We left Sarandë in mid July, a few days before we were going to attempt to fly back to the US. Ervin drove down from Tirana again to pick us up. Our friend Carolyn came with us too. We all had the same flight home on Air Serbia, going through Belgrade. We had heard other people had luck catching this flight. There wasn’t much else of a choice with the EU not allowing US citizens in, even into an airport to change planes.
Before we attempted this flight, we had a some time in Tirana again. Howard and I stayed in a funky Airbnb in the heart of the city. We discovered a big out door market as well as some other interesting places we had missed before. Of course we walked over to our old neighborhood to check on the cats. Tira came when we called her name and unfortunately was pregnant again. Tira’s little black kitten was there, looking very healthy and we saw Flower as well as a few of the other cats. We didn’t get to spend as long as I would of liked with them. A woman showed up with a bag of cat food and all the cats followed her into the hotel next door to our old Airbnb. It was great to see that they were being taken care of.
In the month we were gone, Tirana had returned almost all the way back to normal. The only reminder of the pandemic was some of the people working in restaurants and shops were wearing masks, but not too many. People were out and about all over and the city was quite lively even during the afternoon heat. The night before we left, we all met up with some other friends from Sarandë. Bob was in the city to pick up his wife from the airport. She was flying from the US and was also traveling through Belgrade. They hadn’t seen each other since early February. After a fun night of drinks and dinner we got back to our Airbnb just in time to grab our luggage and get back in Ervin’s van. We picked up Carolyn at her hotel and Ervin dropped us off for our 4:30 am flight.
We were prepared for delays and possible cancellations, but our flight took off on time. We had to wear face masks at all times and were sprayed with disinfectant at several points in the airport. In Belgrade they kept everyone from the flight together and herded us through the empty airport to our next gate. After a short wait we were on our way back to the US. There was limited service on the flights but they did give us some food and drinks. Luckily I managed to get a few hours sleep too. So far things were going good, all things considered.
Landing at JFK and seeing all the empty gates at the International terminal was surreal. It’s normally one of the busiest airports in the US. Once off the plane we had to get our luggage and go through customs. We were sprayed with disinfectant and told to keep a distance from other people in line, but there were also things where everyone had to touch the same self check in machine to scan our passports, on the plane we had to fill out a health form, with all the passengers sharing the same pen. It seemed like for all the precautions put in place there were other things you had to do that made them pointless.
After customs Howard and I checked in to our flight to Boston. Carolyn ran into an issue where her last flight’s time had been changed to earlier that day. So the flight left while she was still over the Atlantic Ocean. Jet Blue was not being very helpful either. We parted ways and wished her luck. I found out later she was put on a flight to Miami then another one to North Carolina, her intended destination, all for a rather high extra cost. I also found out later that Bob’s wife’s flight was canceled and she ended up stuck in airports for two days before arriving in Tirana. Plus our friend Kelly, who was also in Tirana to pick up a friend flying in from the US, had a delay because her friend got stuck in the Belgrade Airport for over 24 hours. Howard and I were lucky and arrived in Boston on time, much unlike when we started this trip last fall.
The bus we usually take from Logan Airport to New Hampshire wasn’t running so we had to rent a car. The next day we had to drive it halfway back to Boston to return it since many of the drop off locations were closed. We had a long couple of days but, finally we were back home.
We stayed in my parents guest room for the first week we were back. It was good to see them but we kept our distance and wore our masks when we came out of our room. We didn’t intend to stay there that long but we had a squirrel mess in our RV to clean up plus a water heater to replace. An old TV we had in parents guest room crapped out along with the one in our RV, plus we had a ton of repairs to do on our truck to pass inspection. It was a pain, but we eventually got everything fixed or replaced and settled back into our tiny home on wheels.
We’re not very happy about being back in the US. Everywhere you look someone or something is telling you to wear a mask and social distance. Businesses are failing. There are still empty shelves and out of stock items in some stores, and while we can go out to eat, it’s just not very fun. Our one bastion of normalcy is the Broken Spoke. They have cheap drinks and great bar food plus no one is going to tell a bunch of bikers what to do. Although Howard and I aren’t exactly bikers, it is our favorite hang out. We’re just the nerds that went to their Halloween party in our Star Trek uniforms and asked them to put the TV on the Discovery channel for a space launch.
It’s up in the air when we’ll get back to Europe but we think about it every day. I miss Albania a lot and there are so many places in the Balkans we want to visit. Hopefully we will be able to travel again soon.