Përshëndetje! Hello from Tirana, the capitol city of Albania. It’s currently 9:46 AM, and it’s already 83 degrees F. (Gotta love that Mediterranean weather, right?) The city is bustling despite the heat, and the humidity isn’t stopping the city folk from chatting it up outside of cafes and shopping around on the cobblestoned streets of Tirana. I’m currently at my new place of work for the next 8 weeks, the National Coastline Agency of Albania, sitting at a table with two of my fellow interns and sipping on a smoothie.
If I may interject on myself here, this smoothie is incredible, and it’s made from 100% farm fresh, local, organic, in-season produce… And it was less than $3… So take THAT, Tropical Smoothie Café.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is T.C. Knowles (Yes, that is my real name. No, it doesn’t stand for anything. Yes, that is odd.) and I’m a rising sophomore majoring in I’m Still Figuring It Out, Mom! I came to Albania on a whim, not knowing a word of Albanian or even where Albania was located on a map. I guess I was just ready for a change of pace, and rather than buy some new clothes or get a funky haircut, I decided to try living abroad for 10 weeks. Having never been out of the country before, not even to visit our friendly neighbor Canada, this trip was a big step for me.
My flight to Europe went pretty smoothly, I got to kick back and watch The Devil Wears Prada whilst sipping on a complimentary Ginger Ale. I felt like quite the posh individual with my free Delta facemask, blanket, pillow, and headphones, not to mention the incredible selection of (free!) movies and TV shows. I had never been on an international flight before, so I was really living it up. The only downside was that when the flight attendants passed out our microwaved meals, I could barely eat any of it. Eggplant lasagna with cheese? That’s a no-go. Quinoa and feta salad? Uh-uh. 7 pieces of lettuce and a cucumber? Now you’re getting somewhere. I’m a vegan, so eating abroad has been interesting, especially with the language barrier. It’s a lot of me pointing to the menu and saying “no” to the non-vegan ingredients (milk, eggs, cheese, meat) and the server giving me a very confused look, but eventually obliging. Albanians are very hospitable and welcoming, so I can usually get by even with broken Albanian and strange dietary requests.
If you’re a vegan in Albania, here’s what I know so far:
- Markets will be your holy land, the produce is crazy good, and crazy cheap (Like a pound of cherries for 20 cents cheap)
- Going out to eat will be a struggle, you might have to learn to love salads
- Being vegan isn’t a mainstream thing here, so asking for coffee with no milk might be confusing to your server, and they might bring you coffee that you can’t drink. Just ask nicely to have a different coffee and explain again that you would like no milk!
- Your friends are going to buy gelato, and you won’t be able to have any. Sorry. Have fun smelling the waffle cones and listening to them rave about how good it is.