I feel like I am a real globetrotter right now, and after one amazing adventure I dive into the next. Another, equally amazing.
From Ethiopia, Africa, straight to Albania, Europe.
In a way, both countries are alike, and then they are also totally different. Ethiopia has never been under European influence. Albania has been closed off from the world (and Europe) for decades. As a communist country they weren’t even part of the Warsaw Pact. Before that they have been part of the Ottoman Empire for a very, very long time. Even though they are geographically part of Europe, they couldn’t be more different than us. One would think.
A series of people on a car event in Tirana
I couldn’t be more wrong. How different everything seemed at first sight, it immediately felt like home. Their housing is different, old, in need of restoration. We would say ‘poor’. But they have the same habits as we do, go to modern coffeeshop and restaurants that could have been in any European city. They even look like us.
It is on the first day already, in Tirana, that I lost my heart. My favourite photographic subject is cities with ‘character’, with a soul, that do not look like postcards, where I love to make beautiful what others call ugly. Buenos Aires is top of my list, well Tirana took its (well deserved) place in my list. If you want to go shopping, well, don’t go there, but just to walk around in the alleys, between the buildings, through the buildings, through markets, enjoy, watch people, Tirana is perfect. It’s a city that lives, its vibrant, it’s fun!
From Tirana we drove inland, through villages, small towns, over spectacular mountain roads with amazing views. This is how you get to know the real Albania. Small towns that look like mini Tiranas, villages where everyone comes outside to talk and chat and everyone seems to know everyone. Little hamlets that are dying out because also here, people move to the cities. Old communist era factory towns half in ruins. Driving around is easy, roads are good and distances not too long.
But the most striking is the Albanian people, no matter what their reputation abroad might be (don’t they always play the bad guy in movies?), they are extremely friendly and hospitable, and the country is perfectly safe. They just can’t wait to help you, and when they do, they give you all the time you need. At times ‘help’ is something that comes in handy ; if you want to do something and have no idea how to get it arranged. There is few accommodation for tourists, which does not mean there are no possibilities. ‘Everything is possible in Albania’ is the slogan we used all that time, and that is thanks to its people.
Imagine you want dessert after dinner, it’s late, and the restaurant doesn’t have any. Well, they go to the bakery in town, go and take pictures of what they have, let us chose, then go back to buy it!
They can tag along all day, planning, arranging, guiding, and don’t want one LEK for it.
Reading this, it probably does not surprise you that Albania is a perfectly safe country. With a bit of luck you meet people that speak one of the languages you speak. Many have lived abroad and speak fluent Italian, French, English or Greek. And if they don’t, Google translate is always a good friend!
If you want to read the full report of my trip, check out my travel blog