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While on holiday in Corfu this year we took a day trip over to the small town of Saranda in Albania. Security was very tight, passports were scrutinised and armed police were swarming all over the port when we arrived. We were quickly whisked away by coach to a very posh hotel for coffee and to buy postcards. We were then taken by coach to the acient ruins of a town called Butrinti. The roads were terrible, some no more than dirt tracks and they passed through or by small villages with tiny shacks for living in and decrepid old bulidings all but fallen down. The ruins at Butrinti were magnificent, we were split into groups and followed a tour guide around who told us everything about the place. It was an amazing site, very well protected and cared for and well worth the twelve pounds we paid to see it. On returning to Saranda we were given lunch, nothing spectacular but quite a nice mixture of cheese, salad vegetables and meat, buffet style. After lunch we followed a guide around Saranda, she pointed out the important things like the school, hospital, town hall and police station etc. We were never allowed to go anywhere on our own, we were told it was for our own safety. While we took the tour of Saranda we were followed by about 5-6 small children between the ages of 6 & 10, they were selling hand croched table mats that their mothers and sisters had made, thet were very persistent but on the other hand sweet and innocent and amusing. My expectations of Albania were very different from what I saw, the streets are terrible and away from the centre of town it is like a grotto, a lot of derelict buildings decay and rubbish. A lot of money needs to be pumped in to make it a serious tourits place but if you are looking for a different sort of travel experience then this is the place to go, but only for the day.
Do you really want to go to Albania? Well I tell you that if you do, you really won't be able to see many landmarks, but a lot of refugees or destroyed homes. I went there last week on a business meeting and we had a local tour around the capital and villages around it. I saw a load of children looking starved from the neck downwards, no proper sanitation and no sense of hygiene whatsoever. The roads were mud swollen where there wasn't tarmac, and most of the buildings were in a dysfunctional state of repair. It just so happens that I was staying in a hotel that night, which was actually quite welcoming. I saw a shop called something really rude in English, yet the stuff over there is really cheap in what we call 'supermarkets', yet every corner I turned in my suit there was a beggar wanting money or someone trying to sell me something - like postcards or sex. I'm all for charities that help, but I don't feel charitable around these people. Word of advice if you are visiting Albania - go in a group, and have you stay structured. It isn't really an area to relax in, so keep your guard at all times. Advantages: Cheap flights Cheap food Disadvantages: The villages around the capital The price of the top hotels Areas of redundance around the city The homeless people asking for money, making hand signals as if they want to throttle you IJC
Switch the News at Ten off, stop reading news.bbc.co.uk - Albania is a fabulous place. I suppose this deserves a little background. I travelled to Albania as a business traveller, working for The British Council - the UK's cultural embassy abroad. That doesn't mean we're treated like diplomats, it's just a UK government agency. It does mean that I was there with people who could show me around personally, and not as part of a large group. And OK, I stayed in the nicest hotel in Albania (the Rogner in Tirana - probably the nicest hotel I've *ever* stayed in, if not just for the view of the gardens & pool) for some of the time. But that doesn't explain it either. The people and the coast make Albania what it is. This region has some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. The tiny minority make the news - with their ethnic cleansing, violence and hatred - but the vast majority of people are easy going, laid back and welcoming. We drove down the coast for about 4 hours to a place whose name now escapes me. It was tiny, a little village down the side of a mountain. The countryside is spectacular - my command of the English language isn't able to do it justice. We found someone who would take us out on an inflatable boat with an outboard motor. An hour further up the coast we came across a perfect bay - deserted but for a shack selling cold beers and coffee! I don't quite know who the target audience for this place was, I don't really think they'd done their research :-). Suffice to say we were glad for it. After messing about on the beach for a bit we got back on the boat and went about half a mile out to swim. The water is (seems, at least) clean and warm, you're in the middle of nowhere... it really is bliss. Someone spotted a fishing boat in the distance, and thoughts of dinner had us speeding across the water to meet it. We bought a crayfish, still alive, from the
bloke on the boat - us trying to hang on from our little dingy as he tried to pass this thing over. The local restaurant cooked it for us that night, as we sat overlooking the beach with our olive oil, bread and a glass of Albanian wine. Tirana is a bit more hectic, and a bit less beautiful, but still worth a visit. They are trying to make it a nicer place to visit, opening up a large area in the middle of the city as a new park. There's plenty to see and do, certainly for a weekend. Anyone with a few thousand quid loose in their pocket should seriously consider buying some land on the coast. In 10 years I truly believe it'll be a top tourist destination. The country will sort its problems out and people will realise just how beautiful it is. UK Citizens don't need a visa, but there is a US$10 entry & exit charge, payable in cash at the airport. Customs were OK, but don't try anything funny! Swissair fly from Zurich, with regular connections to London. Albanian Airlines probably do a UK connection as well - but we flew Prishtina - Tirana and that was enough for me. I didn't think Tupolev's were still in service... :-) If anyone goes, let me know...
Albania's meant to be one of the most interesting places in Europe to visit with all the old ruins and archaeological sites, and it's cheap too, so i guess it would appeal to a lot of people. Ufortunatly i had the bad luck to be taken in by this and gave up a whole day of my great 2 weeks in Corfu (visit my review)to check it out......I am surprised i came back alive. The scorching heat was desert-like, and though the country is renound for cheap drinks, i would pay anyone good money if they could find anywhere that actually sells anything to drink (or eat) that was at least safe. To make matters worse you're likely to be driven around on tours in blazing hot coaches with no air conditioning, a driver who obviously has never even heard of a driving test and taken on a trip up a mountain on single -laned roads with a cliff drop to your right, and then be confronted with a coach passing the opposite way. If this isn't enought to put you off ever going anywhere near the country, i'll tell you that the sanitary state of things is indescribable. To be blunt- eveywhere you look there's sh*t, human sewage, rotting animals, mangy strays, beggars, starving , dirty children and biting insects. Even if you leave the place alive you'll come out looking like you've been eaten alive by bugs, filthy and will probably have picked up a disease along the way.
The Republic of Albania (Albanian: Republika e Shqipërisë) is a Balkan country in Southeastern Europe. It borders Montenegro on the north, the Serbian province of Kosovo on the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia on the east, and Greece on the south. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the west and a coast on the Ionian Sea to the southwest. Despite having a troubled history, the country has been classified as an emerging democracy since the 1990s. Albania has played a relevant role in managing inter-ethnic tensions in southeastern Europe and is continuing to work toward joining NATO and the European Union.