Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Trip to Albania, What Went Wrong!


Enthusiasm was high, expectations were exhilarating, and the potential was outstanding. The result: complete, pure, utter and unequivocal failure.

The Reason:

It all has to do with my visa. We don’t have an Albanian Embassy in the UAE, so I had to contact the one in Saudi Arabia and request my visa from there. The visa was issued on the 22nd March 2009, the validity of the visa is one month expiring on 21st April 2009, the visa allows me to stay in Albania for a duration of 30 days. It was my understanding (the reason of this whole debacle), that I have one month to enter Albania; and as soon as I enter Albania the countdown of my one month visa duration starts. I was fatally wrong!

What happened:

I was planning to stay in Albania for 10 days only, traveled there on the 20th April 2009, upon reaching there I was alerted by the passport control guys that my visa lets me stay for 1 day only!

In fact, they didn’t even want to let me in because when they found out that I was planning to stay for 10 days and I only have one day to so they were going to send me back to Istanbul (my connecting flight origin and destination). With the help of some friends we managed to convince them that I will be staying for 1 day only and I went on through inside. As I entered we (my friends and I) vowed to do all we can to extend my visit.

What we did:

The 20th April was a public holiday in Albania, Orthodox Easter, so we had to wait till the next day to approach the government. The next day, we woke up early, and headed out in the rain to visit some government offices. The beginning was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the end was the Ministry of Interior affairs, and in between a plethora of calls to friends, families, acquaintances, people in high positions, everyone…trying to get the issue resolved. Alas, the issue is irresolvable.

Time was running out, I had to make sure that I have a flight back to Istanbul and from there back to the UAE, otherwise my friends who “sponsored” me there would be in trouble with the law (if I stay an extra day). A few calls to Turkish Airlines later, and I was confirmed to a flight back to the UAE.

The result:

Now I’m writing this from the transit lounge of Istanbul Airport, I am heading back after spending 8.5 hours of flight and transit to reach Albania, stayed in Albania for 29 hours, going back takes another 8 hours.

I’m exhausted, sick (still), disappointed, sad, angry, furious, and sad!

Firstly, I would like to congratulate Albania on having a new democratic government that is free of corruption! Had it been a couple of years back a few bucks or calls would’ve sorted everything out. Apparently now people are scared to death of going through such a route, the law is vigilant, unmerciful, functional, and indiscriminative.

Second, I would like to show my utmost gratitude and thanks to Jola, Alma, and their families (especially Elvis and Mrs. Himci) for the tremendous help and hospitality they have shown in the past 24 hours or so (Elvis, so sorry about the car!). Without them I would have turned back to Istanbul as soon as I had arrived there and I wouldn’t have been able to run around those government offices, adding to that the comfortable bed and apartment I was provided. Thank you so much. Also thanks to Ujvara for doing all you can and making all these calls.

A special thanks goes out to Arjan for working hard on trying to give me an alternative to leaving. Thank you for inviting me to Pristina.

Thirdly, and this is the silver lining to this cloud:

I WILL GO BACK IN LESS THAN ONE MONTH!!! In fact, I will reapply for a new visa as soon as I reach the UAE and will schedule my flight and stay there according to the visa limits this time, duh!!! I am determined to finish this trip, and God willing I will. So guys, see you very soon again…

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