Facts


Population:
Area: 28 748 km²
Capital City: Tirana


About Albania


Albania officially the Republic of Albania, is a country in Southeastern Europe.
Albania lies in the southwestern portion of the Balkan Peninsula bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south and southeast. Most of the country is mountainous, including the Albanian Alps in the north, the Korab Mountains in the east, the Ceraunian Mountains in the south and the Skanderbeg Mountains in the center. The country’s coast touches the Adriatic Sea to the northwest and the Ionian Sea to the southwest including the Albanian Riviera. It is less than 72 km (45 mi) from Italy across the Strait of Otranto that connects the Adriatic to the Ionian.


Previously in classical antiquity, Albania has been populated by various Illyrian, Thracian and Greek tribes, as well as several Greek colonies established in the Illyrian coast. In the third century BC, the region was annexed by the Roman Empire and became an integral part of the Roman provinces of Dalmatia, Macedonia and Illyricum. The unified Principality of Arbër emerged in 1190, established by archon Progon in the Krujë, within the Byzantine Empire. In the late thirteenth century, Charles of Anjou conquered the Albanian territories from the Byzantines and established the medieval Kingdom of Albania, extending from Durrës along the coast to Butrint in the south. In the mid-fifteenth century, it was conquered by the Ottomans.


Currency

Currency Converter


The Albanian Lek is the currency of Albania. The currency code for Leke is ALL, and the currency symbol is Lek.


Climate


Albania comprises a wide range of climatic conditions across its small territory and varied topography, although most of the country experiences mediterranean climate, characterised by mild winters and hot, dry summers. As defined by the Köppen climate classification, the country hosts five major climatic subtypes, including mediterranean, subtropical, oceanic, continental and subarctic. Between the north and south, the west and east there can be a considerable difference in climate.
In general, northern parts of the country are characterized by cold winters and cool summers, while the southern parts by predominantly mild wet winters and very hot, dry summers. The highest temperature of 43.9 °C (111.0 °F) was recorded in Kuçovë on 18 July 1973 and the lowest temperature of −29 °C (−20 °F) was registered in the village of Shtyllë, Librazhd on 9 January 2017.
The climate in the lowlands is typically mediterranean, while in the hinterlands it is continental. The warmest areas of the country are at the Adriatic and Ionian coast in the lowlands, where climate is profoundly affected by the sea. The coldest parts of the country are at the northern and eastern hinterlands, where snowy forested climate is prevalent in the areas above 1,500 metres (4,900 feet) above the Adriatic. Temperature is affected more by differences in longitude than by latitude or any other factor. Average summer temperatures are lower in the hinterlands than in the lowlands, but daily fluctuations are greater. The mean monthly temperature ranges between −1 °C (30 °F) in winter and 21.8 °C (71.2 °F) in summer.


Languages


The Article 14 of the Albanian Constitution states that “The official language in the Republic of Albania is Albanian.” According to the 2011 population census, 2,765,610, 98.767% of the population declared Albanian as their mother tongue.
Standard Albanian is based in the Tosk dialect, spoken in the south. Gheg is spoken in the north and also by Kosovo Albanians. The traditional border between the two dialects is the Shkumbin River. Although they are somewhat different, they are mutually intelligible. Other notable varieties, all of which are sub-dialects of Tosk, include Cham, Arbereshe spoken in Italy and Arvanitic in Southern Greece.


