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Albania

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Albania

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[[File:View over Tirana|250px|frameless|Albania]]
Location
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Flag
[[File:Al-flag.png|108px|frameless]]
Quick Facts
Capital Tirana
Government Developing Democracy
Currency Lek (ALL)
Area 28,748 sq km
Population 3,600,523 (July 2007 est.)
Language Albanian (Tosk is the official dialect)
Religion Muslim 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, Roman Catholic 10%
note: all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious observances prohibited; in 1990, Albania began allowing private religious practice. According to an official US Government Report: "No data are available on active participation in formal religious services, but estimates indicate that "only 30 to 40 percent of the population practices a religion."
Electricity 220V/50Hz (European plug)
Country code +355
Internet TLD .al
Time Zone UTC +1

Albania[1] is a small country in Mediterranean Europe. It borders on Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro.


Cities

  • Tirana - the capital. Trees and mountains suround the city. Mt. Dajt is touristic for its view over the city.
  • Durrës - One of the oldest cities in Albania. Flooded three times during its history. The current city is built on the ruins of two previous ones. It has the largest amphitheatre in the Balkans. It is currently the main port of Albania and has the longest shoreline.
  • Fier
  • Gjirokastër - a city in Albania. There is a large castle on the hill in the middle of the city, formerly a jail for many generations. An Army museum is located inside.
  • Sarande- a city in southern Albania known for its unforgetable beaches and colorful springs.
  • Vlorë - Remarkable seaside town
  • Lezhe
  • Pogradec
  • Kruje- ancient city of the hero Skanderbeg. It consists of beautiful mountains, Skanderbegs castle now a museum. There are villa's where shopping is done on a hillside stone padded floors.
Orta-Zyzit Church.JPG

Other destinations

  • Butrint - Largest archaeological site from Roman era in Albania. It lies on the coast in the southernmost tip of the country, near the Greek border. Minibuses available from Saranda.
  • Tomorri Mountain ridge in the southern part of Albania, not far from Berat. This part of the country is formed by parallel mountain ridges (up to around 2000-2500 m) separated by valleys. Although the ridges are not very long, they offer few days of hiking with enormous scenic beauty and fantastic panoramic views. Tomorri is one of the most known ridge with Bektash monastery and chapel on the very top.
  • Albanian Alps, Prokletije. This mountainous complex on the north of the country forms border between Albania and Montenegro. Rich on rainfalls, sheep, bare rocks and scenic views it is one of the places in Albania you should see. One of the places where you can be less than 10 km away from the nearest village and still have a day long trip there...
  • Dhermi - one of the finest of the many beaches along the coastal road between Vlore and Saranda, perfect for camping.
Map of Albania
  • [[2]]LURA - National Park of Lura, it is a touristy region, with different diversities, where are combined clearly the beauties of lakes, the high mountains and big meadows, full of flower’s variety.

Lura offers ideal conditions for picnics and sports climbing, where you can contemplate marvelous panoramas, which offers this wonderful place and which makes really interesting the travel, the relaxation and the other activities. It is a rich area with uncial natural values. The special geographical position, which have this region with its own beauties and the possibility which it gives to view many places of the country raise even more its tourist importance. During the winter period Lura, besides the marvelous natural landscape, the greenness of pines, it has the beauty of white snow, which in mountains and numerous meadows creates appropriate conditions for the fans of sports and ski. In all year’s months, this region has always something to offer for anyone.

[[3]]

Understand

The majority of the people in Albania are Muslim, which can be influential in the way many Albanians lead their lives, but, unlike most other countries, Albania also has a large number of religious minorites (mainly Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic), making the country far from homogeneus in that sense.. Another factor worth mentioning is that in Albania, it is custom to nod your head to say no, and shake your head sideways to say yes; please take this fact in to account in the daily interactions with these people.

History

Following the defeat of the Axis powers at the end of World War II, a totalitarian Communist government was established, presided over by resistance leader Enver Hoxha. Albania became infamous for its isolation, not just from the market-run democracies of Western Europe, but with the Soviet Union, China, and even neighboring Yugoslavia. Even as the Iron Curtain came down and Communists lost power throughout Eastern Europe, Albania seemed intent on staying the course, alone.

But in 1992, several years after the death of Hoxha, the Communist party finally relinquished power and Albania established a multi-party democracy with a coalition government. The transition has proven difficult, as corrupt governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread gangsterism, and disruptive political opponents. Today Albania is making progress, with EU integration as its goal; Albania signed the SAA on June 2006, thus completing the first major step towards joining. In 2008 Albania is also expected to receive an invitation to join NATO.

Get in

Sign at the Albanian - Macedonian border crossing on the southern shore of Lake Ohrid [Photo: Rolf Palmberg]

Visas

Most European and U.S., Canadian, Australian and New Zealand nationals can enter Albania without obtaining a visa but you'll have to pay an entry and exit fee of €10. This is strictly enforced when entering the country by Air but land borders are less strict. The Albania guards are very nice and do their best to help out and will, on occasion, allow fees to be paid in dollar or will forget to charge you. It's worth making sure you've got the €10 on you as the customs officers at Mother Teresa airport don't give change.

