Independent Albania

By Kathy Wilhelm
This item appears on page 55 of the March 2013 issue.

I was pleased to see Carol Probst’s piece “Albania — Enjoying Europe without the Costs and Crowds” (Dec. ’12, pg. 36). I visited Albania in the fall of 2011 and found it an interesting destination, although one not ready for mainstream tourism. I was able to travel independently despite speaking no Albanian.

I entered via Macedonia, another country less visited by Americans and well worth seeing. In Ohrid, Macedonia, I ran into a tour group led by a woman who had been my guide in Turkey in 1998, and I wound up eating dinner with them.

I asked about arranging for a car and driver to Korçë, Albania, and her “fixer” (the person who organized and negotiated accommodations, meals, etc., for the group) wanted €100 (near $133), which I thought was way too much. Instead, I found a travel agency that wanted “only” €60. There were several travel agencies in town, as Ohrid is a big European travel destination in the summer.

In Korçë I didn’t see a single travel agency. I asked at my hotel’s front desk where to find the bus station and shared taxis. I may have stopped short at the nonshared taxis, as the “car rental” place was a group of men hanging out on a street corner.

I arranged for another car and driver to take me, the next day, along the very scenic mountain route to Gjirokastra. The fixer for the group of drivers in Korçë “borrowed” a teller, who spoke some English, from a nearby bank to make sure we had an agreement. The asking price was €100 and I couldn’t budge it, but it was a longer drive through wild countryside. I saw more beasts of burden than passenger cars.

After that, I used buses. Aside from the fact that they had a tendency to leave very early in the morning, I had no trouble traveling by bus.

I was in Albania at the very end of the tourist season, in early October, and many places were already closed. However, it might be as well to avoid the summer months, as Lonely Planet writes in its guide “Western Balkans” that the beaches are very crowded then.

Cary, NC