Economy


The transition from a socialist planned economy to a capitalist mixed economy has been largely successful. Albania has a developing mixed economy that is classed as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank. With 14.7% in 2016, Albania has the 4th lowest unemployment rate in the Balkans. Albania’s largest trading partners are Italy, Greece, China, Spain, Kosovo and the United States. The lek (ALL) is Albania’s currency and is pegged at approximately 132,51 lek per euro.
Tirana and Durrës are the economic heart of Albania. Further, Tirana is the major centre for trade, banking and finance, transportation, advertising, legal services, accountancy, and insurance. Major roads and railways run through Tirana and Durrës, connecting the north with the south and the west with the east. Among the largest companies the petroleum Taçi Oil, Albpetrol, ARMO and Kastrati, the mineral AlbChrome, the cement Antea, the investment BALFIN Group and the technology Albtelecom, Vodafone, Telekom Albania and others.
In 2012, Albania’s GDP per capita stood at 30% of the European Union average, while GDP (PPP) per capita was 35%. Albania were one of three countries in Europe to record an economic growth in the first quarter of 2010 after the global financial crisis. The International Monetary Fund predicted 2.6% growth for Albania in 2010 and 3.2% in 2011. According to the Forbes as of December 2016, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was growing at 2.8%. The country had a trade balance of −9.7% and unemployment rate of 14.7%. The Foreign direct investment has increased significantly in recent years as the government has embarked on an ambitious program to improve the business climate through fiscal and legislative reforms. The economy is expected to expand in the near term, driven by a recovery in consumption and robust investments. Growth is projected to be 3.2% in 2016, 3.5% in 2017, and 3.8% in 2018.


Education


Following the end of communism in 1991, a reorganization plan was announced that would extend the compulsory education program from eight to ten years. The following year, major economic and political crisis in Albania, and the ensuing breakdown of public order, plunged the school system into chaos. Widespread vandalism and extreme shortages of textbooks and supplies had a devastating effect on school operations, prompting Italy and other countries to provide material assistance. In the late 1990, many schools were rebuilt or reconstructed, to improve learning conditions. Most of the improvements have happened in the larger cities of the country especially in Tirana, Durrës and Shkodër.
All educational programmes in Albania are regulated by the Ministry of Education and administered by local municipalities. Education is mostly supported by the state and is composed of three stages, primary education (arsimi fillorë), secondary education (arsimi i mesëm), and tertiary education (arsimi universitarë). The academic year is very similar to the one in the United States, with classes starting in September or October and ending in June or July. Albanian is the primary language of instruction in all public schools. The primary education is obligatory from grade one to nine. Students must pass the graduation exams at the end of the 9th grade in order to continue their education. After the primary school, the general education is provided at the secondary schools. Students get prepared for the Matura examination, allowing them to obtain their matura diploma, which grants admission to higher education. Although, Albania follows the Bologna model in accordance with the 2007 Law on Higher Education. These institutions can be public or private, and may offer one, two or three levels of higher education depending on the institution.
The school life expectancy of Albania is 16 years, ranking 25th in the world. Literacy rate in Albania is 99.2% for males and 98.3% for females, having an overall of 98.7%.


Health


Albania has a universal health care system run by the Ministry of Health. According to the World Health Organization, Albania had the world’s 55th best healthcare performance in 2000. The system has been in a steep decline since the collapse of communism in the country, but a process of modernization has been taking place since 2000. There were a total of 51 hospitals in 2000 in the country, including a military hospital and specialist facilities. The most common causes of death are circulatory diseases followed by cancerous illnesses. Demographic and Health Surveys completed a survey in April 2009, detailing various health statistics in Albania, including male circumcision, abortion and more. The leading causes of death are cardiovascular disease, trauma, cancer, and respiratory disease. Albania has successfully eradicated diseases such as malaria.
Life expectancy is estimated at 77.8 years, ranking thirty-seventh in the world and outperforming numerous countries within the European Union such as Slovenia, Estonia, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. The average healthy life expectancy in Albania in 2015 is 68.8 years and ranks as well thirty-seventh in the world. The country’s infant mortality rate is estimated at 12 per 1,000 live births in 2015. Compared to other European countries, Albania has a relatively low rate of obesity, probably thanks to the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.


Safety


Take the usual precautions. Foreigners are generally not targeted by the local crime scene, though pickpocketings do occur.
Take extra caution when driving, especially in big cities like Tirana. Most drivers drive like crazy and do not follow any round about rules, give ways, etc. They will also honk their horn constantly which can make any foreign driver even more nervous and frustrated. Just keep yourself calm and ignore the honking. Be careful of animals and little children crossing the roads.


