Saturday, 29 August 2015

Albania – Retrospective Part II

In Part I, I provided an overview of Albania, incding the formalities for visiting.  In this second instalment I had planned to provide more details on where we visited and our impressions of the country.  But that started to get boring and I didn’t really want to write it so I’m changing my approach.

Goats grazing outside a castle in Palermos.
The Good:
  • Our agents in Sarande (Agim Zholi - and Durres (Captain Lambi Papa - ).  In Sarande, Agim met us at arrival, provided directions around town, gave us a copy of the 777 section covering Albania and went above and beyond when he met Iris and I at the Hospital and gave us a ride back to the boat.  
  • In Durres, Captain Lambi Papa met us at the boat and provided directions around town.  He checked in with us daily to make sure we were doing well and was obviously concerned that we found value in his services to the point that he offered us a money-back guarantee
  • The Albanian people. In spite of living through decades of communist paranoia and oppression, the Albanian people were welcoming, smiling, warm and open people.  Locals often made an effort to say hello, attempt conversations and interact.  Customs and port police and other officials were welcoming, helpful and cherry folks (which was a pretty significant contrast to our next stop, Montengro).
  • Medical Care.  You probably have already read Janet’s post about Iris’ little mishap, but it bears saying again that we were incredibly impressed with the quality, speed and cost of medical service in Albania.
  • Butrint.  The Unesco world heritage site of Butrint was a great opportunity to get away from the city and an excellent site for the kids to visit.  Outdoors, plenty of trails to explore and not too many areas that were off limits.  There is no better way to wear kids out than to let them climb all over an ancient city.

  • The Bunkers.  A sad leftover from the post-World War II leadership but a fascinating indicator of the mindset that existed and the challenging reality for Albanians right up until the mid-90’s.  The bunkers were everywhere and served as a sad reminder of the isolation imposed on the country.  They are also a pretty good indicator of why the country is still just starting to embrace tourism and private industry.
The Bad:
  • Bureaucracy.  The requirement to check in at each and every harbour and to use an agent was frustrating and limited the number of shore excursions/stops that we made.  Agents were relatively expensive compared to other costs.
  • Lack of anchorages.  The Albanian coast was very beautiful and the locals were welcoming, but there were very few safe, protected anchorages.  This, combined with number 1 above limited the number of stops we made and the duration of those stops. 
  • Lack of boating infrastructure.  Marinas I can do without, but there was a significant lack of chandleries or other facilities to outfit a cruising boat.  This may be a problem unique to us since we bought the boat in Greece and headed for Albanian nearly immediately.  Had we fully outfit the boat before leaving I probably wouldn’t have spent so much time looking for and failing to find hardware and boating supplies.

The Ugly:

Nothing really comes to mind, except maybe showing up in Durres and seeing that another cruiser had set rat guards on their lines – and then realizing we had no rat guards.  This was all followed by a frantic trip to the nearest grocery store to buy huge bottles of water to turn into rat guards.  Good news in the end – no rats on board!

The Bottom Line:

Albania was an interesting country and well worth the visit.  Tourism is just getting off the ground in the country and as a result there is not much tourism infrastructure.  However it is easy to find rooms for rent, hotels catering to eastern European tourists, or apartments for rent.  Banks are plentiful and ATMs dispense cash without incident.  Locals are friendly and welcoming and we recommend cruisers in the Adriatic take the time to visit rather than blasting past on their way between Greece and Croatia.

No comments:

Post a Comment