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Albania (not ALBANY, NY!)


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People sell almost anything on the street anywhere. Olive oil and pickles in the boot and on top of the car.


In a residential area


"Feta*" from Gjirokaster. I tasted some and bought the most expensive of these 3. (It's called "white cheese" and is very similar to Feta but can't be called that as Feta has PDO status)


Bottom shelf Italian "Riesling".


About to drop the postcard in the postbox. Last time I sent a few, also to my own address, but none arrived. Let's see again if it does.


Went to see the Ottoman stone bridge. Last time I biked through a back road, over disused railway tracks, through mud, got swamped by a flock of sheep. Couldn't find the same way I used, tried to look for it from the taxi.


I waz here (again).


Back from seeing the old bridge. The restaurant has a photo of the same bridge as wallpaper. I drank beer at this restaurant-cafe-beer bar many times before, it's now under new management and the name has been changed, as well as the type of restaurant.


Adventure in eating in Albania... "furnace beef" (as in cooked in the oven) in some kind of mild tomato sauce. Meat slices are very thin.


"Qofte with eggs". Turns out it's flattened mince dipped in flour and eggs then shallow/deep-fried.


Grilled vegetables always come with more courgette than other things. I don't like courgette.


Strange that Birra Tirana can't be found in the capital any more, but is still available in other towns. It used to be the most common beer in the capital.


Peanut flavoured flips from Serbia. Not salty and most peanut-y.



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The most common shape of byrek (phyllo pastry) is triangle, and the most common fillings are soft cheese, and soft cheese-spinach combo. The triangles only has cheese.


Both were just out of the oven from the bakery few steps away so we decided to eat them straight away.


Roman road and walls, still in use.






Remains of an amphitheatre. Not in such good shape as one at Butrint.


Remains of a Byzantine market square




Doughnut shop. Appears The Simpsons is also popular here. But nowhere is more than Argentina, the biggest fan of The Simpsons. Btw, there are soooo many dental clinics and barber shops in Albania. I haven't seen a hairdresser for women yet, though. Only for men. Where do the women go to get it done?


Wanted to visit this museum but it's closed, of course.


My owners and slave drivers. We all work like dogs for them (and everyone else) and in turn they let us live.


All the things I find (highly) irritating at home also exist in Albania, but here they take it up a notch. The parking is particularly brutal, with zero regard for pedestrians and cyclists. The nicer looking the car the more brazen the driver and his parking. I see it all day long. As soon as I leave my lodging and step into the street I see it.


Double-parking is super normal


We walked for so long everywhere. Time for a meal, mezze-style today.

Stuffed peppers. I noticed rice with some vegetable bits in the filling were most common.




Hand-formed qofte


I'm not the type who tells you only the positive side of things. Albania has the same climate and ingredients as other countries in the region, however, the quality is much lower. Was disappointed on my first trip. The quality is still low but not terrible. On the other hand, as soon as I crossed the border into Greece it was like flipping a switch. The quality of ingredients is much higher, and the dishes have more depth and creativity.  


Another example is yoghurt sauce. This is kind of "fancy", with slices of cucumber and an olive. That's it. Albanian food is like this: take some of this and some of that from its neighbours and invaders and then make it even simpler.



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Most restaurants are closed, 3 or 5 days, in the first week of new year. Only some cafes are open because Albanians need to drink coffee, be outside, and smoking. We had more walking and exploring to do today.


Poor aloe


Old bus seats replace bench at bus stop


I watched the children use these swings. You are looking at a playground in a third world country. They don't have swings at home in the garden.


Elderly couple and more plants in the shade


Just like little me. I had no toy and no one, but I had access to books and my imagination.


Saw big bones like this multiple times every day. Probably turkey bone, almost as long as my shoes. I think people ate and then left it on the street for feral dogs. There's a big number of feral dogs in the country.


Even Albanians looked shocked seeing this a-hole parking.


All parked cars


Gulls elsewhere eat seafood and whatever meat they can scavenge. Here they congregate where there's a sewer and fight each other for what comes out of it.


A parent emptied a bag of beach toys next to a tree. Turns out her children could play in the soil.


A primary classroom, appeared to be abandoned for sometime.


Right outside the classroom. Obituaries are posted in public. Any wall or surface will do.


Restaurants and bakeries were all closed during the first week of the year. We bought some bread and cheese the day before and stored them in the mini fridge in the room. Fresh ricotta and mozzarella from a dairy shop nearby. The bakery is only steps from my lodging has great breads and phyllo pastries. We bought bread and phyllo pastries from them every day. Never found anything like their bread again when we returned to the capital. This bread is super airy and the crust is chewy but not mouth-destroying hard. There's very little dense mass inside. Breads were the thing we enjoyed eating the most in Albania. Would never have thought!


