Written by dangaroo on 15 Apr, 2009
These days I'm not doing a great deal of travelling but when I was on a larger trip in the past, I tried to hitchhike everywhere for several reasons. It saved money, I liked it, I met locals and very often it was quicker than…Read More
These days I'm not doing a great deal of travelling but when I was on a larger trip in the past, I tried to hitchhike everywhere for several reasons. It saved money, I liked it, I met locals and very often it was quicker than public transport.Albania was going to become an interesting experience from as early as Podgorica in Montenegro, when me and my Slovenian travel partner at the time were kicked out of a Mercedes full of chickens and old ladies for not being prepared to pay a ridiculous fee to go over the border. There is a lot of minibuses on the road who will stop when they see a white (or possibly any) backpacker on the road. Hitchhiking is usually done by waving down cars in an anarchic fashion as if you are in a film in New York and are desperate to catch a cab, although the thumb method is likely to get some kind of attention too. Nearly every car stops, so it doesn't take long really. Sometimes a payment is required but the Albanians seemed fair and no one ever over charged.A lot of people drive short distances though, so it can often involve several rides - especially in the more isolated areas. Quite often we had locals helping us, somehow they seemed to think they'd have a better chance of finding us the right rides and I suppose with local road knowledge and the fact that everyone in Albania seems to know each other - they were probably right.One thing noticeable is that from the afternoon onwards, a great deal of Albanians are drunk at the wheel having stopped for several rakis for lunch. Having grown up in Portugal, being driven in a drunk driver's car doesn't overly bother me and seeing as everyone seems relatively wasted including the minibus drivers, I suppose it doesn't have any effect anyway! The amount of cracked windscreens are evidence of this. I think the most bizarre antic that took place was close to the Macedonian border at night when we were trying to get to Struga before it was too late, we were encouraged to squish into the back of a mercedes with two bags and two people to join the other two people in the back and the two in the front. These chaps were wasted and were all over the place on the road, heading to a local pub - a policeman was up ahead and I asked why the police didn't do anything, they replied that police "only whistle in Albania" and to prove their point, reversed and chucked my stale loaf hanging out of the top of my backpack, right towards the aforementioned officer! They were right as well, he only blew his whistle! The next ride to the border was a bit calmer fortunately, with a young couple and a baby! Albania is an easy country to hitchhike in but be prepared to pay a reasonable price at times because it's common practice. Close
Written by dangaroo on 13 Jan, 2009
Gjirokaster undoubtedly one of my favourite towns in the world is a little town nestled in the mountains in Albania, slightly south from the town of Tepelene where water is unbelievably tasty (this town was visited by Lord Byron who was so impressed he wrote…Read More
Gjirokaster undoubtedly one of my favourite towns in the world is a little town nestled in the mountains in Albania, slightly south from the town of Tepelene where water is unbelievably tasty (this town was visited by Lord Byron who was so impressed he wrote a poem called Mother Albania about the area)Which ever way you get to the city, you are sure to pass through beautiful scenery, green valleys, streams, waterfalls and small mountains await. Gjirokaster is on the UNESCO World Heritage List as "a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate." on top of the mountain lies a large and powerful castle that guards the city below.The city dates back to a settlement as early as the 1st century but it wasn't until around the 12th century when it progressed in to a larger place under the Byzantine Empire. It remained under Byzantine rule and later Ottoman rule until the 19th century at which point it became a stronghold of resistance against the Turks.In the early 20th century, it came under Greek rule, as the area has had quite a lot of Greek inhabitants for some time and still does. The area fought for it's independence 3 times and the area was finally granted to Albania in the 1913, Treaty of London. The determined Greeks took it back though at the start of WW1 and kept it until the end, when it was given back to Albania. The city lived in relative peace for the next 20 or so years until it was annexed by Italy in 1939 at the start of WW2. Germany took over control in 1943 but it was returned to Albanian rule one year later.During communism the city flourished as not only industry was