Guest Blogger and my good friend, John Seale, took us to Vienna, Austria, after which he left the conventional European vacation behind with destinations in Kosovo and Albania. John is one of my frequent travel partners, from across Texas to the other side of the world (2 trips to Kenya). From Texas to Beyond is excited to bring you his unique perspectives on travel, along with some fascinating locations. Today, we conclude John’s four part series with his trip to Albania.
Albania has more tourism than neighboring Kosovo, but I had the pleasure of seeing it during a short add-on to my time with my wife and sister in Kosovo. Make sure you read my previous post for more information about the region and its history. Because of the common language and good roads, you can easily add a trip to Albania to your visit to Kosovo for a more unique experience! While Albania is a large country with acclaimed beaches and mountain villages, if you only have a short time, I think Durrës is well worth your visit.
Albanians are one of the most unique people groups in Europe. The Albanian people trace their lineage to the Illyrians, and as a tribe were first written about by Ptolemy – yes, that’s right, 2,000 years ago. Their history goes way back, and their language even further. Albanian is in a language branch by itself, sharing its branch with no other extant language. It is not Slavic, nor Romantic, nor Germanic. The nation has been independent since the Ottoman Empire broke up after World War I. It was under the control of Italy and Germany during World War II, and became communist afterward. The modern republic was established in 1991. Note that Albania does not use the Euro as Kosovo does, but you may be able to use them in some tourist places.
The drive toward the Adriatic from Kosovo features a beautiful stroll past Prizren and through a simple border crossing. Don’t sleep on this drive – the views are worth it.
When in Durrës, you will have the chance to enjoy a mix of beachfront relaxing, stunning views, and historic exploring. Durrës has been continuously inhabited for 2,700 years and features ruins dating from the 2nd century. I strongly encourage paying the nominal fee to enter the Durrës Amphitheatre, which was built by the Roman Emperor Trajan for gladiator contests and entertainment. In the 6th century, a chapel was added, and some of the tile mosaics are still in good shape. It’s only partially excavated, but the view of such an ancient structure in the middle of a modern city is very unique.
For an even more unusual site, just a stone’s throw away is a Byzantine forum, where columns still stand from the 5th century. We found the gates unlocked and nobody minded us walking amongst them and around the Roman bath. A turret from a similar 5th century castle still stands near the beach, but a restaurant bar now occupies the space inside. Throughout the city, you’ll notice ancient Roman walls still standing and being used here and there. The history is astounding for a Texan for whom the Alamo, at 250 years old, is ancient.
We were looking for a solid restaurant on the water, so we settled on 4-Stinet and were not disappointed. Overall, it looks like you can’t go wrong almost anywhere.
The beaches are nice, though in May when we visited the water was quite cold. Restaurants own most of the beaches, so order some drinks or food in order to enjoy the comforts of a chair and umbrella. There are a slew of restaurants and bars along the waterfront, so you have your pick of where to eat. The bridge out to a manmade island is beautiful as well. Walk or drive up toward King Zog’s palace on the hill, and then keep going toward the lighthouse and abandoned construction project at the top. From there you have a stunning view of the entire city and coastline. The palace is pretty from the outside, but you can’t enter it, as it is a government building.
If you’re returning to Kosovo, you can stop in Tirana, the capital of Albania. I didn’t find Tirana to be a tourist-friendly city. Tirana is a large and crowded city with an enormous amount of traffic and not much parking. If you are interested, you can tour some remarkable mosques there, but the primary thing to do in Tirana is riding the cable car to the top of Dajti Mountain. Unfortunately, it was closed when we passed through. We walked through Parku i Madh, a large forested park with good walking paths and random cafes dotted throughout. It’s hard to get around near the city center. If you have the time, try the cable car and the restaurant at the top of the mountain, but other than that just keep going past Tirana.
My wife and I are definitely happy we visited Albania. If you’re brave enough to try this less-developed and less-touristy Balkan region, you’ll be rewarded with a fabulous visit, complete with beaches, mountains, hills, ancient history, good food, even better coffee and wonderful people!
About The Author: John Seale might be called a “xenophile” – he loves geography, cultures, and people groups all over the world. He’s traveled through Central and South America, the Balkans, and East Africa with ministries that he volunteers with. He and his wife Katie live in Dallas, where he is the Director of Operations for LINC North Texas, a community ministry. He has a personal blog called Every New Day.