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Holiday in Albania – Part 1 – National Leave your Gun at Home Day

Tom Winnifrith
Wednesday 1 August 2012

The ferry was late arriving and so I have only been here a few hours but already I have been surprised. The little port town of Sarande cannot be described as picturesque. As you approach on the boat a skyline of 6 storey buildings suggest that you could be sailing up the river Sherbourne into Coventry. Perhaps that is unfair, I have not really explored in daytime. More tomorrow. Leaving the port I walked up Enver Hoxha street. They seem to have a bit of a soft spot for their former dictator. I have already bought an Enver Hoxha mug to take home.

Having no Lekke I found a cashpoint machine and approached it nervously given that I had been lectured by Spiros and every other Greek I met about how Albanians are congenital thieves. But the ATM spoke English and offered me a choice of how many Lekke to withdraw. At which point it struck me that I had absolutely no idea what a Lekke is worth. I opted for the second highest amount on offer. I am now sitting on about 6 weeks wages for the Average Albanian. I may stay here a bit longer as I work my way through them but that will be tough as this place is very cheap indeed.

As I wandered towards the town centre a man asked me where I came from? England I said. But where in England do you live he persisted. The truth: I am technically an Isle of Man resident but in fact have no idea where I will live when I return so I just said London. Where in London? Bloody hell. Clerkenwell (it is where Real Man Pizza is). Aha, the man told me that he had lived in Acton for a few years. I did not seek to enquire what he was doing there and on what sort of work permit. He then suggested I might like to use his backpackers hostel. Hmm. I may well be scruffy and smelly and live out of a rucksack but a night in a room full of other scruffy and smelly folk with no wi-fi or privacy and with them wondering what the old geezer in the corner was doing there? Thanks but no thanks. I said I was not really a backpacker and wandered on.

Turning right out of Hoxha street I started down the main road which winds through the town along the sea front. Sellers of street food abounded. Greece used to be like that before they a) got too rich and prosperous to consider such things, albeit on the back of borrowed money and then b) discovered that they had no money at all for eating out even on street food. I like that aspect of Albania. Within 10 minutes I had checked into a 3 star hotel which is costing me 35 Euro a night.
Greece please take note.

My room has a clean wooden floor and a double bed (not a twin designed to prevent naughtiness, but which leaves you falling down the middle twice a night). It has a TV (not that I watch it). It is has very fast and reliable wi-fi and a toilet that works. A shower pumps out water at whatever temperature I request. I can smoke here. I have a fridge and stacks of space. With the 5 Euro Spiros used to charge me for AC I was paying 30 Euro a night but had flaky wi-fi in the reception only, to manually flush the toilet by sticking my hand in the cistern, a shower that had 2 temperatures only (scalding hot and freezing). Elsewhere I have paid 50-60 Euro for places no better than this and all with wi-fi issues and at least one other problem. There is no pool here but I am 10 yards from the beach. Greece used to be cheap and cheerful and Albania a Marxist hell-hole. Greece is now expensive and Albania is cheap and offering a better product.

I will write more on the Albanian economy and life here later. I did venture out for a meal last night. I was surprised not to see a single gun anywhere. Perhaps it was National leave your gun at home day? Perhaps Sarande is a gun free zone, where the folks leave their gear at the City border and take a few days away from blood feuds before leaving, picking up the Kalashnikovs and resuming the slaughter? Actually I just think that Albania needs a bit of PR. I reckon there are more guns flourished in Dalston than here.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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