How is being a citizen in Albania? I can’t imagine. How is it as a tourist? It’s a wonderful experience.
T his was the first time when we went on a 1 week-long joint holiday and this is the first country that I felt I’m really welcomed as a tourist. Most of the natives live in the countryside and commute to the closest city. When I think of my morning bus route I got shivers and wrinkles on my face but here everybody was nice and helpful. Despite the unemployment rate is quite high, the people here were happy and quite cheerful.
Maybe it’s really about your attitude and what’s in your head when it comes to money. So basically everybody looked balanced in an eastern way.
And how do I know?
In an empiric way. My first impression was on the plane. The man next to me asked if I’d like to sit next to my friend as we were on a Wizz tourist class so we were seated in different rows. When we were lost in the country (many times) all of the locals tried to help us find our way nevertheless the language barrier. Sometimes the bus stopped where it doesn’t mean to stop so we can get off next to our destination. Some of the locals argued with each other where we should get off to be the nearest to our target. Despite most of the inmates don’t speak English, they tried their best to help us out.
So if you want to go to a welcoming environment then your next holiday will be in Albania, but for now, let me give you some tips for that.
The airport shuttle
When you think of a bus then you see a big bus. If you search for it then you won’t find it. It’s a minivan that you are looking for as the airport shuttle. This is the nearest minivan to the exit at the bus park. If you search for timetables then you won’t find the classic ones. The only thing that shows where the bus has headed the sign behind their windscreen.
When we decided on this country we searched for facebook groups to collect some info. There was a lady with little children who planned their summer trip there. I was very surprised that she doesn’t speak any foreign language and she goes alone to Albania with her primary school children.
It turned out that our knowledge is kind of useless. Most of the people don’t speak English, nor my mother language (I’ll be surprised if anybody else spoke it). The main languages are Italian, German, some Russian and of course Albanian. They have a really colorful history so many people speak at least one foreign language but English is not included. Most of the youngsters speak English and it looks like primary schoolers learn it too. But if you go to the capital in the summer, then these youngsters are at home in the countryside so it can be a real challenge to find one. Activity skills come in handy.
The language barrier is hardcore when you want to order. The waiters aren’t used to English. It’s a challenge for them to take an order for 7 people. Mostly they don’t have paper and pen with them and try to memorize it. We ate every day in restaurants at least twice a day and only once got all of the dishes that we ordered. (He had paper and pen on him.) Sometimes something was left out or replaced with something else.
You can use lek or euro. Two kinds of leks are in the market. Both of them are approved but the exchange rate is different so be aware. If you want to pay with euro then you can use it. Obviously, you save money if you pay with lek. Sometimes you can pay by card but be ready and have some cash on you for a bus, taxi or just a simple restaurant. You never know if you can use your credit card or not.
The food and restaurants
I think it’s a cultural difference but you get your dish when it’s done. It means that you get the potatoes and after half an hour the meat. Sometimes you are full and your mate didn’t get their soup. You have plenty of time to decide what to order, sometimes we had to wait half an hour for a drink. So be ready to wait.
For breakfast, I recommend the market or the bakery. The fruits and vegetables are really delicious and you find grocery shops everywhere in the city. The watermelon is really awesome in this country as fig and tomato. I could spend my life eating those veggies and fruits. Sadly most restaurants don’t use them but for breakfast, I recommend to drop in the nearest bakery, search for some smoked ham and one of those veggies and start the day with a really strong Albanian coffee. It’ll be a satisfying experience.
If you want a great shopping day in Tirana then go to the market. There are some stands where they fry some macrelas for you. If you don’t want to be scammed then I suggest that you buy from the stand where you see a price.
I think Albanians aren’t heavy drinkers. In my country, it’s not a surprise to drink 4-5 beers or a glass of wine and some spirit on a holiday in one day. Most of the people there drink sugary soft drinks, tea, and some hardcore very black coffee. I didn’t see any locals drinking alcohol. When we went to Kolonial for cocktails. All of the people drank one for hours and left. The usual in my country at least two and you aren’t drunk.