By plane

Tirana's "Mother Teresa" International Airport [4] is located just 15 minutes away from the city. It is served by numerous European flag carriers such as British Airways, Alitalia, Lufthansa, Austrian, and the low cost carrier Germanwings. A new, larger terminal opened in 2007.

At the airport exit there are numerous taxis 24/7 that can take you to the city. The taxi fee to the city center is 25 Euros. Taxi fees to other locations are posted on a placard just outside the exit doors.

There is a bus that runs once an hour between the airport and Skanderberg Square in the centre of Tirana. It costs 200 lek each way, leaves on the hour from the airport and at 25 past the hour from Skanderberg Square. It runs from about 8am to 7pm.

By train

There is no possibility to cross the border to Albania with a train, because there are no connections.

By bus

You can reach Tirana by coach from Istanbul, Turkey (20hr, €35 one-way), Athens,Greece (16hr, €30), Sofia, Bulgaria (13hr, €25) and Tetovo, Macedonia

By boat

Ferries to Durrës arrive from Bari (9h, €50) and Ancona (19h, €70). A high-speed service operates from Bari (3h, €60). There is also a reliable overnight ferry service operated by Skenderbeg Lines from Brindisi to Vlore Skenderbeg Lines

By car

You can reach Albania by car from: - Podgorica, Montenegro - Ohrid , Macedonia - Prizren, Kosovo where pass the main roads.

There is a 10-euro/person tax, which must be paid upon entering Albania. After payment of the tax to the police, the customs officer will issue a "road tax certificate", which you must keep until you leave the country. When you exit the country, you'll pay 2 euro/day and return the certificate.

Get around

By bus

Most people in Albania travel by private minibuses (called the "furgons"), which depart quite frequently to destinations around Albania. These furgons have no timetable (they depart when they are full). Also ask around for the directions and to where you can get these minibuses.

From Tirana, many furgons a day depart to Shkoder, Durres and Berat. Furgons departing to the south like Gjirokaster or Saranda tend to depart fairly early in the morning. These furgons are fairly comfortable and are a quite fast way to travel.

Buses are more comfortable and cheaper, but they are less frequent.

By train

Limited services operate between Tirana and Shkodra, Fier, Ballsh, Vlorë and Pogradec. The train route from Lezhe to Shkodra has scenic beauty. The Tirana-Durres trains (and vice versa) depart up to 8 times a day. As of 2006, the trains in Albania are still in extremely poor condition - despite the route from Tirana to Vlore looking convenient on a map, the more wealthy Albanians never use trains and if not travelling in their own cars, use the many mini-buses.

A train ride is a must-see, as there are few such enjoyments in Europe these days. Tickets are very cheap and the journeys are very long, but the views and the atmosphere are usually priceless. On most stations you'll find people selling sunflower seeds, fruits, chewing gum and many other different things - very unusual in Europe.

By car

The roads between the important destinations have been recently repaved and fixed, and offer all the security measures one would expect on a highway. There are no fees for using the highways.

In the cities, and especially Tirana, many roads are being upgraded and fixed. Because of that, traveling by car inside the city will be slow.

A very nice ride is the Vlorë-Saranda mountain road. It is a typical Mediterranean road and offers an amazing view of the sea from the mountains.

By bicycle

The pot holes, driving standards and lack of places to stay in many villages and towns make Albania a challenging cycling destination, but a rewarding one. Often, asking around to see if you can stay in somebody's home / camp in their garden is the only option. Food and water are easily available in the frequent roadside cafes and bars.

It is OK to camp in all not strictly private places, and even if the places are private there should be no problems with your stay, ask if you doubt.

Be aware that it's very hard to get parts or repairs of modern bicycles there.

By thumb

Hitchhiking is not very common in Albania, however many people will pick you up if they are able. Cheap transport however, means that hitchhiking should usually be a emergency option only.

Do

There are many things to do in Albania. Because of its size, traveling around it is not difficult, allowing tourists to see many beautiful parts of the country.

  • The coastline is always a place to go, with its clear turquoise seas, and its many islands cast upon it, like in Saranda, a southern city in Albania.
Beautiful and quiet beach at Ksamili
  • Dajti mountain, a popular sight in Tirana alows you to get a whole green view of the capital.
  • A walk around southern cities like Butrint, a UNESCA world heritage sight, is always ideal and memorable. Butrint is home to many ancient ruins.
  • Castles are in many cities in Albania. Their beauty remindes anyone of the anciet times of Albania, and the world. There is Petrela Castle in Shkoder, and Skanerbeg Castle in Kruje, (named after the national hero and now a popular museum holding his belongings).

Talk

Albanian is the official language. Other useful languages include Italian, which is often viewed as the de facto second language due to strong historical ties with Italy. English is understandable in Tirana, the capital the most and to a lesser extent outside frequented tourist cities.

Buy

The national currency is the lek (ALL). There are 77.70 lek to the US dollar (09 Apr 2008).

Notice that some Albanians write prices with an extra zero; they are not trying to charge you 10 times the going rate, merely using the old currency.

