Can Albania, with their Roman ruins and Greek temples, blue waters, and Adriatic coastline, be the next big destination? Many people are touting it as such. What I did notice were quite a few hair transplant tourists.
We went looking for the blue waters of the Adriatic. But, we went looking for the beach in the off off season, on a rainy cold day. We did find the beach and had a meal at a beach side restaurant (it was the only place open for miles), and oddly, I had to use my Italian language skills to order as the owner of the restaurant did not speak English.
I would recommend going way to the south near Greece when looking for sunshine. Or go in the shoulder season.
Still, it was nice to be able to get a decent “Greek” salad.
Another thing, everyone smokes.
But, Albania is the birthplace of Mother Theresa so perhaps people would visit for that reason too. There are things to see and do (the communist museums, the plazas, the Greek temples, the Adriatic, the mountains), and it is a bit cheaper than other parts of Europe.
The Albanians are ready. They have the tourist gear. Also, it’s pretty inexpensive to get a car service from Tirana to Kosovo, Skopje, Montenegro, and other parts of the Balkans. This is could be practical because it is not so easy to get to some of those places but Tirana has a direct flight from Rome.
As my time in Rome draws to a close, I realized that I had not visited many of the areas that were once part of the Roman Empire, especially those that were once behind the Iron Curtain. Back in August, I decided to make it the “Fall of the Iron Curtain” and draw back the curtain from the top in Estonia down to Albania. I did not succeed.
If you are a map geek like I am, try looking at Vox’s active map as it shows the rise and fall of the Roman empire. Rome was vast and when I did visit parts of the former Roman empire, I did in a plane ride what would have taken a Roman more than 20 days. That was in modern day Albania. In Roman times, modern day Albania was known as Illyria or Epirus, on the coast of Dalmatia and Macedonia. It was very Greek. One can visit Greek temples in Albania, and it seems like someone invested a lot of money on roads in the area around them.
One of the reasons why I visited Malta was a curiosity to see the influences of the Roman world. In modern times, it can be hard to recall that the Romans looked up to the Greek empire as an ideal. But, in places like Sicily which was part of Greece (Magna Greca) for hundreds of years, one can see the Greek influence in Italy. Italy has only been a unified country for 150 years. The Roman empire lasted about 900 years.
In places like Tirana, the modern capital of Albania, it is hard to see traces of the Roman empire. Except perhaps in the faces. In Montenegro, it seemed quick obvious that it was once a Roman area.
The town of Budva looks much like towns in certain parts of Italy. In contrast, the people are giants compared to Italians.
But, back to Albania. The people there were not giants. The contrasts of rich and poor were quite apparent in Tirana. There were many non-touristy things about Tirana. But, if one escapes to the sea, then one can see why it is compared to northern Greece. Another odd thing I noticed were the men wearing headbands. Then I realized that they had hair implants. I guess this surgery is very cheap over here. The food was good in Albania. Fresh seafood and surprisingly good sushi. The most striking thing about Albania is that Mother Theresa was from there.
In terms of tourism, Albania has the potential, with Greek temples, good beaches, cheap bus and taxi options from the airport, and some English speakers. BUT, 90 percent of Albanians smoke. This will keep the tourists away.
In conclusion, I did not make it to all 20 (or so) iron curtain countries. Looking at the map, I realize that I have already been to many of the far edges of the Roman empire. More from my adventures next time.
Sapphire blue water, cute old white stone streets, a public beach, and easy access to other places (if you ever want to leave), Polignano a Mare has it all. The city is walled and the old part is pedestrianized. The only wheeled vehicles inside are pedicabs transporting customers and their luggage to the many hotels and B&Bs.
The old city has many shops but doesn’t feel excessively touristy (even though it is), and once in a while you can glimpse real people living their lives here.
Since visiting, I have been raving about this town. It just seems too perfect. Even in 95/34 degree heat.
We went just for a the day but I could see staying here for an entire vacation.
Outside the old city, there are also lots of streets and neighborhoods to explore, or stay in, but we only explored the old town. We parked in the piazza just outside the old walls, helped by old gentlemen sitting in the square (they helped explain the parking sign — lunch is free parking), and when we returned at the end of the day, the same gentlemen were doing their “passaggiata” (daily walk to be seen, see, and catch up with neighbors) in the square.
We ate breakfast at a cafe, Caffe Dei Serafini, with a jawdropping view. Utterly amazing. The restaurant is in a cave wall of the city on the cliff and has only one table for two/three out on their tiny balcony… but if you are lucky, you can get that table, or, at least, use it for photo ops.
While I thought Lecce was more intellectual, and Otranto had a smaller vibe, I think that Polignano a Mare has a good combination for an overall Apulian vacation. And it has those blue waters.
I’m told that Sicily and Sardegna have blue waters as well, but for now, these have been the most jewel like yet.
My photos were taken with my iPhone and I did not use a filter. The water really is that color. Better than on postcards.
So I used my oven for the first, and last, time. I tried to bake something for a holiday party, a giant meat pie with phyllo pastry. It’s been months since I moved to Bogota, yet I couldn’t find my rolling pin, so I cut the pastry up into squares and placed them on top of the meat filling. My oven is a combination gas and electric oven. I couldn’t figure out which of the knobs I’m supposed to turn as the markings make no sense to me (plus some are worn off). So I turned everything. There was a hiss and then a few minutes later, the blue flames danced along the bottom. I put the pan in the oven. I watched. Eventually, I took it out. None of the pastry had risen. Some of the pastry had turned a dark bark color. At the other end of the pan, the pastry lay like uncooked lasagne sheets. I gave up.
For another holiday party, I made an artsy no-bake dessert. Here’s how I made it:
Marinate some dried cranberries in tequila (or rum) for a few days. Cook them with some sugar. Puree these with softened cream cheese and sour cream. Put in a ziplock bag for ease of transport. In a pan, toast some walnuts. Put aside. Melt some sugar (okay, lots) in a pan. Add a touch of butter to make a caramel. When the sugar is a liquid caramel, add dried cranberries and the walnuts. Put on a silicone sheet (or a greased surface) to cool. Smash the brittle into bits and put into a bag. At the party, assemble by cutting a hole in one corner of the cream cheese bag and pipette (fancy pouring) into hand blown glasses from Colombia (or a glass from anywhere). Add whipped cream if you want, or just put the brittle on top.
From now on, my desserts will all be brittle based.