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I visited Albania last November with some trepidation. After all, the news broadcast here did not represent it as a perfect holiday paradise. Plus everyone associates Albania with the Kosovan crisis, so I was prepared for bombs, guns and possible kidnappings all over the show. I was actually visiting my boyfriend and his family who I had met working in greece in the summer, so I had the advantage of knowing natives and someone could meet me at the airport. I staying in the capital Tirane, flying via Budapest from Heathrow. I was scared for the whole flight, as in Greece Albanians get bad press, and even my well-travelled university travel agency could not remember anyone flying to Albania before. The airport was slightly confusing and a totally different experience from Heathrow where everyone is in orderly lines. In Tirane everyone waved their passports or papers frantically, and no-one spoke English. I hovered terrified beside an english couple, until an official handed us a small form we paid about 50$ and I had my entry visa. I had to say where I was staying so I vaguely said Tirane, (there are few street addresses for families). Outside I was relieved to see my boyfriend Artan, and met his father and sister, who without language made me feel very welcome. So we travelled to his house, I was surprised how green everything was, from the air I had seen beautiful mountains and lakes, much nicer than greece even. ON the ground the roads were terrible, although some people told me the roads are a lot better now having been repaired this year. The roads are better near the greek border than in Tirane's outskirts. There aren't even roads to some houses, we had to walk along a railline to get to his. Everything seemed very poor, there were lots of rubbish piled at the sides of the 'roads', and people stared at me with open curiosity. There are very few British people visiting albana especially where i was. The houses are built by the families, and on the first night all his siblings and relaitons gathered to stare at me, in candlelight as the electricity was switched off at about 6pm every night. I was at first intimidated but after copious amounts of home-made wine and raki, we were all best friends, I communicating through my boyfriend, the only one who spoke English and his brother who spoke French. A lot of my time there was spent in the family home, and all the Albanians were very friendly. Tirane itself struck me as a city with a lot of potential for tourism. It is based around Skanderbeg Square, a large area in the centre surrounded by the museum, opera house and where lots of informal currency exchange is carried out. Be VERY careful changing money there, its very easy to get ripped off fortunately I had a native to help me. There is a nice green park with a very small bad conditioned zoo, contained a lion, and some other cats. I advise visiting the markets, and sitting in a roadside cafe to just take in the atmosphere. If you do want to try this totally different experience, I would say it is essential to know people there before you go, and the best experience would be to stay with a family There are big hotels there, such as the Tirane International but it did not give me an impression of the country as a whole. We also went up in the mountains to his sister's village where I saw a pig being killed, and everyone was still very friendly. I'm not sure of the safety issues at this time, but when I was there, I never felt in danger, in fact quite the opposite. I did see guns but no more than most european countries, and i never saw one fired except once by some children who were quickly scolded by their parents. We didn't go out after dark, and the police were quite present, but it was nothing like Kosova. If you're brave and have some knowledge of what to expect in the Balkans go for it. I'm going back next year.
The information about the welcoming people and a good nature to visit is useful, but nowadays not everybody goes there to people they know. Need information about what to visit in the country, activities etc.
bellalucia 06.11.2003 19:46
Thanks for this op, put my mind at ease. my boyfriend is Albanian, and although he is here in the UK, he wants to take me to meet his family. I've been a bit reluctant due to not knowing what to expect - you've helped me make my mind up to go! Great op x
belinda9 18.04.2001 19:31
I sent some goodies over to Albania for the children, i.e soap, candles, clothes.
A lady came into the shop where I work and she bought a video recorder for the Albanian kids. We donated about 15 videos for them to watch.