Albania is Weird

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When I mention to people that I passed briefly through Albania on my Europe trip this summer, many of them (after asking the compulsory “Where is that?” question) want to know what this small Balkan country is like.

When confronted with this question, I usually pause, make my “thinking” face, and then answer thus:

Albania is… weird.

Tirana, Albania
In Tirana, Albania

Weird Albania

There are more than 750,000 one-man concrete bunkers scattered across the countryside, dotting the landscape like giant mutated mushrooms. Stuffed animals (like Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh) hang from half-completed homes and buildings to ward off evil spirits. A shake of the head means “yes,” while a nod means “no.” And former military bases now serve as seaside resorts.

Albania
See Mickey hanging from the roof? (Photo by my friend Monique)

Yes, this nation of 3 million is a bit quirky and difficult to describe. There are contradictions here upon contradictions, mostly thanks to the country's post-WWII history — a history that was characterized by communism, isolation, and an extremely paranoid leader.

In fact, most of Albania's current reality can be traced back to that paranoid leader, Enver Hoxha, who ruled with increasing suspicion of the wider world until his death in 1985. He is the one responsible for the plethora of bunkers around the country. And for the isolation and fear of the outside world that made them seem necessary.

Pill Box Bunker
Photo by Joseph A Ferris III, on Flickr

Our Busabout guide — a young Croatian guy with a keen interest in politics and economics — told us that, during Hoxha's reign, Albania was even more insular and isolated that present-day North Korea. The country levied no taxes and incurred no debt. It exported no goods, and became entirely self-sufficient in order to avoid reliance on the outside world.

This, of course, meant that when Albania finally shook off its one-party system in the early 1990s, it found itself in a state of stagnation. Even today, Albania is regarded as one of the poorest, least-developed countries in Europe.

But you kind of have to give the country a break. Twenty years really isn't that long when it comes to history, and Albania certainly is trying.

Beautiful Albania - Vacation Destination!
Pops of color in Tirana. (Photo by Joseph A Ferris III, on Flickr)

These days, even though Hoxha's legacy lives on in Albania, the country is clearly trying to move on from his extreme form of leadership — and it's this fact that lends the country many of its interesting quirks.

Under Hoxha, self-sufficiency was name of the game. Which means that today, Albanians have one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

Under Hoxha, atheism became the official state religion. But today, people in Albania enjoy incredible religious tolerance. In the capital of Tirana, you can find a church right next to a mosque, with a synagogue just a block away.

Tirana, Albania
Mosque next to a church.

Under Hoxha, the outside world was not to be trusted. But, today, Albania seeks to invite the outside world in, hoping to turn to tourism to boost its economy like neighboring Montenegro is doing.

Tourism in Albania

The country has done a lot to entice visitors in recent years. The formerly dull Tirana has been splashed with bright colors. New roads are being built to replaced twisting, narrow, pitted ones. And coastal cities have been transformed into summer retreats.

Well, sort of.

Durres, Albania
Durres, Albania

As someone currently studying tourism, visiting one of Albania's developing touristic areas was fascinating. And also a bit depressing. It was spending a night in the town of Durres that really allowed me a glimpse into how tourism is developing in Albania.

And let's just say that it's not particularly pretty.

Durrës
Over-developed Durres. (Photo by xJason.Rogersx, on Flickr)

As Lonely Planet's Eastern Europe guide says:

Durres was once Albania's capital. Its 10km-long beach is a lesson in unplanned development; hundreds of hotels stand side by side, barely giving breathing space to the beach and contributing to the urban-waste problem that causes frequent outbreaks of skin infections in swimmers.

Not exactly a glowing recommendation, is it?

And, while Durres wasn't actually THAT bad, the beach WAS dirty, and the town felt a bit confused. On the one hand, we had a super nice pool and white tablecloths at our beachside resort. On the other, dumpsters overflowed in town and little kids pestered every foreigner they saw for money.

Durres, Albania
Our pool
Durres, Albania
The beach

This is NOT the way to develop tourism in a country. But it's a product of Albania's long isolation and its desperation to catch up.

The Future of Albania

To me, Albania is kind of like an awkward teenager still not quite sure how to handle its changing body. It's a little weird and not very cool, and yet is trying desperately to fit in. Perhaps a little too desperately, as places like Durres hint at.

I can understand Albania, though. As someone who was a weird teenager herself, I sympathize with the country and its struggles. It's trying to overcome its past and become prosperous, but it's not an easy road. Nothing is easy when you've spent the past 5 decades in utter isolation from the rest of the world. You'd be a little weird, too.

Durres, Albania

There's definitely hope for Albania, though. It DOES have things going for it, like its gorgeous countryside and hospitable locals. The whole Balkan region in general is an up-and-comer when it comes to international tourism. Nearby Greece has been a hot spot for years, and neighbor Montenegro is swiftly rising to become a must-visit destination in Europe.

