I want to start off by making it clear that I do not condone travelling during a pandemic. We have followed all guidelines and essentially been locked in our house since just before Italy began the lockdown. I ventured out solely to get more supplies, I optimized those trips to get things done in the least amount of time, and I ordered as much online as possible. The only reason we moved – and changed countries – at this time was because our lease was expiring so we had to move, and trying to find a new place to live in Italy in a pandemic was near impossible – plus, I’m a travel writer. If I don’t travel, I don’t work. We made sure to move as safely as possible – double masking, hand sanitizer, and social distancing. Moving on…
Growing up, there were so many places in the world I wanted to see – I wanted to drink coffee at a little cafe in Paris, go scuba diving in Melbourne, write in a cottage in England. Albania – well, that was one country that never once made it to my list. In fact, I don’t know a single person who said “I’m dying to see Albania!”.
Really, Albania wasn’t even on my radar until we moved to Italy. From the outside tables at the cafe we frequented in Torre Del Orso, you could look out over the Adriatic Sea and see the mountains of Albania in the distance, which was cool. But when we needed to move, and realized staying in Italy wasn’t the best choice at the moment, Albania started to seem like an option.
Then we ditched it again. We looked at Britain, at Istanbul, at India. We toyed with flights and pet import requirements. We just couldn’t get anything to fall into place. Albania started to move back up the list, solely for convenience. Finally, we made the decision to go to Albania for a month – after that, we’d decide if we wanted to stay, or travel on to Turkey.
Having been here for a week, let me state clearly: if Albania wasn’t on your travel bucket list, it needs to be. This is an amazing country.
The Journey To Albania
Due to the animals, we opted to take the ferry from Bari to Durres. We loaded up the van we’d hired, piled inside, and hit the road. An hour later, he dropped us at the port and I ventured up to the ticket window. The woman behind the glass was very nice – as she told me we weren’t allowed to go, unless it was for work, and my work didn’t count. I tried to explain that on my American passport, this wasn’t supposed to be a problem, but nope, she said it wasn’t possible. So we sat there, stranded, trying to figure out what to do next.
An hour later, we had no good plans. Desperate, I ventured up to the ticket window again, hoping to beg, to find the woman had gone home. The man in her place looked at my passport, said “Americano? No problema!” and printed the tickets. Relieved, we climbed the shuttle to the boat.
Trying to check in didn’t go smooth. This time, I asked for a cart for our stuff, and instead was given a police officer, who said we needed a written statement that I was an American citizen travelling for work, and did not have Covid. He swore I could just write it on a piece of paper, so I did, but he didn’t like it and refused to let us through. Frustrated, I moved everything inside the port building anyway, and waited. Once the line had cleared up mostly, I hopped back into it, and laid down for a different police officer, our tickets, passports, and my cell phone showing the Albanian Embassy’s directive that U.S. citizens were allowed in the country with no restrictions. This very nice man (who had watched the earlier interaction) looked at everything, laughed, and flagged down a porter to help us get our stuff on the boat.
The cabin was small but comfortable, the food was mediocre at best, but the view on the water was amazing! We would absolutely take the ferry again, despite the issues we had, and it was really relaxing to just be floating along the water.
Durres To Tirana
On the Albanian side of the sea, customs went very smoothly. The officials were so nice and helpful, and it took mere minutes to get off the boat, get through customs, and get out to the line of taxis, where we were immediately swept into a cab by an enterprising man (who apparently charged us double the fair rate, but I’m not even mad about it!) He drove us into Tirana so that I could meet our AirBNB host while my mother waited at a coffee shop with the dog.
I ended up getting a bad feeling from the host and cancelled the reservation, leaving us without a place to stay. My backup plan was to board the animals for a night and get us a hotel room, but when I returned to the coffee shop, I found my anti-social mother had made a new friend! For sake of anonymity, we’ll call him L. L said he would find us a great apartment for a much better price, and in the meantime, he knew somewhere we could stay for the night, and true to his word, we did not sleep on the street, and by 10 a.m. the next morning, were in our new home. It’s a nice place – small, but we don’t want or need much space, and in an excellent location. There’s a giant field right next to us where we can walk the dog and other people walk their cows, and we’re less than a kilometer from city center. Everything is walking distance, and because we are in city proper, our internet is flawless.
When I moved to Italy, I was amazed how nice the people are, but they have nothing on Albanians. These are the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Our landlords brought us food, our neighbor likes to say hi to our dog, and everyone is jumping to give us restaurant recommendations, teach us words, or whatever else we don’t even know we need. We can’t set foot behind the gate without being sucked into conversation, impressive, since we don’t speak a word of Albanian! (Well, I do now…two words, in fact.) Fortunately, nearly everyone speaks Italian or English as well, and my Italian – which sucked in Italy – is apparently much better here.
One hesitation I’d had about Albania was the animals. I’d read that they weren’t very friendly to dogs here, and since I wanted to be able to take Dakota places with us, I was concerned about that. It’s not true. Nearly everyone we meet wants to pet him, even when he’s acting like a nut.
Plus, while there’s a lot of strays here, nearly every restaurant, shop, house has a food and water bowl outside to try to keep them fed. While the dogs aren’t in great shape, we haven’t seen a single one that actually looked sick or emaciated – they’re mostly just dirty, and quite frankly, Dakota wishes we’d let him get dirty. All in all, I’m a bit impressed!
With me being vegetarian and my mother sticking to what I think of as the “core meats” (beef, chicken, seafood – she will not touch pork, veal, goat, or lamb), we’re being really careful about what we eat until we acclimate some. However, we found pizza and…dare I say, it was as good as pizza in Italy. Very fresh, with a super thin, crispy crust. I had a spinach-truffle risotto that knocked my socks off, and my mother had a grilled sea bass that made her drool. In fact, every single bite of anything has been amazing. I’m truly amazed at the food here.
What’s Next In Albania?
Our first week has been easy – we haven’t done much sightseeing yet because we’ve been getting the apartment set up and we’ve been exhausted from moving and trying to find our way around town. This week, we have plans to visit Blokku and see some of the historic sights, as well as delve a bit more into Albanian culture. Check back to follow our adventures!