“Grandma’s only drinking raki, she says it gives her energy.”
It was 2:30 in the morning. My friend Gjergji’s petite, ninety-year-old grandmother never even yawned, she just clapped along with the music and drank more spirits.
The night before the wedding were the first bachelor and bachelorette parties ever thrown in the little town of Permet, in southern Albania. The bachelorettes fueled up on pizza before learning a few steps of the traditional Albanian dances. On our way back to the hotel we heard music blasting from a nearby club but to our surprise it was completely empty. We stayed to dance for a few minutes and some locals abruptly showed up, whom we suspected had been summoned because a group of foreign women had arrived.
The next day was the main event, beginning with dressing the bride and groom in traditional wedding attire at their respective homes while feeding the guests shots of raki. The groom’s side went to his Albanian grandmother’s house and danced around the kitchen and yard while the band played. After parading through the village we arrived at the hotel where Sarah’s family and friends were waiting. The moment when she joined Gjergji’s family for the walk back to Grandma’s house sealed their Albanian marriage.
That evening at a restaurant we ate traditional Albanian food and danced around the floor holding hands. To our surprise there were at least two more meat entrees served before the plates of cake and baklava came out at 1:30am. In between each course were group dances, family dances, a dance for the newly weds, even a dance where friends and family stuck money into the clothing of the bride and groom. I was falling asleep in my chair so I left at 3am, not long after Gjergji’s grandmother was taken home. The celebrations continued.
The next day we swam in the local hot springs and had a good old mud fight. The guests gradually started to leave to return to the US, Greece, Britain, Turkey, and many more destinations. I had booked a flight from Athens to Johannesburg but I had to stay in Albania a few extra days so I wouldn’t overstay my time in the Schengen zone. After the wedding weekend I caught a nasty stomach bug so I slept through most of the next 2 days.
I finally arrived in Athens after breaking my personal record for time spent at a boarder crossing, 5 hours. The Acropolis was as grand as expected but also crawling with tourists. There were teams of young holidayers heading to the Greek islands to party, so a couchsurfer and I ferried to a smaller island with just local tourists. We camped one night next to the water and swam in between games of backgammon. The next two days we spent at Aghia Marina, drinking iced tea, exploring ancient ruins and eating mountains of Greek salads. A beach vacation from my traveling vacation.