boosted but the town was known as a "museum town" due to Enver Hoxha (Leader of Albania between November 1944 - April 1985) being born there.The end of communism saw Albania in a mess and in particular in 1997 when the country's economy collapsed following the governments pyramid scheme going wrong, Gjirokaster became deeply involved in anti-government rebellions which were violent and forced the presidents resignation.The modern part at the foot of the mountain is not interesting at all but simply houses people, the old town though is magnificent, a bit run down but that's the way I like it. The citadel, bazaa and all the buildings perched to the side of the mountain are incredibly intriguing. I found the locals unbelievably helpful and keen to talk (mostly about Manchester United), the owner of the supermarket had letters between himself and numerous Manchester United players (most probably their secretaries) since the early 90s.I didn't see much in the way of restaurants but there were numerous hotels, I stayed in a rather grandiose place that I'd decided to have a nosy in and was shocked that the price was a mere 6 euros a night. The room was top quality, the hotel had stunning rugs, chandaliers and was very nicely decorated. Bargain.There is a bus route between Gjirokaster and the western-styled resort Saranda, during my visit their were warnings that the bus was regularly held up and robbed but I certainly didn't have any problems and it was a magnificent journey, the same applies to hitchhiking back. Minibuses run between Tepelene which in turn may be linked to other cities like Tirana or Fier. You can wave down just about any car in Albania and they will take you for a small fee, it's common practice and the ubiqutious Mercedes can normally take more people than you think! There is a border to the south of Gjirokaster with Greece but I've never crossed it, so can't comment but the road going there is one of the better roads in the country. The most scenic road for me would be the road heading to Korce, take a turn to Tepelene and follow the road along the River Vlosa before heading back up to Erseke. An amazingly scenic route, hard to do by public transport though. Fine for those with their own car or willing to a hitch a ride with others.I didnt meet any other tourists in Gjirokaster when I was there but Albania is slightly more visited these days and it's only a matter of time surely before this hidden gem is unearthed to more. Close
A Lasting Impression:I'm aware the newer border with Montenegro near Ulcinj is now open but I was happy with the way I arrived in the country. On a swealtering day in mid July, I started the day off in Budva and hitchhiked a few cars…Read More
A Lasting Impression:I'm aware the newer border with Montenegro near Ulcinj is now open but I was happy with the way I arrived in the country. On a swealtering day in mid July, I started the day off in Budva and hitchhiked a few cars to a police checkpoint near Petrovac, I decided to follow the sign to Podgorica and began a long walk up a steep and windy road. Realising I had no water and that I was incredibly thirsty, I longed for a coca-cola or even better a beer! The chance of this happening let alone a car stopping seemed unlikely though, eventually I sighted a small empty farmhouse on the hill and refuelled from a water pipe! Perfect, then I decided to stop walking and hide under the shelter of the first trees so far along the road whilst talking to a shepherd. Half-heartedly sticking my thumb out whilst lieing down, a gentleman stopped and spoke brilliant English and took myself and a Slovenian guy I'd met on the road to Podgorica. He was heading to Albania and later onwards to Turkey, as was I. We decided to team up and spent the rest of the time listening to the driver's stories of how unsafe Albania was and how everyone has guns whilst driving around the amazing scenery of Skadar Lake (which is shared between Montenegro and Albania). Not put off, we stocked up at a local market in Podgorica and then hit out on the road to Shkoder. Plenty of old Mercedes with Albanian plates heading that way and one finally stopped with us, we explained we didn't want to pay and he seemed fine with it. With about 7 people in the car and numerous chickens in with our backpacks in the open boot, we drove off... he then started to talk about dollars and sooner or later decided he didn't want to take us, screeching his car to a halt and almost driving off before we had the chance to snatch our bags from the open boot!Almost there.. Step 2, actually get to Albania! Still several km's from the border we decided to wait it out at the last petrol station which was fortunately incredibly close to where we'd been dropped off. After chatting to another old mercedes driver, he agreed to take us to the border for a small fee but wouldn't take us over it. No problem, after bribing