You only live once… you once catch Albanian trains once

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July 20, 2010 by jessperriam

“Honk. hooooon honnnnnnnnnnnnnnnk,” went the train from Lushnje to Durres.

When was the last time you heard a train make a ‘choo-choo’ noise? In fact, did they ever go ‘choo-choo’? Odd.
There are cheap ways to get around Albania and there are cheaper ways. And then there are the mildly adventurous ways to get around Albania.

Albanian trains are famous for more reasons than one.

Albanian train carriage, pre-loved.


They’re old: hand me downs from France, right down to the chaud and froid labels on the air conditioning system.

Albanian train engine... last seen on the set of Thomas the Tank Engine

They’re slow: it takes 40 minutes to get to Durres by bus, compared to two hours by train.

Amy's doing a good job of ignoring the stench.

They stink: if you don’t think about which cabin you sit in, the nasal overload of that long drop toilet scent is overwhelming.

But Albanian trains are an adventure nonetheless. Which is why Amy and I got up early on Monday morning to take the train. You only live once. And you only take the Albanian rail system once.

Our fellow passengers were curious.
“Where are you from?”
“Australia”
“Italia?”
“No, Australia, but I’m living in Gramsh at the moment,” Amy explains in her beginners Albanian.
“Oh, why are you here?”
“I’m a missionary,”
“Hey?”
Apparently it’s hard for Amy to pronounce her own profession and it’s even harder for the locals to understand the concept.
“Are you married?” asked one older Albanian lady.
“No.”
“Why not?”
“Uh…”
“I have some nice grandsons…”
“Nuk kuptoj, me falni.” Sorry, I don’t understand. Sometimes (feigned) ignorance really is bliss.

Sometimes you just have to get up and smell the fresh air.

The train winds its way through the Albanian countryside and passengers come and go, but the questions remain the same. The highway runs parallel to the train tracks and sometimes the train sets a faster pace than the cars, but most times it doesn’t.

Gunshot? No, just stones thrown at the train

We look out the window, partly blown out by kids throwing stones, try not to breathe too deeply and listen to the unfailing ‘hooooooooonk, hon-hooooooooooonk’ of an overenthusiastic train driver that sends locals living trackside nuts, right down to the young boy, pained with his hands over his ears.

Albanian trains. An experience, yes. But one best not repeated.

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