Could Albania be next?

Maybe. But it needs to get over that adolescent weirdness first.

For more updated takes on Albania's tourism development, check out these posts from some of my travel blogger friends:

What do you think? Would you ever want to visit Albania?

 

 

*Note: I visited Albania as part of a discounted 9-day Classic Balkan Trek tour with Busabout. All opinions, however, are my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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108 Comments on “Albania is Weird

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  1. very, very interesting read. I had never read anything about Albania’s history before (until now).

    It used to be more isolated than North Korea?! Wow! I can’t even imagine that. Now I really want to visit this country… I’m intrigued

    – Maria Alexandra

      It certainly is an intriguing history. And yeah, it’s crazy to think about a country being more extremely isolated than Albania… but that’s what I’ve heard it compared to!

    Albania was the country with which the U.S. had a fake war in the movie Wag the Dog. In the movie, a war was contrived in order to divert the attention of the electorate in favor of the incumbent just days ahead of a presidential election. We’re just days away from such an election now. Hmm …

    It’s better, I think, to visit a country while it’s still weird, if you can. Five years from now when there’s a Starbucks on every corner you’ll be looking back fondly on the dumpsters and the skin infections.

      Hahaha you are so right, Curt. Visiting a country while it’s still “weird” is definitely more interesting than visiting when it’s just like every other country around it!

        I actually visited Albania this summer. It seems to me that you had a rushed 9 day visit with probably not the best guide. I personally found it fascinating that such a small country can have such a perfect terrain. You have mountains on the north and west, Adriatic Sea on the northeast and the Ionian Sea on the southeast, all in 28,000 sq km. As far as overdevelopment goes I agree with you but, I spent 5 weeks there and in that time I saw a lot of buildings come down due to tougher local zoning and code so that’s promising. The coastal areas in the south are untouched by the mankind and absolutely gorgeous. The food is unique but very compatible for the western taste as opposed to some other countries’ cuisine. I disagree with you on the ‘werid’ label as I’ve found several neighborhoods of Paris or southern Italy for that mater far weirder but that’s just me. The Albanian people I thought were shy to interact but very welcoming and friendly. The night life is much more safer than I’ve encountered in that part of the world and finally, I thought they’re a pretty race as far as looks go, especially their women.

    Really interesting. I’m sure every country has had their awkward teenage phase. I’m sure Albania will work out its weirdness, although that could also be appealing for some travelers as well.

      For those who want to get off-the-beaten-path in Europe, Albania is ideal right now. It certainly doesn’t feel like the rest of Europe yet.

      And you’re right, of course – every country goes through its awkward teenage years!

    As someone who grew up in the 80s, Albania has always intrigued me. Nothing, and I mean nothing was known about what was going on inside Albania during that decade. Seriously, a communist country in Europe aligned with China but not Russia? One with a certifiable madman at the helm? All very interesting.

    Albania is high on my to do list- but since I like solo travel, I’ll be waiting a couple years before giving this part of Europe a try. Let’s hope they can continue to build infrastructure.

      All very interesting indeed. Hopefully in another 5 or 10 years Albania’s infrastructure will be a bit more welcoming to a traveler like yourself, Erik!

    Wow I just learned a lot about a place I hadn’t put much thought into. Shame about the over-developing beach, and the country lagging from poor leadership. Fascinating none the less..

      I’m sure they’ll turn things around. They’ve already made huge steps within the past decade. I just hope they can figure out a more sustainable way to develop tourism!

    A country I’ve never even thought about. But I’ll pay more attention now. Seems it would be very interesting to visit there weird and then return in 5 to 10 years to see how they’re doing.

      Yes, I’d love to go back in 5 or 10 years and see how much it’s changed!

    Great post and what a fascinating experience! A few years ago I was planning a camping trip in the Balkans and considered driving through Albania (mainly to get to Greece but partly out of curiosity) but decided against it – partly not enough time but I think stuff I read about driving in Albania put me off too! I wish I’d done it – just to see how bizarre it is!

      Haha “bizarre” is definitely a word to describe it. Driving in Albania was certainly interesting – especially in a big bus! It involved a lot of playing chicken with other vehicles on narrow, twisty roads. But I’m definitely glad to have gotten a glimpse of the country, however brief.

    Another great post! Thanks for sharing your experience of Albania, very interesting read, and a piece of Europe that I honestly don’t know too much about.

      I knew absolutely nothing about Albania before this summer. So it was really interesting for me to learn about, too! Glad you liked the post.

    Well, you’ve certainly piqued my interest in Albania. Pretty sure I did a school project on the country at some point years and years ago but I honestly don’t remember much. I tend to love destinations that are a bit quirky and weird, so Albania seems like it’d be up my alley. Really doesn’t look like you’d expect—at least so I’ve noticed from your photos and my outdated perception of the country.

