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Albania is basically the wild, wild west of Europe even though its east. Most Westerners don’t actually holiday there because, well, they’re not quite ready for “The Albanian Experience”. Don’t get me wrong, many Albanian citizens, Russians and some Northern Grecians holiday in Albania because the water is that beautifully see-through shade of aqua only the Adriatic Sea provides, it’s bloody cheap and most Albanian people are SO accommodating and SO ready for western tourism. But I’ll be so bold as to say Albania isn’t quite ready for tourists to revel along it’s Riviera with Croatia and Greece nearby. Also, and more curiously, travel in Albania is weird… not bad weird. not good weird. just plain weird weird.
5 Reasons Why Travel in Albania is Weird
Extreme dichotomies in infrastructure and wealth…
I kid you not, I’ve never seen so many brand new Rangies or Porsche 4WD’s on the road. Not in Germany, not in Sydney. No where. And yet the vast majority of buildings throughout the country are either derelict, dilapidated or hark back to to the early eighties. An era when saunas INSIDE hotel rooms where considered pimpin’ (were they ever?) and pictures of naked ladies in hotel foyer’s must have been a “thing”. A weird semi-sexist Eastern European thing, mind you.
Fish Taxidermy in Hotels…
Yes Taxidermy. Once real, now well and truly dead fish and crustacean taxidermy. Don’t ask me how they’re preserved. I dare say something to do with chloroform (think Damian Hirst’s ‘Shark’ instillation at the Tate Modern a few years back) – but sans water.
We stayed in what was considered one of “Albania’s most luxurious hotels” all for the grand total of 140€ / night. I put that in inverted commas because I’m not sure “luxury tourism” and “Albania” go hand in hand at this moment in time. There’s a lot of “inverted commas” in this story so bare with me.
I won’t tell you the name of the hotel for fear of uprise. But in the restaurant, every day at breakfast, WHILST sipping our lukewarm coffee and eating our scrambled eggs, we sat next to a giant wall of seafood taxidermy. Was it art? Was it a showcase of dead dinner delights? Was it a vertical, waterless Aquarium? Who knows. All I know is it was slightly unsettling and obviously… super weird.
As a side note, said hotel did have some redeeming qualities like a turtle sanctuary in the garden – live turtles, to be clear. It also had an absolutely jaw-dropping view of the Adriatic.. the building was quite literally attached to a cliff, you see.
Tanks and Abandoned Bunkers on the side of the road…
Yes everything you’ve heard is true. There are still signs of the civil war everywhere you look, especially when travelling further to the north of the country to Tirana where it’s one and only airport resides. Abandoned tanks and signs warning of land-mines – enough said. Just to be clear though, the Albanian Riviera is at the very bottom of the country so the only real reason you’d come across this type of stuff is if you were travelling all the way to the airport. Which we did. And it took half a day from Vlore (the beginning of the Riviera). Why did it take nearly half a day? Because of the roads…. Ah Albanian roads, you have a special stingy spot in my heart…
Albanian roads are not really roads…
Albanian roads are either paved or unpaved. Simple as that. It’s a lucky dip. If they are paved, they are teeth-clenching, palm-sweating, never-ending, cliff-clingers 2000m straight above sea-level that wind around mountains for hours. Or the total opposite, they are unpaved, directionless flat-grade gravel. Refer “extreme dichotomies” above. You don’t get a middle ground (quite literally) in Albania, especially when it comes to roads. I could write an entire post dedicated to driving in Albanian. In fact I think I will.
So either there’s a million Albanians piled into a beach club or there’s umbrellas for days but nobody’s home. That’s just the kind of country Albanian is. I get the whole “build it and they will come” philosophy but I still couldn’t quite understand an entire village, with rows and rows and miles and miles of abandoned umbrellas but then 10 minutes down the road people were practically lying all over each other just to sun tan. Did I mention the beach “showers” are actually lime green garden hoses attached to the wall? Just another reason why travel in Albania is weird.
So there you have it. Stay tuned for my Albanian Riviera Travel Guide, because after all of this weirdness how could you NOT want to visit this strangely intriguing, slightly derelict, possibly promising country!