Hi, loves! Ok, before I get into sharing my Albania and Poland trip I shall let you all know that I’ve made a vow to myself to write more on my blog. I get so caught up with posting on Instagram that sometimes I forget that is actually not my blog. So, now that those thoughts are outta the way …
I don’t have as much as I’d like to say about Poland because we only spent 5 days there, I will, however, share my favourite thing about Poland, aside from its beautiful architecture. We attended a wedding in Daniel’s home town, Gorzow, and it was the most fun wedding I think I’ve ever been to. it was like a walk down memory lane. The endless playlist of 90’s Euro music such as Coco Jumbo, Haddaway, La Bouche and so on. Along with people’s ability of being able to hold their alcohol like they’ve barely had a sip (I kid you not that every person over 12 years of age had at least a 750 ml bottle of vodka) and dance until the wee hours of the morning, this was a wedding for the books. I loved every second of it. If you ever get the chance to attend or crash a Polish wedding while visiting, then I’d recommend you do it even if just for the stories you’ll be able to tell after. We spent only two days in Warsaw and I loved it so much, that I can't wait to return. Also, being someone that spends hours dissecting hotels and making sure the hotel I book has the whitest of sheets (LOL. I actually do ask!) I loved our stay at Polonia Palace Hotel. It had the perfect old school architecture with modern rooms. I will definitely be staying there again, in fact, I can't wait to return and have more photo shoots on their dreamy staircase.
Albania - I have been wanting to experience my country as a tourist for a long time. We started our trip with Tirana, because it is the only city where you can enter the country by plane. I won’t tell you bit by bit of the fun conversations I had with people, from the moment I stepped foot at the airport, to exchanging money, to the inappropriate conversations with the taxi driver taking us to Tirana Centre. But I will tell you this (and I promise that my opinion is not biased) there has never, ever, ever been kinder people anywhere I’ve traveled to more so than Albania. Anywhere! Albanian people will go out of their way to accommodate or help you. From the moment we checked in at Boutique Hotel Gloria and the front desk lady confirming every single food I had requested for breakfast (homemade byrek, included), to the server of the many restaurants we ate at going across the street to buy us Turkish coffee, because some places only carry espresso, and bring it to the restaurant, from owners wanting us to try their homemade raki to making a vegetarian meal happen even when we were certain that all they served in the restaurant was meat, to often in hotels, if we did not have enough lek (local currency) to pay for it and offer to pay the rest in Euros, they’ll non hesitantly say “oh, don’t worry, it’s all good, don’t break your Euros!” Hands down. Nicest people anywhere in the world. Like, where in any other country would they be OK with if you didn’t pay your hotel right to the penny? Where in any other country would a restaurant that is completely closed, invite you in just because they don’t want to turn you away? Where in any other country would the server go get you a coffee across the street, with their own money, and bring to you? I must add, the fact I spoke the language played a big part in my great experience and made things much easier, but Daniel said he could feel the hospitality even though he only knows a few words in Albanian. But, it is Eastern Europe, and being ogled by people as you're taking photos or even walking around is to be expected. My photo below is the epitome of Albanian people, they will look ... heck, they will stare! But not for a negative reason, they just like looking, they're curious people. They lived under a communist regime up to the early 90's, people were not allowed to exit the country and foreigners couldn't enter it, either. But try and go now ... there is not enough hotels to accommodate all the tourists, especially in the summer months. We only spent three nights in Tirana, and that is long. Unless you are someone that loves chaotic places with cars honking all day and a city that never sleeps. If ever in Tirana, you must have a cocktail at Radio and Vague Nouvelle bar in Tirana. You can’t beat amazingly curated cocktails for under $6 (that’s Canadian, fyi)! There are also so many great restaurants in this city, one of my favourites being about 15 minute cab ride from the centre (about $10 Cdn) called Iluminatum Residence. They accommodated an array of vegetarian dishes for us. It was amazing and a great spot to be taking lots of photos, like the one above.
Is it safe? YES! YES! YES! It is extremely safe. Aside from having the kindest people in the world, you can feel free to walk on the streets of Tirana, Sarand, Berat, Ghirokaster, Shkoder or any other town. You can roam around in the middle of the night and know that if you get approached by a stranger it is to ask you if you are lost or need help. And if you do, they’ll probably walk you back to your hotel. It is a very safe country. People look out for each other and are overly caring and this comes out in the way we speak. It might be hard to understand if you don’t speak the language, but just our choice of words even sound caring. For example, if you ask a server if they can make you a certain dish, there is no such thing as "let me ask the chef," their word-per-word translated response would be something like “Don’t even doubt that, we can make you absolutely whatever your heart desires.” Albanian people show their love and affection by how we speak and the way we act, and by touching you. A lot! There’s a lot of touching and kissing in our culture. Back rubbing, hand grabbing, men having their arms around one another in a completely non sexual way.
We drove our rented car all the way to Saranda, my biggest advice, aside from bringing cash! BRING CASH! It’s a cash country! Some hotels take credit cards but most only take cash! BRING CASH! Ok so other than that my biggest advice is buy a big bag of cat and dog food so you can feed all the stray doggies and cats you’ll see along your drive. It broke our hearts, although I’ve been in many other places where this is common, I don’t know why I felt so connected to the animals here.
Our time in Saranda was absolutely amazing. I mean finding a penthouse suite overlooking the sea for $40 Euros per night at Hotel Sejko Golden! On top of that, because it was off season, we were the only people in the hotel. That’s the thing about beach towns in Albania, if you go off season (June/July/Aug and most of September are all considered part of the season) expect most restaurants to be closed or hotels to be going through renos or “season prepping.” The food was divine, 5 course meals and half a liter of wine for no more than $18, mind you, being vegetarian definitely helped with how little our meals cost, meat and fish dishes cost more.
Most our days were spent travelling to the small towns of Ksamil, Himare, the beautiful area of Blue Eye, the ancient ruins of Butrint and Unesco World Heritage town of Gjirokaster. Berat is also an absolutely stunning Unesco town, but you should probably spend at least one night there. Everything is close by when you look it up kilometre wise, but remember, Albanian roads are windy and don’t have the same speed limit as those in North America.
It was May, it was somewhere between 26-29 degrees, the water was perfectly blue, we ate like kings and queens, stayed in posh hotels for next to nothing and had the time of our lives. We both can’t wait to be back, now that we know more about Albania we will make sure to bring cash and would preferably go in September because it truly is the best time to go, water is warmest, temperature in the mid thirties, the beaches won’t be crowded and it is the end of the season so you don’t need to worry whether or not the restaurants are open … they will be until at least end of October. Wherever you decide to go, make sure you drink some raki and eat plenty of eggplant. Because I don’t know what the heck they put in their soil (nothing, hence the food tasting heavenly) but everything tastes like nothing you’ve had before. And if you get bored from any of what I’ve listed above (rolls eyes if you actually would) then you can take a short 45 minute ferry to the island of Corfu, Greece.
If you are ready to brave the world’s craziest drivers, and I mean CRAZY and want to experience a part of India, a part of Cuba and a heck of a lot of Mediterranean Coastal beauty then Albania is the place for you. Go enjoy it before the rest of the world finds out about this gem!