As you know, I am a graphic designer that lives online/offline life as a digital nomad. So I don’t earn millions and I travel on a budget to travel more. Being in Albania for a week with Ida, we visited many good places that didn’t cost us zillions of leks.

 

Here are our favourites:

Restaurant Gjakova

Located in Blloku, Tirana, this restaurant is dedicated to meat-lovers (even though you can find many vegetarian options). Prices are so cheap that you can spend CAD 20 and eat, have dessert, drink and repeat. 

My recommendation is the lamb (the best of Albania) and the Cesar salad! Best Cesar I have eaten in years. Check their Facebook Page here.

Tymi 

Tymi is a local family-oriented restaurant that evades a relaxed atmosphere with a friendly staff. Its focus is on Albanian cuisine as well as meat. However, it is vegan and gluten-free friendly.

My recommendations here are the fried Kakavall cheese, the Spinach salad and the kofta. The place is located in the 21 Dhjetori neighbourhood in Tirana. Check their full menu here.

Bar Restaurant Bio

This Restobar has the healthiest food in Albania and incredible drinks to have a nice dinner. To be honest, we came here three times. One for drinking only and two more for eating only since for Ida didn’t make any sense to have a healthy salad with an Albanian beer on the other hand. A place for balance. You won’t believe the prices of this place. You can have a perfect time with only CAD 15.

Momento

We arrived at this Southern Italian Café by accident and we decided to give it a chance. The people of the Italian peninsula and Albania had a lot of history (Roman Empire, Venetian Republic, Regno d’Italia) and thus there is a lot of Italian influence. Many people speak and understand Italian here; I could say that they are more fluent in Italian than English. 

Momento comprises quality Southern Italian dishes, but what I liked the most was the coffee. Momento’s espresso transported me to my days in Rome.

Zgara Supreme 2

This place combines Greek and Albanian cuisine. It is the cheapest restaurant I visited in Tirana. You should check it out if you like big portions for fair prices. If you are vegan or even vegetarian, there are a few options for you here. The quality of the food is good. My favourite dish was the grilled lamb (you have to eat lamb all over Albania, it is their specialty).

Check their Facebook page here.

If you love history, you will never be bored in Europe. Every city has a lot of stories of invasions, imperial conquers and cultural contributions from their diverse population that inhabited that land.

In the case of Durrës, the city I am visiting now in Albania, it was founded by ancient Greeks. Later it was taken by the Romans. Centuries later, when the Western Roman Empire felt, Durrës remained part of the Byzantines and became a Christian city. Bulgarians took control of the town for some years, but later, Byzantines regained it. Then La Serenissima (Venetians) and Hungarians interchanged their power. Anjous, Serbs and Albanians arrived in the 14th Century. Serbs ruled first, but later on, Albans finally took control and established the Kingdom of Albania from there. Finally, in the 16th Century, Ottomans took control of the city until WWI and the population converted to Islam.

The history of Québec is more superficial. There was an indigenous population living there quite comfortably. Then the French arrived and everyone started speaking French. British people tried to invade and they couldn’t. However, we later decided to be part of the same country and proclaim loyalty to the British Monarch. Finish.

As you can see, all these stories about the past sound marvellous to me. So I decided to visit Durrës’ Archeological Museum, which was advertised as the biggest museum in Albania with elements from the Greek, Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman times.

Durres in Albania

When I was about to enter, I got the biggest surprise. Ida was there! She knew I was going to the museum because we talked every day since a few weeks ago, but I didn’t expect her.

“Did you like my surprise?” she said with her captivating voice.

We spent the afternoon in the museum and then went to have dinner in a local Albanese restaurant.

She stayed with me for a week.

After three days on the shores of the Adriatic sea, while we were spending the afternoon, she asked me:

“Is there any other woman in your life, Benjamin Gunst?”

I replied immediately:

“Yes, there is, or there was a girl, to be honest with you. We were never together and won’t be together.” 

