Saturday, May 30, 2009

I'm mostly packed. My flight on Sunday departs at 6:10 AM....21.5 hours from now. I'll probably be up by 3:45 and out the door by 4:30 AM. I had my last Hotel President/Hotel Imperial breakfast today. It was the usual: sliced cucumbers, cheese, tomatoes and bread. Coffee but no juice. Instead, I had a glass of San Pellegrino sparkling water in honor of my bride.

I have been hearing more in the news here--via SkyNews and CNNi--about the British MP expense scandal. What a pleasant change to not hear about U.S. political problems.

More tonight perhaps, if time permits.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Dinner the other night. I scribbled this entry on a napkin the other night. I've just gotten it into a more useable file format. :)

Linda Ronstadt blared on the corner radio—not really a stereo system—in the restaurant I dined in tonight. The place looked nice enough but the waiter neither spoke nor seemed to understand English. The menu had a few English words but most importantly, it had a few pictures. Grabbing my attention was the picture of a dish combined with that all enticing word, special. I pointed to it and ordered vasser with gas. Vasser was my attempt at wasser, German for water. Follow wasser with the word water and I figured I’d get lucky.

It’s one of those restaurants like so many others in Tirana-a small storefront that has been expanded by taking over most of the sidewalk in front of the store. The really bold places, after having grabbed much of the pedestrian space sometimes push a few more tables out front to add still more seats, reducing the sidewalk to about a three foot wide path. Most of the sidewalk intrusion doesn’t bother anyone. After all, everyone benefits at one time or another from the expansion. This place wasn’t that bold but they had built a covering over the seating area and had probably doubled their seating area to accommodate more than 100 people. I was having an early dinner so there probably were no more than two-dozen people dining or having a late afternoon coffee when I was there. I was surprised to notice a group of three motorbikes for home delivery. In my mind, the restaurant moved into a fast-food category instead of the casual dining place I sought.

Still, it was a wonderful evening, pleasant and mild. I was reminded all the more of what Americans lose by being a vehicle dependent society. I want my yard, my little patch of property but having a chance to enjoy city life and being able to walk somewhere is a nice addition to life that I enjoy when I travel. Friends greeted each other as they passed on the street or as the sidewalk walkers and sidewalk café sitters mingled.

Most of the customers, when I first arrived, were men. But over the course of the evening the clientele will change as women with children—those same sort of good moms needing to feed the kids as are at home—fill the tables as they wait for dad to join them. I’ve noticed over the years the productivity drain that seems to hit male workers. They just spend too much time in the cafes in the afternoon, smoking, drinking coffee and talking. Then they complain because everyone stays late at work and arrives tired the next morning. People tell me the cafe is just an extension of the workplace. I don't believe it. It's not an especially productive extension at least.

I’ve already figured out my dessert. There’s a gelato stand just a few doors up the street. I don’t know why but I discovered lemon gelato on a trip to Albania several years ago and it has become a trip tradition. I’m watching my weight, actually planning to return a few pounds lighter so I have promised myself to keep the gelato cravings under control. Why lemon? It’s hard to find lemon ice cream in the states. The gelato is sweet but tangy, with a sharp lemon flavor. I just like it.

This is my seventh or eight visit to Albania over a six-year period. I was last here in March 2008 where I worked with Vizion+ TV and Top Channel. They’re the two most widely viewed television stations in Albania though Top Channel is a strong number one to Vizion’s second place. This project will have me figure out whether Vizion is still number two. They’re programming this last year has been weak and they lost their popular news anchor to the number three station. I’ll do an audience survey, as I’ve previously done, to help them figure out what’s going right and wrong.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm traveling again in the Balkans, Albania specifically. This is probably my eighth time to visit Tirana since November 2004. I am again working with Vizion+ Television, a privately owned TV station based in Tirana but they have about 90% national coverage with several repeater transmitters.

Tirana has both changed and stayed the same since I was last here in March 2008. There are small businesses that have been successfully in business since 2004 or 2005. The streets are generally better--there's been some paving and street improvements. There are more cars but traffic seems a little better organized. Some things are the same. The smells of fresh produce sold by sidewalk vendors, the pungent smell of the white cheese that's so common here. It's somewhere between yogurt cheese and feta. Imagine slightly mild feta cheese and you'll have the taste of it. I have previously written about the city and my habits.

About the only significant change is that the TV station sends a car to pick up my translator and I. This is the first time I've had a translator. Altin (pronounced like Al-teen) is an interesting guy. He's a former TV journalist and has spent time in the US through a journalist exchange program sponsored by Voice of America and the Embassy. The morning ride means I don't take a taxi. I miss the interaction--not that the drivers spoke much English.--but we we could exchange greetings and grimace at some of the crazy things other drivers did. As I've walked along the street in the afternoon to stretch my legs, I've seen familiar faces of the same drivers from previous years.

Mr. Chicken is still in business. It's a favorite fast food restaurant. The serve sufllaqe (Greek souvlaki), roasted chicken and sandwiches. Albania food...whatever traditional food is supposed to a little hard to find. I've not seen very many things that seem unique. Lots of the food seems to reflect the Turkish conquest.

I'm staying at Hotel President...but renamed Xheko Hotel Imperial. Xheko is the last name of the two brothers who own the hotel I'm in a fancy room.....really very nice...compared with the other basic rooms. There's a shower and tub. The bed has a real kingsize mattress. The plasma TV has CNNi and SkyNews. Check it out at:

This isn't a very interesting post...will try to make time to do something better.