"The sleeping beauty is awake & has 7 leagues boots" Top 5 Page for this destination Albania by JLBG

Albania Travel Guide: 2,136 reviews and 5,748 photos

Albania, a "different" country.

Albania is among the smallest countries of continental Europe with 28 748 km2. Only Macedonia (25 333), Slovenia (20 273) and Luxembourg (2 586) are smaller, not taking into account micro-states that should not exist (Monaco, Andorra, Lichtenstein and Vatican).

In June 2002, the population of Albania was just over 3 millions.

In 2000, the Gross Domestic Product (GPD) was 1 300 $ per capita. In 2006 (last data available) Albania had significantly improved its GPD (2 898 $), though it remained almost the lowest in Europe, together with three neighbors, Bosnia & Herzegovina (2 894 $), Macedonia (3 059 $) and Serbia (4220 $), and ranked 93/179 worldwide. The other neighbors of Albania have a much higher GPD : Croatia (9 558 $), Slovenia (18 610 $) and Greece (27 610 $). Of course, GPD does not mean everything as it does not take into account informal economy, which, in the case of Albania might add as much as 50% to the GDP, following specialists, but nevertheless, these data must no be forgotten. Compared with the other side of the Mediterranean, the GPD values of Albania are between Morocco (1 886 $) and Algeria (3 413 $) or Tunisia (2 982 $).

Albania is on several accounts a special country and I have for a long time dreamed to visit it.

It is a special country because its people speak a language that is closely connected neither to the Slavic languages, nor to the Romance languages, nor to the Germanic languages! It is single in its family! (look at my language tip under "custom").

It is a special country because, though in the center of Europe and standing close to many of us, it has never been a destination for visitors and for half a century, it was a forbidden destination. The only possible link was until 1991, radio Tirana, broadcasting in every possible language in the world.

It is a special country because, though it has long been a Communist country, it has never been a USSR satellite, it did not remain long a friend of PRC (People's Republic of China) and distrusted Yugoslavia! It considered itself as the only true and genuine Marxist Leninist country, beware of false prophets! Until 1991, Albania was the poor and lonely prophet for Marxism Leninism! After 1991, there was no Marxism Leninism anymore and Albania was still poor (may be even more in the beginning) and was still lonely (but that will not last).

First visit in 1988

When in 1988, I found that a small travel agency that proposed ecological travels with small groups had on schedule a trip in Albania to watch birds, other animals and plants, I soon booked. Luckily the regime was a bit smoother since Enver Hoxja's death in 1985 and instead of one or two thousands visitors per year, they were in the 10,000 range. During Hoxha time, I would not have been granted a visa because of my beard or I would have had to shave it! If I had got a visa with a beardless photo, I would have been shaven at the border: a beard was permitted providing that there was a large shaven area between sideboards and start of beard. Should the authorities at the border not be happy in this respect, hair or/and beard would have been cut by the custom barber!

Altogether, I have been in Albania in 1988 for 11 days across the whole country, for a day trip in Shkodër in 2005 and for a week-long visit in 2007. I know I have only seen a little part of the country and I plan to have other visits.

The sleeping beauty is now awaken ...

The sleeping beauty is now awaken and has put on the seven-leagues boots

When we were in Albania in late May 2007, I began to think about what updates I would write on my VT page. One key word appeared in my mind, which was “schizophrenia”. Amazingly, once back home, I had a look at a French run web site called “Courrier des Balkans” (Balkans Mail) that among other features gives the French translation of significant newspaper articles from the various Balkanic states. I found an article written on May 2007 20th by the Albanian writer Kiço Blushi in the Gazeta Shqiptare , and entitled “Is the Albanian society disintegrating?” … and he was focusing on the schizophrenic behavior of his country people.

His argument was that there is on one side “my Albania” which is the inside of the house, the family network, the family heritage, etc… For this Albania, every Albanian is ready to fight and to protect it. And on the other side the “other Albania”, that does not belong to anybody, without any blood links and for which nobody cares. After the collapse of the dictatorship, the Albanian have renovated their bathrooms, their sofas, those that were wealthy enough bought luxury cars for their “little Albania”. But the roads used by these luxury cars, the common parts of the buildings, everything that was run by the State, is left in poor condition, not kept by anybody as the people consider that they are “property of nobody”. The author ends by saying that there is an urgent need to reunite these two Albania and to put an end to the “schizophrenia”.

This fits perfectly with what we have seen during our (too short!) 2007 week in Albania. In every hotel or restaurant we went, everything was amazingly clean and there was always someone cleaning. Most of the time, that was not the case with public spaces such as road sides, etc….

However, what was the most striking during our 2007 visit was that almost every grey building from the Enver Hoxha period had been painted with bright colors, that new buildings and new houses were sprouting like mushrooms everywhere in the country (much more in the south than in the north, though). Some were already finished and either used as offices or inhabited, other (a great many!) were yet unfinished. That arises several questions.
Where do the money come from? The country remains very poor but there is obviously a lot of money flowing.

Even though there was an evident need for new or renovated housing, is it not going to be very soon an excess of apartments or houses? When very large houses are been built, are they designed for large families or for renting to tourists? In 2007, most tourists were locals: Albanians and Kosovars, together with a significant number of Greeks. Other nationalities were occasional.

Albania changes at a very fast pace! Visit it while it is still a “different” country! Will it last? May be! Let us hope so but this is far from sure!

Pros and Cons
  • In a nutshell:A fast changing country! Hurry up to visit!
  • Last visit to Albania: May 2011
  • Intro Updated Aug 28, 2011
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Reviews (60)

Comments (38)

  • giampiero6's Profile Photo
    Jul 29, 2011 at 10:35 PM

    Wonderful and interesting page. I agree. Albania certainly has some promise

  • Aitana's Profile Photo
    Sep 3, 2010 at 11:56 AM

    Hi Jean Louis. Your page on Albania is very interesting. I know so little about this country! A great page.

  • jlking's Profile Photo
    Aug 9, 2010 at 9:13 AM

    lotsa good info ! going in sept 10. by the way lonely planet books are great; have used them all over the world. & f.y.i. the singular & plural of sheep is sheep ! it's sheep whether it's one or one thousand !

  • Veroali's Profile Photo
    Jun 11, 2010 at 11:20 PM

    Great page! Thanks for the information.

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Feb 28, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    Hello, Jean-Louis! Thanks for your virtual tour and information!

  • hopang's Profile Photo
    Oct 21, 2009 at 6:26 AM

    Excellent overview of Albania with lots of stunning images. Butrint, Albanian Riviera, Appolonia, Durrësi and Tirana certainly look wonderful and interesting to visit and explore. Thanks for the virtual tour. ~ho & pang

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Jul 31, 2009 at 3:45 PM

    They are getting newspaper press here over politics and elections. Thought I would see your viewpoint. Thank you for the insight-great show

  • 850prc's Profile Photo
    Jan 24, 2009 at 6:38 PM

    Outstanding then and now page. I was mesmerized by your 1988 photos, lifting the veil so to speak on the 1980s Albania. Very interesting.

  • Mikebb's Profile Photo
    Jan 15, 2009 at 9:24 PM

    Albania looks as though it has not changed much during the 20th century. In this modern world international cities look much the same. It is nice to see a country retain its lifestyle.

  • jumpingnorman's Profile Photo
    Dec 11, 2008 at 8:43 PM

    Nice page on Albania! I wonder if I'll ever visit this place...nice tips, thanks! Happy Holidays too! Norman

JLBG

“I believe that tourists are very valuable to the modern world. It is very difficult to hate people you know. (Steinbeck)”

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