When I said I was flying into Albania and traveling across Kosovo to Macedonia some thought it was a very odd choice. After having done it, I really enjoyed this trip and would recommend it for those looking for more of a raw European experience. Some of the cheapest areas in Europe with the least number of tourists with some incredibly beautiful terrain. At the end of this trip, from my UN country list I’m only missing Andorra from continental Europe, that may also explain our odd choice, but again, great adventure. Did you know Mother Theresa is ethnic Albanian? She was born in Skopje, Macedonia.
The Balkans are one of my favorite areas in Europe. Dubrovnik, Split, Sarajevo, Mostar, Budapest and Belgrade continue to be some of my favorite cities in Europe. The Balkans fail to get the best mention for beauty because of stains of war, but this history shouldn’t keep you from enjoying what hasn’t yet been claimed by tourists. Seriously, you are missing out on the best if you ignore this region.
I met up with Paul Swider in Istanbul for his birthday, and Michael in Tirana. You’ll hear a lot about these guys… my traveling companions for many adventures. The night before our flight I was walking with Paul on the famous Taxim. A walking street in Istanbul that’s known for it’s incredible night life, shopping, food, and it may have a million visitors in a day. It’s pretty incredible area for getting the vibe of the city and just people watching.
Can you tell this city is interested in tourists? This ATM machine spits out dollars, euros, pounds, and Turkish Lira! Minutes later we’d be talked into going into this lounge. They sell drinks for crazy high prices. I had warned Paul, and thankfully we looked at the pricelist. A couple years ago I was in a similar situation, but not with any knowledge of the scam that happens in that area with dancing Ukrainian girls sipping champaign, and within 20 minutes my buddy I had met that night had racked up a charge of over 500 Euros and was looking to split it. Uhhh, no thanks. Just a quick word of caution to not be talked into going into boring lounges with crazy expensive drinks. Thirsty girls that just want to talk, is a bad sign.
As avid travelers Paul and I were so crazy impressed by the Turkish Airlines international lounge at the Istanbul Airport. It wasn’t just the massage therapist who was walking around giving back massages, or the high speed wifi, the omelet bar, the huge free drink selection, breakfast buffet, but when you lockup your bags in a digital locker area with tons of space, a theatre room with rows of leather recliners, a news room area with 9 screens all showing different news programs all over the world and head sets where you could tune in at will.
I hadn’t really done much research, but after landing in Tirana, Albania and checking into our hotel, I quickly did some searches and found we were only about 40 minutes from the coast or better. Tirana is named after a castle and is relatively a new city in European terms, but Durres, a roman port town was an easy drive. So I convinced my traveling companions we needed to head for the coast. After walking around down town, we saw some remnants of the communist era as well as a mosque that luckily survived 40 years of no religion in Albania and a touch of modernism.