter, Suzi, who had visited the Balkans last year, offered to be our guide. We took her up on her offer and it has turned out to be a fine decision.

The whole of southern Europe had just had the first, and quite heavy snowfall, followed by unusually cold weather that just wouldn’t break. The higher elevations were quite impacted as we were to learn.

Maybe not the best season to travel - Munich airport.

Maybe not the best season to travel – Munich airport.

We cram onto a small plane, delayed an hour to be deiced.

We cram onto a small plane, delayed an hour for deicing.

We arrived in Tirana, the capitol of Albania, after dark and found our way to a small but quiet hotel right near the city center.

Right cheery holiday lights

Right cheery holiday lights

View from our hotel room

View from our hotel room next morning

We start with a good hotel breakfast

We start with an adequate hotel breakfast.

Tirana, being the capitol of Albania, has a number of large buildings and diverse boulevards to serve government and cultural needs, and to feed political egos. Let’s start with some of them to give a flavor of the city, then we can turn to what characterized the city for me – pedestrian speed bumps, so to say, or better called sidewalk irregularities.

A downtown mosque

A downtown mosque

Opera House behind the holiday tree

Opera House behind the holiday tree

The National History Museum

The National History Museum

Now it’s time to take a stroll.

Along the main plaza, some of the paving stones are amiss

Along the main plaza, some of the paving stones are amiss

Careful, a change of grade

Careful, a change of grade

Along a main boulevard, watch your step.

Along a main boulevard, watch your step.

A bit tedious to walk at times

A bit tedious to walk at times

It's hard to sightsee when you need to be looking down.

It’s hard to sightsee when you need to be looking down.

It’s Christmas time and there are a few traditional decorations around to remind us.

St. Nick and a Disney character, waiting for tourists

St. Nick and a Disney character, waiting for tourists

We pass a historic stone bridge.

Old bridge, recently rebuilt

Old Ottoman style bridge

Turkeys are the traditional meat at New Years. People like them fresh.

Turkeys heading for market

Turkeys heading for market

Suzi almost buys a turkey.

Suzi almost buys a turkey.

Dressed poultry for sale, no refrigeration or cover supplied.

Dressed poultry for sale, no refrigeration or cover supplied.

We find lots of life on the streets.

Here's a bookseller

Here’s a bookseller

This man sells lighters and kleenex

This man sells lighters and kleenex

We pass numerous green grocers.

We pass numerous green grocers.

We pass lots of interesting looking people.

We pass lots of interesting looking people.

Suzi just got an iPhone and wanted to buy a SIM card for Albania. We popped into an Apple reseller shop and got excellent help from a young engineer.

Expert technical help

Expert technical help

Along the way we confront many kinds of steps leading both up and down to businesses.

A narrow stretch

A narrow stretch

Sucked right in

Sucked right in

Patient dog

Patient dog

Down we go, but why the table?

Down we go, but why the table?

Tricky entry

Tricky entry

Stairway to nowhere

Stairway to nowhere

As evening falls, we pass an exotic church. As we peer through the iron protective gate, a man appears from his guard shack and lets us in. This is a new Orthodox church, one of the largest in Europe.

Welcoming entry

Welcoming entry

Exotic interior

Exotic interior

Mosaic dome of great refinememt

Mosaic dome of great refinememt

Suzi engages the pastor.

Suzi engages the pastor.

We are permitted to go as far as the sacred inner sanctum.

We are permitted to go as far as the sacred inner sanctum.

We build up an appetite as we have walked many a mile this day. We enter a corner restaurant at random. We couldn’t have found a better one.

Excellent Albanian fare.

Excellent Albanian fare.

Suzi befriends the waiter

Suzi befriends the waiter

The neighboring table joins in, sharing their champagne with us.

The neighboring table joins in, sharing their champagne with us.

Now we must bid adieu to quirky Tirana. It’s time to take a five hour bus ride to Berat, our next destination.

The bus station, rather down in the mouth. Still, our bus left on time.

The bus station, rather down in the mouth. Still, our bus left on time.

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