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Given one of my close mates is from Albania, I have always had a curiosity around the country. I’ve previously written about the best Albanian dishes, while today I want to delve into some of the most fun and interesting facts around Albania. Read on and I hope you enjoy!

  1. With a very small population of only 3 million people living in the country, there are actually more Albanians outside the country than within.
  2. We might call it Albania, but locals know it as Shqipëri
  3. Forget planning your bus journey. Unlike the incredibly strict schedules you might be used to, in Albania the buses leave once all the seats are full. This obviously means it can be hard to predict if going to work, with a much more relaxed mindset.
  4. Locals are known to be incredibly friendly, while a huge portion of this is thanks to xhiro. This is an evening event every day where they go outside, walk around and chat to neighbours! In many towns you will even see roads close as people take to the streets.
  5. Muslim is the main religion in Albania, at around 70%, while the next two are tied between atheists (17%) and Christians (17%).
  6. Despite the large number of religious people in the country, religion was actually banned outright in 1941 and this remained the same until 1992. As a consequence, Albania is now one of the most tolerant countries towards religion.
  7. Dating back from when they had the former dictator Enver Hoxha as a defensive strategy to protect the country, there are approximately 173,000 bunkers throughout Albania. Some reports say there are 750,000, but this figure is believed to be exaggerated.
  8. Welcome to reverse land. Nodding your head means no, while shaking your head means yes, a very confusing concept when you don’t know!
  9. Seen as an idol in these lands, Mother Theresa was Albanian, born in 1910 under the name Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu (although her birth name was Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu). While she was born in Albania, by citizenship she counted herself as Indian.
  10. Mother Teresa also won the Nobel Peace Prize, the only Albanian to have won the award. The accolade was won in 1979.
  11. Albanians are known as some of the worst drivers (so be warned if you’re visiting), but they’re not all to blame. During the communist era, only party officers were actually allowed to use a car, so people haven’t been driving for long in that country, in comparison to the rest of the world. Top this off with the shady condition of roads means you can expect a bumpy and slightly scary ride.
  12. At the time of writing, there are currently no McDonald’s in Alabania! They do have Kolonat, which has been nicknamed the Albanian McDonald’s. It might seem bazaar to not see a McDonald’s, but it’s far from the only country without, with some others including Jamaica, Iceland, Iran and Macedonia.
  13. Learn to speak Spanish and you will recognise bits of Portuguese and Italian, Learn many languages and you will see connections with others. Albanian is the complete exception, it is not like any other language in the world, making it that little bit harder to learn as an outsider.
  14. Albania didn’t find it easy to adjust from Communism to Capitalism, it was a gradual process. When they first came out after 45 years, they severely struggled, becoming the poorest country in Europe based on their GDP per capita. This is very much different now, while they are enjoying a growing level of tourism to the country.
  15. We mentioned it can be a bit scary on the roads, well this could be even more so in Shkodra, as there are no traffic lights in the entire city! It’s not even that this is a young city, it is one of the oldest in Europe.
  16. Whenever you visit Eastern Europe, there seems to be a very unfair fear around safety, which is largely unfounded, with some of the nicest people in the world. Albania is in fact very safe, while the residents follow the ‘code of Besa’, which means to ‘keep the promise’ where they will help out anyone in need. This code of honour is very admirable and is reflective of their caring nature.
  17. If you notice a teddy bear being hanged by a noose, don’t worry, this isn’t something dark, it’s actually an act many do around half constructed buildings to ward off evil spirits. You may also see them on rods.
  18. Albania are big coffee drinkers, but they truly love an espresso. You will coffee shops on almost every corner of the big cities, completely packed with people meeting for a chat and an espresso or five.
  19. Albania might be an independent country, but they have certainly gone through some hard times, being conquered by all around them. They were known for being under the Ottoman empire ruling, as well as communism, but you might not know they have also been ruled by the Italians and the Chinese.
  20. If you plan on driving around the country (even after my previous warnings), then be aware that Google Maps can’t be trusted as a reliable source for which roads to take. You may occasionally find the road is simply gone and it hasn’t been updated on the system.

Written by | tombourlet

Tom Bourlet is the creator of Spaghetti Traveller and has been addicted to travelling ever since taking a roadtrip across the USA.

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