police to let us through with whatever was in the car, we were on our way again. Got out at a few 100m's from the border and walked to it, have a nice chat with the border guards and I'm to pay 10 of whatever my currency is. (it actually said this on the wall and the embassy site at the time) The border guard likes football and asks if I want any tea, I tell him no and that we want to push on to Shkoder, so he stamps my passport and invites me to the local bar and introduces me to two oldish guys. Beers appear on the table and then some shots of raki (the Albanians drink it straight, so they can get drunk when they're supposed to sober up in the morning I presume!), all this and I still haven't paid for my stamp. The old guys agree to take us in to Shkoder at request of the border guards and nothing is ever said about the 10 quid. We make the way there, wobbling all over the road in an old Mercedes (ubiqutous at the time and most probably stolen from Germany, serves them right for winning World Cups with bad football!) with bullet holes in the windscreen, apparently from a little fun in Kukes (notorious for it's armed bandits at the time). Anyway, nice guys - we had to call in at a random warehouse to fill up about 300 bottles of beer which were previously empties in the boot.On arrival in Shkoder, I had to find somewhere to change money. Initially this wasn't too easy, we asked in a shop but the only person there was a 3 or 4 year old child counting money. Another customer came in and started to talk to us, then took us to a cafe where finally someone took us for a stroll to what looked like quite a classy little travel agents (by Albanian standards), at that time it was said that the locals were a bit unlawful and liked their guns but the only thing I got shot with was a super-soaker from a teenager who pointed to the sun. I appreciated that, actually. People were helpful everywhere and the woman in the local supermarket always offered me a sample of something with no pressure to buy, when I questioned what it was, this actually finished with copious amounts of cheese being purchased so I suppose her technique worked!So down to the nitty gritty...How do I get there?-----------------------------Obviously not everyone wants to hitchhike with drunk drivers, so you can pay a couple of euros from either the border with Ulcinj or the one that I crossed at Han i Hotit (60km north of Shkoder) to be taken by a drunk taxi driver instead. Bargain them down though, or you'll pay loads. Plenty of minibuses and buses going from Tirana and also several from Pristina via Kukes.Where do I stay?------------------------Well that could be tricky, places either tend to be very basic or very pricey. Best thing is to ask a couple of locals and have a look at some hotels, people are friendly and the owners of the hotels are very unlikely to rip you off. I always paid about 5-6 euros in Albania. I think the maximum was 8 but it was actually incredibly classy!What do I do?-------------------Plenty to do in Shkoder, beautiful surroundings and Rozafa Castle is where Shkoder's history started on top of a hill where to rivers meet. It's 3km to the south of the centre and the main not to be missed point - truly amazing.Strolling around the historic streets which are rather empty of tourists and give you a feeling of being in Eastern Europe towards the end of communism and a Cowboy film at the time is unbeatable. The Marubi Photo Collection, is also a must see - they are stored in a random flat in a flat block along Rr. Muhamet Gjollesha. With more than 250,000 photos of everything between 1859 and 1959 this is one of if not Europe's most prized photo collections. Marubi was an Italian who fled Piacenza for Shkoder for political reasons, he painted and worked as an architect, in 1858 he took the first ever photo in Albania and made a career of taking photos of well known people.He then hired and adopted an apprentice by the name of Mikel Kodheli. Kodheli (who became Kel Marubi) then superbly documented Albanian life and became a powerful figure in the National Resistance and was able to document great historic info of the time because of this.His son, studied in Paris and later worked for the family business before donating all the work to the Albanian State in 1974. The collection is in mint condition, perfectly dated and is protected from further damage after having work on it by UNESCO.Shiroke and Zogaj on Lake Shkodra are definitely worth a visit. Shiroke is only a couple of km's out of Shkodra and is therefore the more developed of the two but the centre is still relatively peaceful. Zogaj is 6km down the road and a competely muslim village, untouched by the modern world and left in a former century! Unbelievable tranquility in this fishing village.Add to this a whole host of interesting churches, mosques, museums, statues, towers, monuments and of course the once great bazaar and you have a wealth of possibilities. Shkoder is a superb destination for the adventurous traveller and very cheap too!History----------Shkodra was initially set up in 4th century BC when the Labeats (an Illyrian tribe) set up shop here, it then became the main place of the Illyrian State under King Gent and later under the princedom of Bushatllinj. It then fell to the Venetians and the rest of the history is not too dissimilar to that of Durres which I reviewed earlier in the day! Great archeological sights can be seen at the medieval ruins in Sarda (15km from Shkodra) which was the residential place of the famous Dukagjini Feudal Family. Close
