Albania is a country in Europe, but some aspects remind me much more of south east Asia. Until 20 years ago the country was as closed as North Korea is nowadays. They even had a law that said every foreigner that managed to get in had to be killed immediately.
Lucky, the complete opposite is happening now and people are glad to welcome everyone. The majority of the people are Muslim, although you will have a hard time finding a women with a headscarf on the street. The young women of Albania are beautiful, stylishly dressed and care a lot about fashion. You will see most of them wearing high heels and lipstick when outside. The men drink lots of coffee, you will see the bars filled with them every hour of the day. They occasionally shout at women passing by, trying to get their attention. The parks are mostly occupied by the older men playing chess and the women knitting socks and making byrecs (a delicious pastry, mostly with dough and goat cheese).
The country is beautiful, with mountains, beaches and lots of castles. There are not a lot of big clothing stores and very few supermarkets. Many big companies have not reached this country yet and people are selling everything on the streets: tabacco, shoes, food, clothes. Live is cheap, but the wages are low as well. A coffee will not cost you more then 50 Lek (35 euro cents) and the same applies to byrec and bread.
Hitchhiking is incredible easy. With an average waiting time of two minutes it’s by far the best county for hitchhiking in Europe. Also, every other driver will invite you for a coffee or tea on the way, since there is no change they are driving for more then an hour without having a coffee. ;)
The most confusing thing is the body language concerning yes and no. If an Albanian means yes, he or she will say ‘Poh’ and shake the head. No means nodding and saying ‘Jah’. Imagine ordering food..
Not many Albanians speak English, but when you ask them something they will probably find someone for you who does or call a friend that will try to answer your question. One man who gave us a ride, but didn’t speak English and decided to call his daughter to talk to us. She told us not to worry, because ‘her father will take care of us as bring us anywhere we wanted to go in the next city’.
To conclude: The food is amazing, the country beautiful, live happens mostly outside and the people are friendly and welcoming. Go see it for yourself!