      If you like quirky and weird, then yes, I think you’d love Albania!

      I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t take more photos there. It was just so strange that I forgot! The countryside is really quite pretty, though.

    We went to Albania for 1 day on our road trip in August. With our dog. And yes, it was weird. Crossing the border was weird, driving around the city was weird, and it just felt weird in general. The roads weren’t quite as bad as I had read, but driving was certainly an adventure! There was construction going on to pave roads, but the paving would suddenly end and it was anybody’s guess whether we were even driving on a road or not. Then you’d spot another paved road in the distance and just drive toward it. I definitely want to go back to explore their beaches, but I think we’ll wait until things are a little more developed.

      Sounds like your experience was just as weird as mine! (Mine also involved bribing border crossing guards, but I decided to leave that out of the post…).

      I think I’d definitely like to go back someday, just to see how different it is. Though, I think it will probably remain weird for some time!

    I actually just visited Albania this summer! It turned out to be one of our favorite countries to visit.
    We stayed one night in Korca, where we happened to stumble upon their beer festival where we got to see in true light just how passionate these people are about their country and their traditions. It was amazing to see!
    We then spent one night in Tirana, two nights in Durres and one night in Shengji.
    I would agree with your statements about Durress, it was quite an over populated city and at the time that we were there it was peak vacation time for both Albanians and Italians. Shengji was also very similar but just on a much smaller scale.
    My favorite was Korca because of the experiences we got out of the day and because it wasn’t a city that was trying to impress any foreigners. In fact, we only did ever see two other obvious foreigners there.
    To be honest, I’m not sure I would like it if Albania became a large tourist destination because I think that would take away from the hidden gems that Albania has to offer. I wouldn’t want to travel any other way than the sketchy-looking jergons!

      Sounds like you had a very unique Albania experience! Let’s hope the country hangs on to some of that quirk and character as it continues to develop and welcome more tourists!

    I cannot imagine living somewhere that had bunkers all over the place and a culture that believed they were needed. This may be one case where tourism can really helpa country.

      Yeah, it’s a bit strange. Though, it was mostly Hoxha and his crazy regime that convinced people that the bunkers were necessary. These days, I don’t think most Albanians are worried about being invaded!

      Trying to survive against Roman Empire!
      Trying to survive against Byzantine Empire!
      Trying to survive against Ottoman Empire !
      Trying to survive WWl & WWll !
      Against all odds Albanians SURVIVED!

      Some quotes about Albania/ns, by foreign Historians and travelers, who actually spend time in the Country.

      “They are strewn with the wreckage of dead Empires–past Powers–only the Albanian “goes on for ever.”
      – Edith Durham

      “The true history of mankind will be written only when Albanians participate in it’s writing.”
      -Maximilian Lambertz

      “In 3200 BC, there were many, many languages spoken besides Sumerian and Egyptian, but they were not fortunate enough to have a writing system. These languages are just as old. To take one interesting case, the Albanian language (spoken north of Greece) was not written down until about the 15th century AD, yet Ptolemy mentions the people in the first century BC.* The linguistic and archaeological evidence suggests that Albanians were a distinct people for even longer than that. So Albanian has probably existed for several millennia, but has only been written down for 500 years. With a twist of fate, Albanian might be considered very “old” and Greek pretty “new”.
      -Elizabeth J. Pyatt, Linguistic PhD

      “The men who marched to Babylon , Persia and India were the ancestors of the Albanians…”
      -Wadham Peacook

      “There is a spirit of independence and a love of their country, in the whole people, that, in a great measure, does away the vast distinction, observable in other parts of Turkey, between the followers of the two religions. For when the natives of other provinces, upon being asked who they are, will say, “we are Turks”(meaning muslim) or, “we are christians”, a man of this country answers, ” I am an Albanian”
      -J. C. Hobhouse Brughton, A Journey Through Albania 1809-1810

      “They may be only soldiers, but never let them get close to your plate, and don’t make them kneel before you, if you don’t intend to decapitate them.
      – Pasha Sulejman the Lightened

      “…isn’t the Albanian, who, being a slave, did not allow enslavement, freedom-loving? This is a question that could hardly be understood by anyone who has not lived in Albania. The most liberty-loving people in the Balkans is the Albanian people. The Albanian, taken alone, as an individual, is an anarchist by nature. He would brook no bondage let alone on his people, he would not let anything, seen as possibly humiliating, befall his house. The Albanian house stands alone and apart from the rest…”
      – Description from a brilliant Bulgarian observer and connoisseur of Albania. (1924)

      “Land of Albania, where Iskander rose,
      Theme of the young, and beacon of the wise,
      And he, his namesake, whose oft-baffled foes
      Shrunk from his deeds of chivalrous emprize.
      Land of Albania, let me bend my eyes
      On thee, though rugged nurse of savage men!
      Where is the foe that ever saw their back? …..”
      – Lord Byron in “Child Harold’s Pilgrimage”
      —————————————————————–

      Albanian land is covered with bunkers, 750 000 of them…
      I rather have land full of bunkers than head full of it.
      If you don’t know me, don’t judge me.

