Tirana / Schkodër
I spent the days leading up to Albania in Copenhagen, and though Denmark was beautiful, I was more than ready to board the flight to Tirana and leave the exorbitant prices behind. For me Copenhagen was one of those pretty places that felt un-relatable and surreal, and I was eager to get to the destination that had spurred this entire trip. I don’t know what lit my desire to see Albania. It might have been articles I read about the natural beauty of the area, or last year’s trip to the Balkans, but I think a lot of it was wanting to go somewhere different. Albania is a bit of a different holiday, and a bit off the beaten tourist track.
After a quick 20 minutes layover in Slovenia which yielded a passport stamp but no chance to leave the airport, we were boarding our 4th flight of this trip. I was armed with a tremendous amount of excitement, my friend with a 12 inch airport hot dog whose odor quickly filled the aircraft. I was impressed that she was braving such a risky food item when we were boarding a plane with questionable toilet availability.
Tirana international airport was just how I dreamed it… small, moderately kept at best, the surrounding fields smattered with old outdated and hopefully out of service aircrafts.
The passengers from our small flight crammed into the airport bus, which took us on a 20 second journey which would have been completed faster on foot, and we filed into the line for customs. Albania doesn’t stamp passports, which was disappointing but also one of the easiest entries into a country, second only to the time I flew to Spain and they let us off in a parking lot instead of the airport
Our taxi from the airport to the hotel was memorable in the sense that the driver tried to get one of us (not picky to be fair) to marry his deaf mute son. It sounds a bit funny now, but at the time it had to be one of the top 5 awkward moments of my life. It wasn’t so much a funny older man trying to marry off his son, and was more desperate man trying to get his disabled son to the US because he doesn’t have any opportunities. When the proposed marriage was declined the driver was done with chit chat, and when we arrived at the hotel he told me I had to give him money because the company I had already paid doesn’t pay him.
The rest of the day was spent acclimating to the heat, and meeting our 10 new travel mates from out group. The next day we started with a walking tour of Tirana where we saw more of the charming side of the city, and checked out our first mosque of the trip.
In the afternoon we boarded a minibus and headed for our next destination of Schkodër. A short ride from our hotel was the Rozafa Castle, and we explored the ruins before an amazing dinner back at the hotel. Without any knowledge of traditional Albanian food, I was overjoyed to find they do a lot with hot cheeses. Every single thing about a country seems at least 10% better when you have a plate of hot cheese in front of you. So far, Albania was even better than I’d anticipated.