I'm interrupting my regular schedule of fabulous wedding programming to hop back to a trip my sister and I took last year to the land of the Illyrians, our ancestors: Albania. I can't really put into words what it meant for Ally and I to make the trip. We are half Albanian, and we'd grown up hearing about the place, eating Albanian food on holidays, and sometimes learning words like "pordhë" (fart), and "brekë" (panties). For the purpose of this trip, we dubbed ourselves Alabanians. (Get it? We're from Alabama. You can check out our #alabanians hashtag on Instagram.)
It's been just over a year since our trip, and I haven't really processed the whole thing yet. We were gone for about three weeks, and as soon as we returned, I was thrust straight into a busy fall wedding season. I made it a point not to go on any big trips this summer, and I've had some time to reflect on my appreciation for the trip.
I want to share our experience with all y'all... not because the pictures are the most stunning travelogue ever (they're not), but because I urge anyone with an active lifestyle and a sense of adventure to visit this place. Looking for an adventurous honeymoon destination with amazing food, mountains, beautiful beaches, so much history? Done, done, and done. You can spend two weeks in Albania for the same amount of money you'd spend in Switzerland in three days.
Albania is by no means an easy place to travel in. The tourism industry is still developing, as is all the infrastructure in this tiny country that was under Communist rule from 1946 until 1992. I won't get into all that here, but suffice it to say that traveling within Albania is pretty adventurous. If you've travelled within South America, the experience is somewhat similar, with the main difference being that you probably didn't learn Albanian in college. And there's a lot more feta. Albanian is a pretty strange-looking language for English speakers, but we found that plenty of young people spoke English well. (Albanian is an Illyrian language: Wikipedia says that no other language has been conclusively linked to its branch.)
The photos in this post are from the northern half of the country. I'll just have to make another post about the southern half later on. We seriously did so much on this trip that one blog post won't do it justice. Two won't do it justice either, but it's just going to have to do!
We don't have much family left in Albania, but we were lucky enough to have a ride from the airport (and a place to stay) with Deni, my boyfriend's-friend's-niece. It's funny what a small world it is, when you get down to it. I wasn't sure what to expect, but twenty-something Deni is as strong and opinionated a woman as I've ever met. She and her friends toured us around Tirana for two or three days, and we found a city that's lively and beautiful in its own post-Communist way.
Our next stop was Shkoder, close to the Montenegro border. We stayed in a cute hostel here for one night before hopping off to our next destination, Valbona.
I wish I had photos from our ride from Shkoder to Lake Komani, but the ride our hostel arranged for us seemed...... sketchy. Our driver seemed like a normal man (not a taxi driver) who drove us and two Albanian men for about two hours through windy asphalt roads, then windy mountain dirt roads in the middle of nowhere to the place where you catch the ferry to Fierze. Everything ended up being fine, and like many things we did in Albania, after seeing that although Albania operates differently than the US, I'd really like to go back and photograph the actual experience more.
At any rate, we were dropped off at a busy dock that was gridlocked with cars (somehow everyone got where they needed to go), bought espresso shots, and took our seats on the top level of the ferry. Then we rode for three glorious hours through the mountains, with no signs of human life in sight, save a few homes near the banks.
Lake Komani was formed after construction of a hydroelectric dam in the 1980s. It's a thin, windy lake and taking the ferry is by far the fastest way to get from Shkoder and the surrounding area to the Albanian Alps. It's also spectacular. We were sold on the idea of taking the ferry after we read the Bradt Travel guide, which describes the journey as "one of the world's great boat trips." It's also worth noting that while the top deck was full of tourists, the bottom deck of the ferry was full of locals.
(You can read more in depth about the ferry ride in this article from the Guardian.)
After we debarked our ride, we got our second informal cab of the day. And for the second time of the day, we were not kidnapped. (Again, wish I had pictures.) We arrived in the magical town of Valbona after an hour's drive.
I hope you've enjoyed these photos and words!