History -Durres, first discovered by the adventurous southern neighbours the Greeks in 627 BC, is Albania's largest city along the coast and it's no.1 port. The Illyrians (ancestors of what are now Albanians) moved in in around 312 BC but were soon forced away and…Read More
History -Durres, first discovered by the adventurous southern neighbours the Greeks in 627 BC, is Albania's largest city along the coast and it's no.1 port. The Illyrians (ancestors of what are now Albanians) moved in in around 312 BC but were soon forced away and the town changed hands between the Romans and the Greeks followed by the Bulgarians and then it became part of the Venetians large empire. The Turks got hold of it in 1501 and the Albanians and Durres finally got independence in 1912, unfortunately it only lasted for 3 days (is that the shortest ever?), this time Albania fell to the Serbs and it was until the following year when they raised the flag again and crowned Durres the capital.But 1913 wasn't a great time to start a nation as WW1 was just around the corner, poor old Durres once again became occupied by Italy and later by the Austrian-Hungarians and had to wait until 1918 to get itself together once again! Durres remained the temporary capital of Albania until 1920. Notoriously decrepit during the 19th century, Durres suffered an earthquake in 1926 and the rebuilding which then took place gave the city it's current appearance. Having had good investment from the Italians and a new harbour built, Durres was just starting to look promising when the World War II came around, it was annexed to fascist Italy and then Nazi Germany. Originally used as a location for an Italian attempt to invade the Greeks, it was then heavily bombed by Allied Forces and the port was blown up by the Germans who by 1944 were backing out at this time (cowards!). A rather quiet period of communism followed for the next 35 years and when it collapsed Durres became the no.1 point of mass emmigration. The close distance to Italy is ever so apparent and boats would race across throughout the 90's and early 2000's (following an influx of refugees from Kosovo), if nearly intercepted by the Italian police, the gangs would throw passengers into the water, so that the boats had to stop. When purchasing a "ticket to freedom", it was said that people were given two chances if they didn't make it the first time. Boats from the port were also forced to Italy at gunpoint. All in all making for lively sea traditions!Getting to Durres-------------------------I've been informed that the roads are now considerably better than they were when I visited and that the coastal road down to the south is finally completed. I arrived by train from Tirana (20p/1 hour), an interesting journey in itself, the train had no windows and went at a slow pace whilst kids walked up and down saying the names of the products they had for sale in a sing-song. Onlookers from the nearby fields would also stare at the train but we were fortunate enough not to get any stones thrown through the windows by kids (which is known to happen). There are also daily ferry boats to Bari, Italy (and probably Brindisi, Italy and Koper, Slovenia)Staying in Durres---------------------------I stayed in a hotel room for about 5 euros, approached by someone with a room at the station (a regular occurance in the Balkans), who spoke good English (a first during the trip in Albania), he agreed to show it. Quite a nice place actually and had the all important a/c, very important as it was 42 degrees celsius ;)!.Durres in general------------------------Italian is widely spoken throughout Durres and German is probably the 2nd most used language. Plenty of richer Albanians in Durres, those who have worked abroad and are now living it up on the coast or have returned for a holiday.There are several interesting buildings in Durres such as the Estrada theatre, the philharmonic orchestra, the library and the Museum of History. The harbour is a nice place to go and there are also numerous beaches but I would choose somewhere else if you want a beach holiday, the beach is scruffy, busy, broken glass, parts of boats.. all kinds of rubbish there. Worst beach I've ever seen, no idea how people can sunbath amongst litter! When I asked locals why it was so untidy, they said "All the shit comes from Italy" (which I found quite entertaining, they're not keen on the Italians due to their incredible racism towards Albanians!). Durres has a relaxed atmosphere, people are friendly and helpful and I had some excellent pizzas there. It's not worth visiting for longer than a day though, there are much more interesting places like Gjirokaster to go to. Close
