Albania

Albania isn’t the first Mediterranean destination one thinks of for a summer visit, but it was the one European country I always wanted to visit when I was at school. Why? Because you couldn’t back then, frankly.

Boyish excitement took over as we approached the border from Macedonia. The universal rule for all border crossings (and particularly those with guards wearing huge guns) is never take photos. Oops. Since when do kids ever listen anyway?

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Once inside, the country is still more peasant than present, at least compared to the rest of the Europe.

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Okay, carts are in the minority compared with cars, but the old way of life still remains.  A couple of hours later we were in the capital,  Tirana, which was altogether a different story. Cars everywhere, going nowhere, and horns being sounded incessantly. A little bit like a mini-Cairo, which still remains the most impressive traffic jam I’ve ever sat in.

I always enjoy exploring places with very few other tourists around. Tirana is a bit like that. Plenty of signs of Communism remain, interspersed with the ubiquitous national hero, a chap called Skanderbeg, who seemingly defended his country almost single-handedly against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. The barman in our hotel spoke very highly of him anyway. I think he appreciated us taking an interest as we were offered a beer on the house. The next day we were to visit the Skanderbeg Museum, which was pretty interesting.

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The stay in Albania was relatively brief, and I would have liked a day or two more there. After all, I haven’t seen ‘Piglet Stink’ on offer in any other restaurants on my travels. As we travelled though the countryside en route to Montenegro, we saw dozens of these:

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Apparently there are 750, 000 of these across Albania, concrete bunkers to protect the people under Communist rule. They were built so well that they are almost impossible to take apart and remove.  Bomb proof indeed….

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