I explained to her all the Pietro situation and James Punjabi’s communication.

“So, you called this guy James Punjabi and he told you that the Bahamian girl was looking for her biological parents and suddenly this mafioso guy found them and didn’t share the information immediately? Am I understood correctly?”

“Yes, James Punjabi wanted me to become a James Bond and rescue Jessica without informing authorities or understanding all this shady situation.”

“That’s sounds very mysterious, Benjamin. Thanks, you didn’t tag along. I hope this Bahamian girl is doing ok.”

I felt relieved I could share the whole story with Ida and she understood it. We are having great conversations and enjoying our time together so much. I am starting to think about when I’ll see her the next time. I don’t want to wait six months to be able to go back to the Schengen area again, but also, I don’t want to rush things and make her think I am as crazy as my story. The time will determine it.

I wasn’t expecting anything from Albania.

To be honest, I had only heard bad things about this country, specifically its people. I heard that they cannot be trusted; they are criminals, sinister immigrants, etc. I thought I would find a poor, dangerous, scary place because even He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named found a Horcrux here (maybe two if he’d met Nagini there).

I found the opposite.

Tirana is a young, vibrant, cosmopolitan and small city with architecture in constant renovation and colourful paintings. Definitely, not Lord Voldemort style. I decided to stay in Blloku, an upscale neighbourhood famous because of its nightlife options and hip cafes, 100% Benjamin Gunst style. Blloku, also known as The Block, was during the communist period an exclusive area for the elite of that time.

Sunset in Albania

After settling down in the hotel, I went right away to the Museum of the Bank of Albania. I decided to go there because I thought I was the most random and could share a picture with Ida. However, like everything in Albania, it surprised me. The place contains a rich numismatic and historical collection of Albanian money. There is also a boring part that portrays the history of the central bank institution in the country alongside much financial stuff.

(Read my article about random museums with Ida in Denmark).

I sent a picture to Ida in front of the Museum with the caption:

“I wish you were here.”

“It seems you made an effort to find anything strange there. I am glad.” She shared a picture with a crazy face.

Back to Blloku, I chose a place to try the inexpensive local beers. I was having a fantastic time there, while I met a couple of Albanians who visited Canada ten years ago. They said wonderful things about Canada that I didn’t even notice. They also talk about the Albanian people’s history and the Balkans Wars. I had a perfect time with them.

Now I know that I cannot base my judgments on where Lord Voldemort found Ravenclaw’s Diadem. Imagine this correlation was exact; the UK would be a shit-hole.

While sipping the Birra Korca with this guys, I received another message from James Punjabi:

Mr. Benjamin Gunst, please contact me on this number ASAP: +507XXXXXXXX.

I tried to ignore it, but my mind couldn’t stop thinking. I paid the bill, said goodbye to the guys, and went back to the hotel.

When I received his first message on the plane, I ignored it. I tried to match his phone number with an Instagram or LinkedIn profile, but nothing appeared. Now my mind was playing games with me. Why is he texting from Iceland? Why did he give me a Panamian phone number?

I did want to call him to find the answers but also didn’t want to reveal I was in Albania (just in case), so I bought some Skype credit and dialled the number from the hotel room.

-Good afternoon (it was the night in Albania). Who am I speaking with?

-Hello, James Punjabi. This is Benjamin Gunst. I am all ears.

I stayed two days more in Geneva while deciding where to go next. I texted Ida to see if she had any recommendations.

“Would you like to go to a random place with an extraordinary museum?”

“That sounds like me. It is promising. Tell me more.”

“Well, since you are in Switzerland, you can take a couple of trains to reach Schengen, Luxembourg. There is nothing to see there except for the European Museum Schengen. You might learn more about borderless Europe.”

“I’m delighted. I’ll send you a picture!”

“I like your spontaneous vibes, Gunst! Good luck.”

