“It’s the poorest country in Europe”, “Be careful”, “don’t stay too long in the same place or they’ll arrange to mug you”, “It’s a Muslim country, you may not even be able to have a beer”, “It’s very rural, there’s nothing”, “It is like Spain 60 or 70 years ago”, “To Albania?”, “In Albania there were tourists who were mugged and left in their underwear, I’ve read about it”.
This is how you get into the country handing your passport to the policeman not being very clear if you want him to stamp it with all those impressions in your head.
In the bus the music has a clear Turkish influence not loosing the sound of the rest of the Balkan countries, it has rhythm that get’s stuck in your head, it’s impossible to read, the road is full of bumps, suicidal overtaking and turns, moreover the driver saves a second in each turn to reach his destination more quickly. The spring has arrived, million of flowers decorate the fields. I’m happy, Albania is a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time.
The first thing I usually do when I arrive in a place is having a seat in a bar or restaurant and ask for a local beer, usually saying “local birra” works. From the names they say I pick the one that sounds better, in this case I got the best first time round. Tirana is the one I’ve liked the most. When travelling for a long time it is difficult to remember each story, list of places to see and each itinerary so I have a seat, review my notes, re-read the books and make a plan that will change every two hours until I complete a version of it.
My Albanian trip starts in Shkoder, a great place to base a visit in the north. I expected a crappy village and I found a proper city; 80.000 people, thousands of terraces, secondhand mercedes, restaurants with good food and… people that I didn’t know how they would react to me. Still repeating in my head “’they mug you and leave you in underwear”, and I thought, if I have Calvin Klein, maybe they will even rob them.
On top of the five star Europe Grand hotel having a great view of the city with a mosque and a church in the background.
Even better in the sunset with a mosque and Skadar lake in the background, what you see on the right is Montenegro where we met the orthodox nun a few weeks earlier with Silvia and Aitor. There are two videos in which she appears this one and this other one.
I expected a village, where finding internet wouldn’t be that easy but I found this real city even with high speed internet(for the geeks, I uploaded a video from an internet café at 3.6mb per second)
In the bus to Albania I meet a Canadian that had crossed from Europe to Asia in 76 with the first Lonely Planet, with no problems of borders in Iran, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Isn’t it great now that we have the electronic passport to get everywhere?
Even though I didn’t find such an under developed country as is said but it’s true that it is less advanced, more comparing it with a country of western Europe that usually is between the most developed in the world.
Spring is coming strongly, and as I’m all day outside i can see it day by day.
Part of it may be the lack of knowing that they are just nice people, just stick your head into the reception of this Francikan monastery and a new monk shows us(Amy, an American friend I met in Montenegro came with me) around in great detail.
A local speciality, aubergines filled with cheese cooked in the oven. I have to get better getting this kind of pictures to make them look as good as they are.
I have soon began to feel good here, maybe it was a trick to rob me later, hahaha, no, it wasen´t that much, but I had the feeling of needing to be alert but I really couldn´t find a reason why.
During the next posts I’ll tell you what I’m learning about Albania, a country with a curious recent history, well, more squalid and Isolated from the outside with a dictatorial communist regime that was aligned to, of course Yugoslavia, but also Russia and China. After opening up it has become a lovely country lacking in tourists and looking forward to know it.
We asked Samel about a bus in his travel agency, he invited us for coffee and told us a lot of stories about his family, the city and the Albanian culture. I had already seen the churches and mosques and had read about the peaceful coexistence but it’s always interesting to hear it from a local, as an example his Christians friends invite him(Muslim) to celebrate Christmas in their houses, and he goes.
Shkoder has been a good starting point but I wanted to see some countryside, so my first visit was Koman lake. Adam that creates an artificial lake that snakes for 66km through a rocky gorge in which a ferry takes you along quietly while enjoying the landscape.
I informed myself very well, my technique of crosschecking the information usually works. The four trustable information sources were saying that I could get a bus to the beginning of the lake, get the ferry one way, come back and get a bus back to sleep in Shkoder. The only thing they didn’t agree on is that if the first bus was at 6 or 7 am so my alarm clock sounded at 5.30.
The writing and pictures of Koman lake are nearly ready.
See you soon.