Written by natureboy_08 on 14 Oct, 2006
Now I’m American so I love having a moment in anything that feels European. If you're European and you’d like to edge away from that a bit head to Skanderbeg Square and then from there walk past the National Museum, take the first main street…Read More
Now I’m American so I love having a moment in anything that feels European. If you're European and you’d like to edge away from that a bit head to Skanderbeg Square and then from there walk past the National Museum, take the first main street behind it and head right. Off that street you’ll find Albania as Albanians live life there. There are cafés and pubs off this street (usually the same place) with football matches playing when in season and great little eateries. There is a great Bar-B-Que store Albanian style that is to be found on the left. Fast food suflaqe/donner/hamburger little restaurants can be found off this street as well. A note here, all the food I’ve eaten here has been very good and safe. Your only warning is if you are in a fast food restraint they will have a rack of meat rotating over a heater. If that rack of meat is raw, and they cut from it to heat it on the grill, pass. Don’t go there (its happened only once- I tried eating it and it just didn’t feel right so I threw it away. Even the Albanians were disgusted and said that rarely happens.) So make sure the meat is cooked and hopefully juicy that means its being cut and used a lot a good sign.
Lastly, the Stephen Center. Almost any foreigner seems to be pointed here ‘cause it can be a gathering spot for ‘expats, missionaries, foreign aid workers, travelers and tourists or Albanians connected any of these types of people. Prices reflect a western feel and the atmosphere does this as well. If your just traveling through, outside of a place to get some good advice or free wireless Internet, you’ll probably want to avoid this place. If you need an American or English coffee fix and your tired of espressos and macchiatos this is a good place to change the pace up. Pass on the food- outside of breakfast. It is really good, but if your just traveling through you probably don’t want tastes of home. If you do, go to the Stephen Center, this place will also be in my reviews, but use it as a place to meet other foreigners, get some English help and maybe a good old cup of American style coffee, cream included.
Right in front of the Stephen Center is a front Vegetable, fruit and nut open air market for a much larger market that stretches further back. Past the Market are some meat shops, a fresh bread or buke store to the left and within plain sight of the market is a little shop with plump, juicy rotisserie chickens for only 300 lek. Grab one of these, take a seat in the store and ask for “goata me u-ji” (again not has its spelled just pronounced) this is cold water they have on hand. Some cold water, free bred, and a delicious whole chicken for only 300 lek is hard to beat. Don’t balk at the poor conditions of the store or its surroundings, the food is totally safe and the atmosphere is totally Albanian/Shiptari.
All in All Tirana is a city of two worlds. On the outskirts its Albanians trying to make it, they have their houses and apartments, cafes and little grocery stores or fresh bread stores. Its dirtier, chaotic and more confusing. Inside the city you get very nice beautiful tastes of Europe. The people are busier here, but love opportunities to talk to you and they love asking you questions about you and where your from or why your there. Soak it up, enjoy it, Tirana is the most active city, that I’ve found in Albania and at night, don’t stay in your hotel or apartment- get out there after seven pm. You’ll love walking around with the locals, and at night almost everyone blends in so you can just get lost in their life and how they like to spend their time. This is my favorite thing to do. Dinner for them is usually after 8:30 or 9 so try eating a late meal after a walkabout and then walk around some more before heading to the place your bedding down. Soak it up, there are few places like this where you can walk around and not see people just like you trotting around you as well. You’re a foreigner to them and to the area around you and it shows and this is as a traveler a very pleasant feeling because its appreciated here, they love people visiting and taking an interest in their country that they are so fiercely proud of.
