"The sleeping beauty is awake & has 7 leagues boots" Top 5 Page for this destination Albania by JLBG
Albania Travel Guide: 2,166 reviews and 5,875 photos
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).
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 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!
- In a nutshell:A fast changing country! Hurry up to visit!
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