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First visit in Albania

November 10th to 12th 2000

Before leaving

Since september I go out with Elona. We met each other in the student housing in Paris but she is Albanian and from october to february she's in Albania so I decided to visit her. Go to Albania is not vbery practical. There is no direct flight from Amsterdam and only a few airlines go there with less than a flight a day each. I took Swissair and my flight was leaving at 9h40, I was transferring in Zurich at 11h55 and I was arriving in Tirana at 14h10. So I had to take my friday off because otherwise I get there saturday afternoon and leave sunday afternoon, at 3pm.

I caught fever n my trip to New York (probably in the plane), and, even better, I began to have diarrhea before I left. Very practical to travel. So the flight have been hard but I gothere with (relatively) few problems

The Arrival

When I go over Albania, I found i beautiful. Lots of mountain and Tirana, the capital, is in the midle of a valley, not far from the sea. We landed and I look at it more closely. The airport is small and not very well maintained. In a corner there is remains of old planes and the control tower looks like it's going to collapse" The bus waiting for us to take us to the "terminus" is an old Frenc bus from the seventies. Inside there was still publicity for french minitel and everything was written in French.

I had heard f an entry tax in Albania. I had heard numbers from 10US$ to 45US$. I had taken around 100 so I was sure to have enough. I passed the customs easily and went to the cashier.... 50US$. Well, it costs what it costs.

Elona had told me to expect something different  from other airports, that she couldn't wait for me inside and that "taxies" were going to propose me lifts and that I had to say no. Effectively, all this happened. In the corridor to the exit, weird guys were whispering "Taxi?" at me. Finally I found myself outside. In the parking space there was a lot of people waiting for travellers. In the middle of the parking, policemen were stopping people from going further. After a few secnds I saw Elona coming to me. We could not kiss on th lips because the taxi driver is a neighbour of her and it would look bad, well, I was expecting this.

To Tirana

There is a lot of people in the parjking of the airport. It's hard to know exactly what they're doing there but I didn't ask myself too many questions and we went to the car. It's a old Mercedes from the 70ies, the kind without a safety belt in the back. We left and I began to see Albania

Roads are very bad and dusty. People drive like in southern Italy, the horn is the king. On the side of the roads, there is a lot of houses in construction, or in destruction, or we don't really know. Everywhere on the side of the road, ther eis people standing, looking at cars passing. Sometimes, and old woman wlaks her cow with a rope.

There is bunkers everywhere. Hills are covered with it. Pretty small, not many more than 1 person can enter in it. Simple concrete domes with an opening to shoot and and exit on the back. Apparently, they were built to fight against a generic "exterior enemy"

It's important to know that ALbania was a communist country, more communist than the communists. They broke up with the Yugoslavs, then the Russians, then the Chinese because they were not pure communists enough to ALbanian government's tastes. Finally,in 1979, they went on their own until the begining of the nineties when the country began to open (well, if you own 50US$)


We finally got to Tirana. The town is very dusty. There is Mercedes everywhere. It's crazy to see that many... wonder where they come from. We first went to Elona's sister's mother in law where I was going to stay for the weekend because ther eis not enough place at ELona's parent's place. She don't speak French or English so Elona was translating. She was very nice. Inside the house it's beautiful, we don't expect that looking from the street but I think people take a lot of care of the interior of their house but not of the state of streets and sidewalks

After going to the "seven eleven", we went to her parents. Again, it was very nice inside. Her father, Mina, speaks french very well but her mother,Betty, don't speak french or english so the others had to translate. After talking a little, we went to the table. Unfortunately, I was sick so I almost ate nothing. It's too bad because what they did was very good (I tasted everything that didn't contain dairy products). It have been like that all weekend: no appetite.


That evening, Elona had planed to take me to a magician show. The show began, in Albania of course so ELona was translating most of it to me. Since we were in 2nd row, Nadir noticed it  and he spotted me. At one point he asked me something. Of course I was not paying attention to what he was saying since I wa snot understanding so it took me a while to realize that he was speaking to me in english. He asked me where I was from and if I was understanding Albanian. He told me :"So you don't understand anything I'm saying since the begining of the show." no. He asked me for one dollar and I gave him so he did a trick with it.

He did the classing folding trick and changed it to a 1000 lekë bill, which is about 7 or  8 dollars. But I didn't know at this point ( I was totally dependant of ELona, I would have been lost without her... well, I guess I would have manged to handle it) HE did some jokes and finally rechanged it to a 1$.

Later he asked me to go on the scene. I was sure it was going to happen and I wa snot exactly feeling like it, remember i was sick. I had headaches and I was feeling dizzy but I went anyway. HE showed me a pair of scissors and asked me if my mother was a tailor, I said no, he said it's a shame. He asked someone else to go on the scene and asked me to cut his tie. I played the game and began to cut. It was stupind right-handed scissor so I did a shitty job but I almost did it and he said "STOOOOOOOP, it was a joke, what do we do, I didn't think you were going to do it" He took a rope and said it's all he have to replace it and asked the guy if ti wa sok. I was thinking it was a beautiful tie but the guy didnt seem to agree. Finally, he burned it. He began to play with, me telling me I should pay the tie and everyhting, but this time I was the one not agreeing. Then he did his trick and made the tie reappear and everyone was happy, I was begin to want to sit down very much.


Next morning we went to visit the village (sory, the town) of Kruje. It was visible from the airport, in the montain. We took the same taxi and began to climb small roads with alot of turns. It was good to be out of the valley, we were immediately smelling the pure air.

The town is built around an old fortress. The government had built a museum to the memory of the Albanian national hero : Skanderberg. For those who don't know him, Skanderberg was a military leader in the 15th century who resisted the Turk invasion for 30 years. I have beatten many more powerful turk armies and is considered a military genius. The fortress of Kruje have been sieged by the Turks and it's told that Skanderberg made the leave by throwing a cow at them which have been fed with the last reserves of wheat. when they saw it's belly was full of wheat, they tought the siege was going to stay very ong so they left, after 6 months.

The view from Kruje is superb. We see the sea and the valley where Tirana is. We took it easy, visited the museum and the market. In the middle of the afternoon, we left becaus eI was getting tired.

After a nap, we went to Elona's parents and we went to the restaurents, A nice place, the Carlsberg, but again I almost didn't eat and we went to bed early.

Last day

Il woke up pretty late, took my shower lightened with a candle because there wa no electricity. Then I heroically managed to eat a banana and an hard boiled egg. Not easy. We went to ELona's parents because her father had to leave around noon. We talked a little and her mother did a semi liquid rice, supposed to be good for diarrhea, but again I had no appetite.

At 1h30, we had to go to the airport. Weekend have been short but since I was sick, I could not to make the best of it, it will be for next time.

Flags courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.

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