        I don’t think that anybody is judging you. Thanks for sharing some interesting facts and quotes though.

    Yes, it is weird! I have never been in Albania and haven’t planned any trips for the nearest future. After reading your post, it is moving down in my To-Do-Go list. Thanks for sharing!

      Haha yeah I suppose my post doesn’t exactly make you want to hop the next flight/bus to Albania! Maybe reconsider in a few years.

    I’m fascinated by the bunkers! 750,000?!

      Yup, 750,000 of them! Crazy, isn’t it? That’s one for roughly every family of 4 in the country!

    Great analysis on Albania. I knew nothing about the place before, and you’ve done a nice job presenting the many things that make the country unique, good and bad.

      It’s just the journalist in me, trying to just write about what I see!

    http://pastebin.com/RL1WMi9G have you seen this? it’s pretty amusing, and sadly true that we know nothing about Albania…
    lately more and more of my friends go there and they all love it there! it’s pretty high on my list of countries to visit too!

      Well if you do end up going anytime soon, you’ll have to be sure to let me know what you think!

        I’m hoping to get there next year as this corner of Europe – Albania, Macedonia and Greece – is the only one I still haven’t visited!

    I’ve never thought about visiting Albania before but I’ve always had a thing for weird places.. curious to see it come out of it’s awkward teenage stage. 😀

      It may still have quite a few years before it gets out of its awkward teenage phase… But if you’re into that sort of thing, then you should definitely check it out!

    It’s so strange to think of a place completely cut off from the world, littered in bunkers. And then all of sudden, it opens back up to the world. I agree with you. Anyone would be a little weird after that.

      Yes, I certainly can forgive it its weirdness after learning a bit about its recent history!

    I know nothing about Albania, so this was an interesting read! Hopefully the next 20 years see the country coming into its own.

      Glad you enjoyed it, Emily. And I agree! I hope the next decade or so brings Albania good things!

    Amanda, it’s funny how you say Albania is “weird” because my own Albanian friends who I went to junior high and high school with said the same thing about their own country. The words “isolated, weird, and depressing” used to escape their mouths often. I’ve always known about Albania because of them; I can even spot out their national flag from a mile away, however I didn’t know about those bunkers. That’s just creepy, to say the least.

      Well, that definitely makes me feel a bit better that Albanians themselves think their country is a little weird! Interesting!

    I didn’t think I’d like Albania, but I LOVED it! So quirky and random. 🙂 Trying to spot bunkers on bus trips and exploring the mountain villages was great. A very unique place. It will certainly change in the coming years. It’d be interesting to go back and see how it’s different in a few years. 🙂

      “Quirky and random” is such a perfect way to describe Albania! Glad to hear you enjoyed it, though.

    I just came from a 10 day vacation in Albania in July. My friends thought I was nuts, but I had a great time.

    If you’re an adventurist, and not a tourist, Albania is it! Your description of the country is very accurate. I wish them the best, the people are so nice and friendly.

    Trip To Albania

    I just stumbled on this page. If you plan on going to Albania again, you should check out the beaches down south. They’re great. Check out Kosova too. It’s a six hour drive from Durres, same language speaking locals, and friendliness. No beaches, but great experience, especially in Prishtina, the country’s capital.

      Thanks for the tips! I’ll keep them in mind for when I make it back to the Balkans!

    Those bunkers all over the place must give a feeling of comfort!

      Haha I dunno if I’d call it “comfort,” exactly. It’s just kind of weird!

    Amazingly accurate title for this post. Was thinking of something similar for one of mine but got worried that people would take it the wrong way. Albania is SUPER weird but that’s what I liked the most about it. Unfortunately I stayed in Tirana the entire time, but I would love to go back and check out the less polluted coasted areas and UNESCO towns (like Berat and Gjirokastra).

      It took me a while to come up with the title. But, like you, I thought “weird” really was the best way to sum up the country!

    Im an albanian living in greece brought up with two cultures and mentalities , albania its weird its teen and its really welcoming ..although people have to change, have to be a little bit more civilized none of them is dangerous and especialy the new generation has to offer a lot to tourism .. I have been traveling back every summer since im a photographer and i can say the country changes every day… So as an albanian i can say that all of you are welcomed and if you need any tips ill be glad to help you

      Interesting to get your perspective! I’ll have to re-visit in a couple years to see how much it’s changed.