Washed down with a super fruity Albanian wine.


I got the peanut flips mixed up. Bag in post above was the worst: salty and not too peanuty. One on right in this photo was the best version. Not salty and had most peanut flavour. It's from North Macedonia. Replay is OK, produced in Albania but probably for someone else (Elka is an Albanian distributor.)



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Thanks, Shelby!


They were both so chuffed. They work really, really hard for their guest house. No help from the government and zero income during Covid time. Whole family survived on the wife's modest salary until the country opened the border again more than a year later.


History has been unkind to Albania but the Albanians choose to remain kind. They are some the kindest people I've met in my travels.


Me kissing a whale (the creature is kinder than any human!)

I usually bring haft a rucksack full of things to give away on every trip. Then fill it up with food souvenirs on the way home! Win-win!


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Back in polluted capital. Had more than an hour to kill until we could enter the flat. No restaurant was open so we had some beer and nibbles at a cafe in the neighbourhood.




On my previous trip I took photos of missing covers. This time most covers are there. They used to steal manhole covers to sell for scrap metal.


Child seats we have are on the back of the bike and they are bigger with higher back.


Albania has many, many bunkers. They have destroyed a lot of them over the years. I was told the army destroyed them so they could sell the iron.




A chunk of the Berlin wall


I spent a lot of time with a family in Gjirokaster who told me some horror stories about how their (grand)parents and Albanians suffered under brutal communist regime. They still haaaaate them.


Went to a pizza restaurant round the corner from my flat. There's a restaurant next to this place that was completely full of (Italian) tourists eating pasta, risotto, pizza. There's a big green "TA" sticker on the door. I tend to avoid places with that green sticker. We took half back to the flat for another meal.











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The entrance to our flat building. It's a bit low, the partner is almost 2 metres in length and had to bend down to enter/exit. It's typical in Albania the building has an inner parking area and a few entrances like this all round.


Albanians have a preference for German cars, specifically Mercedes. I've asked why, turns out they just really like Mercedes, and also because it's easiest to find parts.
In the car park at my building half the cars are German and in good condition.


A swing for wheelchair. We don't even have one in our municipality.


Street book stall


Albania has more cafes than any other country. One of them is round the corner from my flat.


Staying in a posh part of the capital. Back in communist days only the highest ranking officiers of the regime could live in this part of town. Now there are many expensive restaurants, suuuuuuper posh cafes whose clientele are suuuuuper chic, young and dress to kill. They drive big, new German cars. I have seen a couple of Hummer in the neighbourhood.


And on my posh street




Old drawers next to pizza restaurant where I ate yesterday


Lunch at a local restaurant next to my flat building. The have a different dish of the day for every day of the week.
Couscous with vegetables.


Chicken (flavoured) soup




Roasted vegetables and chicken


Checked out a dairy shop and bought some goat's feta.




Butter balls


This kind of dairy shop sells only products from one brand. I tried many brands of supermarket yoghurt but they were all meh. Everything tastes better from these dairy shops.




From supermarket, price is higher than most brands, tastes OK.




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  • 2 weeks later...

Every bakery has different types of bread. I noticed the bakeries are not like a chain so they make different types.






Yoghurt from dairy shop in my building but on street level.


BK has a couple of restaurants in the capital. Chicken Royale is same as "original chicken sandwich" in the US, according to internet. 550 lek = US$. They want so much to be Westernised and now with more Western fast food brands arriving I am already seeing fat Albanians, worryingly many of them are the young ones.


Rope bridge at this playground is in the form of Ottoman stone foot bridge


Tirana has a nice artificial lake. We went for a walk a couple of times, in both directions. Takes 1,5 hours to complete the entire the lake route on foot.




Butter comes in 2 shapes. Forgot to check if they are also in tubs.


2 cheapest brands come from Indonesia and this one, China. When it comes to sardines I only buy from certain countries.


Parking just like the a-holes we have at home. Hard to get round in a wheel chair here.




Albania has many churches, and mosques.


A cheese grater. Cheese in the compartment on right, to grate turn hand crank.


A cheese maker


Every day I went to the new market to find the elderly herb seller but she had left early. I had wanted to buy some herbs to take home and give her a certain big amount of money. Hope I can return before she retires.


This is the photo I took of her 7 years earlier


And that's her now, the day we met again.



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Lunch at a nice Korçan restaurant a few streets from my lodging. The food is in the style of the town Korçë located in south-eastern Albania.


Best qofte. Don't want to have to come back to Albania so I can visit Korçë for the qofte and Korça beer!


Korça sausage


Mixed pickles. Very nice.


Chewy, warm, fluffy, big pittas.


Grilled mixed vegetables. Oh wait, mostly courgette. Grrr....


