The Alternative Guide to... Albania
Albania at a Glance
Capital city: Tirana
Population: 2.8 million
Local currency: lek (£1 = 180 lek)
Famous face: Mother Teresa. Although born in Skopje (now the capital of Macedonia), MT was of Albanian ethnicity
5 things you never knew about Albania
The word for "yes" in Albanian is "po" and the word for "no" is "jo". While we’re on the subject, be aware that nodding one’s head here indicates disagreement and a shake of the head is used in the affirmative. Confused? You will be.
Tirana is one of the few capital cities in Europe without a branch of McDonald’s. Never mind, they do at least have a local fast-food chain called Kolonat – not that it’s anything like McDonald’s:
The late British actor Norman Wisdom was (and still is) a cult hero in Albania. During the days of communist dictator Enver Hoxha, he was one of the only Western actors whose films could be shown, largely because his depiction of Pitkin’s battles with his bosses were seen as a parable of the class war.
Former mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama, came up with a novel way of cheering up the grim, grey housing blocks left over from the austere communist years. He simply ordered them to be painted in bright, garish colours like the ones you see below:
Another architectural quirk left over from the communist era are the thousands of bomb-proof bunkers that pepper the countryside. These were built in anticipation of enemy invasion. It’s thought there are as many as 750,000 of them across the country.
Tavë kosi (which translates roughly as soured milk casserole) is vaguely reminiscent of the Greek staple moussaka. It consists of lamb and rice baked under a thick blanket of yoghurt.
If you see one thing in Albania, make sure it’s…
... the architectural treasure that is Berat. This hillside settlement (main pic at the top of the page), known as the city of a thousand windows, has a cluster of beautifully preserved Ottoman houses on a hill, leading up to a castle. It's 120km from Tirana, but well worth the trip.