Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Good-bye Albania - Hello Vienna

Things happened so fast once the election started it was amazing!

Back and forth to watch the counting of the votes - with dozens of
observers from other international organizations in addition to the

A late night wrap-up of the results in my Election Zone - followed by a
wild street party in front of our hotel that prevented anyone from
thinking of sleeping...

The next day - yesterday, July 5th - we had the morning to ourselves to
do whatever we liked, except take an early shower, since there was no
water on most floors of our luxerious $18/night hotel...

I ended up sightseeing and shopping with Carl and Shiripa - who is one
hell of a power shopper, clearing Shkodra out of handbags in ten
minutes flat...

Onto the bus back to Tirana for some street walking with Carl and Joe
to find things to bring back home, and then to the grand reception at
the Sheraton.

Someone had warned me that the end of a mission is a time for hard
choices - go to bed early to rest up for the early wake-up for your
pre-dawn flight out of Tirana, or go to the reception and then stay up
all night - because there's no point trying to have you cake and eat it

I ended up at an incredible rooftop club called "The Living Room" that
had appropriate furnature scattered about and played loud music long
into the early morning hours while hundreds of political junkies
discussed everything you can imagine while killing time before their
3am shuttles to the airport for 5am flights.

I managed to make it back to the hotel with Carl in time to shower and
pack, and say a few quick goodbyes to my new friends in the lobby. I
managed to catch a nap during the flight to Vienna, and had a hard time
going down a separte lane through customs when it was time for me to go
to baggage claim and them to change planes for home - taking a separte
path from people to whom I've grown incredibly close in such a brief

My time in Albania has been a life-altering experience - not because it
was Albania, although a strange environment certainly was an influence
- but because of the people I'd met and discussions I'd had...

So now I'm sitting in the Hostel Ruthensteiner near the Vienna
Westbahnoff (train station), doing some much needed laundry while
typing e-mail on a keyboard that keeps switching into some Asian
language characters.

I'll be up and out later to validate my EurailPass, do some sightseeing
in one of my favorite cities of the world, and then to meet up with
Maria - one of my closest compatriarts from Albania - with whom I'm
having dinner when she arrives later tonight, since she just happens to
call Vienna home.

Tommorow it will be a fast train across Austria and southern Gremany to
Baden Baden and the Tour de France.


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