(call the Albanian police, of course)

Tony Incenzo on a less than magical mystery tour to Tirana

A REPORTING trip to the mystery land of Albania brought the worst experience of my life. A surreal nightmare where I played the starring role.

It was back in 1993 when I was working for Capital Radio. I arrived in the capital city Tirana forewarned of the primitive conditions.

So I brought my own mini-survival kit…bottled drinking water, biscuits, chocolate and plenty of toilet rolls. Enough to last for the two days in Albania while I covered a World Cup Qualifying match against the Republic of Ireland.

I made my way to the Hotel Tirana and initial impressions were favourable. Smartly dressed businessmen exchanged snappy handshakes in the modern foyer, the restaurant was spotless and the Irish national team were staying there in the lap of luxury. It seemed too good to be true.

But my problems started at the front desk.

“Mr Incenzo?” said the receptionist. “Oh yes, I’m terribly sorry sir, but this hotel is full. So we have booked you in at another hotel just down the road.”

They arranged a courtesy taxi to take me to the other building (which will remain nameless). I checked in and was told that my room was on the fifth floor.

Unfortunately, the elevator was out of action. So I had to hump my suitcase, hand luggage and tape recorder up five flights of stairs in 85 degrees of evening humidity.

I arrived at my room breathless and exhausted. The first thing I noticed was that the shower was permanently switched on and was flooding on to the floor. I spent half an hour trying to rectify the problem but to no avail.

Things got worse. The taps on the sink wouldn’t work, the main light was out of action, the toilet wouldn’t flush and a starlight window wouldn’t close – allowing an exotic variety of winged insects easy access to my bedroom.

“Well, this is Albania,” I said to myself, trying to make the best of a bad lot.

So I paddled through the murky water on the floor, brushed my teeth with my bottled water and got undressed for bed.

“At least I’m only here for two nights,” I thought, trying to savour the cultural experience.

But as I walked back across the room, I was greeted by a terrifying sight…a twelve inch long, black furry rat was sitting on its haunches beside my bed, staring me straight in the eye.

I felt my stomach wrench upwards and I let out a reflex cry of alarm. This startled the rat and it began to scurry around the room in concentric circles. I scurried out the door.

Down in the foyer, I complained to the hotel manager about my uninvited room guest. But to no avail.

“That’s very nice for you sir,” he grinned smugly. “Rats are really friendly. I wish I had one down here to keep me company.”

I urged him to take me seriously and demanded to be switched to another room.

“That’s not possible,” he smirked. “The hotel is full.”

I told him I would call the police but he chuckled again because the telephones were out of order. I insisted that I would find the police station but he just kept laughing in my face.

Infuriated, I stormed out on to the street and luckily spotted a passing police van. I called for help and it screeched to a halt. Unfortunately the driver couldn’t speak a word of English.

He decided to take me to the local cop shop, where I was I was surrounded by inquisitive Albanian police. It was past midnight and I was at the end of my tether. I sat there for two hours before they could find anyone who could speak English.

Finally, I managed to make myself understood. The officer in charge subsequently sent me back to my hotel accompanied by a van load of hefty riot police who yielded sturdy truncheons and lethal pistols.

I arrived back in the foyer elated with my impressive entourage. And the hotel manager changed his tune dramatically.

His flippant fit of chuckles gave way to a patronising flood of apologies. But there was still nothing he could do – the hotel was full and the rat was not his problem.

The policemen talked amongst themselves before pointing to the stairs. They gestured to me that they were prepared to kill the rat.

So it was up to the fifth floor again. I was accompanied by this meaty posse of musclemen, who limbered up by practising Kung Fu and Karate kicks as we turned the corners on the stairs.

When we reached my room, everything was quiet. The policemen seemed to fill the space with their stature and presence.

And there was no sign of the rat. Had I imagined it? Had I caused all that fuss for nothing?

The largest policeman – who was nearly seven feet tall – lifted up the bed with one hand. Without warning, the rat came charging out and started to dance around the room.

Like a scene from the Keystone Kops, the policemen lunged forward en masse with their truncheons. But the rodent managed to escape through a huge hole in the skirting board.

An amazing scenario followed. The coppers turned and proceeded to demolish the wardrobe with a series of frenetic Karate kicks. Then they rammed this timber into the skirting board to block the hole.

Triumphantly, they turned to me like actors taking their curtain call.

“There is no problem for you now sir,” said the one with the best English.

“Thank you, thank you,” I gushed. “You’ve saved my night. I really don’t know how to thank you.”

Then I remembered the chocolate bars. These would be a real luxury for Albanians. I went to my suitcase and produced a bar for each of my heroes.

The policemen accepted the chocolate but looked at me strangely.

“Me Stefano,” said one.

“Me Eric,” said another.

“Me Rico,” said the one with the biggest truncheon.

“Yes, I’m Tony,” I said confused. “And I’m very grateful.”

But I wondered why they weren’t leaving.

The policeman with the best English stepped forward.

“Rico would like to sleep with you,” he grinned.

“W-what?” I said, stepping back in fear and amazement.

“Yes, he would like to sleep with you. In the bed. You can say thank you to him personally. We will watch and then join in.”

“No…No thank you. I think the chocolate is enough,” I said and I gestured them towards the door.

The policemen left quietly. Back down in the foyer, they gave the hotel manager a verbal roasting before they departed.

I decided to book a morning alarm call. The manager took my details before whispering sweetly: “I am so sorry about the rat sir. As a form of apology, perhaps you would like me to sleep with you tonight?”

I declined his offer, rushed back to the fifth floor and firmly locked my door before retiring for the night.


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