Posted by franksupa on December 28, 2008
I came across a great post fromat .dailycamera.com about albania and it really amazed me how other people describe albania.
Below is the blog article:
” After some time wandering around in Skopje, Macedonia, a gritty, communist-block like city that seems to be trying valiantly to redefine itself, I found myself stepping onto yet another bus into the night towards Albania. This was another country I was a bit nervous about, mostly because every single person I had spoken to told me not to go. To be fair, none of them had been there which is how I rationalized going despite the warnings.
Albania has long been a traveler’s blacklisted country and it is only recently that it has opened up its borders. Like for Kosovo, I wanted to be one of the first let into a country with such a torrid reputation. I was a little apprehensive on the bus because it was just two men (the drivers) and me. But it turned out to be great. I was able to spread out and sleep in the isle, and the men were really nice and despite not speaking any English, their hospitality was impeccable. They tried to buy me coffee or food at every stop and just seemed to look out for me.
I got off the bus dazed at 5 a.m. in Tirana, the capital. I had no idea where I was. Like Macedonia, Albania is trying to give itself a face lift by painting every single building a different color. We are talking Easter egg colors here by the way. It was the full giant Crayola pack, not the small one. Knowing very little English would be spoken, I had armed myself with as many Albanian phrases as I could manage. I certainly attracted stares walking down the street with my backpack, but I felt very welcome.
Transportation in Albania is absurd. There are no bus stops, just plots of dirt throughout the city where buses sometimes stop. They leave haphazardly and just to make it a little more fun, they like to mix it up by constantly switching the plot from which certain destinations will depart from. I asked a girl in Albanian where the bus to Saranda would be. She laughed at my awful Albanian then dropped everything, got out of line for the bus she was waiting to board, took my hand, and led me along the street. She spoke maybe 10 words of English, to my 10 of Albanian but we babbled at each other. It should have been awkward but wasn’t at all because of her warmth. Apparently the Saranda bus plot had changed recently. We got to where she thought it was and had to ask someone else. He promptly dropped everything to walk us to the new plot. Soon we had a whole crew of Albanians joining out team and detouring from their day on a mission to help me find the right bus. When we finally did they all shook my hand or hugged me goodbye. The bus driver took out his wallet to show me how much money I was to pay and he didn’t even try to cheat me. I went across the street to get some coffee while we were waiting for the bus to fill. The waitress patiently held up each kind of coffee and milk for me to make sure I got just what I wanted with unending precision. On the bus the only other English speaker, a 10 year-old girl with great English sat next to me. We chatted about things you could talk about with a 10 year-old, sweet Albanian girl. Each time the bus stopped people would try to buy me food. I decided I never wanted to leave Albania.
There might not be much English spoken but that was the adventure of it. I got by through hand gestures and writing down numbers or showing money or just blindly guessing, it was all tremendous fun. I thought it would be frustrating but it never was. People could see I was a foreigner and wherever I was, they would buy me coffee and try to communicate in any way that we could, or just stop to say hello and shake my hand.
Sadly, for all the kindness of Albanians, the majority of the countryside I was was not nice. All the old cars that didn’t make it to Kosovo wound up in Albania. The communist urban sprawl is appalling and even the rivers had the glazed sheen of oil coating them.
Also disturbing are the 700,000 concrete bunkers that are scattered everywhere. They are in front yards, fields, mountain sides, everywhere.
Later, an Albanian that had lived in Canada so he spoke English told me that the government had convinced them that the entire world was against them so they built all the bunkers. He said that the cost of building one bunker is equivalent to the cost of building a one-bedroom apartment. That’s a lot for a poor country.
The whole time I was in Albania, the hospitality was unending. Anyone who spoke any English at all wanted to come talk to me and seemed genuinely happy to share their country with me. Despite the challenge, or maybe because of it, Albania was one of the most rewarding places I have ever been. “
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