15 Shocking Things You May Not Know About Albania-My Balkan Experience 3
Porti i Durresit, Durres, Albania
Lying on the Adriatic Sea coast and west of Tirana (capital of Albania) is the Port of Durres. This is the lifeline of Albanian economy. The port opens up the country to international market especially to the Mediterraneans and the Balkans. Port of Durres is a vital interface of Albania on the Adriatic region. Durres, on the other hand, is one of Albania’s oldest cities. It was founded by the Greeks in 627 B.C. Since then, it has been a trading port in the Adriatic. It is both a commercial and passenger port.
Albania is a quaint and hilly country in the Balkan peninsula. Despite of its small size, it has a long coastline along the Adriatic and Ionian seas. Along with neighboring Kosovo, most of its people are Muslims. It’s a legacy left by the Ottoman invaders. Only 20% of the population are Christians which are divided mainly by Orthodox and Catholics. After World War II, Albania became a communist state under Enver Hoxha. He led the country in fierce isolation for about 47 years. But with the collapse of other Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe from 1989 onward, democratic political parties also emerged in Albania. Their 1992 elections ended decades of communist rule. Albania officially joined NATO in 2009 and formally applied for membership of the European Union.
Still with the M/T Edgeless (2009) from Romania, we sailed straight to Albania for the next 15 hours. I can say that Albania is a very safe country for travelers. It has little to zero petty crimes unlike with other countries. Still considered a hidden gem, it is on a honeymoon with its tourism boom. The people here are friendly too. Aside from the fact that it has been a “hermit” country during the years of Communist rule, here are 15 shocking things you many not know about Albania.
1. They call their country “Shqiperi”
The most shocking thing you many know about Albania is that its people call their country “Shqiperi”. Albania is just the international name of the country. The citizens are called Shquipetar (or Children of Eagles). And well, their official language is Shqip.
2. It has no Mc Donald’s outlet in Tirana, the capital.
One shocking thing you may not know about Albania – the typical American fast food chain Mc Donald’s simply doesn’t exist in Tirana. Maybe the reason why is that Albania has a rich culinary heritage and they want to preserve it that way. But they have their own version of the Mc Donald’s called “Kolonat”.
3. They have a “walking” tradition called Xhiro.
A shocking thing you may not know about Albania is the tradition of Xhiro. In the afternoon, they go out from their homes for a leisurely walk down the road in where they live. This is also a good chance to catch up with friends and relatives.
4. When a YES means no and NO means yes
Remember this when you have also the chance to visit this country. A shocking thing you may not know about Albania is that a Yes is no, and No is yes. When having a conversation with the Albanians, you will notice that it seems they are also contradicting with your statements. To them, a nod simply means “no” and the shaking of their heads simply means “yes”. Such a culture shock indeed.
5. It has been the first Atheist country in the world.
In the decades of Stalinist regime, religion was banned outright. A shocking thing you many not know about Albania is that, it was the first Atheist country in the world. Under Enver Hoxha, mosques and churches were burned down. But these days, Albania is known as one of the most tolerant countries on religion. Its citizens with different religious backgrounds can live peacefully together.
6. Military bunkers are tourists attraction.
During Hoxha’s regime, he demanded that about 750,000 military bunkers have to be built in preparation for a war. Well, that was a big lie and the only time Albanians used those bunkers was during their civil war in 1997. These bunkers are scattered around the country. But another shocking thing you may not know about Albania is that these bunkers have been turned into farming sheds, hotels, artists’ studios and are tourists attraction.
7. Here, there, Mercedes everywhere..
By the end of Communist rule, there were only 3,000 cars in Albania. Private cars were illegal during that time. However, today, it may be one of the “struggling” countries of Europe but the German car, Mercedes rules their roads. A shocking thing you may not know about Albania. Everything else from buses, to cars, trucks and vans, they are wearing the 3-pointed star logo of Mercedes. Albanians think this brand of luxury car is the best and they referred it as the “king” of cars.
8. It is the home to world’s LARGEST oil reserve.
What do you think why a German premium brand is the car of choice in Albania? Well, it is the oil. This country has a large deposit of it. And it’s a shocking thing you may not know about Albania. That is why very large crude carriers like the M/T Edgeless dock at Port Durres. Albania is in the green when it comes to oil and natural gas.
9. The city of Shkodra don’t use traffic lights.
Within a stone’s throw to the border with Montenegro is Shkoder. A refreshing and laid back town worth a visit in its own right. One of the oldest cities of Albania (founded in the 4th B.C.), it has been conquered by the Greeks and Romans. This is the soul of Albania with its cobbled streets and ancient houses. And it doesn’t use traffic lights. A shocking thing you may not know about Albania. In 1995, the people of Shkoder refused to pay a traffic light tax in the amount of 2,000 LEK (their currency). Up to this day, the city remains with no traffic lights. And who needs a traffic light when cycling has become a part of the city’s identity?
10. Albania has only one Nobel Peace winner (and a saint), St. (or Mother/Blessed) Teresa of Calcutta.
St. Teresa of Calcutta is everywhere in Albania. Their international airport has been named after her – Nene Teresa International Airport. Monuments of this famous nun are ubiquitous at intersections and churches. A Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1979, Saint Teresa of Calcutta was born in Albania. A shocking thing you may not know about Albania. She was born as Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 at Skopje which is now a part of Macedonia.
11. Indulge in Tave Kosi for the experience
Remember when I mentioned that there are no Mc Donald’s outlet in Albania? That’s because the country has a rich culinary history. It has Greek and Turkish influences mixed with local traditions. Tave Kosi is a comfort food and a shocking thing you many not know about Albania. It is a soft, tender lamb with rice, oregano and garlic underneath a yogurt mixture. Basically it is a lamb yogurt casserole.
12. It is good luck in Albania if a bird poops on you.
Albanians are superstitious people. It is common for them to believe in good and bad luck. It is good luck for them when a bird poops on you. A shocking thing you may not know about Albania. It is supposed to bring prosperity and riches. So, when you are in Albania, you better feel good after a bird drops its blessings on you.
13. The village of Lazarat was once a cannabis capital of Europe.
It used to be Europe’s marijuana capital. A shocking thing you may not know about Albania. In the village of Lazarat, cannabis cultivation was once an important support to the farmers’ income. But after more than a decade as an outlaw village, Lazarat is now a sheep farming community.
14. And Berat is one of Europe’s prettiest towns.
Once a frontier town of the Byzantine Empire, Berat is one of Europe’s most prettiest towns. A shocking thing you may not know about Albania. Berat‘s appeal lies in its UNESCO World Heritage architecture and the irresistible mountain landscape of the city. This is also a town where Christians and Muslims live together in perfect peace with churches and mosques sharing the same space.
15. Their former King has nine lives like a cat?
King Zog, Albania’s leader from 1922-1939 survived 55 assassination attempts while he was in office. A shocking thing you may not know about Albania. In later years as a King, he became paranoid with the attempts. He surrounded himself with loyal bodyguards who were members of his family circle. He died peacefully of old age in 1961.
Albania indeed is a surprise destination. Though it is one of the least visited countries of Europe, it’s a gem waiting for you to be explored. It may have suffered a lot but it is surfacing with a lot of courage and rightfully becoming as a tourist destination.