Albania - 2007
I had actually no intention to visit Albania
during this year at least but as July was really cold in
Finland I decided to head to the Mediterranean for one week.
Having visited most of the Mediterranean countries already I
thought that Albania might be worth checking out. I did not
know what to expect - probably a country with very few
tourists, interesting history and not so-developed developed
I must say that I was surprised quite a few times during
my trip - most of them being pleasant ones. Albania is a
fascinating country with friendly people, good food,
reasonable prices and many things that can be considered
strange by European standards. After a couple of years it is
probably a different country - the economy is booming and
tourists are gradually discovering the country.
Check out the photo gallery.
19.07.2007 Helsinki - Tirana:
have just spent about a day at home after the trip to
Iceland before leaving for the next one! As the weather
forecast was still unseasonably cold for July I decided to
book an ad hoc trip to Albania. I had a Malev flight via
Budapest. There was a lengthy transfer in Budapest (about 6
hrs) but because of slow bus connections it did not make
sense to explore the city as I had planned.
My first impressions of Tirana were the
new but small airport and the immigration process that took
ages (even though they just stamped my passport and
collected the 10€ visa fee). After customs I faced the usual
hassle of taxi drivers and other touts. The travel agency
that I used to book hotel for the first night promised to
arrange transportation but I could not find anybody with my
name... After some waiting I took a random taxi to the
downtown area - 25€ was really expensive as I later learned
that there is an airport bus. I arrived in the hotel and the
ladies seemed to be unaware of the reservation. Anyway they
managed to arrange a room for me (even though the shower was
not quite working...)
I was feeling tired as I had not sleeped
too much the night before but I decided to do some
sightseeing as it was not dark yet. The downtown area was
confusing in many ways. There were several beautiful
buildings from the early 20th century, lots of ugly concrete
structures from the communist era and also lots of shiny new
office towers that indicated that the economy was growing
fast. Another thing that you will for sure notice in Albania
is the huge number of luxury cars (Mercedes, BMW etc that
are stolen from Central Europe). There are also many things
that reminded me of South Eastern Asia rather than Europe
like numerous street vendors and the chaotic traffic. And
what is really surprising is that there are practically no
foreigners to be seen!
It was really warm and not too pleasant
for long walks. I visited the national museum of arts that
had a fine collection of socialist realistic art. After some
pointless wandering I visited a travel agency to find out
how the local bus system works. I did not even know the
location of the bus station but the friendly people at the
travel agency told me where to go. And obviously it is
impossible to buy tickets in advance. The final task before
going to bed was to have a decent steak in a place called
"London". The waitress was really friendly and did his best
to translate the names of the dishes as the menu was
completely in Albanian!
20.07.2007 Tirana - Vlora:
I'll be returning to Tirana after a couple of days I decide
to head to the Mediterranean. My objective is to find a
pleasant place to stay from the coastal town of Vlora. The
first task is to locate the bus station - to get there I'm
relying on the spot drawn on my map by that guy from the
travel agency yesterday. It is actually quite difficult to
move from one location to another in Tirana as street signs
are pretty much non-existent. After some sweaty walkin I
realize I have taken the wrong street but after some
unneeded detours I end up pretty close to the bus station
even though I think that I'm completely lost. Fortunately a
friendly lady points me to the right direction (even without
The bus station turns out to be some
kind of wasteland packed with old buses that are equipped
with signs that indicate their final destination.
Fortunately the bus to Vlora is leaving in 20 minutes. Even
though the distance is only 150km the journey turns out to
be really painful and slow (it actually takes over 4 hours...)
The bus is an old wreck and the roads are terrible even by
South East Asian standards. Traffic is reckless and there
are lots of stops and obstacles like horses & carriages
It is already late afternoon when I
arrive in Vlora. The city looks quite lively but not really
interesting. The hotels and beaches are somewhat outside the
downtown area so I take a taxi to a hotel recommended in my
guidebook. As there is no Lonely Planet for Albania I'm not
quite sure about what to expect but the place turns out to
be very good and an excellent value for money. For 20€ I get
a big room with airconditioning and a huge terrace (with
awesome seaviews). There is a narrow stairway to the beach
and of course I check out the beach as the first thing. The
beach is quite densely populated with numerous sunbeds and a
couple of beach bars.
