THE TOP TEN by THE TRAVEL ROOM
TOP 10 (+1) THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUTALBANIA
Albanians on the whole are one of the friendliest and most curious people we have met. Go anywhere and you will be greeted by the younger people with the English they have just learnt at school or the older people will ask in either German or Italian (maybe even Greek in the southern parts) where you are from. In almost every case they will have some relative living in Melbourne, Australia!
1. Albanians are friendly
2. There are no bus schedules
OK there are some bus schedules in the major towns, but predominantly there is a random service that leaves when full from departure points only known to locals and even then they are not sure. Arriving in one town the driver had to tell us and the 12 other locals on the bus that the journey was over. The one positive for the buses are that they are cheap, the negatives could fill a whole page on their own.
Albanian is filthy. It is a blight on both Albanians and the human race as a whole that people could take such abundant natural beauty and systematically destroy it with rubbish, or when the rubbish becomes too much even for the Albanians, the fires they set to try and either burn or melt the rubbish. The water isn't drinkable, most beaches are not swimmable and every available space is used as a rubbish dump. No site is immune, as the castle of Berat, which is UNESCO world heritage listed is a dumping ground for expired medical waste. Just walk to the back, peer over the wall and be dismayed.
4. Bad Drivers
According to statistics, Albanians are only just worse than the average European driver. Statistics lie, and in this case this couldn't be more apparent. Find a blind corner, overtake. See a speed limit sign, accelerate. Drink and drive? Yes please. Pedestrian crossing? Swerve if you feel generous at the last minute. Red light? A mild suggestion to slow down. Mobile phone rings whilst you are driving? Put down your child, close your bottle of Raki and take the call. Pedestrians 10 points, cyclists 20 and other motorists 25. Bonus points for being on your mobile so steering with one hand when the kill is made. Only a slight exaggeration.
Here's a challenge. Find a restaurant that serves Albanian national food. Burek, giro, baklava will all be passed off by Albanians as the national food, they aren't. Leave the Turks and Greeks to fight that battle. So you are left with 'fast food', burgers, pizza and all sorts of junk that is served up everywhere you go. When I am watching the sun set over the med, I want slow food, good luck finding it.
Albanians make several very drinkable local ales, Tirana and Korsça being amongst them, yet in 75% of the places you go you will be told they dont stock these local beers and be offered Tuborg, Amstel of one of a dozen German brews. If I want pizza I'll go to Italy, if I want German beers I'll go to Germany! Why are you offering them to me in Albania? Oh and if I get offered one more Corona.. there will be a beer related death in Albania and it won't be mine.
6. Local Beer
7. Make your own bed
Every hotel you stay in when travelling Albania will expect you make your own bed. Sheets etc will be provided. Hospital corners please.
8. Mercedes Benz
When Enver Hoxha died they either gave every Albanian a Mercedes Benz as a freedom present or what you hear about all the stolen Mercedes in Europe coming to Albania must be true. We did a vox popoli and the worst result we came up with was that 36% of every car in Albania was a Mercedes Benz. An impressive result from a country where donkeys are still a mode of transport and you can get free to air porn.
9. Albania isn't cheap
Anyone coming to Albania and expecting the prices of the Czech Republic in the 90's or some Sth East Asian country will be sorely disappointed. Albania is part of Europe and the prices are European to match. Our cheapest hotel room? 18, whilst a fish dinner will set you back between 8 and 10. Not outrageous numbers, but not cheap, especially not when compared to other countries at this level of development.
Albania has a very limited amount of things to see, and what there is has usually been either overdeveloped or polluted to the point of making you think 'What the hell did I just spend 8 hours on a bus for?'. In 2011 Lonely Planet listed Albania as the No.1 country to visit in the world. All we can say after transversing the country from north to south over several weeks is that the LP writers must have been on some strong drugs the day they made that decision. We read a 2007 LP on Albania and wherever it talks about unspoilt or undeveloped Albania we just stand amongst the rubble or trash, or in some cases dead animals and wonder how such a catastrophe could have occurred in 5 years. I think the LP class of 2011 must have gone to somewhere else by accident...thinking it was Albania...
10. What's to see?
10 + 1. Honourable Mentions
Albanians have let their country become a trash heap but....inside their own homes, their cars or their personal appearance... no effort is spared. There are more car washes in Albania per capita than any country we have visited, the young women of Albania give their Italian counterparts a serious run for their money, especially if we are talking 1980's fashion, and finally, their houses are clean but they are furnished mainly garish brown over the top Florentine if the 57 furniture shops in a 10kms stretch of road into Tirana was anything to go by.
The flat tyre of our bus from Berat to Vlorë, the tyre blew out 30kms out of Vlorë but the driver continued to drive the rest of the way with the flat tyre!
The view over the back wall of the castle of Berat; garbage and medical waste!
Enjoying the....Amstel! Where's the local brew? Tirana, Korsça...any one will do!
Tirana's highlights - the pyramid designed by Enver Hoxha's daughter in 1987 which used to house the Enver Hoxha museum but is now left deserted and the Bell of Peace supposedly made from the bullet cases collected by school children in 1997.
One of the many Lavazho's (car washes) in Albania!
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