|Area||total: 28,748 sq km |
water: 1,350 sq km
land: 27,398 sq km
|Population||3,544,841 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||Albanian (Tosk is the official dialect), Greek|
|Religion||Muslim 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, Roman Catholic 10% |
note: all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious observances prohibited; in November 1990, Albania began allowing private religious practice
Albania is a small country in Mediterranean Europe. It borders on Greece, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro.
In 1990 Albania ended 44 years of xenophobic communist rule and established a multi-party democracy. The transition has proven difficult as corrupt governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread gangsterism, and disruptive political opponents.
Today Albania is making progress by having the EU integration as its goal. On 2006 Albania is expected to sign the SAA, assuring its future as an EU member.
In 2008 Albania is also expected to join NATO together with Croatia and Macedonia (FYROM).
Officially 220V 50Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 "Schukostecker" or "Schuko" or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travellers should pack an adapter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Albania.
Most European and U.S. nationals can enter Albania without obtaining a visa but you'll have to pay an entry fee of �10. A while ago you would have been able to use dollars to pay this fee, but now the customs officials will only accept Euros. Sometimes you'll have to pay an exit fee of the same amount too. It's worth making sure you've got the �10 on you as the customs officers at Mother Teresa airport don't keep change.
Tirana has its own airport. It is served by numerous European flag carriers plus low-cost airline Italy from �19 one-way.
You can reach Tirana by coach from Istanbul, Turkey (20hr, �35 one-way), Athens,Greece (16hr, �30) and Sofia, Bulgaria (13hr, �25).
Ferries to Durres arrive from Bari (9h, �50) and Ancona (19h, �70). A high-speed service operates from Bari (3h, �60).
Most people in Albania travel by private minibusses (called the "furgons") and they depart quite frequently to destinations around Albania. These furgons have no timetable (they depart when they are full). Also ask around for the directions and to where you can get these minibuses.
Busses are more comfortable and cheaper, but they are less frequent.
Limited services operate between Tirana and Shkodra, Fier, Ballsh, Vlora and Pogradec. The train route from Lezhe to Shkodra has scenic beauty. The Tirana-Durres trains (and viceversa) depart up to 8 times a day.
The streets between the important destinations have been recently repaved and fixed, and offer all the security measures one would expect on a highway. There are no fees for using the highways.
In the cities, and especially Tirana, many roads are being upgraded and fixed. Because of that, traveling by car inside the city will be slow.
A very nice ride is the Vlora-Saranda mountain road. It is a typical mediterranean road and offers an amazing view of the sea from the mountains.
The pot holes, driving standards and lack of places to stay in many villages and towns make Albania a challenging cycling destination, but a rewarding one. Often, asking around to see if you can stay in somebody's home / camp in their garden is the only option. Food and water are easily available in the frequent roadside cafes and bars.
Albanian is the official language. Other useful languges include Italian, English and Greek.
Be aware that some Albanians write prices with an extra zero; they are not trying to charge you 10 times the going rate, merely using the old currency.
Hundreds of new ATM machines have been installed in most major cities. Use the Visa ATM Locator (http://visa.via.infonow.net/locator/global/) to find them.
Almost all convenience stores will NOT accept any other method of payment other than cash (currently in Albanian LEKs). However supermarkets, the better bookstores and the better boutique stores will accept them. The most most widely accepted cards are VISA and Diner's Club.
Restaurants are very frequent inside and outside the cities. The Albanian cuisine is influenced a lot by the Italian and Turkish ones.
Raki is the drink of choice in Albania; it is not uncommon to see men washing down breakfast with a few shots.
Inside the cities hotels are abundant and prices per night start as low as 15 Euros. Hotels are usually clean and their staff speaks English and/or Italian.
Outside the cities the hotels are less frequent.
Cheap hotels reservation site: Albania-Hotel.com (http://www.albania-hotel.com/)
Take the usual precautions. There is a lot of orginised crime and street crime. Some problems with hoolingans.
Albanian Yellow Pages (http://www.fleteteverdha.com/index/ang/index.asp)