The book. Let’s talk about the book shall we? It’s girlie, decent quality and only got started last year. You see over the two weeks I was away the one thing that came up again and again during the stays at the hostel along the way was the communal ‘sharing’ as I came to call it. Now no fluids were exchanged, bar possibly the drinking of beer and rakia but the goal for all of us was information. Where had you been? Any good places to go? What were the people like? All these questions and more will be asked if you get involved in hostel culture.
Now already hostels are a great sources of local information. The owners/managers are brilliant at most, unless they’ve gone too commercial, like in Kotor….. But the norm is you have a owner/manager with a group of passing through hostellers who have decided sod it I need funds/accommodation/like the place that much i want to stay for a bit. However with so many people passing through, or heading somewhere else the information you pick up can be ‘iffy’. Word of mouth and chinese whispers can play a massive factor in what you get out of the information provided.
You have the amazing for information, guidance and hospitality like Trip’n Hostel in Tirana and then there’s the other end of the scale which, for me, was Kotor where most of the hostels have become tourist traps and want you on tours that they get paid for. So information flow becomes stagnant, and the truly fun things are not mentioned. When a traveller passes through Kotor the likelihood is they are not coming back due to prices and the horror of doing beer pong and pub crawls for two nights in a row. Imagine Club 18/30 or it’s international equivalent and shudder in horror.
For some this may be fun, for me personally I’d prefer finding a nice bar with some good snacks and talk to people as haf the time I have a destination. But what I do when I go there can truly be dependant on what I hear when I get there. In Kotor that can be incredibly hard to achieve.
What does this have to do with the book you ask. Well this is the thing, I haven’t travelled far by most people’s definition of ‘travelling’ or holidays. But in total I have spent six weeks travelling the Balkans with another three weeks coming up. “Woo Hoo” So I have knowledge, just like a London Cabby, which others could use. Tips/tricks/hints/places/accommodation all in my head to share with people as they share things with me. Even things that I saw, wanted to see and couldn’t make the time for when I passed through the first time. For an example…. This year I return to Tirana/Albania for the third, possibly final, time.
- I love the place where I’m staying.
- There’s a guy I met last time who apparently does a kickass free walking tour of the city I want to do.
- In Tirana there is a Cold War nuclear bomb shelter there I can go to. Not just any bunker but the ‘Presidents’ bunker. now as a child of the Cold War that idea fascinates me so I decided the first leg of the current trip starts in Tirana and I see something I’ve always wanted to see.
- If I start in Tirana I can try out the two train lines that run in Albania. No I’m not a train spotter or anything but it could be interesting so I just have to try.
For me a trip isn’t tourism it’s more a learning process. The weird, the wonderful and sometimes the downright bizarre (I will show you in a later post, just as I will talk about those two hostels, the Cat Museum and erm…. Froggyland. Plus all sorts of other wonderful things I’ve seen in the Balkans and over here in Blighty (aka the UK).
Yes. I’ve realised I haven’t mentioned the book but this is the point coming up. By the time I hit Split on my last trip I’d spent at least a day of my time across it explaining/discussing what was good, bad or indifferent in different parts of the Balkans. Some from this year, or points on the previous years I’d been wandering.
For an example if in Valbona to cross the mountain into Tethi only stay one night. The area is Albania’s only true tourist trap due to how facilities are set up. Wherever you stay will be the only place you’ll be able to buy anything unless you are right up by the path. As well, on average you will be paying twice as much for food as elsewhere. However, if you talk to the Hostel in Shkoder they can arrange a night’s rest with a local Albanian family for a much more reasonable amount and make your trip that much more of an experience. I know which I would of preferred.
Now here I was arriving in Split and the thought at the back of my mind is.
“I’m going to forget this and that, I’m going to lose all the bits and pieces I’ve picked up and the knowledge and experience I’ve gained.”
This idea, to me, sucked badly. I mean I’d spent two weeks keeping everything I could as small mementoes and the high probability was within a month I would of lost most of it and the memories they contained. So the first day in Split had me asking my hostel’s receptionist if there was a stationers about. It took a while to explain but eventually we got to the point that the best place to go was a bookshop as they handled the stationary side of things as well.
So full of vim and vigour I’m out of the door and hunting a bookshop. It was shut… I pouted, the doors still didn’t open. It turns out the day I had arrived was a Saint’s day of some kind and only restaurants, bars and the supermarket were really open that day. So the plan was curtailed. For the moment.
The next morning I’m outside their doors, waiting for the book shop to open and get a book, any book as long as it could hold all the crap I was going to dump into it over time. Now they had moleskins, but they had all the personality of brick to me and just felt like they would not hold up to the horrors of what I was about to do to such a pristine item. Already added to my shopping list had been post it notes and glue sticks. This entire thing could end up seriously messy on all levels. But the book, my chosen, victim just was not there to be seen amongst all the other notebooks available. To big. To small. Not enough pages, The papers crap.
Although these failures in criteria happened again and again as I went through what was available. Then, accidentally moving to another aisle I saw a book with the phrase ‘Lost for Words’ on the spine. I stopped, naturally curious, and picked up what I expected to be a novel. Imagine my surprise when it turns out it is exactly what I’m looking for, even if it’s ‘just a tad’ feminine. So I’m standing there looking at the notebook and going errrr… with a mental argument going on in my head along the lines of.
For: “Hey it’s great, it’s perfect for what we need”
Against: “It’s for girl’s and it’s cute”
For: “It’s cute, so what? It’s perfect for what we need and it’s title suits us perfectly. Oh and don’t be sexist”
Against: “I’m not being sexist, crap I am aren’t I?”
Against: “Your not winning this argument on the basis of sexism you know?”
For: “No I’m winning this argument on the grounds there is nothing else in the shop that matches our needs to perfectly.”
So purchases made I head back to the hostel to rummage through my rucksack and gather every single memento/ticket/map anything at all related to the trip. The pile that began to form actually began to disturb me. I hadn’t realised how much ‘stuff’ I’d picked up along the way. To say some went into the bin. I mean I had seriously picked up some amazing junk along the way that was absolutely useless. But the other stuff I had was gold dust.
It sparked memories from all my trips so far, reminding me of bits and pieces I’d like to come back for. Cultural advice, like camera’s and Albanians being wary of people with them. Remember their country was a police state for a long time, so understandable, but not really noticeable until you see Albanians at restaurants staring at you for taking photo’s of architecture. (Tip: Say hello in your native language, they relax instantly and break into smiles.)
Now was this a good choice of thing to do? As I worked on preparing the book the answer simply was yes. So many small things I remembered. Ulcinj at sunset. The disquiet at Froggyland. The bizarreness of The Cat Museum and so many other things came to mind. the oddities of the different cultures I encountered. The generosity of Albanians. Small gems of memory that reappear everytime I open the book to take a browse. As well as the smile that crosses my lips at the fact it’s only a quarter full and there are so many more things to see out there.