    I find it very interesting how you guys are talking about Albania, and to be honest it puts a smile on my face to see foreigners discuss about a country that a lot of people don’t know about:) Well i just wanted to say a few things. I am Albanian, and since I was raised in Albania I don’t think Albania is weird at all..lol i think it’s just different from many countries and probably that’s a reason why you find it weird. We have some really different, unique traditions and beliefs that foreigners find weird but that makes Albania and Albanians…I am glad some of you are considering of visiting Albania someday in a future. I would definitely suggest it! I am sorry you only had to visit Durres. But there’s way more about Albania’s tourism than just the city of Durres. Albania has a BEAUTIFUL coastline that i wish all of you guys had a chance to visit. If you ever go back to Albania, or you plan on visiting it, I suggest you visit cities like Vlora, Sarande, Himare, Dhermi. The water is just so clean and blue, it’s just like a mirror. The beaches in southern Albania are amazing and i am not saying this because i am Albanian, but because when I compare them to the lakes and rivers around where I live I truly believe God blessed us by giving us a wonderful coastline that offers a variety of beaches from sandy to rocky. I wish people would try to learn more about Albanians and our traditions, rather than focus on the negative issues. Yeah i admit it we are not the greatest country ever but we also are not the poor economy or the isolation for many years. We are way more than that and I wish people for once would try to learn more about us and our history. 🙂

      Thanks for the insight, Angela, and for the suggestion of other places to visit in Albania! I really like the Balkan region of Europe, so I have no doubt I’ll be back someday!

    You mentioned how you could give it a break considering its past. Well, Romania should get one too. It had the worst, really, check with CNN for confirmation, dictator. And I don’t see Bucharest being half as ugly as Tirana. Then again, with only 3 million souls, a corrupt government elite, and no love from the EU, I can’t see them doing any better. Also the reason why they have so many mobsters all over the world, here in America they have the Albanian Mafia in Brooklyn. I know there are also Romanians (most of gypsy ethnicity) which do a lot of bad things in the Occidental part of Europe, but they still don’t outshine the Albanians. I have met a bunch of Albanians here in NY. Except one, which spent most of his life in Athens (which explains everything) I haven’t liked any of them, ill-mannered, player attitude towards women, no respect of authority, muslim religion (yes to me that’s bad) and such. Wish them luck

      I really enjoyed Romania; it wasn’t as “weird” as Albania to me. But, remember, these are just my opinions.

    Oh no, it’s not as weird I agree. Hopefully you will get to enjoy more than the concrete jungle of Bucharest. Brasov, Sibiu, Bran Castle, Peles Castle in Sinaia, Aventura Park in Poiana Brasov, see Iasi, go to the seaside, anywhere, especially Mamaia, Salina Turda, Cluj, Timisoara, Transfagarasan Road, Busteni, the list goes on. Hunedoara Castle

      I did indeed enjoy more than just Bucharest! I was in the Maramures region for a bit, visited Viscri, and also went to Sighisoara and Brasov.

    I hope you did enjoy then, there is still much more to see I assure you. 🙂

    I like the way you compared Albania to a weird teenager, it’s probably a fitting comparison. I haven’t been there but from what I hear, it’s as if you describe it.

      I’ve talked to others who have traveled there recently, and they all seem to agree. I’m glad you liked the comparison!

    Typical american superficial , limonate , mechanic way of perceiving and reflecting things around them. The need to simplify in order to be able to categorize and feet in that boring, obsolete, arrogant so called mind. You haven’t made any vital comment , which would describe the essence of that archaic country. You can find more common sense and collective social spirit and interaction in the remote Alps of Albania , than in any Ohio Starbucks or Bar, where the fixed zombie eyes, selfish , individualistic trashy people are gathered “apart” to study , to create, in front of everybody without talking , but bending their spine toward any technological device..The inability to interact without the happy pill. You can call that weird , not the”joie de vivre” which you will never understand it, since you are a arrogant , a pseudo- polyglot, and less accurate than a volcano when you presume to understand “il spirito di un alto paese. Ai mee. For a person that the only books that she had spend time are the one of Tolkien’s, really can think that she can able to embrace the Mediterranean world… Pfff. and write about that in the steps of Schiller and Maupassant.

      Sorry if that’s how you see it, but this is MY site, and these are MY perceptions of the world. If you don’t like them, please stop reading. Most commenters on this post (Albanians included) have appreciated and even agreed with what I’ve said here.

      And, for someone who apparently thinks themselves above me and the people of Ohio (and who assumes the “only books” I read are Tolkien’s), I would say YOU are the one with the “superficial, limonate, mechanic way of perceiving and reflecting things around them,” with a “need to simplify in order to be able to categorize.” And you’re calling ME arrogant? Please.

