48 hours exploring in Albania
I really wanted to go to Albania, a country that, until a few years ago, was completely unknown to tourism—but that is currently beginning to open up to Europe and the world. Now, more and more foreigners are coming to enjoy the country and meet its people. They also say that it is one of the most beautiful countries in terms of its flora and spectacular landscape...another reason for which I wanted to go visit.
Traveling around Albania for 2 days
This day started at noon when we arrived in Tirana, the capital and largest city of Albania. This city is located in the central-western part of the country and is well known for its colorful buildings, built throughout the Ottoman, Fascist and Soviet times.
It is interesting to observe its citizens, who even today are not completely used to tourism and foreign people—some moments we even felt observed by them. As we progressed with the trip, we realized that this used to happen more in the capital city—and that, in the more rural areas, we even felt at home.
Visit a Bunker (Bunk'Art 2)
The whole country has a large number of Bunkers since the dictator Enver Hoxha was obsessed with the fact that the rest of the countries wanted to invade Albania. My obsession he ordered 175 million bunkers to be built. Many of these bunkers are still standing, some of them even renovated.
We are about to visit one that was rebuilt in a museum (Bunk'Art 2). This bunker is from the same time as the dictatorship of the Communist Party of Enver Hoxha. On the other side of this bunker, we can find many visions of Albania’s history and the cruel dictatorship of the communist government that once served the nation. The entrance fee is 300 lex (less than 4€) and worth it, as it is an opportunity to learn a little more about the country’s history— its political and military evolution, wars, spy communication systems, its derailment of the forces of the Order, and much more.
From Tirana to Berat
After a short but intense day in Tirana, we drove to Berat, also known as the city of a thousand windows or museum city. It is considered the oldest city in Albania whose first settlements date back to the 6th century BC. In 2008 UNESCO declared the historic center of Berat as a World Heritage Site.
The landscape on the way between these two cities is beautiful and full of perfectly cared for and preserved natural parks. Just to enjoy the views, Albania is well worth a visit.
The second day we woke up very hot, almost touching 40ºC, which made it hard to get down to work. We went to the historic center to see the old buildings that are super traditional-looking and have many small windows (hence the nickname of the city) that look like eyes watching you. These little houses are "hanging" on the slopes of the mountainous terrain and make the landscape picturesque.
This municipality is also divided into 3 parts delimited by mountains and a river: the Christian neighborhood of Gorica, the Muslim neighborhood of Mangalem, and the Kajala neighborhood, located at the top of the hill where the castle stands.
At the top of the slope, in the middle of the city, we found an immense castle with its respective walled area—where we could still find a small group of houses in which people continue to live. From that height, we could see how the Berat houses come together in a way that almost looked like a puzzle of stone houses. Nearby we could find the slender minarets of the mosques, whose call to prayer is mixed with the hubbub of daily life in the city. In general, it is a city that does not have many monuments to visit, but the city is itself a monument of great beauty and splendor.
Despite being such a small country, in Albania, we can find a mixture of cultures, that affect its gastronomy. We could say is a mix between the Mediterranean diet, some influences from Greece and Italy—although they also have typical dishes such as Byrek, Fërgesë, Tavë Kosi or the well-known Baklavas. In addition to having some delicious dishes, they also have very affordable prices.
Before you travel
- Albanian people speak Albanian—a language that has no roots in any other language, so it is quite difficult to learn. The vast majority of its inhabitants can also speak Italian, due to its proximity to this country. We also met people that spoke English, still Italian and Albanian are the two most common languages, especially in more rural areas.
- Change your money to the Albanian Lekë in exchange houses, never on the street even if they offer you better rates. Another option is to make the change in the hotel where you stay or in the banks.
- Public transport in Albania is a mystery since there are hardly any bus stops or bus stations to move between different parts of the country. I would be highly recommended to rent some type of car, to be able to move around the country easily.