We had heard about the Albanian hospitality before we arrived in the country. But then again, doesn’t ever country think it is famous for it’s hospitality? So far we have only had positive experiences with people on our trip, and we expected the same from Albania. But we didn’t expect to get such an overwhelmingly welcoming response from the people of Albania.
We had our first encounter with Albanian hospitality on our very first day in the country. We went out for dinner to a small restaurant that is well recommended online (it’s called Oda, and it’s in central Tirana…and believe me, it is well worth the hype). The restaurant is small, it is like walking into someones house, and it felt even more homely from the welcome we received from our waiter. We were the only ones in the restaurant, so he had time to chat with us. He was so personable and easy to talk to, and even offered to show us around Albania if we had the time. I have never had such a friendly waiter before. Even the cook came out later in the evening to play with Jacob.
Throughout the rest of our trip we had many other encounters. When ever we had to park in a tight spot, random people would appear from no where to help direct us. The staff at our hotels and guesthouses never let us carry our own luggage, and at ever place we stayed the owners offered us some sort of complimentary food or drink. They gave us free beers and raki, and would bring little cakes and fruits for Jacob.
But out most overwhelming experience of Albanian hospitality was during a rainy evening in Berat. We decided to trudge up to the UNESCO castle, at the top of a steep cobbled hill. We had heard rumours of a good restaurant at the top. We set out in the dark with Jacob in the stroller. The way up was steep, and the cobbles were bumpy and uneven. It was dark and there were not many street lights in the area, so we couldn’t see where sections of cobble stones were missing. We hit one of these hazards and CRACK! The front wheel of the stroller snapped off.
Tragedy! We love our stroller! It is integral to this whole traveling with baby operation. Not only does it carry two of our suitcases when we are moving locations (Jacob get ousted into the baby carrier), but it also has a massive zippered compartment underneath where we are able to sneak a good 5 – 8 kilos of extra luggage onto the plane for free. It’s an incredibly reliable stroller. This was the first time it had broken, and given the hard use we put it through (and all those random pieces that have fallen off it so far), I really wasn’t surprised that this happened.
It was too late to turn back now. It was a big hill, and we were more than half way up. We ended up dragging the pram the rest of the way on the two rear wheels. We were freaking out…. how will we travel for the next month with no stroller? We really didn’t want to buy a new one… it wouldn’t be easy to find another one as good as this one…. and especially hard to find one in Albania.
We finally made it up to the restaurant and dragged ourselves in out of the rain. The only people inside were the owners and some of their friends. The owner immediately grabbed the stroller and the wheel out of my hand. His friends came over and soon wrenches started appearing out of no where. One guy even ran home to get more tools. It wasn’t easy going – too many pieces were broken beyond repair, but after much laboring they managed to get the wheel back on.
Meanwhile Dan and I were sitting back watching all this happen and trying to help and not get in the way. Our attempts to help were repeatedly refused as the men set about their task. Maybe about 10 minutes into the repair work, the owner suddenly stopped and turned around and look at us with a confused look…. “do you want to eat?”
We laughed and told him yes. He shouted at his wife to bring us some food while he got back to the task at hand. Dan and I had to laugh… did he think we came into his restaurant just for the handy man services? As our stroller became increasingly more whole, our table started piling up with a huge selection of different traditional dishes. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore, and until the stroller was fixed. The owner not only refused payment for his labour on the stroller, he even sent us home with some fruit for Jacob.
We couldn’t believe our luck.
A fantastic meal – AND – our stroller got repaired. Now that is hospitality! Now I bet you’re asking what restaurant we were at? The place is called Onufri, and it is near the entrance to the Berat castle. The food is incredible, but don’t expect a menu. You will get served a random selection of traditional Albanian food, but don’t worry – it is all delicious.