Visit Albania, A view through my eyes
Visiting Albania for the first time just over 10 years ago gave me an experience that stays with me and I reflect upon often.
The frequent (and long lasting) power cuts, loose dogs roaming the streets, buildings looking old and fragile, half built houses, old broken roads (filled with push bikes and pedestrians) and obvious signs of male superiority. All this alongside the talk of ongoing corruption and crime. It was like travelling back deep into the ‘olden’ days, no sign of modernisation or westernisation, a broken country.
Visit Albania and look deeper under the skin and you would have noticed life. Traditional villages with quaint houses, traditional homemade foods, the aromas, the schools, the vibrant colours of fresh fruit and veg being sold along every street. The little family bakers, butchers and shops, the friendly and welcoming village people, the family houses all together supporting and helping one another. It was like one big happy family, each village a family of its own.
Looking at Albania today, 10 years on, it has caught up with the rest of Eastern Europe so much so, that it was in the Telegraphs top 20 countries to visit in 2015. Many other travel guides suggest ‘now is the time to visit’ and places it in the top 10 countries to visit for 2016. It’s natural beauty is exactly that, beautiful.
Staying in the north, in the city Shkoder, travelling further outside the city has real hidden gems. Lake Koman, a long boat journey up a valley with clear blue winding waters flowing between gorgeous mountains. Then on to a village called Valbone, situated in the valley of the river Valbona which is known as Valbonë Valley National Park. The road winds along the Valbona river with outstanding beauty points, waterfalls and look out points. At the end, small lodge hotels and cabins make a great get away. The higher altitudes means that at the prime of summer, jumper, trousers and jackets are a must but with the mountain trails, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, forestry it is worth it. There is lots of nature’s beauty’s all in one.
City life has evolved with bars and cafes no longer filled with men, but with women too, groups of girlfriends, husband and wife’s, friends and family. Restaurants have become child friendly with play parks and mini farms, always full of families creating hubs for family time. The beaches have established promenades, fun fairs and creating a night life atmosphere. Nightclubs have appeared and concerts are more popular. Tirana has become a popular concert location for many high profile artists with major concerts showing an appreciation that fans come from all round the world, not just the big countries.
Bringing my focus back to home, when you visit Albania now, somethings however haven’t changed since that first visit, since every visit and I hope they never will.
In our village (and most villages) fruits and vegetables for cooking and eating are still grown in the gardens, larger lands are used for growing to sell grapes, peppers and watermelons to name a few. Farm animals are kept to help sustain everyday living, chicken for eggs and cows for milk, families swapping like for like. Cooking methods remain the same, smoking meat for days ready for the years supply, big silver trays for large pies, cakes and dishes, handfuls of ingredients and watching the baking by eye without the use of equipment or timers.
Families still live together on the same land, village women gathering together at home to ‘gossip’ while men socialise over coffee. Greeting visitors elder male first, serving sweets and drinks on silver trays. The combinations of greetings, handshakes, kisses and ‘good morning, good day, good evening’ phrases. Unlocked doors, allowing family to wonder in and out the houses.
The night time silence and brightness of stars – it is peaceful, you can see all the stars with little sign of any pollution and I love this, however, the cockerels still ‘talk’ at all hours in the morning. I will never become a fan.
Lastly, the acceptance. The feeling of belonging to family. Everyone I meet whether family, friends or other village goers they accept me who I am, how I am and have high respect for me taking on a different culture, language and life in my stride. Honour and respect lives deep in Albania. They love tourists, visitors and welcome you with open arms.
Visit Albania, spend a few days, see for yourself.