Albania, Macedonia & Montenegro

By Nyck Wijbrandus
This item appears on page 13 of the December 2013 issue.
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Like Jack and Anne Dini (“Returning to the Homeland: Albania,” Oct. ’13, pg. 52), my companion and I also followed the advice of Carol Probst (“Albania — Enjoying Europe Without the Costs and Crowds,” Dec. ’12, pg. 36) and took a tour with Albania Travel Net (Him Kolli str. 35, Pallati Agolli, Tirane 1003, Albania; phone +355 42247518) and guide Enea Kumi.

We toured Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, Sept. 28-Oct. 8, 2013, and found Enea’s services to be excellent. Since that information has already been discussed, I thought ITN readers might like to know what they’re likely to find in these countries.

First, you will find you are not alone anymore. We regularly saw Asian tour groups and a variety of European tour groups at the more popular sites. In Ohrid, Macedonia, we discovered menus in Dutch. It turns out that regular charter flights run from Amsterdam directly to Ohrid between May and October.

In Montenegro, which uses the euro even though it is not an EU member, Russians are very busy buying apartments and villas by the sea. Billboards in Russian are everywhere in Kotor and along the coast. As a result of this increasing tourism, prices are rising, although they’re not near Western European levels yet. Local beers are still cheap, $2-$3, but house wines can prove to be surprisingly expensive, at $7-$8.

In Ohrid, a simple evening meal of two “chicken in a bowl” dinners along with two glasses of house wine and a local beer cost $27. No appetizers or dessert. An excellent meal but no bargain!

Although the hotels we stayed in were uniformly good, and most were charming, family-owned operations, the quality of breakfasts could vary. Bread was plentiful and usually excellent, but toast was difficult to find and sandwiches were nonexistent. In some cases, the hotels prepared all the fried eggs in advance, resulting in cold eggs for breakfast. Börek (stuffed pastry) was also served cold. 

Fruit was plentiful and fresh and served with all meals. Pure orange juice did not seem to exist, but blended juices were good. 

In no room did we find tissues, although almost all had hair dryers. Bathroom facilities were modern, but most showers were designed without doors.

Particularly when traveling away from bigger cities, facilities could get more primitive; a couple of packets of toilet paper in the purse could come in handy.

The ability to do stairs was critical. Towns, monuments, fortresses and hotels almost always involved stairs. Only two of our hotels had elevators. A charming hotel in Kotor’s Old Town had us on the third floor. My companion refused to do them more than twice a day; she’d walk down once in the morning and up once in the evening.

Travel times were deceptive. Coastal roads — very curvy and up and down over hills — were time-consuming, and the limited number of good roads necessitated frequent backtracking to go in other directions. The maps make the drives look easy. Don’t you believe it! To avoid getting bogged down in endless driving, it’s better to scale back on how much to see. 

Safety was never a concern, even after dark and in the big cities. Common precautions apply, of course, but we never felt uncomfortable, even when walking back alleys after dark. 

The Tirana airport was modern and efficient.

Despite these minor drawbacks and cautions, we had a great trip traveling through beautiful country with an excellent guide.

NYCK WIJBRANDUS

East Petersburg, PA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Like Jack and Anne Dini (“Returning to the Homeland: Albania,” Oct. ’13, pg. 52), my companion and I also followed the advice of Carol Probst (“Albania — Enjoying Europe Without the Costs and Crowds,” Dec. ’12, pg. 36) and took a tour with Albania Travel Net (Him Kolli str. 35, Pallati Agolli, Tirane 1003, Albania; phone +355 42247518) and guide Enea Kumi.

We toured Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, Sept. 28-Oct. 8, 2013, and found Enea’s services to be excellent. Since that information has already been discussed, I thought ITN readers might like to know what they’re likely to find in these countries.

First, you will find you are not alone anymore. We regularly saw Asian tour groups and a variety of European tour groups at the more popular sites. In Ohrid, Macedonia, we discovered menus in Dutch. It turns out that regular charter flights run from Amsterdam directly to Ohrid between May and October.

In Montenegro, which uses the euro even though it is not an EU member, Russians are very busy buying apartments and villas by the sea. Billboards in Russian are everywhere in Kotor and along the coast. As a result of this increasing tourism, prices are rising, although they’re not near Western European levels yet. Local beers are still cheap, $2-$3, but house wines can prove to be surprisingly expensive, at $7-$8.

In Ohrid, a simple evening meal of two “chicken in a bowl” dinners along with two glasses of house wine and a local beer cost $27. No appetizers or dessert. An excellent meal but no bargain!

Although the hotels we stayed in were uniformly good, and most were charming, family-owned operations, the quality of breakfasts could vary. Bread was plentiful and usually excellent, but toast was difficult to find and sandwiches were nonexistent. In some cases, the hotels prepared all the fried eggs in advance, resulting in cold eggs for breakfast. Börek (stuffed pastry) was also served cold. 

Fruit was plentiful and fresh and served with all meals. Pure orange juice did not seem to exist, but blended juices were good. 

In no room did we find tissues, although almost all had hair dryers. Bathroom facilities were modern, but most showers were designed without doors.

Particularly when traveling away from bigger cities, facilities could get more primitive; a couple of packets of toilet paper in the purse could come in handy.

The ability to do stairs was critical. Towns, monuments, fortresses and hotels almost always involved stairs. Only two of our hotels had elevators. A charming hotel in Kotor’s Old Town had us on the third floor. My companion refused to do them more than twice a day; she’d walk down once in the morning and up once in the evening.

Travel times were deceptive. Coastal roads — very curvy and up and down over hills — were time-consuming, and the limited number of good roads necessitated frequent backtracking to go in other directions. The maps make the drives look easy. Don’t you believe it! To avoid getting bogged down in endless driving, it’s better to scale back on how much to see. 

Safety was never a concern, even after dark and in the big cities. Common precautions apply, of course, but we never felt uncomfortable, even when walking back alleys after dark. 

The Tirana airport was modern and efficient.

Despite these minor drawbacks and cautions, we had a great trip traveling through beautiful country with an excellent guide.

NYCK WIJBRANDUS

East Petersburg, PA