I’ve been to a lot of countries in Europe, way more than I have posted about on this blog. There is something about this place that I just can’t get enough of which is why I decided to move here and study it. But getting a Master’s degree in European Studies is simply not enough, it’s just a piece paper. If I really want to truly master Europe then I need to do it with my own two feet, in the flesh. That is why I have set a goal for myself to visit every country on the continent within the next year and a half (I’m using a certain birthday as my deadline, but the number is insignificant). I’ve only got about 15 to go and that is including places like Andorra and San Marino. I believe it’s totally doable if play my cards right.
Although pretty planted in Sweden and its vicinity for the next couple of months as I work on finishing my thesis, I can at least start to formulate my plan of attack, yeah?
First up, Shqipëria. That’s Albania to you and me, unless of course you are an Albanian. Albania has been on my mind since 2009 when my fascination with the Balkans really began to escalate. Can fascination escalate? Absolutely.
Why do I want to go?
Because I can. Albania was totally isolated from the rest of the world for nearly 40 years thanks to that kook of a Communist leader, Enver Hoxha, and that I find interesting. Appealing, even. Maybe calling Hoxha a kook is a bit harsh but it takes a real special person to put resources you shouldn’t into building 750,000 concrete bunkers, 1 for every 4 citizens. When your country doesn’t even have enough housing for its residents or proper roads for driving – what were you thinking, dude?
Hardline Stalinism is what he was thinking. So there’s another reason I am drawn to Albania. I’m a huge fan of Communist history and this country is one of the most peculiar cases, that’s for sure. There would be no greater pleasure than for me to visit some of these bunkers and use them in ways that Hoxha would never approve. As a bar, a beach hut, a bedroom, you name it – it is all happening there right now and I want to join.
That brings me to the beaches. The beaches in the south look lovely. I’ve heard mixed reports on just how clean they are but they can’t be much worse than other popular resort areas in southern Europe. This means I should probably try to hit it in summer or early fall.
And finally, I just want to answer a question by shaking my head “yes” when what I really mean is “no”.
Where will I go?
Whenever I visit a new country, I love to try to do it all but realistically I will probably only have time to see a few cities. Tirana, the capital, is obviously one of the first in line. Saranda on the Ionian Coast is supposed to have the most beautiful waterfront in the country. Northern Albania is apparently the most dangerous region in the country but Shkodër looks lovely so I think I’d take my chances. Berat is supposed to be one of the most beautiful towns with tons of Ottoman houses stacked on its hills. I think I will probably skip Durrës, another popular beach resort, as I hear it is just filthy and swimming there might actually be hazardous to your health.
How will I go?
Obviously how I get to Albania will depend entirely on where I am beforehand which I could never know at this point, but I have a few ideas.
The four countries boarding it – Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece – are also places on my European to do list so the possibilities here are endless really. There are no international passenger trains in Albania, making bus, plane or car the only options. Actually just bus or plane – I’d be insane to try to drive anywhere in the Balkans.
If I am already in the Montenegro, Kosovo or Macedonia then I would definitely be getting there by bus even though it seems like quite the complicated affair. Especially in Tirana where there is no formal bus station. Loved reading this on Lonely Planet’s website: “Macedonia-bound buses going through Struga and on to Tetovo, leave from the patch of mud in front of the train station”. Really? That stop must be a nightmare to find in the dry summer months.
If I were anywhere outside the Balkans, I’d most definitely check flights to Corfu and then take a boat to Saranda. It is super close and takes less than an hour. That seems like the most pleasant alternative but won’t know until I go.
Has anyone ever been to Albania? Would love some more recommendations and thoughts on visiting this land that is “mine to discover”.