Tirana was in my first experience, jarring to my senses. I still had a European mindset and expectation when it came to Albania, but what I had scene was more of what I had experienced in Africa: Unfinished buildings, an emergence from an archaic mindset…Read More
Tirana was in my first experience, jarring to my senses. I still had a European mindset and expectation when it came to Albania, but what I had scene was more of what I had experienced in Africa: Unfinished buildings, an emergence from an archaic mindset or war strewn past. But Tirana gave me that same feel with the added feeling of Mexican border town. The city to me seemed dirty, congested, polluted and over populated. I was not at all intrigued by it at first, but then again that first night I suffered an eye infection that left me blind and bed ridden for a day and a half so that as well could have dampened my spirits and outlook on Tirana.
When I returned back to Tirana which has now been well over 20 times I have found something new and mesmerizing about it each time. Now Tirana holds a deep fondness in my heart and I love any opportunity to go there. Tirana is the heart and soul of this country. Everything important, interesting, news worthy, and cultural runs through their capital city. The city will initially have a grungy almost dirty feel to it, but that will soon pass as you find the right places to visit. Again, there are not a lot of tourists here, but there are a lot more here than there are in any other city. In my visits it was not until like my 20th visit that I ran into a lady from Holland traveling through Albanian by herself, a Scottish couple backpacking through the area as well and later a lady from Malaysia doing some long term travel through Albania. Three travelers, not one tourist in one day- this when I had met only one traveler in my time in Albania.
Foreigners here, like I’ve stated have a certain bond to them. I believe that if you are here you are automatically in a minority group and this helps you bond quickly. Albanians are friendly and they very helpful, but they also don’t hold certain western manners most foreigners are use to. They will stare right at you if you are any different than them. At first it is cultural and nice, but after months or weeks of this it grows very tiring. Tirana is one of your rare breaks from this, as the people are much more use to foreigners than any other town or city in Albania. Still, when one foreigner meets another here it is almost courteous to at least say hi or even offer if they need any help navigating anything. I’m sure not all travelers have had such an experience but with everyone I know it is this way. If I see someone from Korea or from Europe or anywhere I will stop to say hi and at least get their story as to why their here. I totally respect the people who wanted to travel through here just to see what this unknown country holds.
As for Tirana as a city, from the center, where the Skanderbeg statue is located, as is the Islamic Mosque and their National Museum, you can reach anything significant within a ten to fifteen minute walk. Two places to note for navigation purposes is the main Blvd. with the "river" running through it. Really the "river" is a smelly little stream. From the main Blvd you can navigate any place you need to get. I believe it runs roughly north/south so everything from it is either west or east. My favorite street in Albania is Qasmil Ismail. On it you can find three of my favorite café’s, Coli, Diesel and Insomnia, all without nice outside furniture, large comfortable chairs and a great atmosphere ‘cause they sit one next to another, so you can find some the coolest and most modern Albanians in this area. Also, Era café and Lincoln Center are located and I will cover these places in my reviews, as I will the café’s. Another favorite places of mine have been the European Trade Center, located off the main Blvd. hard to miss, maybe the tallest building in the city. Great café’s, a modern grocery store and some stores to do some western type of shopping with western type of prices.
