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Travelling Albania Part 1: People and houses

Although Albania is a small country, I have managed to write pages and pages about it. So, I’ve had to split them into a series of short blogs. This is part 1 of 2 (so far).

Me and our waitor at Mrizi i Zanave Agroturizëm restaurant, Skoder.

People

Firstly I have to talk about the Albanian people. Their hospitality, kindness, friendliness and smiles are almost unparalleled anywhere else we’ve been in Europe. 

Locals will go out of their way to help you in any way they can, and ask for absolutely nothing in return. For example, we were staying at an Air BnB in the small town of Pogradec on the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid (link here for anyone interested in staying). Whilst travelling, we had discovered a new favourite food: the traditional Albanian dish of speca me gjizë (peppers with cheese). We messaged our host, asking if he knew a good recipe for the dish before we headed out for the day. We returned home to a message from the host telling us that his mother is a chef and is baking us some Speca me gjizë as we speak, and she will be up in 30min. This dish was some of the greatest food we’ve ever tasted; I’ll attempt to describe it to you but warning, you may start drooling. The dish contains thinly sliced peppers (capsicums) in a dish with creamy cottage cheese, spices and peppers (hot peppers), covered in grated cheese. This cloud of heavenly cheese and peppers is all baked in the oven for 5o minutes until everything has melted into a gooey orchestra of flavour and spice.

Speca me gjize, home-made, fresh out of the oven.

We demolished the entire oven tray-sized dish in one sitting. Just as we were halfway through we got a friendly knock at the door – the hosts’ mother was back with dessert: oven-baked apples. 

It’s incredible that after all these people have been through, they are still able to show such happiness and hospitality. 

Houses

Have you ever walked past a dark, dishevelled house and wondered, how could this have happened? How can a house be so neglected that the paint loses its colour and the walls begin to crumble inwards? Albania’s homes will you show you a step-by-step process, like an interactive walk through architectural history right in front of your eyes, all in one street. Although, in Albania this process of deterioration seems to be happening in reverse; the houses are being restored. 

View of UNESCO village, Gjirokaster from Gjirokaster castle.

There are the communist apartment blocks built in the 1980s; concrete squares distinguishable as homes by the dusty air conditioner boxes hanging precariously off the sides and windows covered by white fabric-blinds. Next, there are the brick apartment buildings where the bricks seem to have been laid atop one-another without the right glue. They looks as though one flash with a hair dryer or one drunken fall into the building and the whole thing would collapse into a pile of dust and rubble.

Our guesthouse in Valbone. The bottom level was a fully-furnished cabin, whilst the top was unfinished.

Then, there are what I call the ‘half/halfs’, the unfinished buildings. In Albania you don’t pay tax on a building that’s unfinished. So, some very savvy Albanians begin building a second level, a second level that is never completed…

Lastly there are the next generation of homes – the colour clad, white bordered apartments. In Western eyes these are ‘beautiful’: pastel yellows, red, and blue with ornate white-bordered windowsills, balconies and door frames. Maybe, in the future, Albania will be an entire city of bursting colour.

New and colourful streets of Shkoder.

Part 2: scenic drives, coastal landscapes and mountain-top views…

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Published by busybeebella

An energetic and enthusiastic young writing passionate about scientific communication.

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