Most expensive item is lamb's ribs. Except there's no meat on them. The fat and bones tasted good, though. Lamb's ribs are most common lamb thing on menu in Albania. What happens to the rest of the lamb then? I never saw other cuts.


Yoghurt sauce for the qofte and lamb's ribs


Whilst the country is changing for the worse, mainly the capital, the beer scene is changing for the better. One small step at a time but it's better than on my first trip. Then there were only domestic weak industrial beer and one private brewery in Tirana. This small supermarket hidden between apartment buildings in a residential neighbourhood carries foreign beers! I can't even find Aventinus Eisbock at home anymore!








Italian supermarket chain Conad also stocks Danish beer, but mostly Italian. All rubbish, though.






I had this before in Alsace


Kaon and Birra Tirana (both brewed in the capital) used to be common, now it's hard to find.








From Montenegro


The dark one is quite good. Chocolatey.




Finally, probably the only Albanian IPA. Nobody could tell me if there are more Albanian craft breweries besides this one.


The only non industrial brewery in the capital, or the entire country. I went there every day to drink beer on my first trip. The young brewer showed me round the tiny brewery (only a few small fermenters right inside the restaurant in photo below) and we chatted for a long time every time. He couldn't brew other styles besides "Weissbier", "dunkel", "pils" etc. The reasons? The government wouldn't allow or approve of other recipes and styles. He learnt English from an American peace corps man who stayed with the family when he was a boy. The same American later also introduced him to beer and home brewing.


Unfortunately, the brewery is either a victim of Covid or a bad business decision had been made.


Well, like the saying, everything has an end, only the sausage has 2.



I flipped through the cookery book (in English) when I exited the arrival hall and again before going through security. Don't want any more cookery books! I had 5 kilos of Iranian red pistachios in my bag and I liked that better.



Glad I got to experience the "old" and new Albania. It's a trip like no others. I got to meet with some strangers I took photos of. Never thought I would be taken with this country but turns out to be one of the most bitter-sweet, mixed with intense (emotional) memories and the kindness and hospitality of Albanians I met along the way.



So apparently I'm a "badass", because according to Albanians I not only returned to the country where they all want to leave, but also that I came in the winter. No tourist in their right mind would want to come here in the winter, they said.



Edited by BonVivant (log)
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@BonVivant Like @ElsieD, thank you - I never considered Albania as a tourist destination, but your trip looked fantastic.


I do have a question -what is the difference between kofte and sausage?  They're both ground meat with spices. Is it how finely ground the meat is, or is the sausage smoked or cured in some way? 

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Wonderful - thank you for beng a "bad ass" :) I think that title you showed says bread, salt amd heart. You showed us that aspect of the culture.

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Qofte is Albanian version of (Turkish) kofte, but simpler. Korçan sausage is a bit like Turkish sucuk, or kielbasa.


Thanks! Most people don't know about the existence of Albania, or where it is actually located. Even if they know Albania exists they say "aren't they still under communist dictatorship?", or "isn't there still a war going on?". So far only one person I know wants to visit Albania and that's my former teacher. Nobody else. It's not on anyone's bucket list.


So, thanks everyone, for going to France/Italy/OZ etc.!


I have also been to this least visited country round these parts.


Cheese hall at the central market in Moldova


In some less popular countries people seem kinder, too, and appreciate tourists. I bought cheese from this stall in the cheese hall. The ladies gladly posed for me.



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On 1/4/2023 at 9:02 AM, BonVivant said:

Shkoder is exactly as I remember it: scruffy, crowded, noisy, sprawling street markets, dirty, so much rubbish everywhere.

Two of my friends arrived in Shkador yesterday so I sent them a link to this topic as I believe they are flexible in their plans.  Not sure if they will check it out but I so rarely see Albanian tourism featured anywhere that I found it very interesting. 



Edited by blue_dolphin
typo (log)
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2 hours ago, BonVivant said:

Qofte is Albanian version of (Turkish) kofte, but simpler. Korçan sausage is a bit like Turkish sucuk, or kielbasa.


Thanks! Most people don't know about the existence of Albania, or where it is actually located. Even if they know Albania exists they say "aren't they still under communist dictatorship?", or "isn't there still a war going on?". So far only one person I know wants to visit Albania and that's my former teacher. Nobody else. It's not on anyone's bucket list.


So, thanks everyone, for going to France/Italy/OZ etc.!


I have also been to this least visited country round these parts.


Cheese hall at the central market in Moldova


In some less popular countries people seem kinder, too, and appreciate tourists. I bought cheese from this stall in the cheese hall. The ladies gladly posed for me.



Life is funny. Moldova was not on my radar in any way - thought maybe not even a real place then I saw The New Yorker cartoon the other day. So many things to learn.


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I like Moldovan food. Like Albania, it takes a bit of this and a bit of that from its neighbours and invaders. Moldova is also a competent wine producer.












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