We really didn’t know what to expect from Albania. Maybe it would be similar to the other Balkan countries we’d visited, though its history of isolation would maybe add a touch of something different. Much would surely be unfamiliar – language, money, food – and we had little idea of how the accommodation would work out, from seeking and finding through to cost and quality.But the trip delivered, on so many levels. The sweeping variation in the places we visited made the trip endlessly interesting; two capital cities, a remote mountain location, a coastal chill out, a beautiful and unique ancient city, stitched together by the road trips through changing scenery on roads of differing quality. The educational aspect of learning about this unfamiliar country was stimulating throughout, there really is so much to learn, and we felt continually edified by the absorption of culture and history. The cuisine, delicious in its own right, had the added stimulus of sizeable variation from region to region, and deserved a page all of its own.
Two pleasant surprises were people and accommodation. One such was cleanliness; every room in which we stayed was spotlessly clean and standards seemed high, not just hotels and the apartment but also in bars and restaurants. The people of Albania were another delight ; consistently helpful, friendly, honest and easy going. And so very pleased to receive visitors.
Albania is a beautiful and varied country; not only does cuisine change between areas, but even the second language varies, from Italian in the north to Greek in the south. The trip was educational, exciting, stimulating and the scenery was at various times stunning. The building sites at the likes of Vlora demonstrate that some of the coastal areas are seeking to become holiday destinations, but there will need to be more improvements to the infrastructure for it to take off, as the main highway is the only decent road and some journeys, particularly over the mountains, take a disproportionately long time.
There are some quirks. Whether you get given prices in euros or lek seems completely random; the power cuts are very regular; some places are ramshackle and dotted with derelict or half built properties. But even these, like the unmade roads, add to the charm and excitement of discovering this colourful nation’s secrets.
It has been another inspiring journey, in so many ways.