Albania was the country so far, where i knew the least about before we travelled there. Originally planning to cycle over Macedonia to Greece after Serbia, we didn’t really look much into information about Albania. Just when we decided to take the train from Belgrade to Podgorica in Montenegro and continue along the coast towards Greece, it happened that we visited Albania. We didn’t know much about this country. In fact i was surprised to learn that Albania was never part of Yugoslavia. Albeit a communist country till the collapse of the Sowjet Union and the East Block, the albanian language is not slavic, and in fact very different from the languages of their neighbours, like italian, greek or serbian. According to what i heard, in opposition to Yugoslavia, which was quite powerful and whose people enjoyed a considerable wealth and freedom of travel, Albania was very closed at that time.
Accordingly, what we heard before we came to Albania was ranging mostly from slight worried feelings to upright warnings: “Don’t go there, it’s bad people”. But what we experienced in the end was quite the opposite. We found people that were pragmatically helpful and hospitable. Our question to camp in someones garden was often answered with an invitation into their homes. We played two concerts in Tirana, one of it in the alternative art space and bar Tirana Ekspres whose owner met us in the morning of the gig and suggested to play a concert in the same night and found us a place to stay for the weekend. Another time in some touristy ghost town a fruit seller invited us to stay in his empty holiday apartment for free. In general i found that the people in Albania are aware of some prejudices against them, maybe more than it actually exists , and are very eager to correct this image. Additionally we found some very scenic landscapes there, and nice and super cheap food (The price for a Burek with spinage or feta ranged from around 50 cent to 1€, two of that and i was completely full). So in general, i can say that we had a really good time there and sooner or later i would like to visit again. Especially the mountainous inner Albania, away from the sea, wich is apparently very beautiful, we didn’t really get the chance to see, due to our route along the coast.

The town of Lezhe, in the north of Albania
Very abundant in Albania: gas stations. Maybe only superceeded by the number of car washs or old german Mercedes cars.
The first family who offered us a place to stay in the garden. Originally we just wanted to ask if we may camp in their garden, but the son on the right ran to me and gave me a hug, before we even could say something. The communication afterwards was mostly relying on translator-apps, aswell as friends they called to translate beween us.
Although not really celebrating christmas, and the majority being kind of very moderate muslims, many houses we’re covered in blinking LED-shows, and we saw many christmas trees.
And in the city center of Tirana, in addition to a huge christmas market, every government building was wrapped up as a present.
What was also quite ubiquitous, were these kitschy, posh kind of pallaces. Often hotels or restaurants.
One of a few mosaics with a communist theme, usually they were in bad condition, but this one was still okay. It was randomly placed next to a gas station in the middle of nowhere.
Arguably the biggest mosaic in Albania, decorating the front of the National Museum in Tirana
Wild herbs and an empty public book shelf. It’s the first time i see a public book shelf empty. Not sure if it’s a good sign, and there is a high demand for books, or if no one bothers putting some inside. Let’s hope for the first.
We spend two nights in this ghost town at the beach. In the summer it’s apparently full of life, but when we stayed there, in an empty holiday apartment, nicely provided by a fruit vendor, we met on the beach, we were kind of the only people there. The guy, who grew up in the village close to there, said he stills remembers how this was a forrest, not more than 10 years before. Now it’s all covered with apartment complexes and hotels, wich only come to live in the holiday season in summer. During our travels along the mediterranean coast during the winter, we stayed several times in those kind of “ghost towns”. But here the past of this place as a forrest is still visible in form of pine trees shattered all across the muddy roads. It’s visible that this past is not long before, and that the change happened very fast and without much planning.

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