Now that I finished the first year of my MSc, it is time for vacations. I went to Albania. I grew up Italian but I am born Albanian, in a very little godforsaken place in northern Albania called Peshkopi. Here is where my grandparents live and where I go when they are not in Italy and I want to stay with them.
Albania can be divided in two parts: the north part and the south one.
The south part is richer and very well known for its beaches and sea and is a very touristic attraction. It is more developed in terms of infrastructures, for example in terms of transportation and also in terms of tourist infrastructures.
The north is poorer, more rural and you have fewer infrastructures, but it is developing and it is very famous for its thermal centres.
In both parts there is not a national rail service and so the only way to move within the country is by renting a car or by bus.
If you want to visit Albania, despite the fact that it can be considered a country lying on the edge of western Europe and so a developed country, forget about some of the western commodities you are used to. You will not find any national or private rail service, underground, regular bus lines with air conditioning, very well maintained roads, Starbuck’s, Mc Donald’s or any other big fast food chain or big fashion chain like H&M, Zara or Bershka and many other things. You can find some replicas of these big multinational chains of food or fashion but they are not the same thing. For example, you can find around Tirana a lot of coffeehouses called “Mulliri Vjeter” which are an Albanian version of “Starbucks” or you can find “Kolonat” which is the Albanian version of “Mc Donald’s”. This is due to the fact that Albania is trying to get westernised as much as possibile, but still remains anchored to its eastern traditions that are a result of four centuries of domination by the Ottoman Empire till 1912. Another important point is the payment method, indeed you should always have cash with you, because it is not common to pay by card in shops, restaurants or pubs. But, don’t be afraid !!! This country has many other things to offer:
- It is cheaper than other countries in Europe. The local currency (Lëke) is weaker than Euro and the medium salary is about 250 euro per person, so due to the fact that costs are in the majority of cases levelled to the medium salary, it is very cheap to buy things for those who come from abroad and live in European countries;
- The nature is almost virgin outside Tirana, especially If you go to the north;
- People are very friendly and welcoming with hosts. They are people that do not care very much about differences of race and religion. This can be demonstrated by the fact that they have always been by the side of refugees or persecuted people during wars (for example during the jewish persecutions and the war of Kosovo) and by the fact that Albania is maybe the only place where the muslim and catholic religion pacifically coexist without problems.
Its strength is about landscapes, the majesty of the nature and the sea. This is a perfect place to go If you want to take a break from the caos of a big city, the traffic and the heat. The reason why it is called the land of eagles is because this country takes its name from this creature. Indeed, the Albanian name for “Albania” is “Shqiperia” which comes from the Albanian name for “eagle”, which is “shqiponja”.
I went to Tirana, but I did not spent much time there because I travelled directly to my grandparents place, because the will to meet them was compelling. It is not a convenient trip to get there, because it takes more or less four hours and the road’s conditions are very bad, so you spend so much time for a journey that should take two hours. But, when you get to Peshkopi you suddenly feel the difference. It is in the north and close to Macedonia, the climate is fresh the air unpolluted, you feel lighter and less stressed. During the following seven days I did not do many things, a part from enjoying everyday the amazing view from my grands house and going out with my cousins. Last time I was there, it was two years ago and nothing changed, a part form the main boulevard that has been completely reconstructed. This location is very famous for wellness, because there are some thermal centres that attract visitors from all the country. It was such a nice thing to meet again my relatives and spend some time with them, eating together, going out, talking about different things and laughing.
After a week, it was time to go to Tirana again and meet with my father’s relatives that live there. Tirana surprised me because it was different from what I remembered. It has changed a lot and keeps growing massively. Just think about the fact that Albanian population is about 2 millions and about 50% of this population lives in Tirana. Many pubs, shops, restaurants and shopping centres opened during last years and many more will come. In addition to this, the real estate industry is growing and new buildings and skyscrapers are being financed by investors coming from the United Arab Emirates.
If you are in group and you need to move around the city, maybe the more convenient solution would be to move by taxi. They are not very expensive and you avoid the public transport which is cheaper but not very efficient, especially in summer when it is too hot and inside the bus there is not air conditioning.
So Tirana, If compered to the other cities of Albania, is more westernised and nightlife is not bad, but at the same time you can find eastern elements like the cuisine which has a lot of similarities with the Turkish one. It has always been a country divide between the western and eastern culture, also due toe its geographic position.
The last day, I went to the National Museum in Tirana. Here you can discover about all the history of Albania starting from the stone age till the most recent historic events. You can also discover more about the folkloric habits.
This vacation was an occasion for me to discover more about my family and my ancestors. It has always been my desire to find out more about where my family comes from and which their story is. It has been like a spiritual journey in a certain sense. I have now a greater awareness about where my roots come from, what my blood “is made of” and I have acquired a grater desire to discover even more. I spent time in talking with my aunts and grands and they told me stories about my great grandparents and my two-times great grandparents. I know now who they were and I want to know even more.
It came out that my family tree is more intricate than I thought it was and now I have a clearer view of it, and now that I am sitting in a coffeehouse in the airport waiting for my plane and writing this article, I realise that I am going to miss this place. Despite all of the negative sides, people are amazing here and a piece of me will always be here. A place where the air you breathe is not contaminated, a place where everything you eat is pure, a place where you can find calm and peace (maybe even too much for my taste) and a place that in one way or an other will always be part of me.