Never before has my biggest adventure in a country happened less than two hours upon arrival.  I have been known to buy a Turkish carpet at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul that fast, but it wasn’t close to my best moment in Turkey.  However, I certainly had a memorable moment right after settling into my hotel in Tirana.  The short summary could be called “dinner and entertainment”.  You’ll probably prefer the longer version of the story.

Traveling is so much easier when it is the second, or in this case the fourth, time around.  I had a map to get to my hotel in Tirana.  As soon as my airport bus driver turned the map upside down, the proper direction, I knew exactly how to find my hotel.  So, I settled into my one night in the capital rather easily.  From previous travels, I knew the general location of the Turkish restaurant I liked.  I didn’t remember that it was Turkish, but I knew where the restaurant was and recognized the interior when I saw it. 

I had dinner with entertainment.  It wasn’t like I planned it that way.  Some people pay really expensive rates for dinner with a theater production.  My entertainment was free and the meal was less than nine dollars!

As I sipped on Turkish tea and finished off my lentil soup, a huge throng of young men crowded the sidewalks and street.  Hundreds of them!  They passed right in front of me, safely seated in the restaurant behind my protective layer of glass, only to stop at the intersection at the edge of my view.  Now, my hotel was on the other side of that mob and I wondered how I would ever cross through (or around) the crowd.  As l awaited my eggplant kebabs, the young men chanted, raised fists in the air and jumped higher and higher.

The kebabs arrived piping hot.  They were not going to be eaten fast.  But, the other guests in the restaurant were fast.  They raced to the window pane, cell phone cameras in hand, as the mob of protesters made a quick retreat.  Me?  I don’t do smart phones.  If my phone takes video, and I’m not sure if it does, I didn’t have it on me anyway.  If I had, I’d never get the buttons figured out in time.  The protestors fled past me for their safety, and I just took it all in -- like the news photographer standing atop his van, filming the entire scene. 

The protest was over but not by choice.  More than fifty policemen in full riot gear appeared on the scene.  They chased after the crowd in one scary row after another, with riot clubs in the air.  It was almost like it was on television, because of the huge glass window pane that separated us.  But, at any moment a rock hurled by a protestor could have shattered my security and my "television screen". 

In a matter of seconds, the crowd was very successfully dispersed.  Tempers cooled as well as my eggplant.  As I finished my meal, a band of policemen stood shoulder to shoulder, at least fifteen of them, blocking the entrance to the side street where the protestors had gathered.  It was embassy row for several countries including Greece. 

Safely back at my hotel, the receptionist explained the protest.  An Albanian man in a Greek prison killed one of his guards.  He was moved to another prison for his own protection, except there was no protection.  At least ten Greek security men tortured and killed the Albanian.  It was a situation where nobody could win – except for me.  I had an incredible meal of lentil soup, eggplant kebabs and Turkish tea.

Copyright 2014 by Phillip Martin. All rights reserved.