Destinations, Eastern Europe

Off the beaten path: the amazing Albania

A good holiday isn’t only about drinking expensive wine and visiting exquisite museums and expositions, it can be way more than this, especially if you like meeting new people and it can be twice as fun if the people you get to know are warm and very nice to the foreigners.

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Albania is not only off the path¸ but it’s a place with a personality of its own, a mountainous valley for its own way of being, clearly not a very popular European destination: not a classical one, but certainly a place so full of contradictions, of ups and downs, that can only attract throughout its state of things alone, like a cultural mixture of heterogeneous pieces that compound a beautifully harmonious, yet very mosaic whole.

Of course, aside from not being a very popular destination, this country’s clearly got many things to offer, especially to open minded tourists, buy there are, nonetheless, some things that you should know just for not to be shocked when they occur. One of these – a pretty important one, actually – is that there’s absolutely no chance that you can rely on people’s punctuality when it comes to Albanians. For instance, if there’s a displayed program of the public transport it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be respected as well. And speaking of transport, it’s better for you not to hope to get in Albania by train – their railways aren’t connected to any other country in the world. Busses aren’t the best choice either, if it’s to take into consideration the hypothetical rules taking into consideration that time’s even more relative in this country, and the voyages may take place with a few hours to two or free days delay. And sometimes it never takes place. It’s just like with the zebra crossing. As a driver in Albania you’d better take care with that. There are very few things as ignored in Albania as pedestrian crossing and – truth is – it’s mostly ignored by the pedestrians themselves.

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But of course, this is not a text with reasons not to ever go to Albania, so you may know that the pros outcome the cons without any problem, reason for which we took the liberty to begin with them. Tirana. The beautiful queen of Albania. Of course, its beauty is not necessarily natural, it’s been worked at for over 10 years, by the former mayor whose profession is a painter. This is why the place is colorful, vivid, full of life – with all the rainbow colors on the streets and buildings, bright, vibrant parks – that may not look, indeed, like the gardens of Versailles – but are certainly a great place to get your mind clear. It’s weird how this huge defect of a country (especially if it’s an eastern European one) makes it look so awake and dynamic, as you can’t ignore the city’s animate existence and vigor even if you’d like to. Tip: Be very careful whenever it comes to crossing a street or simply walking on the sidewalk.

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On a more positive note, the sweets in Albania are impossible to refuse and are called, by the foreign visitors at least, addictive. It is believed among the travelers that you haven’t really been to this country if you haven’t tasted their all kinds of cookies, cakes and desserts. And if you don’t happen to be a huge sweets fan it’s not a problem because of two main reasons: a) because you’re going to enjoy them anyway and b) because this country’s got something for the more bitter tasted tourists as well.

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A national beverage is Raki, the specific local spirit that the locals also serve in restaurants. Extra tip: Don’t consume it unless it’s labeled because the home made one gets to be even three times the strength on the bottle. If you decide that you’re experienced enough to consume it anyway, then monitor the quantity that you drink, otherwise the following day’s going to be nothing else but a huge hangover. And if so it happens that you decided to ignore the extra tip above and you’re going through the hangover part, you may want to know that the Albanian cuisine is very fancy and hilariously cheap, especially for an occidental, but it’s shocking even for an eastern European.

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And there are lots of things to visit in Albania too. Again, it may not be Paris or London, but it certainly hides cultural magnificent monuments that have been defending the place for centuries. One of this castles is Kruja, an edifice that’s almost a millennium old and the place where the national pride was saved many times when it was at strike. A major part of the population here today is formed of people who have, sometime or other during history, escaped here and decided to remain after the danger was gone because of the great fresh air, the silence and the wondrous natural landscapes.

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Not much has changed since then: every time the capital residents want to take a break from the lastingly vibrant city they come here, to sit under the lemon trees, breathing the fresh aromatic air of their ancestors. The castle and citadel are restored, so they look just like they did half a thousand years ago, while the raw landscape only seems to emphasize the glory of their time. The museum built just in the middle of the castle is the best way to understand some of the national historic battles and facts that made the people be so generous and open, despite their differences. Alternating the visit of Tirana with this is a great chance to see two completely distinct sides of the Albanian natural culture, yet unified by the warmth of the people who live here and who are, on some levels, very much alike.

An alternative to shopping for the capital’s very cheap, yet high quality offers are the boutiques that you can find near any point of touristic attraction. For all that’s worth it, people here will get under your skin because of their very friendly way of being. Plus, you get to buy awesome souvenirs at amazingly cheap prices.

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