Friday, March 07, 2014

In Tirana

Arrived in rainy Tirana well notwithstanding an uncertain departure from NYC where constant subzero temperature, strong winds, and nth snowfalls have been hitting hard everyone this winter. 

I was fortunate to be able to upgrade to business class that was half empty of passengers, and to take advantage of the available lounge during the long wait to get on board. It’s a relaxing place, efficiently run, and offering a business as well as an entertainment section, with a variety of complimentary drinks and foods, literally from soup to nuts. 

 On board, however, the newly refurbished business class in the Boeing 767 is not the greatest, as far as I experienced this time. Although there is plenty of space to move about, the seats are very comfortable, and offer a variety of positioning, but the much touted flat bed to sleep is very restrictive. The feeling is like being inside a strongbox (!) where one cannot bend the legs. Noticed that even for normal sized people the best position is to sleep on one side. The flying chef on board, with his white hat, hovers all over you while waiting to depart taking orders for dinner and next morning’s breakfast. He and the stewards address every passenger formally by their last name. Noticeable are now also the cheaper types of complimentary little bags with some goodies usable during the flight.  The food overall is fine, but the Viennese coffee served in tall glasses with 10 different varieties of booze to choose from, and topped with whipped cream, is terrific!  

Other observations I made while connecting in Vienna include the fact that all flights for all the Balkans are now in the lower number gates (actually no. 1), where there is direct boarding via the extension tunnel hookup. Previously these flights were relegated to the outer border of the airport and passengers had to be transported by bus to them. The assistance service now is also a bit disjointed. The smaller but cozy old terminal that had all the gates positioned around one big circle, offered a much easier and personalized service that now gets messed up and dispersed in the immensity of the new huge, long, rectilinear terminal that houses 44 gates!!

Another surprise was the large number of passengers flying directly to Pristina as the traffic between the Balkans and Europe continues to increase. I happen to witness their departure from the same gate where I was, and found out, later on, that Kosova’s capital has now enlarged its facilities with a brand new larger, just opened airport. 

My friends greeted me at arrival, and delivered me to my apartment, where, as usual, I found everything ready for me, with bed made, fridge stacked with food and goodies, and even welcoming flowers on the table!!  Albania is renowned since centuries ago for its hospitality, and now that is coming up in the world, this appreciation is also experienced by many new foreigners who travel here for business and/or pleasure, and all remark about it through their many blogs. 
 The Dajti mountain chain that hugs Tirana on the East has just a sprinkle of snow on the top, but gorgeous sun shines in the morning providing mild temperature. The locals tell me they are experiencing a very unusual gentle winter with rains that, at times, may develop in late afternoons when the clouds soar over the city and, after an outburst, clear the city’s air.   It’s so good to be back here!

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