There seems to be also some kind of
outdoor club there - later in the evening I learn that they
play the music really loud and that I can enjoy it on the
hotel terrace until the early morning hours as well... The
shoreline is lined with concrete slabs and the sea looks
slightly rocky so I decide to skip swimming today. There are
numerous restaurants with fine sea views and I decide to
have some pizza for late lunch. I spend the rest of the day
on the terrace just by chilling out and enjoying the
beautiful sunset. And just before midnight when I'm going to
sleep the local RnB night starts at the Summer Depo club
down on the beach - luckily I have one of the most useful
travel accessories (earplugs) with me...
spend the morning by visiting the downtown again. A local
bus has its final stop near the hotel and after a 10-minute
sweaty and bumpy bus ride I'm in the harbour area of Vlora.
There is not really much to see but I think about visiting
one of the museums mentioned in my guidebook. This turns out
to be difficult as I cannot locate two and one seems to be
closed (for good?). I walk to the other end of the main
street and take some photos. I have a late breakfast at a
small bar that serves good doner (Turkish food seems to be
popular here as well). The heat is getting worse again so I
return to the beach.
I rent a sunbed and do some swimming.
This time they are playing some decent house music at the
beach club so it is a perfect setting to spend the latter
half of the day on the beach. As sun sets down I return to
the hotel to enjoy a cold shower but I quickly return back
down to the beach to have dinner. Still I cannot find a
restaurant with English menus so I continue experimenting
with surprise orders... I get a tasty salad with olives and
some kind of stuffed squid. And once again the food is
I read a book for a couple of hours at
the terrace and around midnight I decide to check out the
Saturday night club experience that is starting at the beach
club. There seems to be an admission fee to the club
that is already quite packed with locals. The DJ is playing
funky house music and the party is gradually getting started.
I don't really feel that much like clubbing so I spend some
time on beach just by enjoying the music. The DJ is good
both musically and techically and could as well do a gig in
Ibiza (or maybe I'm getting too old to recognize what should
be the house sound of 2007)...
do nothing - day. It's almost noon when I wake up. I head
directly to the beach but I soon realize that it is really
crowded - actually I cannot find any vacant sunbeds! So I
have to return to the hotel terrace to enjoy the sunshine.
In the parking lot I notice a couple of luxury vehicles and
a crowd of dressed-up people - what's going on? The
explanation is somebody's wedding party that takes place in
the hotel garden. The bad thing is that they are playing
quite loud music out there - some local hits that sound like
the Turkish sounds that they play in the doner restaurants
around the globe...
Anyway I spend the afternoon by reading
a book on the terrace and play some mp3 mixes at full volume
to protect my ears from the noise coming from the garden.
Around five o'clock I return to the beach and now it is less
crowded down there. It is still very hot - must be at least
+35 degrees! As sun sets down I have some grilled fish for
dinner and return to the hotel. The wedding party seems to
be over. As it gets dark I watch some impressive forest
fires that can be seen from the mountains.
I was thinking about visiting Llogara Pass today - a
national park with one of the highest mountains in Albania.
I decide to skip this daytrip for several reasons: 1) I'm
not quite sure about the transportation in that direction -
there are some 30 km's there and the bus connections seem to
be sporadic. 2) It seems to be once again a really hot day
3) I did not sleep too well since there were numerous
mosquitoes in the room. So I resort to plan B that is
basically lying on the beach (including some crossword
puzzles, mp3's, yet another book and some swimming in the
Mediterranean for the first time this year).
I also browse the Internet for the first
time during this trip. Seems that there are no major news
and the weather in Finland is still bad. As there are still
several restaurants to choose from I try another one and the
results are as expected: good food and no english menus. I
buy some light coke from the beach bar (I'm a regular
customer by now) and spend the rest of evening on terrace (surprise!).
The forest fires seem to have died.
24.07.2007 Vlora - Berat:
four nights in one place it is the time to move on. That is
the small town of Berat that is located in the middle of
mountains. The main attractions are a fortress that is about
thousand years old and some other historical sights. I wake
up early around eight o'clock and check out from the hotel.
