Interesting Insights into Albania

Albania

A 10-year-old and 12-year-old who loved following us around in their little town of Kukes.

Albania ranks as one of the most culturally enriching places we’ve ever been. For the most part, we stuck to the itinerary we planned before we left the U.S., but in an effort to spare our travel budget, we nixed Norway in exchange for Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo (three for less than the price of one!). In Albania, we visited Kruge, Tirana (the capital), Berat (the “city of a thousand windows”), Kukes and Shkoder (Albania’s “capital of culture”) with a rental car. Here are some insights from our short time there:

  • Albanians have only been driving since 1991, after the fall of Communism. Prior to this, there were only 600 registered cars in the country. That explains why drivers here are crazy and reckless. Imagine a world where only teenagers ruled the roads.
  • Overall road conditions have been improving dramatically over the years, but just as many seem to be under construction as there are remote-village-like dirt roads.
  • With all these relatively new drivers and cars, you will find gas stations and car washes faster than a Starbucks in Seattle.
  • The local youth gave us lots of blatantly curious stares, either because we’re tourists or because they’ve never seen an Asian (not sure which one). We would just smile and wave, and they would giggle and wave in return.
  • Many kids nowadays are taught English starting in the 3rd grade.
  • Eastern Europeans are more warm and welcoming than Western Europeans, but we found Albanians to be the most hospitable of the bunch.
  • Where else can you get lost in a village, ask a young couple with their two-week-old baby for directions and they all get into the car and drive with you for the next hour?
  • In Shkoder especially, on a pedestrian street lined with cafes and restaurants, we saw tables and tables filled only with men hanging out and people watching. This is simply a part of their culture. Women gather as well but usually in a home environment.
  • Albanians haven’t developed a strong taste for alcohol, so these same men don’t become belligerent drunks looking to pick a fight.
  • There are more Albanians living outside of Albania than in Albania.

We feel very fortunate to have experienced this part of the world, one we probably wouldn’t have reached if it weren’t for our RTW adventure. Next time we return, though, we’re keeping our fingers crossed for less terrifying driving conditions.  With that said, there is something exciting about traveling to a country clearly a little off the beaten tourist track.

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