If you come here then try out Korca, the local beer, it has a slight butter flavor, and drink some raki too. I’m not a heavy drinker and my country has the same spirit. It has the same taste too and sadly I’m not a big fan.
Where you can get these?
- When we went to Corovode to Hotel Kanione, they were very rude when we asked for beers and raki and wanted to give us some imported ones that we can buy at home for a much bigger price so maybe this was an exception.
Our headquarter was in the Hotel Town House. It was really great with airconditioned rooms in the center of the town with many stores around and our host was really nice and helped out in every question we had.
If you are a busybody then you should book in different parts of the country because there are many great spots but you should travel much more than we thought. So instead of a main headquarter, I’d prefer many little ones next time.
We sadly slept 1 day at Hotel Kanione in Corovode. Our room was in the in-progress guest house maybe. The roof was partly missing. My ultimate favorite was the used fake crocs in everyone’s room. I think that the hotel was a really bad experience with the waiter and the not so nice host.
Traffic and public transport
We wanted to see the country through the locals’ eyes so we chose public transport for every visit we made. Basically, we toured the country by bus.
If you are the selfdriver type then the traffic conditions. Most of the people here kind of feel the rules and not know the rules. So when you are in a sharp curve then you honk and push the gas pedal. If you want to tell that you can go then you honk, if you want to say I think you have priority you honk and if you want to say I don’t like you then honk. Rules? No one needs that, just as a pedestrian crossing and pedestrian lamps or any kind of lamps. Those are just guidance. So it’s really easy to get used to it but it needs some time. Be aware when you get home because I had some extreme road crossing for 1-2 weeks after Albania.
What you should know about bus stops? They are everywhere but it doesn’t mean it will stop so you should wave if you want to get on. Mostly it’s obvious that you are a tourist so they will stop, but if you are a chameleon and blend in, then wave for the bus. They collect the money on the vehicle after you get on and sit down or just settle. Mostly they begin at the back.
Mainly the staff of the bus doesn’t speak English just German or Italian but we always found some passengers who spoke Albanian and English too. I think the best part of this trip was the bus rides so it’ll be a shame to miss it. It’s really cheap too and the scenery is really beautiful everywhere.
Sadly we weren’t too forehanded and Ksamil was out of range but the upper part of the country has some nice spots that you should visit.
It’s not really a beautiful city. Mostly full of graffiti but the main park is really nice with the lake. I recommend to go there and to get lost on the streets. The old buildings have a nice dynamic and you can catch some interesting details about spending your time here. If somewhere you should not go then locals will warn you.
Like every time, the plan was that we get up early. Eat, conquer the mountain and swim in the lake. So we get up late, searched for food, tried to climb the mountain and went back.
My personal advice for anybody who goes into the woods in Albania is to bring food and water or at least eat before. I live in a country where the highest mountain is basically a hill so when somebody writes on the internet that it will be a light walk in the mountains, I assume a light walk. So it’s a light walk if you’re the children of the mountain.
We got there by bus in the afternoon with the goal to swim so everybody was in their swimsuit and was ready for a 40 minutes walk. At the starting point, they offered us safety lamps for the cave. I was a bit skeptic but the whole target would be pointless without the lamp, so take the lamp.
It was a 1,5-hour walk with a fascinating view. If you are lucky then you’ll see turtles and goats. I don’t really understand the turtle part but we found one so maybe it’s normal there. If you are the snacky type, then you find plums and mulberries. So everything is given for a great adventure.
It’s primarily a very dark cave with many bats and stalactites. In our country, these things are like museums but here you can touch everything (please don’t do but you can). If you choose to go in you’ll need a sweater and it’s muddy and slippery. So be cautious.