Written by natureboy_08 on 13 Oct, 2006
I will post reviews also, but mainly I have some sights to list if you are in Vlore that you might want to check out. The city layout is decently simple. Beaches to the west, city to the east and you'll want to stay more…Read More
I will post reviews also, but mainly I have some sights to list if you are in Vlore that you might want to check out. The city layout is decently simple. Beaches to the west, city to the east and you'll want to stay more north than south as far as city goes, but as far as hotels and nightlife go head to the southern part of the city. Statuje Impart (Statuja e Pavavsise): This sits in the original qender or center of Vlore, though where all the fun happens is in the Riviera the new and growing center of Vlore. The Statudje Impart is the flag statue or the statue symbolizing the first declaration of Albanian freedom from their Turk rulers in 1918. I believe, the date is written on the statue. When this flag was raised it was the fist time in a thousand years that Albania had declared itself its own country. It had always been ruled by the, Romans, Greeks and Turks. Funny thing is that one year after that flag of independence was raised, America and Great Britain and other European Alliances broke up the country into Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Yugoslavia (something like that, all the surrounding areas got divided into numerous different lands). This statue is very highly esteemed by the locals here. Riviera: This is the new, modern center of Vlore. Tell any taxi driver or ask any local where the Riviera is and you'll be pointed in that direction. If you want to ask just say "Ku eshte Riviera?" (Pronounced almost as it sounds Ku esh-ta Riviera.) In the Riviera you'll see a mall like building on the corner. Inside are some clothing shops, a book store you can make copies in, a little modern grocery store, a great cafe and restaurant and if you head up stairs and outside the building you'll find a great Internet cafe there as well. Just behind the Riviera are some local stores to buy fresh fruit and cheap drinks. To the west of the Riviera is the University of Vlore and to the North east is where you'll find some great eateries other stores around there. The Riviera is a springboard for the rest of the city. Kuz' Baba: This is a restaurant/cafe that sits on top of a hill that overlooks the city. From the Flag Statue or Statuje Impart looking away from the statue, to your right will be the mosque and if you look high up and to the right you'll see a hill that towers over the city and on top you can see a restaurant or observatory point. Head in that direction or just head to where the buses going back to Tirana and Elbasan are located. When you get to the base of the hill you'll see a small collection of busses headed to whatever city and behind that you'll see stairs leading up towards the hill. Just follow them, up, up, up and you'll hit the top of the hill, where you are greeted with a spectacular view, a great cafe to get refreshments or a meal to rejuvenate you and you can take in Vlore in its entirety. It is highly recommended. Hotel Konami: This is the only hotel I've stayed at in Vlore. Its accommodations are simple and basic. Rooms are nice enough, try to get a room with a view of the sea. Being a foreigner they usually give you what you want. This place is great for a few reasons: the view for one, sunsets are directly in front of you and eclipse right over the little island that sits just outside the bay. Their cafe is great at night and you'll find locals who like to come hang out there as well. Also they get huge groups that are what this hotel likes to bring in- group rates get the best deals. For a very good hotel the price is roughly from what I was told $20-25 a night. You can definitely get cheaper but every now and then it is good to spring for something. Lastly, discos sit right underneath you and this is the sore spot of the location. The discos rage out till four in the morning and sound carries crystal clear up to the hotel, so sleep can become a bit of an issue- unless you are down there tearing it up with the locals. Albanians are not known for their dancing in discos, though the ladies like to get out there, but they are known for it in their weddings. Also all the cafes are packed on the strip just below the hotel. For a good time, walk down the long walk of stairs and make your way south or left and you'll pass by several cafes' a few discos and some great places to find some amount of trouble!
Written by Surfsup on 19 May, 2002
Albania is not an easy country to get around. I had friends so we drove in their car. The roads are atrocious, so relatively short distances take a long time. The landscape, is poor, and quite varied. We passed through small towns, with decaying, empty…Read More
Albania is not an easy country to get around. I had friends so we drove in their car. The roads are atrocious, so relatively short distances take a long time. The landscape, is poor, and quite varied. We passed through small towns, with decaying, empty factories. It seems most things were desroyed in an orgy of destruction after the revolution. There are also many, olive groves, harsh, wild mountains, and unspoilt beaches.
Skodra in the north is quite nice. The castle above affords superb views over the town, lake and river below. The mountains form a breathtaking backdrop.
heading South, Gyrokaster is the most interesting place. It is made entirely of grey stone, even the roofs. It is protected by zig zagging rows of single man bunkers through the fields. When I asked who they expected to attack them, I was told, enigmatically, "enemies of the people".
From here you can loop back across the mountains to the coast at Serande. Here you can see Corfu in the distance. The facilities are a bit lacking, but the sandy beach is lovely, with clean uncrowded water.
