A First Birthday, the Albanian Alps and a Trip to Southern Italy

The first year I taught at Albanian College I had an assistant named Edlira. She was a wonderful translator and assistant in the classroom but also she quickly became a friend. She was helpful as I tried to sort out some of the culture and traditions of her country. Edlira, her husband (Aldo), Randy and I have shared many meals and outings together. For the first time this year Edlira has been promoted to being a full teacher with a class of her own. Since Albanian College is an English immersion school she teaches in English and has her own teaching assistant. Last year Edlira and Aldo welcomed a precious little boy into their family.

We were honored to be invited to Aled’s first birthday celebration in early October. As has become the tradition in America, first birthdays have become bigger and bigger celebrations. However, Aled’s birthday took the first birthday celebration to a whole new level. Edlira has three brothers who are all married with children and live in Florence, Italy. They all traveled to Albania to celebrate as did Edlira’s parents who also live in Florence. Aldo’s married sister and three teenage sons all traveled from Greece to be part of Aled’s first birthday. Aldo’s parents and other relatives traveled from different parts of Albania too. Aled is a well loved little boy!

The proud Mommy with her son. We were completely underdressed for the occasion. I had worn what I would typically wear to a child’s birthday party in the U.S. while all of Aled’s family wore clothing that I would have worn to attend a wedding. Also, it is tradition to wear blue to a boy’s first birthday and pink, purple or white to a girl’s first birthday.
Here are all of Aled’s grandparents. They are all in their early to mid-60’s but none of them are still working. In Albania, it is a law that women cannot work past the age of 60 and men cannot work past the age of 64.
There was even a DJ at the birthday party who played popular and traditional Albanian music for dancing. One of my goals is to learn to Albanian dance more confidently. As you can see, I could not take my eyes off my feet in order to follow along. 🙂 I love how all the family members dance together and everyone from young to old knows how to do the same dances that have been passed down over many generations.
The family then enjoyed a huge meal as a culmination to the birthday clebration.

We loved being part of Aled’s birthday party and meeting so many extended family members. It was an honor to be included!

The following weekend a group of teachers went to the Albanian Alps to a small village called Theth. If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that Theth is my favorite place to visit in Albania. The mountains are stunning and breathing all the fresh, outdoor air is a wonderful change of pace.

We left Tirana at 6:00 in the morning as the sun was rising. Mountains, here we come!
We are about halfway to Theth and the views are becoming more and more fantastic.

The next day we hiked to Grunas Waterfall. We passed a small working farm with a stone house and barn. There was even a coffee shop halfway up the hill to the falls. Two friends are modeling traditional Albanian headwear.

What a fun group of people to travel with! These teachers are from Spain, Egypt, Canada and the States.
On the bus ride out of the mountains look what I saw out the window!

The following week was our nine day October Break. Randy and I rented a car in Albania and headed to southern Italy.

We drove our rental car from Tirana to the Albanian port city of Durres where we boarded an overnight ferry to Bari, Italy.
We are arriving in Bari after a 9 hour trip across the Adriatic Sea. The trip went very quickly since we slept for most of it.

One of the many parts of Italy that I love is all the small and large churches that we randomly come across as we visit various cities.

After getting off the ferry we drove three hours to Naples where we stayed for two nights. The only reason we stayed in Naples was because of its close proximity to Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii. I have loved everywhere we have gone in Italy but Naples is the exception. Someone used the term “gritty” to describe Naples and I think that would be accurate. The city has not yet figured out how to deal with their trash. It was common to see overflowing trash cans, empty beer bottles and unkept streets. Naples is not a city that I would want to return to. That being said, there were aspects of the city we enjoyed.

Naples was founded by the Greeks in 300 BC. We saw Greek ruins at different places throughout the city.
Naples is the birthplace of pizza and it was delicious! We have never eaten so much pizza in our lives.
We took a food tour while in Naples and fried pizza was one of the featured food items.
I came across this beautiful sight on an early morning run. That is Mount Vesuvius in the background.
A typical Italian breakfast for us… The hot drink in the foreground is cocoa, not to be confused with hot chocolate. As in Albania, if you order hot chocolate you will get a hot, thick chocolate pudding. If you want hot chocolate like in the USA, you need to order cocoa.
Street musicians always add so much to the experience of wandering around a city.
A small beautiful city park that shows the trash problem that seems to be everywhere in Naples.
I am always a bit startled when we randomly come across soldiers and military vehicles. We have seen this throughout Europe in our travels over the years.

In 79AD Mount Vesuvius erupted. The rocks and ash from the explosion rained down on Pompeii for almost a full day. Pompeii was a city of 20,000 people. Most people fled the city but there were 2,000 that stayed behind and perished. The 79AD explosion was the most severe. The volcano most recently erupted in 1944 and is expected to erupt again.

Our next stop was Pompeii which was fabulous! If you get the opportunity to visit then you need to go for it. I never realized how big Pompeii is. The city was buried until sometime in the 1700’s when a farmer was trying to dig a well and was unable to because he just kept coming across lots of ash instead of water. Since that time the location has been an active archeological site.

This is graffiti carved on the walls hundreds of year ago.
This is a mold of a person who perished in Pompeii. It was made by pouring plaster into the cavities left by the ash that covered the people.
There are many gorgeous places to stay on the Amalfi Coast. We took a lot of time weighing the options and decided on Salerno because it was significantly less expensive plus it provided easy access (by ferry) to the other scenic cities i.e. Amalfi, Ravello, Positano, Sorrento and Capri.