Sadly we didn’t get there. The last bus was due at 6 so we didn’t have the time and the stamina to go down and get back. Our self-appointed, local tour guide said that it’s very dangerous to go there because of earlier showers, so we left it at that and went back.
What to bring:
- Lamp from the shop in the beginning of the route
- Sweater and swimsuit
We got a self-appointed tour guide in the beginning who didn’t speak any language. The first impression is that he is a random nice stranger but at the end of the tour, he will ask for money. So be prepared. If you don’t want him to go with you during the tour you should show off at the beginning.
It’s a really nice city with a big ruined castle on the top. At the bus station, we caught a taxi and went straight to the top. The castle is kind of nice but I think the city is more interesting and if you go through the bridge and go up a bit then you find the house of Lorenzo whose hospitality is extraordinary. In a little inner garden, he offers wine, spirit and if you ask beforehand some food too.
We were just in transit here, but I can recommend the castle because the inner catchment is really awesome.
Corovode is a really beautiful part of Albania and if you want to get there from Berat then choose public transport, but a local chauffeur just to be sure. When you want to go through hairpin bend then it can be useful if somebody knows those pins. Those rides are like some fair experience where the ferry was some old machine that you’ll never choose again but really exciting and kind of brings back memories.
It should have been our first rafting but nature called in so we got a guided tour in the river and it was really amazing. You get a full set of clothes, life jacket and helmet and after that the walking tour begins. You can jump off rocks into the river and drift with the tide in the clear water. You just levitate in the clear cool water and go with the river. The hot sun pets your body and the cold water gives the refreshment. The fresh air enters your lungs and the leaves are rustling in front of you in the sky. It’s an amazing experience.
They said that there are some waterfalls too but we were in the middle of a drought so no waterfall for us. Our guide was really cool and considerate of our tempo. We looked like the Teletubbies and behaved like ones too.
After the tour, which took circa 3 hours we got a modest lunch which after the long walk in the water was the best in the whole trip.
Obviously, you can’t bring your phone and other stuff, but you can leave at the starting point and get them after the tour. Our tour guide, Leonidas, brought us with a minibus from Berat and offered to take us back too. But we decided to spend the night in Corovode and took the public transport back to Berat the next day. If you want some amusement park experience then sit at the back, you will enjoy yourself. If you get seasick on the bus then bring some air sickness bags too.
What to bring?
- Shoes that you want to throw away or the ones that you can wear in the water (beach shoes maybe)
- Airsickness bag for the bus
I prefer the city and the mountains. Maybe rivers and some lakes but not the sea. On Lanzarote you see the clear vast water with a sandy shore. In Durres you see the not so clear water with numerous sunbeds on the shore.
We asked beforehand where to go in Durres but we get off a stop before we should and walked here and there so we ended up at the beach for locals. There were many restaurants, some convenience stores and a man who sold mini donuts with artificial strawberry syrup. Most of the “restaurants” prohibit to go in in swimsuit, so we went to a convenience store and bought some pizza at a local. The sand is really hot so take your slippers with you or just enjoy the hot sand.
The water is cold and weedy. The coolest part that you can collect some really nice but small shells and watch people enjoy themselves.
What to bring?
- Something to read
If you buy something from the trolley guy that sells beach stuff, then you can sell those back at the end of the day if it looks unused.
You can go by bus to the city center or catch a taxi. If you choose the bus then 5 minutes upward and you are at the start of the Dajti express. It’s a cable car service that takes you to the top of the mountain. If you are afraid of heights then close your eyes or don’t go there. You are in a little tuna can on a cable up to the mountain but you can see some goats if you look down. The view is amazing you can see the part of the sea from there. I recommend going there at sunset. It’s just magical. There is a nice restaurant on the top and you can go hiking from there to the peak or through the national park.
Overall it was a great holiday and I’d go back anytime for another round.
That you should not forget:
- Money (lek and euro)
- Buy a sim card with internet at the airport
- Turn off your other phone
- Relax, go with the flow