Albania: And you think we have problems…

This year the choice for holidays couldn’t be better – Albania. There are several reasons that might tempt someone to classify it as a non-destination, but there are equally many that convinced me we made the right choice.

In fact I don’t really remember why we chose Albania, but on the 31. July both me and Saray were sitting on a Belleair flight Trieste – Tirana. What followed were 12 days of relatively mad holidays featuring political reflections, political debates, rage, fear, lots of laughing, fantastic beaches and interesting people. Of course there were more things, but please let’s focus on the essential.

We crossed the country from the Centre towards the South, we skipped the North. We drove: Tirana – Durress – Divjake -Vlore – Fier – Saranda … and then back to Gjirokaster – Tepelene – Fier – Divjake – Tirana (check the names well before going there most of them have many different variations). Besides some troubles with an ADAC 2006 Europe map and a piece of bad advice from the Slovenian Embassy in Macedonia, everything we consumed locally was excellent:)

In Albania most of the things are straightforward. They drive like mad, you see cars from every corner of Europe, but predominantly Italian, Greek and some Swiss licence plates. Some of them fake. You keep on wondering if these are tourists, immigrants coming back, or thiefs in stolen cars. Only coming up with these three options, puts you a smile on your face. The Albanians also smoke and socialize in bars a lot. They drink everything from cans or plastic bottles. They pack your melon in a blue plastic bag and then you see millions of these lying everywhere around the country. The capital Tirana is 6 hours par day without electricity (the minister blames the Macedonians…), there are almost no street names, no mailboxes, few places have drinkable tap water.

Once you get these rules straight, the country is an endless joy. Its nature is fabulous, although a bit spoiled by the garbagge. The average driving speed is 50 km/h, going more is dangerous. This means you see more than usually and really relax…The food is basic, but good. Fresh fish and seafood, salads, lots of Italian cuisine. And it’s cheap, I mean, cheap.

And the country is very varied. You can relax on one of the beautiful beaches, you can simply seat in bars and sip turkish coffee. You can visit rivers, lakes or get lost in the endless mountain areas. Supposedly, the North is even rougher, with less people. And there are almost no tourist. This makes it very distinc from places like Dalmatia in Croatia, or Montenegro. Not to mention most of the Greek islands. And you are left to enjoy 1+ km peeble beaches alone, wonderful.

Politically Albania is a mess. Having been misruled since its existence it shows signs of being a lawless country. Or at last a country with laws that are differently (if) applied. Under Enver Hoxha the main industry was producing bunkers of which 700.000 are no scattered around the country. There is nowadays almost no industry, remmitances from 3+ million Albanians scattered around the globe (mostly Italy, US and Greece) represent a nice proportion of the GDP. There is no register containing all citizens.

However, the country is there to enjoy and improve. Both two elements make it an interesting place to visit. Highly recommended. And read the history of the place before…

To see some pictures click here. 

P.S.: We used the Bradt guide for our trip, combined with Wikipedia and advice from local friends. For most of the things the guide was good, but it needs the update on restaurants.

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