The beautiful city of Amalfi…

Visiting the Villa Cimbrone Gardens in Ravello was cathartic and breathtaking.

Next we visited Positano which is the most popular town on the Amalfi Coast. It is known for it’s upscale shopping. Here is one of the charming walkways throughout the town. Positano was VERY crowded so I felt happy to get this photo with no tourists in it.
Positano is also known for it’s beaches with crystal clear water.
Interesting art looking over the sea in Positano.
Arriving in Salerno by ferry after a day of touring this beautiful part of Italy.
Morning run on our last day in Salerno.
Another one of the many tunnels we drove through in Sicily.

These are some pictures from our hotel including the deck off our room and the charming place where we ate breakfast each morning.

I loved coming across this school bus picking up children to get them to school. From what I can tell all European school buses are smaller and have a driver and a bus assistant. I know there are many schools in the USA that wish they had bus assistants on all their buses.
We were able to climb part way down into the crater to actually feel the heat that continuously radiates from the volcano. Amazing!

The sunset view on Mount Etna did not disappoint, 85% of what you see coming out of the top of Mount Etna is water vapor. The rest is sulphur, radon and other things that I do not remember.

That is my update for now. Randy is currently back in the States enjoying some deer hunting. I am in the midst of writing extensive reports about each of my students since the end of term one is approaching. I am flying home on December 16th to celebrate the holidays with the whole family. I cannot wait!!! As always, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I hope you skimmed through lots of it since it is soooooo long this time. Not sure if I will make another post before the holidays so I am wishing you all the best over the upcoming holiday season.

November, 2022

34 thoughts on “A First Birthday, the Albanian Alps and a Trip to Southern Italy

  1. Sarah, I truly appreciate the time you take to create this mix of words and pictures that bring to life your incredible journey. Enjoy your holidays.


  2. Sarah,
    What a fancy birthday party!
    Loved the photos from Theth. Have the widened the road there yet? Scariest trip of my life! Hahaha! What a beautiful place.
    Loved seeing your trip to Italy, especially the food! I would have loved every bite!
    The ferry seems interesting, good for y’all to brave it!
    Cannot wait until your next post! Keep ‘em coming!
    Sarah K


    1. Thanks, Sarah! They have paved the road to Theth but is has not been widened. The cars or buses have to back up to let each other by. The ride is not quite as hair-raising as when we did the trip together a few years ago.


    1. Of course, I have a pedicure. 🙂 I am glad you enjoyed reading about our adventures. I am wondering how the wedding plans ae coming along. I can’t remember the date of the exciting event.


  3. What amazing adventures!! And what a blessing you are to the lives you have touched!! Your travels are spectacular!! You know how to do retirement right!


  4. Wow , what a beautiful trip. Your photos tell the story of your adventure with such detail! I would want to frame everyone of those pics. So happy you and Randy can experience this together. Carry on !


  5. Sarah ~ I love reading your blogs! Thanks so much for sharing so many interesting facts, as well as all your personal thoughts! The pictures are the best!!! Wishing you the very happiest of holidays! Safe travels home


  6. Always love reading your blog! So many wonderful pics .. I like your toe dipping into the Mediterranean Sea! Looking forward to seeing you next month! 👏🏼 Sending hugs from Fairport!



  7. Thank you for taking us along on your travels. Everything was so interesting, including the cultural traditions around a first birthday party. I loved all the mountains. I so appreciate you taking the time to write this blog and post your pictures. Have a safe trip home and enjoy the holidays!
    Love, Monica


  8. Hi Sarah! Such interesting reading and I enjoy hearing of your travels. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Sending love and Happy Thanksgiving wishes.


  9. Thank you for the updates – You two are amazing! What fantastic adventures you are experiencing and the pictures are wonderful! Happy holidays to you and your family!


  10. What a wonderful trip! I love the pictures and commentary. So happy you and Randy are having such a positive travel experience. I loved visiting Portugal in October and found the people to be warm and welcoming and it was humbling for me to be in a country where English was not the primary language. Love your posts!


    1. Hi Kay, I just came across this message. Sorry for the slow response. Thank you for reading my blog. It was good to hear about your positive experience in Portugal. We are headed there next month. I hope you are doing well!


  11. Sarah and Randy, the first word that comes to mind is “WOW!” What a wonderful experience for both of you! How much longer will you be there? What a fabulous retirement you have! God Bless!!


    1. Thanks for reading my blog, Betty! My teaching contract goes until June, 2024 but we will be back in the summer plus we are flying back for Christmas this year. I saw pictures of the ICP Anniversary Celebration. I was sorry to miss it. You looked great in the pics!


  12. Hi Sarah,
    So exciting to read your blog and catch up with you! Glad you enjoyed your travels through the Albanian Alps and southern Italy.😀 Also an Albanian birthday party! Wonderful photos and captions. Safe travels back to America for the holidays. Merry Christmas! 🎄🎅💕Love, Pat


  13. Thanks for reading my blog, Pat! Right now I am in London with David for a long weekend. As you know, it’s wonderful to have our adult children to hang out with. I am wondering if the entire Linz family will be gathering for Christmas. I hope so!


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