10 hours on a bus brought us from Tessaloniki in Greece to Tirana in Albania. The bus ride was eventful to say the least - the bus driver honked at everything, most of the roads in Albania only had room for one car at a time, and the scenery was pristine nature, spoiled only by the immensity of the litter pile at the side of the road. American media creates a skewed perception of Albania - one seemingly based on mistruths that does not give enough exposure to give any realistic picture. Sadly, my associations with Albania naively related to Taken, poor economic status, post soviet / yugoslavia and not much else.
What we have found has been pleasantly surprising. Yuri, the man who runs our hostel exemplifies the kindness that seems to radiate from the Albanian people. Tourism isn't an industry that is as natural to the locals as it is in other locations, so while the people are eager to help, there have been no fake friendly advances such as in Morocco or Turkey. Yet when asked, people want to help, despite any language barrier.
Like plenty of other countries in the nearby region, Albania has a rich history spanning numerous empires. They have each left there mark artistically, architecturally and culturally, remnants are all over the place to be seen. When this is coupled with the fantastic natural landscape, and the quite enjoyable food, Albania does not seem a bad destination at all.
Yet, it is an underlooked, even forgotten country. Due to lack of industry as well as physical remnants and museums, it cannot welcome the same mass of visitors as a country like France or Italy. Travelers here seem to be in the same boat as we, passing through in between Montenegro and Greece, only to be pleasantly surprised.
One of the joys of a hostel is the people that it forces you into contact with - souls you would never encounter on another path. We've had the fortune to be united with a score of travelers from Austrailia, Denmark, and the Czech Republic in Tirana. The world is large, but warmth is found in small places, and with local food, cards and a few beers laughs were stirred and memories created. We are the only group not driving around Europe, but nonetheless a sense of adventure unites us all, a feeling that erradicates any worry of a country like Albania because its not on the Trip Advisor top 10.
When we were checking in, Yuri posed the question, "Why one night?" The answer was obvious to us until he pointed out the richness of Tirana, followed by the richness of Albania. As is always the case, you can't do everything, but our short time here is a strong reminder to underestimate nothing, and look for beauty and opportunity in the little guy, the road less traveled. There's benefit to be reaped there.