Albania and other parts of the former Yugoslav Republic were never on my list of places to visit, and yet this September, I found myself on a Balkan Roadtrip with my boyfriend Jacob and a busload of amazing Australians. We set off from Saranda after a chaotic ferry trip from Corfu, Greece, and immediately were shocked by the country’s transformation after the fall of Communism in 1991. Most of the information that our guide imparted about this part of Albanian history was news to me, and I do offer a caveat that the facts mentioned in this blog are based upon conversations with our guide, not heavy historical research.
Our three-day trip started in Southern Albania, where Jacob and I pulled out roughly $100 USD for spending money for both of us. On our first day, we were stunned by the gorgeous Southern Albanian coastline, where we had lunch–local beers and pasta for less than $7 USD–and marveled at the stellar blue waters. We stopped by a natural spring waterfall and a former Communist checkpoint over looking a large valley before ending up in Berat to spend the first evening.
Berat–known as the City of a Thousand Windows–was certainly the highlight of our trip. We began our adventures here by joining locals in their traditional evening stroll, known as the xhiro. Jacob and I might have been the only blonde couple enjoying a lovely dusk walk on the main promenade, but we greatly enjoyed this part of their culture. Our group stayed at what our guide called “the best hotel in town,” and the Hotel Mangalemi was a quaint treat. Some our our group enjoyed dinner at their darling outdoor restaurant, and it was a delicious (and inexpensive) traditional Albanian meal.
The next morning, we explored more of Berat, which seemed to have Moorish architectural influence. An early tour of Berat Castle, which overlooked the town from all directions, is a must…especially after learning about two early manuscripts of the Bible’s Book of Matthew found in a Byzantine church there. The history of this area was fascinating, and I recommend reading up on it prior to the journey, just because it is so rich.
We headed on after Berat to the capitol city of Tirana, which was not a charming as what we discovered in Southern Albania. Buildings there were stark, and one could tell that while Tirana has come a long way since 1991, it had a long way to go before it would become a major destination city in Europe. Our group made the most of it–and a surprise downpour which flooded the streets–by exploring the local nightlife scene at Radio.
The final day, we left dreary Tirana for the Montenegro border, and when we arrived in glamorous Kotor, many of us felt that we would have rather spent the previous night there, exploring the stunningly beautiful walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our trip ended in Dubrovnik, Croatia, where most of us on the tour spent a few days exploring on our own (which will be featured separately in a blog post soon). By the time our tour ended, Jacob and I had $20 left to tip our guide and new Aussie friends that we are looking forward to seeing again soon.