While tailgating at a West Point—where the football is delivered by soldiers jumping from a helicopter—our friends asked, “Wanna go to Albania?”
My husband and I had traveled to Slovenia with this couple and their wonderful son (now 10) in 2013. Without much pondering, we raised our plastic cups on October 10, 2015, and said, “count us in.”
Pledge made, the next question was: “Where’s Albania?” The nation of 2.9 million is on the Adriatic Sea, bordered by Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece.
As for personal experience with the country: On Christmas Eve, 2011, we found a pink-neon bar in Manhattan whose tender hailed from Albania. He was nice.
My other data point? The 1997 black comedy, “Wag the Dog,” during which Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman fabricate a war in Albania to distract the media because, two weeks prior to reelection, the United States president was in the middle of a sex scandal.
And I quote: Why Albania? / Why not? / What have they done to us? / What have they done FOR us? What do you know about them? / Nothing. / See? They keep to themselves. Shifty. Untrustable.
Self-education began with our stomachs. On December 19, 2015, my husband made six allegedly Albanian dishes for which we found recipes online. I even helped, a little. The five of us were delighted to see feta cheese was a main ingredient in pretty much everything. That said, once in-country, the nearest thing we found to offerings at our dinner party was spinach pie.
Planning continued as it began, with a side dish of football on February 7, 2016, during our annual Puppy Bowl party. Our girlfriend checked out the only book she could find about our destination.
We learned Albanians are “the most economically backward of the Balkan peoples... The land itself offers little promise of a prosperous future.” Granted, The Balkans, The Modern Nations in Historical Perspective was published in 1965, but I did have a moment of wondering what we were getting ourselves into.
Undeterred, that night we booked places to stay. For my husband and me, the adventure began with a flight from Newark Airport on June 23, 2016.