Our adventure to Albania had us impressed and wanting more - incredible landscapes, luscious beaches and great food. Albania is relatively undiscovered, but is becoming a more well-known tourist destination. I would highly recommend visiting Albania if you get the chance but get in early.
This blog post focuses on the impact that we, as travellers, can have on the places we visit. I guess growing up in New Zealand we are taught to respect our environment (though we are far from perfect), and I think that as travellers we have a responsibility to leave the places we visit as we found them.
My husband and I love travelling and have learnt a lot from our numerous adventures over the years, including to always have drinkable water on you, especially when exploring in 30+ degree heat! I know not all countries, such as parts of South America and Asia, have drinkable water and most travellers and residents rely on bottled water which usually comes in the form of plastic bottles. Unfortunately, it also tends to be these same countries that don’t have the facilities to recycle the huge amount of plastic waste being produced. To reduce our impact, we now consider our aluminium reusable bottles as an essential travel item, no matter where we are going.
Plastic waste lying next to the river, this can easily end up in the ocean. Butrint | 2017
Travelling through Albania in the height of summer, we made sure our bottles were full every morning before we set out exploring this interesting country. Luckily the places we stayed in Albania had drinkable tap water for the most part, but I know this is not always the case. With reusable bottles in hand, we set off for our first adventure – the Ancient ruins of Butrint, a world heritage site set amongst a pine forest on Albania’s southernmost coast. As we walked around the beautiful Greek and Roman ruins overlooking vibrant turquoise water we began to see that all too familiar sight. Plastic water bottles littering the environment. As this is a key tourist destination most of the people visiting these sites are travellers, which made me really angry - why do travellers think it is okay to litter a place they are visiting?!
After leaving Butrint, we ventured north up the Albanian Riviera to the tiny town of Vuno for a couple of days. Driving in Albania is an experience in itself, but the coastal roads offer amazing views, and it's not uncommon to come across donkeys and goats on your travels. Typically, when travelling we utilise public transport just as we do at home (as we don’t own a car). But this was our first trip renting a car on our own. The Vuno coast is home to some stunning beaches, but surprisingly the area and the town is far less touristy than the beaches and towns in the south – and yes, this meant far less plastic waste! Vuno was very much a town set in the old ways of Albanian culture, and as such there was only one café/convenience store in the town. Most residents seemed to be self-sufficient, growing their own vegetables and even making their own wine!
Taking in the breathtaking view of Gjipe Beach | 2017
We made our way to the best beach spot along the coast, Gjipe Beach. It was a short drive from Vuno town, and a 20-minute walk down a rugged track - an old road only accessible by foot or four-wheel drive. The walk in the hot sun was worth the rewarding views and stunning uncrowded beach. We spent most of the day here swimming and eating fresh fish (literally caught and cooked in front of you) with a refreshing can of cola. If in need of a refreshing treat we always choose a can or glass bottle to avoid plastic waste. If the only option is a plastic bottle, we will instead opt for the warm water in our reusable bottles.
Getting lost wandering the cobbled streets and alleyways, reusable drink bottle in hand. Berat, Albaina | 2017
Continuing north we went inland to Berat, another world heritage site. This ancient town is known as the ‘town of a thousand windows’ and is nestled in a valley surrounded by steep hills with a river running through the middle of the town. Sitting on the hilltop is the old castle town, where we spent half a day getting lost wandering the cobbled streets and alleyways. As we reached the outermost ramparts of the castle, soaking in the magnificent views out over the old town below, our experience soon hit a sad note. Below the wall, littering the hillside, were masses of rubbish just dumped down the side of the hill and clearly visible for all to see. This was becoming a somewhat common sight and another reminder of the impact of tourists on a place which can’t cope with excessive waste.
After a few other short stops heading north and a side trip to beautiful Montenegro, we finished our trip in the challenging but interesting city of Tirana. Tirana is the capital of Albania, and reminded us somewhat of Berlin – it is a grungy but vibrant city, very metropolitan based on Albanian standards with a strong café and bar culture. What we found really interesting however was the fact that it wasn’t trying to hide its dark past. Instead, much like Berlin, it seemed to openly acknowledge the country’s suffering through monuments, memorials and museums as a way to be able to heal and move forward.