    Hello, your blog is interesting. i’ve went in Albania 4 weeks with an Abanian friend of me.
    I think Albania is not weird at all.. It’s true that the bunkers are not very agreable, and some places are quite ‘isolated’.
    But my opinion is that albania is so much more than that, You should ever go again to Albania and visit: Dhermi (perfect place), Himare, Shengjin,Korca.. (South of Albania). It is much nicer, and ” better-looking”. ( Check it out on internet if you want 🙂 ) You should’nt judge a country so quickly,if you haven’t see whole albania yet. It’s true that Tirana and Durres are not agreable…but there is so much more
    I will definitely go back to Albania. You should do the same.. but this time in “South Albania” 🙂

    I think that Albania is simply amazing and something different from the rest of Europe.Maybe Tirana and Durres are a shock (I liked Durres a lot by the way) so I suggest that next time, you visit places like Butrint or Gjirokaster… and them tell me that you simply don’t love that country.

    Happy travels.

    I was born and raised in the city of Durres and unfortunately your comments about my hometown are on point. I still remember the CLEANER days when the city was populated by it’s own people (durrsak as we call ourselves). Now it has been occupied by villagers and small town people from the northern parts of the country. It is one of the oldest cities in Albania, and though the infrastructure modest by your american standards, it used to be quite lovely and the beaches were beautiful. I will not get into the comparison to North Korea, but I will only say that I had a pretty great childhood, bunkers and all.
    I would recommend Pogradec to anyone who wants to vacation in Albania. It is near Korca (bordering with Macedonia). It lies along Ohrid lake, the people are super friendly, the air clean and it has some spectacular landscape.

      I can imagine what Durres must have been like when you were growing up, before all the “resorts” and tourists came in. It’s a pity that it isn’t like that anymore!

    Hi there,
    I’m glad you visited my country and you are talking about it in your blog !
    Indeed Albania is a pretty particular country with its flaws and beauty. As you said, 20 years are not enough to rebuilt a state from the beginning but we are in constant development now !
    Please let me correct you – as per the picture showing the mosque, next to it there’s not a church , that what lies next to it , it’s the Tower Clock of Tirana, one of the symbols of our capital, Tirana . But yes, you are right , religion tolerance in Albania is one of our strengths. It’s not unusual to see churches, mosques really close to each other.
    Albania has many touristic spots other than ” Durres “, which unfortunately was destroyed aggressively by too many constructions.
    The southern coastline is considered our pride; we have beaches who do not envy the impressive ones of Greece. Quite ironic that this part of the territory has maintained its original beauty and wilderness. You will find sporadic constructions from Dhermi to Lukove, which are in between two main south cities , Vlore and Saranda.
    In the south, is to be visited also Butrint ( the ancient remains of an Illyrian city).
    For mountain lovers , our north it’s just worth having a stay for some refreshing climate and adventure ! Albanian alps are just amazing, the main touristic villages to fully enjoy are Theth and Valbone.
    I do not work for a travel agency nor I am a touristic guide ; but I really love my country and I want to share its beauty and fragility with everyone that I have the possibility to talk.
    Albania is a small country, so if you want to fully know and enjoy everything about it would be better to see it whole, not just the big cities ….

    Thank You 🙂

      It’s always refreshing when someone is really proud of their country, and yet can admit that it is not perfect! Thanks so much for offering up all those tips!

    Hi, just a small correction – Although it’s true that mosques can be found next to churches in Albania, the mosque pictured is not next to a church. It’s the Et’hem Bey mosque in the central square of Tirana, and the tower next to it is not a church bell tower, but an ordinary clock tower, called Kulla e Sahatit (“The Clock Tower”).

    Really interesting, I hadn’t heard much about Albania until I visited Montenegro earlier this year. I guess they are all a little biased there but nobody exactly gave it a glowing review! Some of the pictures here look really nice!

      It’s definitely an interesting place – and I think it’s somewhere you’d really have to devote a decent amount of time to in order to really appreciate it.

    I have no idea where in the country you’ve been, but I’ll blame it on the guide and not on your poor way of describing the voucher try of Albania. I’ve visited Albania 3 years in a row during summer months and the south part, where you have both: Adraitic Sea, and Jonian sea just at the sme city Vlora, and more south it was just amazing. You
    At less for equal, or more that Italy or Greece offers you. Every eastern country( even though Albania is located in the south and has nothing to do with the East then just old politics) has his own history which will help every visitor understand more if it, and not just being a word teenager and asking for conform on that to this country. I wanted to again see a European country much as I remember them in the early 60s before everything became the same, with same shops and similar food, and that’s pretty much what we found. Albania is family-centred, safe, respectable and amazingly cheap; two people can eat with a drink for £5 and eat like royalty for £15. I don’t know where you’ve eaten, but obviously you didn’t have a great guide. We tried everything from fast food cafés to great restorants. The food so delicious Mediterranean and organic. The fish you eat by the restorants at the beach are just cought. It’s a young society with few fat people and is untouched by the Americans (we didn’t see a single McDonalds in the whole country). Maybe that’s why you didn’t liked it.

