Parking Problems

Sometimes coming up with a title is harder than writing a blog post.

I haven’t been writing a lot since we got back for a few reasons. JR has been working a lot of overtime, and I didn’t feel well for a while after we returned (terrible allergies and jet lag), and we just haven’t been doing anything that exciting.

But we were relaying this story at dinner last night and I thought it was worth sharing on here, even if it happened several weeks ago. I like to think I’ve become a real natural at driving here. One with the people, you might say. So when our car needed the brakes checked and a headlight replaced, it made sense for me to take care of it during the day while JR was working. The biggest concern JR had is that I tend to believe every single thing the car repair people tell me. I just nod along and smile, assume they’re being honest, and hand over my credit card. The last time I got an oil change on my own (for my new car) it cost me $80 at a Jiffy Lube that advertised $30 oil changes. JR was not pleased, but I have no idea what went wrong.

It was pouring rain that day, and a drive that would normally take me 15 minutes was made significantly longer by the weather and this crazy construction they have going on that created a detour on a major road. The detour can get pretty backed up, so one of our friends showed us an alternate route that involves a bunch of one lane roads and praying you don’t get into an Albanian driving standoff with someone coming the other direction.

I was feeling feisty, so I decided to try that alternate route on my own. To turn off, you have to edge up past this GIGANTIC hole in the road.

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Note the complete lack of orange cones, or any type of warning that you maybe shouldn’t get too close. It’s especially fun at night!

I made it to the dealership, and they determined our brakes were fine, so after getting the headlight fixed (only 14 Euros!), I was back on my way home. Traffic had become much worse, and the rain continued to come down. In Kosovo, it’s acceptable to drive in whichever direction is most convenient to YOU, regardless of the flow of traffic or logic.

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I made it all the way home without incident. I was feeling really proud of myself. I pulled into our narrow garage, and realized I had driven too close to the side. I was halfway in when I felt the car hit something. I stopped and looked out the driver’s side window to see that the left side of the car was completely up against the garage. Crap. I didn’t know if it made more sense to pull forward or backwards – what would minimize the damage? I put the car in park, hoping to get out and investigate further. Well, given how tiny our garage is, I couldn’t get my door open. I was stuck.

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I called JR at work. Our conversation went something like this.

Me: Oh hey, just wanted to let you know I’m home, but I’m kind of stuck in the garage.
JR: What do you mean you’re stuck in the garage?
Me: Well I scraped up the car on the side, and now I can’t get out of the door and I’m scared to move and cause more damage. So I’m stuck.
JR: I’m sorry but I’m at work – I’m not sure what I can about it right now?
Me: Oh nothing! I know you’re busy. I just wanted you to know that I was stuck, in case I’m sitting here when you get home. Just a heads up!

We got off the phone and I pondered my next move. I texted my upstairs neighbor, and luckily, she was home and able to come down stairs and direct me so I could drive the car out of the garage. Now I just park on the sidewalk outside of our building like everyone else.

Driving in Albania

The drive to Albania deserves its own post. We left Pristina Friday afternoon to spend the long weekend exploring Albania with two of JR’s co-workers, Amy and Elizabeth. Amy was resourceful enough to check out GoogleMaps before we left, and it had approximately 64 steps to the directions. And we were off!

I’d only been in the car in Kosovo twice before this weekend, so I was still pretty nervous. People drive very fast here, no one uses turn signals, and there are these traffic circles that seem to be “anything goes, try not to die.” Also, when you slow down to enter a traffic circle, or make a turn, people come up to your car and try to sell you a bunny rabbit. This happened a lot.

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We were in Amy’s car (our car is being shipped over, and could arrive in anywhere from 4-8 weeks), and she was the only one with experience driving over here, so she drove for quite sometime. With about an hour and a half left in the drive, she asked if someone else would take over. I volunteered myself. It seemed the lack of road rules would be perfect for my driving style. JR was scared, but our other passengers were blissfully ignorant to my driving record.

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What you see there is a highway. They don’t have many of those in Kosovo and Albania. Much of the drive was spent on back roads that had pot holes, people, goats, bicycles – you name it, it was something we had to swerve to avoid. There appeared to be no laws on passing -you could do that at any time, at any speed, regardless of whether or not you were going into oncoming traffic. There were some road signs, but they were in Albanian, so they were not much use to us.
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The only stoplight we saw the entire weekend!

Anyway, the driving was sometimes fun (it’s a bit like Mario Kart – doing your best to avoid banana peels and red koopa shells) and sometimes scary. But I thought I was handling it quite well. On Saturday, we wanted to drive further south to find a beach town. We were driving quite high into the mountains, and the roads were very narrow and much to my dismay, they often didn’t have guardrails. Still, I wanted to give a try behind the wheel.

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I only lasted about ten minutes. It seemed like as soon as I started driving, the cliffs got steeper, and the curves got sharper. I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to pull over immediately! Everyone was great about it, and so I crawled along super slow until we found a safe spot to pull over and switch drivers again. Mountain driving is not for me.

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See how you could keep going and just drive into the sky?

JR drove us home, and he was a rockstar while I gripped my door handle and seat belt so tight my hands hurt. As we were leaving, a really cold and thick fog was coming over the mountains.

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fog

Luckily, he was fearless and we left the fog behind.

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