10 x 38: Albania Trip!


“Anyone want some chocolate cake with your breakfast?” Karla asks us as we eat at the table of the tiny Hairy Lemon Hostel in Sarande, Albania. After eating an unlimited amount of chocolate pancakes with traditional apricot jam and chocolate spread, of course we all say yes. This is my stay in southern Albania, or my newly discovered Balkan home.


IMG_3873OK, I admit it, I only came to Albania to get a passport stamp and add to my 40×40 challenge count. It was on a whim really. Only a 30-minute ferry ride, I was so close as I just happened to be in Corfu. My travel-buddy-for-a-day, Stine from Denmark, had already stayed at the Hairy Lemon Hostel, so navigating through Sarande was a bit easier thanks to her. I can see Corfu from my 8th story balcony, right next to the crescent moon and sunset on the sea. You would have done the same thing, especially now that you know about the pancakes…


IMG_3614Sadly, Albania’s mountainous home in the Balkans is a place I’ve never thought of before, short of pictures in National Geographic or other media I’ve seen in passing. Here, tourism and reliable electricity is in its infancy at best. Everything looks partially completed or depleted. It’s not sad, nor is it happy, but very peaceful in a strange way. The friendly and wholesome people, and their patience with me, have obviously been here forever. While it is convenient to travel in the shoulder season with less traffic, it’s a bit confusing as all schedules are changing without notice or communication. I just happened to catch the last ferry to Albania from Corfu. I get a kick out of the lack of any organized bus system in Sarande, having been warned from a few travel friends already. I count Albania, but I hope to come back to explore the mountains, wonderful nature and history, and everything else that makes Albania count.IMG_3773

I am just passing through, but I enjoyed the hike to the Castle Lasurki on top of a hill overlooking southern Albania and a freeeeeezing cold dip in the Blue Eye natural spring near Gyrokaster. In addition to the dogs and cats that roam the streets, it’s not uncommon to see cows doing the same here; in fact, they actually stay on the sidewalks and make proper turns unlike their four-legged friends. I’m not sure why, but it’s popular to have cages with birds along the streets and outdoor restaurants. I cooked my meals in a full kitchen for the first time in over a month, with eggplant, tomato and cans of food that I guessed their contents for while shopping (I was right about the corn and mushrooms but wrong about the tomato sauce and instead got paste). Beyond the passport stamp and tremendous food served family style, I gained valuable buddies and invaluable recharge time for work and school, at a third of the cost of Greece.IMG_3812


IMG_3629Travelers here are not ‘doing’ Greece like I am and are instead seeing as much of the Balkans as possible before the season ends. I learned about Work Away how folks do this so they can volunteer for accommodations while traveling. I met one backpacker who walked here from the Netherlands in 5 months. Another couple who have been traveling for 10 months, a record so far. Yet more from New Zealand, Israel, Australia, Germany, Belgium, three (3!) from USA, and I didn’t quite get where Karla was from. We joke that we all come here for a day but get stuck for a week; there’s just something about this place…


I’m going back to Greece tomorrow,
before I eat one more pancake.
Well, maybe after a little cake…


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