Acclimatizing to Albania: A 10 Day road trip

Albania is a location that just a few short weeks ago, we truly understood nothing about. We shown up to the nation’s funding of Tirana at night – after a 10 hour bus trip from Skopje, Macedonia. That very first evening we truly didn’t get to check out much, however the enjoyment of showing up in a new country was rushing with us as well as we were looking forward to beginning our epic 10 day road trip around the country.

In almost every major Balkan town there is a free walking tour that takes visitors around to historical sites as well as provides them a taste of history as well as the day-to-day life of the regional people in the region.

A part of the Berlin Wall, a bunker as well as ancient foot bridge – all on our walking tour
We’ve been joining these tours anywhere we can as well as we believe that they’re the very best method to instantly immerse ourselves in each culture and discover about what makes the people tick. So far we had been on free tours in Plovdiv as well as Sofia, both in Bulgaria.

Tirana’s walking tour was unique since the guide had extremely personal accounts of his life growing up during Albania’s communist regime.

Instead of just pointing out sites as well as rattling off scripted dialog about dates, design as well as wars, our guide, Gazi, brought the tour to life with tales of him as well as his siblings dealing with worldwide isolation, living with everyday rations as well as fighting for simple freedoms that we in Canada took for granted growing up.

Walking with Gazi as well as two other backpackers on the tour
His tour set us up with a much better comprehending of the wild country of Albania. Without Gazi’s emotional stories as well as descriptive memoirs, we may not have been able to grasp why Albania is the method it is. even with his anecdotes, we still have much to discover about the country.

After the tour we quote farewell to our guide and set out on our road tripping adventure!

The very first confirmation of Gazi’s words came when we chosen up our rental vehicle as well as started driving out of Tirana.

The driving was insane.

Pedestrians crissed as well as crossed back as well as forth across the hectic streets. cars swerved delegated right, with 4 lanes produced where there should have been two. Motorbikes weaved their method with impossibly tight traffic, as well as people honked at every light as well as round-about.

Look at our wonderful ride! Driving was a bit difficult though…except along the coast.
Gazi had told us that during the communist regime, the road was only for expert drivers as well as extremely few people had the privilege of driving. So today, the most experienced motorist may only have only been behind the wheel since the begin of the 90’s.

On top of that, the entire driving infrastructure of the country is extremely embryonic, with barely any type of full-sized highways as well as only small, bumpy roads connecting most towns. This is to state that driving in Albania was an experience – one that was fun most of the time, however incredibly frustrating as well as dangerous the rest.

We lastly made our method out of the chaos of Tirana, only to get lost in the forgotten farmlands of Albania’s countryside. We had GPS in our car, however the GPS in Albania is a navigational quote at best.

We definitely needed a beer after a few of our travel days here!

At one point, the irritating automated voice instructed us to turn left – directly into a castle wall, while one more time, had we complied with the directions, we would have ended up in a landfill canyon!

By the time we made it to our second stop, Berat, we were exhausted (even though it was only 3 hours from Tirana). however again, the enjoyment of being in a new location charged us to go out as well as explore.

Berat is dubbed The town of 1000 Windows, see why?
Berat is a gorgeous town. numerous ottoman age homes climb up a steep hill that flanks a deep gorge. The canyon is cut out of the jagged rock landscape by a rushing river. The stream itself was lovely… from afar.

Upon better inspection we realized that there were ghosts in all of the trees along the riverbed. A kind of haunting site that looked like some type of Halloween production.

Plastic bags, bottles, discarded garments as well as cardboard were draped over every branch of every tree. The river was a dumping ground for decline as well as over the years, so much of the trash had built up that the bank of the river looked like a haunted house.

The river was gorgeous from afar!
Before passing judgement, we remembered our friendly guide Gazi’s words:“During the communist regime, nobody had anything to throw out since we had nothing to spare.”

Today, the excess of plastic packaging has nowhere to go since the country’s waste system is so primitive. nobody has been properly informed on what to do with garbage since just 25 years ago, there wasn’t any. whatever came in rations as well as all of the packaging was reused, burned or recycled.

Nothing went to squander since whatever was in scarce supply.

Away from the river, garbage guy as well as street sweepers ensured that the Unesco listed town of Berat appeared to be in tip-top shape. cobblestone streets snaked their method between Byzantine churches as well as Ottoman-style homes up until they lastly reached an enormous stone wall at the summit of the hill.

Dormition Cathedral in Berat

At the top of the mountain, a 4th century castle commanded the horizon, its ancient stones radiant a golden hue in the afternoon sky. The incredible thing about Berat’s castle is that people still online in it.