The drive back up the coast to Tirana, has some nerve racking mountain roads, with precipices on the side, and unphased oncoming traffic to get the adrenalin pumping.
I would strongly recommend going with a local who can speak Albanian, or at least Italian. Not much English is spoken out of the capital.
Written by ezrab on 20 Oct, 2003
Saranda is one of the prime beach resorts of the country. The beach however is not very clean and one cannot say that the town is beautiful. Most of its buildings are communist style and only a few older more typical South-European buildings are found.…Read More
Saranda is one of the prime beach resorts of the country. The beach however is not very clean and one cannot say that the town is beautiful. Most of its buildings are communist style and only a few older more typical South-European buildings are found.
Unfortunately, these last are in a state of disrepair. For the rest one can have nice walks on the boulevard, which is being cleared now of all its illegal buildings. Some 20 km south of Saranda is Butrint, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Here one finds ruins of an ancient Greek and later Roman settlement. Among others one can visit an ancient theatre, which still is sometimes used for performances and a little acropolis on a hilltop. Again, the hill provides beautiful scenery, with the Butrint Lake on one side and the village of Konispol, as well on a hill, on the other side. Halfway between Saranda and Gjirokjaster one can visit Delvine or blue eye. It derives its name for the turquoise blue mineral water that runs from the mountains here. One can have a nice walk here.
I stayed in the Hotel Renato on the boulevard. It was 15 euro per night and good value. To Butrint I rented a taxi that stayed with me for 4 hours for 20 euros. Busses leave in the upper town. There are multiple services daily to Tirana, a constant stream to Gjirokaster and services to Vlora and Korca. Little busses to Konispol and Himare leave from the boulevard near the port entrance.
Albania´s only airport is near Tirana (there are rumours of a new airport being constructed near the coastal city of Vlora). It is served by a handful of airlines and for the consequent lack of competition prices are exorbitant. Fortunately a number of good alternatives…Read More
Albania´s only airport is near Tirana (there are rumours of a new airport being constructed near the coastal city of Vlora). It is served by a handful of airlines and for the consequent lack of competition prices are exorbitant. Fortunately a number of good alternatives exist.
I flew to Athens (actually I could have flown twice to Athens for the price of an air ticket to Tirana) and took a coach to Tirana. It seems that a number of coach companies operate regular services to Albania. I bought a ticket with OSE (Greek railways, www.ose.net) who operate a daily service to Tirana via Gjirokaster, Tepelene and Fier. Fares are about 60 Euro for a return ticket to Tirana. Busses leave at the Peloponnesos train station where the tickets are sold as well. Albania Interlines operates the bus and they sell the tickets in Tirana at Boulevard Zogu I, 54 (+355 235230) (do not expect English to be spoken). The journey takes about 10 hours to Gjirokaster and about 17 hours to Tirana. The bus generally leaves Athens in the evening.
In Athens, I noted that a number of companies sell bus tickets to other cities like Saranda, Vlora on the coast and the mountain city Korça.
Another option I used on my way back to Athens was a ferry. Daily ferries operate between the southern town Saranda and the island of Corfu (Kerkyra). A number of times a week the services are operated by hydrofoil, which shortens the journey to 20 minutes. The fare for the Hydrofoil-service is 15 euro (one way). It leaves Corfu town at about 9 AM and it departs from Saranda at 10.30 AM. Every day there is a (slow) boat as well, which leaves Saranda at 1.30 PM. Petrakis lines operate the services. Boat tickets can be bought in one of the numerous selling agencies around Corfu harbour. In Saranda the tickets are sold at the harbour entrance. From Corfu busses to Athens leave three times daily from the central bus station. The same shipping company operates a hydrofoil service from Corfu to Himara, on the Albanian Riviera (once a week). However public transport from Himara further on is poor. From Italy it is possible to reach Durres or Vlora by car ferry.
At the border, a visa must be bought. It requires a fee of US$10. The fee can be paid in euros, however the exact price depends on the currency conversion skills of the border guard. I had to pay 12 euros, which, of course, is too much when the two currencies equal parity.