    So, if you can survive a run-down infrastructure and customer-blindness, you could try a holiday in Albania. It has wonderful scenery, beach resorts and important archaeology. Did you visit any sites? We went on a trip to the aloes of Valbona, beautiful falls into the mountains, just like swicerland. Do t make me started on the people. I’m a world traveler and never seen people. Ore friendly then albanias. The capital city of Albania is Tirana which is also Amazing with fantasic shops, bars and Resturants.
    My favourite resturant is called resturant Juvenilja its designed to look like a castle.
    Food and drinks every where in Albania is not only cheap but delicious.
    This country is fastly becoming more and more popular so visit Albania before it gets spoilt with too many tourists.
    I really feel sory for your experience. Too bad you had to waste it, and you’re giving people here a not True review. I don’t know the pulse of your trip, but strongly believe the travel agency who brought you there ripped you off and had these intentions.
    I can’t wait for the summer to go back to Dhermiu Beach, and Himmara Beach, where the young people enjoy themselfs with party on the beach and it’s not Wierred at All!
    Ps: you people here check more then just a trouble teenager before go down on vacation, thanks goodnes there are other ways of finding out that this.
    I have to give it yo Albania.
    See u there in the summer .

      Yup, I’m a fat American who doesn’t enjoy any country that doesn’t have a McDonalds. (Please note the sarcasm – clearly you haven’t read anything else on my blog.)

      I’m just writing about MY personal experience. I haven’t been everywhere in Albania, it’s true. But the beach resort we went to in Durres was nothing to write home about (the beach was covered in trash and the food was terrible). I’m glad you’ve had better experiences – I’m sure I’ll go back to Albania one day to see if it’s changed at all.

    Well, I guess every country can be labeled weird. If we switch perspectives and let Albanians judge the U.S., I bet they can claim many things as weird. Therefore, we never know who the weird one really is.

      Sure, there are plenty of weird things about the US. But, for the purposes of THIS post and story, Albania is the weird one. 😉

        Yeah… and you are just an annoying american tourist. No one likes your presents anywhere.

    Hah 🙂 I like the description “weird teenager” I have lived in nyc most of my life and always had a hard time describing my country to me of course it’s beautiful in its own weird chaotic way. As far as the bunkers we have been invaded by pretty much everyone from Ancient Rome to modern Serbs ( Kosovo war 1999) on average there has been a war every 50 years so is it really that weird that we would be a little paranoid :). Ps : you have not seen anything it’s like me visiting nyc and going to orchard beach in the Bronx ( Google it) and writing about America and its beaches :).

    I’ve been to albania before and i don’t think it a bad country everyone is really friendly and kind.

      I never said it was bad! Weird doesn’t always mean bad. 😉 I’ll definitely go back – so many people I know have been there recently and absolutely loved it!

    Hey Amanda
    I enjoyed reading your blog about Albania as I have just been though and will be back in a week or so. I had to laugh reading it – have a look at the last picture on the slideshow on my blog at https://adventureswithaunty.wordpress.com/2015/05/23/amazing-albania-weeks-1-2-wow/
    and you will see why!! If you would like a copy of that picture to add to yours let me know and I can send it to you…think it would fit your theme rather well!! Albania seems to be growing out of it’s awkward teenage phase – I was certainly really impressed (as you will see!) but the mushrooms are still there and hopefully always will be as they are something pretty special. Some really clever company should offer a big prize for the best decorated/utilised bunker and make them a tourist attraction in their own right. No one else can compete with it!

    Thanks again for your post!

    […] where my cot was in the kitchen next to the fridge. Or the “resort” we stayed at in Albania where our rooms were in old converted army barracks. (Sorry, I didn’t actually take any […]

    I’m albanian and you’re being far too nice. Albania is a complete shithole and even i can admit that. It’s basically like an average middle eastern country in terms of culture and atittudes of people. The infrastructure is atrocious and the people are criminals I do not advise anyone to go there, you’re going to have a terrible experience.

      I wouldn’t necessarily say people should never go there – I have quite a few travel blogging friends who have been there recently and really liked it! But I definitely appreciate your insider’s perspective. 🙂

      What rubbish!! If you think Albania is dangerous for the average visitor you need to get out more. You’d be in more danger in any city in the USA than you would in Albania. You’re not exactly helping your country financially by putting people off going there are you? I found it to be an absolutely wonderful country – full of kind and generous people, gorgeous scenery, fabulous hiking and fascinating history. And I have visited 103 countries on all 7 continents and lived in 7…so I have a fair idea what I am talking about. I had just spent 2 years in Latin America when I visited the Balkans and enjoyed my two months there way more.

