We had a good time in both Durres and Tirana, and most of the time we had really good food.
But one should consider that it might not be the same kind of food as back home, and the hot weather during the summer-autumn quickly can make the food bad.
I made sure to stay away from food that I thought could be in the risk zone, but unfortunately my travel colleague wasn't so clever. After having had both clams and a seafood buffé during one evening his part of the funny trip was over. Instead he spent way too much of the following five days running forth and back to the toilet.
Food and Water
Food in Albania is generally safe, as long as you are careful about where you eat. The good restaurants should be no problem. There is an issue with Albanian milk, however. Albanian cows are known to suffer from TB and other diseases, which can be passed to humans through milk. You might want to avoid milk, unless you know it is definitely heat treated (UHT).
It's not recommended to drink the water either, and my foreign office says that even the bottled water cannot be of guaranteed quality. When I was there I have to say that some of the bottled water I drank was really horrible. One brand tasted so strongly of iron I thought I'd bitten my tongue and was bleeding. Another had a strange consistency that tickled the back of my throat with every gulp.
Some brands have a EU flag on them and claim compliance with various safety regulations, but given the propensity for fraudulent advertising and products in Albania, I'd take that with a pinch of salt. I bought a 35+ Nivia sunscreen lotion from a pharmacy that misspelled "filter", "ireland" among other words, and gave me sunburn on a cloudy day. Normally 15+ is enough for me even in the hottest climates.
One brand I liked, however, and that is Tepelene. I don't know how safe it is, but I loved the English language branding. According to the label it contains the "water of the Albanian football team", presumably bottled directly from the players after each game. The water is also "suffled how it gush from the source of the woods of Teplena."
This bottle is becoming so famous that someone even named a book "suffled how it gush". You can buy it on Amazon.
Friendly and Safe
Few people speak English, and the locals will be curious to see you if you don't look like them. It's a friendly curiosity. A bit of staring, but they will look away if you notice them. I didn't feel in danger at any time. The only slightly discomforting moment was when I was chased by an overly friendly guy on the way back to the station.
I made the mistake of smiling back at him as I passed, and he took that as a sign that I wanted to talk to him. He came over, grasped my hand, shook it, and started asking me all kinds of questions in Albanian. When I didn't understand he reacted like a typical Englishman and started shouting, as if I was deaf. I think he had mental problems, as I met a few guys exactly like this elsewhere in Albania. They don't have a system for looking after people with mental disabilities, so they are left to wander the streets fending for themselves.
After a few moments, a group of smiling Albanians heard the commotion and gently waved him away from us.
Albania is currently the poorest country in Europe. The Italian, Greek, Turkish, French, US and German military have a presence in the country in support of the KFOR mission, so there is a foreign military presence there.
Avoid the foothills on the border with Kosovo.
Especially in winter, most roads are impassable.
Police are corrupt, if you have a car and park it illegally, they will remove your number plate and you have to go to the nearest police station to pay a 'fine' to get it back, DON'T LOOK LIKE YOU HAVE MONEY.
There are certain bars/places you should avoid at night, these are mafia haunts and you can generally tell by the look of the people and cars outside if they are dodgy. If you can't you're in the wrong country.
Albanians have guns, don't be alarmed, most people don't use them, its quite common to see people eating dinner with their guns on the table in local restaurants. Just don't stare.
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