Cycling through a country offers only a very narrow opening into that country, it’s people and it’s customs. That opening is narrowed further when the person cycling has next to zero prior knowledge about the country through which he is travelling eg Myself and Albania.
So as I leave Albania for Montenegro tomorrow I feel bound to write a few words on my experience here over the past 5 or 6 days (all pretty meaningless really given how little I still know about this place). Obviously I covered Lezhe in a clip earlier so I’ll skip that here.
Let me start by saying there were two strong narratives in the air prior to my entering Albania;
1. Don’t go there and if you do don’t trust Albanians.
2. It’s amazing, the lonely Planet voted it no 1 this, top 10 that….you get the drift.
Well from my experience the first narrative proved absolutely false. I have met many friendly and proud Albanians and furthermore at no point did I experience any hostile encounters. I would add that for some reason the further north I have cycled the friendlier and more enjoyable I have found my Albanian experience. Shkoder certainly tops the bill.
On the second point I would say the longer I stay here the more I like it. I would certainly recommend visiting Albania but I’d do it in a car so you can see all the country has to offer (I’ve missed so many national parks, monuments, castles, monasteries etc) and I would recommend doing a little more research on what to see and where to go than I did for this particular trip.
More generally 50 years of dictatorial rule and a civil war in the early 90s is not an easy history to deal with. There are only 3 million people in Albania but from what I saw they are very proud of their country. With elections on June 23rd there are a lot of party political rallies around the country and young people seem engaged in this which felt positive ( it certainly looked like that in Tirana on Monday). More negatively in the south of the country it felt incredibly poor and all over the country there seem to be an inordinate amount of casinos and gambling cafes filled with young men. Not sure but do Albanian men love gambling?
Anyway all in all I’d definitely come back but I’d bring a car and spend more time up North. Thanks Albania, it’s been great getting to know you a little better. Until next time.
And finally here’s a photo looking directly up at the centre of the domed roof inside Shkoder’s central mosque.