“Aren’t Albanians the human trafficking gangsters from the movie ‘Taken’?”Mother asks.
“Ah, I guess”
“Why are you going there?”
Albania is down to earth, the people are lovely, the food is great and very cheap, and the transport is dodgy but efficient.
Albania can be beautiful, but also dirty and crowded.
Much was learnt from the Albanian way, rather than a recap of my time the following is my personal set of ‘rules’ for Albania.
Before leaving Greece, I was told that there were two types of Albanians; Criminals involved in human trafficking, drugs and various other noble endeavours, and the rest are lovely-hardworking people, prideful people and strong, doing their best to get by.
A glowing review, however my first impressions of Albania were surprisingly pleasant.
The scenery was lush, people were nice, even with the heavy stench of dried grass and horse manure synonymous with farm country.
Rule #1: Make sure you know what is going on
Korca, southern Albania, was not a tourist destination whatsoever.
Grimy, unsightly and rundown, we couldn’t have looked more out of place if we tried.
But Korca had something going on, something was being set up, something big… only the biggest festival in Albania’s event calendar, Korca Beer Festival! And it was tonight, what timing.
15,000 people, beer, Albanian food, and of course all the ‘well known’ Albanian pop stars.
The beer was cheap, the vibe was good, the music was… interesting.
The men were greasy, and the women… well there weren’t that many.
It had it all; Albanians reply to Pitbull, who sounded just like him, too bad his range was restricted to just Pitbull songs, and other famous Albanian rockers covering Bon Jovi and Metallica as well as localised songs.
Children drank, as did their parents, and the lack of females meant a lot of men danced together, the ‘village gypsies’ held hands, and danced in alcohol fuel circles without a thought of female inclusion.
Entry Fee = What entry fee?
Beer 500ml= 50 Leke (50 cents)
Sausage = 50 leke (50 cents)
Sausage and Bun = 100 Leke
Ribs = 100 Leke
Rule #2: Trust in (most) people’s good nature
At the festival we met two Macedonian guys who were astounded that we were in Korca, being from our ‘exotic’ lands in the south.
They were fantastic hosts; brought us beer, taught us much of the Balkan ways, and best of all gave us a ride into Macedonia and a place to stay there.
After a week in Macedonia we were back in Albania and onto the Adriatic Coast of Albania, as well as stopping in the capital of Tirana.
Upon entering Durres it seemed that Rule 1 should have been applied. ‘Kosova Pistola’ (obviously a well known festival… if you are Albanian) festival was on indefinitely it seemed.
So, no accommodation for us.
Our tireless search for accommodation saw us confide in a kid who ran an internet cafe (yes, a kid) who didn’t speak a word of English and we talked through Google translate until he helped us find a place, the only place in town, which was 50 euro a night, ouch.
This search had taken up most of the day, so we headed to the beach, which was right outside our hotel.
These beaches are full with umbrellas and beach chairs and you are not allowed to lie on the sand, so you must acquire a beach chair.
This brings in rule number 3.
Rule #3: Work out the beach chair monopoly
This is a vital rule, because as we found out some chairs were free and others not free.
It seemed the yellow umbrellas were free, blue were not, faded blue and brighter yellow were reserved for hotel guests, and any thing that was a shade of white was a certain no-go. Very cryptic. Anyway being cheap, we got bumped along a lot of different seats until we stumbled on one of the free ones. Once we settled we were able to ‘relax’ and enjoy the beach.
Rule #4: You cannot make any transport plans in Albania
There are no schedules, no departure times, no set prices, nothing, and yet, it is still the most efficient transport system I have come across in Europe. You literally walk onto the street with a backpack on and within minutes you will be hustled into a van, bus, broken down car, donkey, whatever and you will be on your way to your desired destination. This transport does not come without its dangers. See rule #5.
Rule #5: Road rules do not apply, neither do vehicle standards
Sure you get from A to B quickly and efficiently, but it is not without its risk.
It kind of feels like you’re in a movie, like in a car chase scene, except there is no one chasing you.
A van for 8 people has 16 and is weaving all over the road passing people, dodging oncoming cars, with not a thought of the speed limit all in what can only be called a rusted tin box with wheels. Road rules only apply when the police can see you; every driver systematically pulled their seat belt over themselves when passing a cop only to release it once passed.
Tirana, the capital was a lot cleaner than expected, it had nice parks, town, bar area, and the people were nice the food and accommodation was cheap. Shengji was smaller version of Durres, except it was a lot cheaper but still crowded and dirty.
The nights were a bit more interesting. Our hotel was on top of a club and as insulation was not popular in Albania sleeping wasn’t an option, thus Rule #6.
Rule #6: Assume every night is a party night in Albania
Every night that we spent in Albania there was some sort of party orfestival on. We did attempt to go to a few but the music was very traditional, the vibe quite weird and awkward and thus we were ostracized reasonably quickly.
Rule #7: There is no internet
Internet is very hard to find in Albania. Hotels do not offer it freely and a lot of the time you will go days without it.
Rule #8: Don’t expect to know what you are eating
This rule is not to be worried about, it’s half the fun.
Buy street food, which is very cheap, guess what it is, eat it, hope, and pray it won’t kill you. I have had some of the best foods this way.
Rule #9: Learn some language basics
A rule we didn’t follow so well. English is not widely spoken so a few keywords can help you get by. In saying, that we did OK with very little Albanian.
Rule #10 Raki will kick your butt
Raki is Albania’s national spirit.
It is similar to rakia that you may have tasted in other Balkan areas except it is very strong.
Pay attention to what bottle you buy, or drink from, if it is poured from a bottle without a label chances are its homebrew and three times stronger than the regular brew.
This can lead to quick and sufficient inebriation and I can promise you will not love life the next day.
Take care when visiting Albania, but it is truly one of the most intriguing countries I have ever visited.
It is untouched by tourism so you get a real feel for the culture, a nice escape from some of the more commercialised European destinations.