    It does seem weird dangerous and undeveloped. I won’t be visiting this country anytime soon.

      Weird, yes. Dangerous? No, I wouldn’t call it dangerous! It’s actually kind of fascinating because of its weirdness.

    Very good description Amanda.It just reminds of Lybia’s Moamar kadafi, another paranoid psychotic who ruined the minds of 4 generations of Libyans. Same goes to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

    You’d think 3 million people country could easily be affluent or at least self sufficient. But it doesn’t, they all want to migrate to wealthy European countries, Canada and the US. More than half of them already migrated.

    Progress is no easy task for Albania because the problem lies in the archaically inherited dictator era mentality that is a die-hard and lingers on. It is the same mentality that has been putting Iraq, Syria and Libya on hold despite the west’s attempt to force a change.

      Very good point, Marlo! I know things ARE slowly changing in Albania, though, and the country is opening up more and more to tourism each year.

    […] in 2012. She has a similar experience visiting the ancient city of Durres. In her blog post ‘Albania Is Weird‘, she wrote about the ‘unfinished buildings’: ‘There are more than 750,000 […]

    Marlo you have no Idea! How can you compare Albanias history with Lybia and Iraq?vYou can compare it with ex comunist countrys but not with Iraq!!!!

    And you Amanda says, yes, yes, very good point. What Point Amanda???

    You are the weird one, Amanda. This is a compliment like yours to Albania.

    It is almost 5 years now… Are u coming back? 🙂

    Hello everyone who red this article about Albania and for the ones who commented to. I am a 20 years old girl from Albania and I was searching for information about a project who has to do with my beautiful country ALBANIA. I have to say that actually I was very very sad after reading this article(today is 28-29 November,Albanias indipendence days) because I do not know how you can expect to find a paradise in a place who until 2000 was fighting with Serbia for Kosovo, from a place who have been 500 years under Otoman perandory, a place who now is half because Montenegro, Macedonia,Serbia,Greece took 2/3 parts of it. Every Albanian knows that Albania is not perfect but to remind you all that it also took other countries a lot to be like they are today. But believe me that Albania will be an attractive destination soon. It is to soon to judge.

      This article is a bit of a rubbish.

      What can you expect from an american woman who has nothing to do and travels around…. despite she has been like 7 years ago there and has been in the most terrible places, my albanian friends told me that Albanian welcomed 5 million tourists in 2017 and is waiting for 6 million tourists in 2018 and by 2020 country expected to have 10 million tourists. quite huge numbers.

      Also , Albanians have been part of the Ottoman Empire for 350 tears and not 500, and what is the most important, is that muslim Albanians were the strongest and the most represented ethnicity within the empire … there were like 44 Albanian Prime ministers and thousands of generals, governors and rulers of albanian blood… even the imperial guards was composed by Albanians and large parts of the ottoman armies…

      Normally the Albanian Muslim leaders did a very bad choice by continuing to have relations with the Ottomans even during the 2nd half of the 19th century…. ottoman empire went very backward and this also made Albania not developed as much as it should during that period.

      Also in 1913, when the land were divided, FYROM Macedonia did not exist….

    Haha, “weird” is spot on. It still is 6 years after you wrote this post. I’d say it’s between Albania and Japan for the “weirdest” countries I’ve been to, but in completely different ways. When you were there did you experience the tradition in small towns where everyone goes down to the main street and walks up and down it in a big, long oval so they can pass by and greet one-another. That’s weird! And wonderful. I hope Albania, and every country, stays weird. We all should.

      I didn’t get to witness that tradition, but it sounds delightfully quirky! And you’re right – “weird” doesn’t have to be bad!

    It never was more isolated than South Korea, and the beaches in Albania are fascinating, you just chose to visit the wrong ones. You shouldn’t have gone to Durres, there are way prettier ones in the South Albania. And it’s definitely not weird. If anything, Albanians are the most friendly and welcoming people ever. They love it when foreigners visit, and treat us the best way they can. There’s a lot of history so that’s also another reason why you should visit Albania. “Trying too hard”? What do you mean? I think they’re doing what every country would do after 45 years of isolation. The night life is amazing, and you can never really get bored in Albania because there’s always something to do. You definitely chose the wrong guide, my experience was amazing.

    wow. im seeing all the american people here and you all are so weirded out by the bunkers. lol i live next to one and its huge. its wide almost the size of a house. and i would recommend visiting the south of albania. also this post was made 6 years ago and i would say that tirana has changed so much since then. you should definitely visit it again.

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