It was really a good value for money! I take the local bus
to downtown and try to locate the Berat bus from the bus
station. There is one but it takes almost one hour before it
It is another bumpy journey of a couple
of hours. The scenery consists of mountains, countless
bunkers, trash and wrecked cars. I arrive in Berat around
noon. It seems to be even hotter than during the previous
days - later I hear that it was +42 degrees! I'll be staying
in a place called Tomori that judging by the architecture is
apparently from the 70s. Actually the rooms are in very good
condition and seem to be recently renovated. I feel like
taking a shower but unfortunately there is no water! "Problem"
- says the guy at reception when I ask for a reason.
Despite the heat I decide to climb all
the way up to the fortress. It feels even hotter up there.
The place is not actually very impressive - If you have
visited a historical old city anywhere in the Mediterranean
then there is pretty much nothing new to be seen (except the
fine views to the town below). So I return to the hotel
after an hour. Fortunately the water is running again. I
rest for a couple of hours (and wait for sunset) before
doing another sightseeing tour. Berat is such a small place
that you can easily see the main attractions during one day.
I walk along a filthy-looking river with old bridges and
people herding lambs. I spot an inviting nice restaurants by
the river and order some surprise dishes from the Albanian
menu. "Meze mix" turns out to be a good selection of grilled
meat - I can hardly eat the whole portion. As it gets dark the locals gather on the
streets - seems like a regular activity here.
25.07.2007 Berat - Tirana:
Back to square one - today it is the time to return to
Tirana. The night was really hot as the hotel's
airconditioning was not functioning properly in the heat. I
somehow managed to sleep decently. I catch the 9 - o'clock
bus to Tirana - this time the journey takes only 2,5 hours (there
seems to be some kind of highway between Tirana and Durresi
- last time the driver took an alternative "scenic route").
In Tirana I'll be staying in another hotel - the place
hosted by an old man near the art museum seems to be ok (except
for the frequent blackouts).
The plan for the afternoon is to take a
cable car to mountain Dajti. Locating the station proves to
be challenging as it is not on my map. The place is actually
about 5 km from the downtown area but after some walking I
finally find it. The system seems to be brand new and there
are numerous small cabins going up and down. The scenery is
impressive - especially the final section where the slope is
at its steepest. In the upper station there is not that much
to be seen - the place is a big construction yard as they
are building a viewing tower there. After half an hour I
return back down.
The way back is much easier as I learn
that there are local buses going back to downtown. I do some
shopping and buy an Albania t-shirt. I take a shower in the
hotel and continue sightseeing in the eastern parts of the
downtown area. There is lots of communist nostalgia and
Italian architecture to be seen. Near the stadium there are
lots of people and armed policemen - seems that a local
football match is about to begin. I think about buying a
ticket but as I'm feeling hungry I decide to head back
downtown. I have dinner in a restaurant that is located in
an old Ottoman house - food is good and it is really
atmospheric to eat in candlelight as they are having yet
another blackout... It is hard to get sleep at the hotel as
the apparently deaf owner is having the TV on with maximum
volume - fortunately the man turns it off at around midnight.
26.07.2007 Tirana - Helsinki:
The last morning in Albania so far... It is sunny and hot
again. I reserved the morning to visit the National Museum.
It is somewhat disappointing - I was mostly interested in
the stuff from 20th century but selection was not that
extensive or interesting. The lack of English descriptions
was not a good thing either... I spend an hour at the
central square before catching the airport bus. The flights
back home are painful: the planes are full and Budapest
airport is not the most pleasant place for spending a couple
In any case the trip was excellent.
Albania is a fascinating country full of surprises. Here's
list of some miscellaneous things that will remind me of
this friendly country:
- Traffic. It is crazy and following traffic lights
seems not be obligatory
- Cars ie. Mercedes Benz and BMW
- Police - they are everywhere
- Trash - there are dumps everywhere
- Energy drinks with funny names (like Cocaine and
- Street vendors selling really authentic looking war
- Bus drivers that smoke inside the bus
- Bunkers - they are everywhere
- Roads that are probably the worst in Europe