Once you walk up the steep hill to reach the fortress walls, you can go into with an enormous stone archway as well as suddenly, you’re in a castle as well as an ancient town.

Shops offer snacks, coffee as well as clothing, while people sweep their patios, feed their dogs as well as go about their day-to-day lives, seemingly uninformed that they are living in a fairytale castle at the top of a mountain.

A bird’s (drone’s) eye view inside the castle walls of Berat
After a few days of checking out Berat and eating delicious traditional Albanian food at our Hotel’s in-house restaurant, we hopped in the vehicle again, prepared to get lost on our method to Gjirokaster.

This time, the GPS seemed to understand the method as well as the computerized robot voice brought us through beautiful scenery into one more one of Albania’s famous old towns. We didn’t stay long in Gjirokaster, only an hour in fact, however just long sufficient to inspect out the town’s castle, walk around the old town as well as get back into the car.

From there we headed to the Adriatic coastline where we rented an apartment in Saranda. We checked in to our location as well as we couldn’t believe the view over the sea. We were on the 7th floor as well as our 1 bedroom apartment had the very best deck for working – although the views were distracting.

Not a poor office, eh?!

When we headed out to check out the ocean front promenade in Saranda, more of Gazi’s words made sense of our surroundings.

We saw Italian restaurants, cafes as well as wine bars. There was Italian music as well as Italian television playing in the bars. Gazi had told us that the Italians were one of Albania’s closest allies over the past few decades as well as their influence along the mediterranean was extremely noticeable.

We don’t mind the Italian influence

He told us of a time when TV was censored as well as nobody might watch anything however government propaganda. Some people stole satellite signals from Italy at the danger of being executed if caught.

It was on one of these channels that Gazi very first saw a banana, however it wasn’t up until 10 years later when he was able to lastly hold as well as taste one.

When we walked by a market selling bananas on the side of the road in Saranda, we believed of Gazi again. The yellow fruit was a typical sight for us, as well as surely now a regular sight for the people of Albania, however remembering Gazi’s words brought new meaning to an otherwise mundane market scene.

“When I tried my very first banana, I liked it. I couldn’t believe what I had missed for so many years. however my mom wouldn’t eat them at first. For a decade after communism, she didn’t trust bananas.”

Of course, Saranda had many more luxuries besides bananas. There were gorgeous seaside restaurants, a nice pedestrian walkway, delicious seafood, lovely beaches, some unfortunate overdevelopment and a extremely Mediterranean feel. however it was the words of our walking tour guide that truly brought us with Saranda as well as the entire country of Albania.

The sunsets in Saranda were gorgeous

To believe that just 25 years ago, the country was locked in the harshest communist regime in history is difficult to believe. Today, people online in excess. Drinking wine with lunch, driving Mercedes-Benz cars as well as buying residential or commercial property on the oceanfront – even if they cannot pay for to.

There’s really a joke about Albanians as well as their nice cars, which we heard while in country:

Three guy are in heaven, a German, an Italian as well as an Albanian. They ask each other exactly how they died. The German says, I was driving my Porsche as well quick as well as I crashed as well as died. The Italian says, I was driving my Ferrari as well quick as well as I crashed as well as died. The Albanian says, I spent all my money on my Mercedes-Benz as well as had no money to eat, so I starved to death.

Our final drive in Albania was the most gorgeous one of the trip, as well as potentially the most scenic drive we’ve ever taken in our lives. We took the coastal road from Saranda to Tirana, which meandered along the coastline, up over a high mountain pass, as well as back down to sea level.

While winding our method along the Adriatic Sea, with the windows down as well as the warm breeze blowing in, we were able to show on our time in the country.

Our final drive was the very best one

It’s difficult to fathom exactly how recent life has altered for Albanians, as well as while anyone over the age of 25 has lived with a extremely different time, everybody seems to be looking towards the future with hope as well as excitement.

The people in Albania treated us like buddies as well as honoured guests during our travels as well as we discovered it incredibly fascinating to hear each of their stories along the way. Gazi definitely had the most descriptive accounts of growing up in Albania, however with each new location we went, the photo of life in the country was painted more vividly.

Grilled veggies with bread as well as wine, so good

We hope that we can someday return to discover more, since aside from a tumultuous recent history, Albania has whatever a traveller might request – fantastic food, friendly people as well as stunning scenery. 10 days just wasn’t enough!

Have a look at our 10 day road trip video – with drone shots of program ?

You can discover more Albania Videos here!

A big say thanks to you to economic climate Bookings for hooking us up with our rental! getting around would have been a difficulty without it – as well as we may have even missed our finest drive yet!

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