In New Zealand we say “he tangata, he tangata, he tangata” this means “the people, the people, the people”. We have arrived in Albania and discovered the most wonderfully friendly and hospitable people who make this country even better. It’s fair to say that we have fallen in love again. We have found Shkoder and we do not want to leave. It is possible to never leave the hostel because the people are so nice that you do not want to waste a moment with them. We had 3 nights in Shkoder and it enriched our lives.
Getting to Shkoder
Shkoder was our first destination in Albania. We arrived by bus from Kotor, Montenegro. This was a seamless trip. The bus left early, was half empty and quickly got us to our destination. Even the boarder crossing from Montenegro to Albania was painless. Driving into Albania, the landscape changes, it is still mountainous but there is more open space and green fields. There seems to be more agriculture here in Shkoder and city is surrounded by fields.
Accomodation: The Wanderers Hostel
This section may go on for a but as we have a lot to share! Remember how we did that it’s the people that make a place awesome or not? At The Wanderers Hostel, the people, both Albanian and visiting, make it magnificent. We found the hostel through Booking.com and chose it because it was cheap and had fabulous reviews. It was also the first real hostel of our trip. We have stayed in many shared appartments but this was our first experience in a dorm room and in shared accomodation with so many people. There was also a great breakfast each day. For each guest they had a cucumber and tomato salad with local pastry, byrek And a chocolate croissant. Each day they made me eggs specially to cater for my allergies.
The hostel had a number of dorms with 6-8 beds and communal spaces for cooking, hanging out and bathrooms. The main shared spaces for as a fabulous courtyard with low sofas and tables and a groovy covered bar. The yard had a canopy of trees and vines and flags of the world (but not New Zealand) and hung around the edges. It was a very cool place to hang out.
A delightful team of young friends run the show and they all seem to be there most of the time, whether working or not. They are super friendly, speak great English and have so much local knowledge to share. We spent our evenings hanging out with this group and other travelers. When we left it was like saying goodbye to dear friends.
In the evenings they organise different events for people to join in on if they feel like it. During our stay there was karaoke night, movie night, complete with popcorn, and drinking games with local Rakija (a very strong Bulkan spirit). Our a stay at The Wanderers was exceptionally fun and we are sad to be going, though my liver may be grateful.
Highlights of Shkoder
We spent much of our time in Shköder hanging out at the hostel. We did not explore the town that much but managed two day trips into the surrounding area to explore places that were recommended by the hostel.
Day trip number one involved biking, sunshine and sunbathing by Skadar lake. This lake is the largest in the Bulkans and is in 2 counties, Albanian and Montenegro.
At the hostel they suggested biking to the lake as a day trip to see the surrounding countryside and to experience their beloved lake. Every Albanian we met is Shkoder asked “have you been to the lake?”
Daniel, I and a girl we met at the hostel hired bikes, packed a lunch and headed out of town. Our ride took us through downtown Shkoder and then out into the country. There are many gypsy families in Shkoder and on our ride we rode through a gypsy village. There are a few of these around Shkoder. In this village, many lived in stone houses and some in shelters constructed of tin and plastic.
Anyway, we biked through the gypsy village, past many lake front restaurants and through another village until we found a stone beach to spend the day on. The stones are a little sore to walk on but the water is beautifully clear for swimming and so refreshing on a hot day.
Next on every recommendation list was the castle on the outskirts of Shkoder. We were meant to visit at sunset but once we had finished exploring, sunset was another few hours away so we went home again.
The castle offers wonderful views of Shkoder. It was wonderful to walk around in the early evening as there we not many others visiting. Visitors are able to walk around the whole castle and climb up on to most battlements. The castle provides wonderful views of the whole city and surrounding area. We were able to hear amazing music rising from gypsy settlements near the bottom.
Awesome river and old bridge
Day trip number 2 revolved around a very generous invite from two girls with a cute baby blue car and another recommendation from the hostel. Again we headed out into the country side, this time with our new friends Noel and Anna.
We don’t have the name of the river or bridge, but we do have the coordinates (42.139241, 19.637690). It was pretty cool to see and walk over but is also kind of odd as it is right next to the new bridge. The best bit about it was the locals who all said ‘hello’ as they drove by. It also had a great swimming hole and many local children on their lunch breaks were popping by to cool off.
We didn’t swim here but headed further up the road to find our own private swimming hole. The river was brilliantly blue and clear with cold water that runs from the mountains. We spent a whole afternoon here, swimming and enjoying the sunshine. The water was deep and surrounded by steep rocks, making it perfect for jumping.
We also had another experience of lovely local people. Some guys turned up for a cool off and were very interested to hear about our thoughts on Albania. They were super pleased when we said we loved Albania and all the people we had met. This was something we encountered often. People wanted to know why we were in Albania and were eager to know what we thought.
Going to the barber
It’s funny how travel can turn a mundane task into an adventure. Daniel had been starting to look a little fluffy so we made a mission to a barbers. The hostel made a recommendation and off we walked to the cheapest haircut every had. A cut cost 250leke which is roughly $4 NZD. We were very lucky to be there at the same time as a few English speaking guys who were able to translate between us and the barber. I think it may be the sharpest cut he’s ever had. In fact, it was so good that I got mine done also. This seemed like a good idea as all of the women in Albania have long hair and I thought my luck would be better with a master of short hair, even if it was men’s! It’s probably the first, best and last $4 I’ll have and I think I’m looking pretty snazzy too.
There you have it. Our wonderful time in Shköder. I hope that it doesn’t make for too dull of a read as we largely sat around and talked or went somewhere beautiful to sit around and talk. Shköder had been a wonderful introduction to Albania and we are so excited to continue our journey here. The people we’re amazing and make this country a must visit. We will miss them.
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Chloe and Daniel xxx