So, I took a train to Basel and another one to Mulhouse, France. In Mulhouse, I realized no one wanted to understand my French, and I used English. It was the worst response. I used sign language and managed to have lunch in a pretty rudimentary place. Later on, I took another train to Thionville, France, where people were more supportive, trying to understand me. Actually, I didn’t have any problems, but I could see they made an effort on people’s faces.

From Thionville, I took a 35-minute bus to Perl Gare Routièr, Germany, just on the other side of the Moselle River next to Schengen, Luxembourg.

I found out that hotels in Schengen were costly, so I stayed in a Youth Hostel in Remerschen, just 8 minutes away from the fun by bus.

I won’t tell you the Schengen agreement history and expansion details, as you can find it easily on the Internet. However, I want to mention that I took a selfie with the Danish flag and sent it to Ida.

She replied to me with the smiley face blushing emoji, which paid for the trip to Luxembourg.

So on my last day in the Schengen area, I woke up and had a Kaffi (the way Luxembourgish call breakfast) that consisted of a plain croissant and coffee. Then did the check out at the hotel and took my stuff to the German train station. I went straight to Frankfurt am Mainz and took a Lufthansa flight to Tirana, Albania.

Why Albania? Well, it was the cheapest option for the next day. The flight cost me the same as the wine bottle that I drank last week to process my broken heart in the restaurant in Geneva.

When I was about to turn off my phone, I received the strangest SMS in decades. It came from an +354 number:

Hi, Mr. Benjamin Gunst.

This is James Punjabi. We need to talk.

The obvious part of this story is the one that I won’t write about. And yes, it was fantastic, like Rome 2. You can read my blog post to learn about that experience.

Jessica has a charm that is difficult to describe. She has black eyes that shine with her smile and enlighten everything around her and nicely styled curly hair where you can be lost trying to delight it.

We had an incredible weekend that I almost forgot what happened in Italy and Iceland. However, the most bizarre occurred the day before Jessica’s flight to Morocco. While having lunch in a restaurant near the Jet d’Eau, Pietro appeared.

“Get the f*(K up the table, Jessica!” He said.

I was shocked and, furthermore, petrified. I wasn’t expecting any of this.

“I won’t do what you say anymore, Pietro; leave me alone,” Jessica contested.

I decided to intervene to protect Jessica, but Pietro took Jessica’s plate and smashed it on the floor. So I was back on my seat, scared like a child watching a horror movie.

“I found them,” Pietro said, and Jessica changed her mood immediately.

“I am sorry, Benjamin, I have to go.”

“No worries, Gunst, you won’t see her again.”

Five minutes later, I was still there sipping my red wine and trying to understand what had happened. The waiter came and cleaned Pietro’s mess and asked me if I wanted more wine. I asked for the whole bottle.

Later I regret this decision as alcohol is costly in Switzerland, and it is twice the price in front of the Jet d’Eau.

So I still don’t understand the matter with Pietro and Jessica. What’s the meaning of “I found them.” Why Jessica said Pietro was in Italy while he was here? Should I give Jessica the benefit of the doubt?

At this point, I don’t think polyamory is something between them, but Pietro seems to have some control over her. I believe they still have some physical connection involved.

Italy was no different than this time, except for the violent part. I had the feeling that they were in a relationship. However, with the “I found them,” I got confused. While in Rome, I felt sorry for myself being involved with a lady who didn’t communicate with me properly. Now I feel sorry for her because she is definitely into something shady with this guy.

While paying the astronomical check in the restaurant, I found out that Jessica had left a business card on his chair. The card said:

James Punjabi

Flugvallarvegur 15, Reykjanesbær, Iceland

I put the address on Google Maps and couldn’t find the location. I couldn’t find anything about James Punjabi as well. What was that business card? Did Jessica leave it by mistake or on purpose? There wasn’t a phone number or an email address.

I don’t think I have more time for this madness. Now I have to focus on my last week in the Schengen area before Russia continue advancing.