Expat Discovery: Mediterranean Secret

by Miss Footloose

Did you ever think you might visit or go on vacation to, say, Albania?  No?  Well, neither did I.  But one of the good parts of living the expat life is that you end up living or traveling in places you’d never given much thought to and might not have been able to find on a map. Places you very well might have had negative mental images of, like Albania.

Albania is a beautiful, mountainous, Mediterranean country. It’s located on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas across from Italy’s heel and has a dramatic coast line and wonderful beaches. It’s not dark, dangerous or depressing, as so many people who’ve never been there seem to think.

Earlier this month I was there for the second time. I spent some time in Albania a couple of years ago and arrived with a truck load of preconceived ideas and old prejudices. You know, all these horrible dark stories of the Hoxha the Dictator and his oppressive communist regime.  Well, much of that was true in the past, but it’s over now. The younger generation never lived under that regime and is happily trying out capitalism and consumerism wearing skimpy clothes, high heels and iPods.  Cell phones, of course, are everywhere. I was happy to be back to have another look and spend time with old Hash House Harrier friends (see last week’s post).

The easiest thing in the world is to generalize. So I will:  Albanians are friendly people. They like to talk to foreigners and find out about life in other places. They know their country is often considered to be the poorest country in Europe, but they’re in competition with Moldova for that dubious distinction.  (Moldova is where I live right now, but I’m not making any judgments.)

At first glance you wouldn’t think poverty when you arrive in the center of Tirana with its many sidewalk cafés, trendy shops and modern buildings.  This was the view from the window of my hotel room.  The hotel was first class with beautiful gardens, a swimming pool, great service and excellent food.

Then you travel out of the center of town and you see that things aren’t all gleamy glass and steel.

All over Tirana old buildings are cheered up with paint

Out in the country you see scenes like this:

I was hoping these beasts weren’t going to come for me when I took their picture, but fortunately they didn’t move.

I had the opportunity to visit several olive-curing and oil-pressing plants the first time I was there, during the harvest time. We were a few hours drive out of Tirana.

Olives curing in brine. You do not want to eat them straight off the tree, trust me.

At one of the plants we were offered a light lunch prepared by the owner’s wife, who took part in the olive–oil discussion, but sat apart from us while we ate.  I found this a bit uncomfortable and was tempted to tell her to join us at the table, but of course this was not my place, not my country, not my culture and not my business, so I shut up.

Olives, cottage cheese with olive oil, eggplant (aubergine) and bread

Did you know that during communist times, Hoxha the Dictator managed to terrify everybody with the image of the evil Americans coming to invade and conquer?  So he had thousands and thousands of bunkers built in the countryside where soldiers and civilians were supposed to hide and fight the Americans when they invaded.

Someone cheered this one up with paint. Easier than taking these bunkers out.

Everywhere you go you see these bunkers, and some are now being decorated and painted, making lemonade out of lemons so to speak. I’m suggesting designing routes and trails and fitting them out for backpackers and other tourists.

And may I finish with this photo below.  In Tirana there are many fashionable and trendy shops where you can buy lovely clothes and shoes.  However, many people cannot afford those, but no worries: There are lots of more modest shops as well.

No shortage of shoes in Tirana

Want an interesting vacation?  Try Albania.

* * *

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a place you visited?  What preconceived ideas or prejudices did you have and found to be wrong?

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guyana gyal

I used to think that Aussies [based on movies, media stuff] are…well, let’s not repeat the prejudice. I’ve discovered that Australians are some of the kindest, most polite people I’ve ever met!

I think the world is so fascinating and Albania sounds wonderful.
I told my husband that we need to start visiting places that we’ve never thought of before. I wonder what it would be like to rent for 2 months for fun in different countries like Albania. What about healthcare? I have a European passport as well as American. In the future, do you think we could get healthcare for much less in Moldova or Albania. Just wondering.

Yes and yes! I happened into Albania last year and loved it. Headed back for another couple weeks in October, and can’t wait!

Albania, hmmm. Never thought about it, not once, but after this post I am looking it up on wiki and learning a few facts. The world is so big, and it is meant to be travelled. Thanks for sharing your trip! I like the picture of the hanging shoes best:)

Sarah Has Moxie

I have never been to Albania, but I am adding it to my list! I like your idea of making the abandoned bunkers stops for backpackers. We’ve been joking that all of the mini forts and huts and little buildings for shepherds and soldiers scattered throughout the countryside of Spain and Italy would make fine, affordable vacation homes for those who don’t mind roughing it a bit 🙂

I definitely don’t hear much about Albania, so thanks for sharing. Sometimes places are exactly what I think they are going to be like, and other times not. Either way, it’s always an adventure!

Preconceived ideas and also propaganda. I remember having very entertaining conversations with my Azeri language teacher in 1997 when I’d tell her the stories we were fed about how harsh life was under communism and she would tell me the ones they were told about how brutally oppressed we were by capitalism. 🙂

If I go on holiday this year (doubtful, but you never know, I may win the lottery), I will definitely keep Albania in mind.

When I lived in Yugoslavia in 1990, there was apparently quite a bit of tension between the locals and Albanians. I never saw or heard anything to prove that, but when asked later whether I could tell about the upcoming war, I could not recall anybody ever mentioning tension between Yugoslavians themselves!

I’m glad you were able to share some photos and tell about your visits to Albania. You’re absolutely correct about cultures having different perceptions about each other, often not based in accuracy. Being in Europe (or anywhere in the world, for that matter) allows you to explore the many places often deemed ‘too small’ or ‘too antiquated’ to visit. Going to have to put Albania on the travel list, thanks!

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