10 INTERESTING THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT ALBANIA
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For years, the small country of Albania was cut off from the world, but today, it has become an increasingly popular tourist destination. It attracts beachcombers, foodies interested in unique traditional cuisine, and history buffs looking for rich cultural heritage.
10 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT ALBANIA
1. In the evenings, the locals like to walk but it’s not just a walk. Known as Xhiro, it’s an official evening walk where residents come out to stretch their legs. In many towns, the roads close to cars during certain hours. Apartment blocks are empty and everyone gathers at various places, walking and talking until nightfall.
2. When an Albanian agrees with you, he or she will shake their head, and when they disagree with you, they will nod. Be warned and avoid confusion. Yes means no and no means yes.
3. Albanians believe that a scarecrow placed on a home or other building while it’s under construction will ward off envy from the neighbors.. Ha! Sometimes you’ll see a teddy bear serving the same purpose. The odd part is that the scarecrow or the teddy bear will be impaled on a rod or hung by a rope-like a noose. Some also say that these talismans bring good luck.
4. When the communist era ended in 1991, there were roughly three million people in the country but only 3,000 cars. Communism isolated the country and, for a long time, only party officers were allowed to use cars. In the years since many more cars have come into the country, and the national preference appears to be Mercedes.
5. The heroine of Albania is Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, better known to the rest of the world as Mother Teresa. She was born in Skopje, part of Albania for a long time but, since 1913, part of Macedonia. She is the only Albanian to win a Nobel prize.
6. In 1995 a law was passed requiring citizens to pay taxes on traffic lights in their home towns. The residents of Shkodra were taxed, just like all cities, but they staged a protest. The reason? Shkodra has no traffic lights.
It’s one of the oldest cities in Europe and the fifth-largest in Albania, with a wonderful Old Town worth visiting. History buffs will love the restoration that’s happening. Also, the Rozafa Fortress offers incredible views over the lake.
7. Tirana, the capital of Albania, has a lot in common with other European capitals. It’s one of the only capitals without a McDonald’s (another is the Vatican City). Tirana is the heart of the country with a vibrant and youthful atmosphere. Post-communist transformation is most apparent here.
It’s practically unrecognizable from its old self. Primary colors decorate the buildings, and there are more public squares and pedestrian streets, as well as new business and shopping. Check out Blloku, where there are great bars, Archaeological Park.
8. Albania has over 750,000 bunkers spread out across the land. They are hard to miss and can be a nice car game (be the first to spot the bunker!). They were all built during the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha to protect the country from an invasion – but an invasion never happened.
Most bunkers are a bit of an eyesore and many Albanians dislike them because they are a reminder of 50+ years of isolation. But a few have been repurposed into cultural museums, artistic canvases and business ventures.
9. Tirana, the capital, is surprisingly chic. For a country that’s had some stark years, the true Albanian spirit can be seen in modern Tirana. You might expect it to be dominated by grey concrete (like other post-communist European cities), but there’s a ton of green space, and, of course, lots of color. The inspiration behind the reinvention of the city is Edi Rama, a painter and a politician.
10. Raki is the national drink, but be warned! Raki made out in the villages is equal to about three normal drinks. If you’ve traveled in the Balkans, you’ve probably come across rakija or rakia, but the Albanian version is quite unique.
It’s an old-school moonshine made from grapes and it’s incredibly strong. You’ll find it in most bars but be sure to pay attention to its source. If it comes out of a repurposed plastic bottle or plain glass jug, you’re liking getting a home-brew likely to put hair on your chest (as the saying goes)