the idiosyncrasies of albania, which we’ve learned to love
July 14, 2016
-unfinished buildings – we noticed this in every town we passed and even in the countryside. buildings will be built up and a large number are left dormant at various stages of construction (with no sign of construction equipment onsite). the ones that are being utilized will have the first floor finished with walls and the second and higher floors are left wide open with only the foundation and exposed rebar in place. what we thought was a one-off in saranda is actually happening all across the country which the locals consider an eyesore
-the checkered past of the country – with a vicious communist/dictatorship regime that lasted from before world war ii to the 80s all the way back to over 2300 years ago as areas such as butrint passed ownership through various dynasties (greeks, romans and albanians), this country is rich with history
-road conditions are all over the map – one moment you’re on a paved highway and the next moment you’re on a dirt road navigating a minefield of potholes
-barber shops and car washes (lavazh) are everywhere. seriously, everywhere. you can’t go half a block without running into more than a handful. this might be a developing nation with an economy that hasn’t joined the global markets yet but they’re making the jump with perfectly coiffed hairdos and squeaky clean cars
-kids will walk right up to you, ask you for money and be persistent even with rejection
-75% of the cars on the road are mercedes benzs – i’ve found various sources on the cause of this and it seems to stem from: mbs are rock solid and have lasting power, people were outlawed from owning cars prior to the fall of communism in 1991 and many cars imported in the late 90s (and perhaps later) have been stolen and sold at far below market value thereby flooding the market with a particular type of car
-taxi drivers seem to not know where they are going. we only spent one day in tirana but both drivers got lost dropping us off and picking us up at the bunk’art exhibition.
-the beaches of the albanian riviera. stunning, clear, warm waters of the ionian sea with white sand/pebble beaches. we definitely got lucky by visiting a few weeks before the summer season kicked in and there were no crowds to be seen at all. borsh beach has a 7km stretch of coastline to itself tucked in behind a mountain range and huge olive groves and while the road leading into it was paved, the main road along the beach was still fully gravel with potholes. we were collectively scratching our heads at how such a beautiful area has remained undeveloped. my next trip back to albania will definitely include an extended stay along the riviera and hopefully the beaches will remain as quaint as they were this time (since who knows how much time will pass before that happens)
-people are very friendly and honest to a fault – tourism is still in the process of taking off and from what i’ve read it’s because the country spent some time in flux on how to market itself. as such, english is not widely spoken by the older generation so communicating for directions, help and at restaurants isn’t as easy as in other parts of europe. however this doesn’t stop people from offering help. some locals saw us trying to get our bearings after we were looking for our hotel and within a matter of seconds we were surrounded by a pack of elderly locals looking to help us out, both sides knowing full well that the language barrier was going to be apparent. unmetered taxi drivers aren’t gouging you for your destinations (unlike every other country that i’ve been to) and we even found ourselves holding out a handful of money for them to take from us
-driving is an experience, as it usually is during travel. the locals adhere to the notion of ‘constant motion’ and while they’re not always going really fast (most of the time they are), they’re never fully stopped so if you’re a pedestrian, you can’t walk erraticly or you’ll end up as roadkill
-keep your eyes on the road – albanians are renowned for double parking their cars anywhere they see fit while they run an errand or eat a meal so this means that you’ll see hazard lights flashing on all parts of the road. not only this but if you like to speed around blind corners in the countryside (and come on, who doesn’t?), you might end up with a windshield full of cow/pig/goat/dog/donkey guts. the two lane highways are their grazing fields and they roam free. it’s pretty cool to come up behind a goat or a cow and you can see them shoulderchecking behind themselves and moving over to give you room to pass 🙂
-the older generation – during the nights you can see a large number of older people still walking the streets, sometimes even with their grandchildren at all hours of the night. i think that this is in part due to the vicious heat during the daytime that as soon as the midday heat dissipates, everybody is out for some fresh air. the also have the kindest smiles even though many times it’s not much more than a half-cracked grin. i can only imagine the experiences that they lived through most of their lives with envar hoxha’s reign of communism/dictatorship ending relatively recently (he passed away 30 years ago) and that’s why i find myself drawn to people watching the older generation
from our short stay in the country we’ve seen enough to warrant another trip back. the landscape is breathtaking with lush green valleys, rocky mountainous peaks and gorgeous beaches. the country is still a little rough around the edges which is what makes it charming. the people are friendly and while i partially hope it’s not true, i have a thought that it’s because they haven’t been jaded by travellers and the idea of milking the mighty tourism dollar. a lot will likely change before my next visit and it will likely involve more people and higher prices.