Hundreds of new ATMs have been installed in most major cities. Use the Visa ATM Locator to find them. The ATMs accept most international VISA and Mastercard Credit/Debit cards.

Many rural convenience stores will NOT accept any other method of payment other than cash (currently in Albanian lek). However supermarkets, the better bookstores and the better boutique stores will accept Credit or Debit Cards. The most widely accepted cards are VISA, Mastercard, and Diner's Club.

Eat

Restaurants are very easy to find. Albania, like the Balkans in general, has a primarily Turkish influence in its cuisine. This influence stems from over 400 years of Ottoman rule in the region. Recent influences after the fall of communism in the early 1990's have been from Italy and Western Europe in general. Most of what is available in neighboring countries such as Greece and Italy will be available in Albania, particularly in the larger cities.

Albania's food is very tasty and satisfying. Many people grow fruits and vegetables around their houses, most popularly all kinds of grapes, (red, black, green), that are used to make raki.

Albania is a very mountainous country, and these mountains have scattered little beautiful olive trees that influence Albanian cuisine. Salads are usually made with fresh tomato and onion. Most Albanian people make their own bread, and going out for meals is not common. Since all fruits and vegetables are grown naturally, everything you buy and pick are pesticide free, and are sweeter.

Some sort of hearty stew is commonly included in Albanian dinners. These stews are easy to make, and flexible with ingredients. They include potatoes, onion, rice, etc.

  • Byrek - a type of savory pie is also common, and is made in different ways. One way is with spinach and feta cheese. Another is with ground meat and onion. Baklava is a popular desert and is always made as a desert during New Year's Eve. If going to Albania, expect lamb to be the main meat in many places. Lamb there is naturally fed, and does not have any odor like it does in North America. Two byreks and an ayran is a very common breakfast, so try it to understand why.
  • Cheese - lots of different types but mostly feta cheese. In village shops be prepared that you'll get the cheese in less hygienic way then in supermarkets but it's worth to try as it's usually delicious and in very good price (try those higher priced first).

Drink

The preferred alcoholic hard drink is raki that is locally produced in small towns as well as in many homes in the countryside; in some instances you may run across men washing down breakfast with a few shots. The number of homemade beers, wines and raki is as varied as the population itself; the quality of these drinks is as varied as the quantity available. Non-alcoholic drinks range from the well-known international and regional soft drink brands to the locally produced copies. You can find any type of pop or soft drink in Albania, including all kinds of Fantas, Coca Cola, and Sprite. Natural mineral water is popular because of its healthiness. Energy drinks found everywhere in the United States are also present there, like Red Bull.

Boza, a popular caramel tasting drink in Europe is the best in Albania, and Albanians have been known as the best boza makers in the world.

Sleep

Inside the cities hotels are abundant and prices per night start as low as 15 Euros. Hotels are usually clean and their staff speaks English and/or Italian.

Outside the cities the hotels are less frequent. If by any reason you have nowhere to sleep, the Albanian people have always been known for their hospitality, and will treat you like royalty as you stay with them.

Learn

Work

Stay safe

Take the usual precautions. Foreigners are not targeted by the local crime scene and since the opening of the border, no major incidents toward tourists have been reported. Be careful when crossing streets as there are no traffic lights.

Stay healthy

Its best to drink bottled water, but potted water is usually drinkable too. The food in Albania is mostly healthy, anywhere you go in the country. You can walk around to stay fit, as many people do in the capital. Be careful at the beaches because shards of glass and sea urchins are common on the sea floor. Also, pharmacies and other stores are closed from about 12-4 PM so bring all necessary medicine with you. Also, many Albanians smoke cigarettes. It is a normal thing and expect it everywhere. There are no "No Smoking" signs in front of cafes or hospitals. So people with asthma should take caution.

Respect

Albanians are very hospitable. Even more so than the rest of the Balkans, elder males expect to be shown due respect on account of their age. Men of the family have to be respected to the upmost. Shake hands with them and do not argue on topics such as religion and politics. Certain topics are taboos, although they may be fine in the United States or other countries. Of the like are homosexuality and the female menstrual system. Women and girls should always keep their menstrual pads or tampons hidden and never talk about cramps. It is considered shameful if you talk about it around men or boys. As mentioned above, many Albanians smoke. Do not lecture them about the cons of smoking. This will only get them upset. Instead, kindly say "Excuse me, I have a few allergies, do you mind not smoking please?"

Cope

Electricity

Officially 220V 50Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 "Schukostecker" or "Schuko" or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travellers should pack an adapter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Albania.

Be prepared for rolling blackouts in and around Tirana during the winter months, usually starting in September, and going through March and April. All the power in the area comes from hydroelectric plants, and the high use of heaters in the wintertime places a greater stress on the water supply for the power plant. The blackouts usually last three hours, and will either be in the morning, around 9:00 AM, or in the afternoon around 3:00 PM. There is no warning of the blackout, so be careful not to get stuck in an elevator.


Water

Water shortages are very common, so bring plenty of deoderant and hygene items of the like. In and near Shkoder, you will need to wake up before 8:30 AM if you want to take a shower. Water shortages are usually around the same times - 8:30 AM, 6 PM, 1 AM

Contact


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