Saturday, November 05, 2016

Adventures in Albania

Last July a close friend of mine visited Albania for a family wedding. She is a former writer for Michelin guidebooks, and drafted a marvelous account of her travels there with her family and its new Albanian members --her nephew married a girl from Tirana. This is the first installment of a very long and interesting story about travelling in a little-known country.

Getting to Albania from North America took quite a while, but on arrival in the mountainous country's only airport at Tirana, she was pleased to find the airport was very' modern and managed by Lufthansa. After exchanging money, she and her party "entered Tirana along a four-lane boulevard lined with palm trees and endless shops and office buildings, but with distant views of rugged mountains lit by rays of late afternoon sun. No rain, no fog, no sense of impending Kadare-esque doom. The city itself is on a vast plateau..." Ismail Kadare is one of Albania's best-known writers, and apparently his books paint a grim picture of the country.

The group stayed at a family-owned hotel on a narrow, tree-lined street called the City Hotel. My friend found it "small, modern and comfortable, with air-conditioning but no elevator. The front desk was occupied at all hours by friendly young women speaking excellent English. Although set in a bustling area, the hotel is in a small alley so was surprisingly quiet. It cost about $40 U.S. a night, plus $7 for breakfast."

This is a very good price for a nice hotel in Europe during the summer. Unfortunately it is the only price she noted, but I assume costs outside the capital were probably mostly even lower. To make it more convenient, the Albanian lek traded at about 1,000 to the U.S. dollar.

The day after they arrived her group attended a wedding that included feasting and dancing till dawn. It sounded a lot like the nuptials featured in the film "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," and indeed Albania has a lot of Greek influence, especially in the southern part of the country.

I'll be relaying more of her adventures later on. Until I read this account, I never had much interest in the country, but now I am fascinated by it.


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