Politics


The politics in the country operate under a framework laid out in the Constitution of Albania. First in 1913, Albania was constituted as a monarchy, briefly a republic in 1920, then into a democratic monarchy in 1928. Succeeding, it became a socialist republic, until the restoration of capitalism and democracy, after the end of communism. Nowadays, Albania is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic in which the president serves as the head of state and the prime minister as the head of government.
The president is the head of state, commander-in-chief of the military and the representative of the unity of the Albanian people. The head of state is elected to a five-year term by the parliament by a majority of three-fifths of all its members. The president has the power to guarantee observation of the constitution and all laws, exercise the duties of the parliament when it is not in session and appoints the prime minister. The executive power is exercised by the head of government and the council of ministers, which make up the government. The parliament must give final approval of the composition of the cabinet. The prime minister is responsible for carrying out both foreign and domestic policies, directs and controls the activities of the ministries and other state organs.


The parliament is the unicameral representative body of the citizens of Albania and is elected by the people to a four-year term on the basis of direct, universal, periodic and equal suffrage by secret ballot. There are 140 deputies in the parliament, which are elected through a party-list proportional representation system. The parliament has the power to decide the direction of domestic and foreign policy, approve or amend the constitution, declare war on another state, ratify or annul international treaties, elect the president, the supreme court, the attorney general and their deputies and control the activity of state radio and television, state news agency and other official information media.
The judicial system of Albania is a civil law system divided between courts with regular civil and criminal jurisdiction and administrative courts. It is codified and based on the French law. Major institutions of the branch include the supreme court, constitutional court, court of appeal, and the administrative court. Law enforcement in the country is primarily the responsibility of the Albanian Police. It is the main and largest state law enforcement agency in the country. It carries out nearly all general police duties including criminal investigation, patrol activity, traffic policing and border control.


Cuisine


Albanian cuisine has evolved over the centuries and has been strongly influenced by the geography and history of Albania. Previously home to the Illyrians and Ancient Greeks and then subsequently conquered and occupied by the Byzantines, Ottomans and most recently the Italians, it has borrowed elements and styles from those cultures. The cooking traditions vary especially between the north and the south, due to differing topography and climate, that provides excellent growth conditions for various herbs, vegetables and fruits. One of the most characteristic element is olive oil, which is the major type of oil used for cooking produced from olive trees prominent throughout the south of the country.
Albanians uses a wide range of ingredients, including a wider availability of vegetables such as beans, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, onions and garlics, as well as cereals such as wheat, corn and rye. Herbs and spices include oregano, mint, lavender and basil. Widely used meat varieties are lamb, beef, veal, chicken and other poultry and pork. Seafood specialities are particularly popular along the Albanian Adriatic and Ionian Sea Coasts in the west.
Tavë Kosi is a national dish and is prepared with baked lamb as well as eggs and yogurt, while garlic, oregano and other herbs can be added as well. Petulla, a traditionally fried dough made from wheat or buckwheat flour, is as well a popular speciality and is served with powdered sugar or feta cheese and fruit jams. Another dish, called Fërgese, is a vegetarian dish made of green and red peppers along with skinned tomatoes and onions; it often served as a side dish to meat dishes. Also, popular is Flia, consisting of multiple crepe-like layers brushed with cream and served with sour cream.
Krofne, similar to Berliner Pfannkuchen, are filled with jam, marmalade chocolate and often eaten during the cold winter months. Desserts include Walnut Stuffed Figs that is made of walnuts or candied walnuts and fig syrup. Although fig is an important agricultural product of Albania. Bakllavë is also a widely consumed dessert and traditionally eaten during Christmas, Easter and Ramadan.
Tea is enjoyed both at home or outside at cafés, bars or restaurants. Çaj Mali is enormously beloved and is part of a daily routine for most of the Albanians. It is cultivated around the south of Albania and noted for its medicinal properties. Black tea with a slice of lemon and sugar, milk or honey is also a popular type of tea. Withal, coffee is by far one of the most consumed beverages in Albania, with several types of filter and instant coffee. Drinking coffee is very much a part of the people’s lifestyle. Wine drinking is popular throughout the Albanians. The country has a long and ancient history of wine production, as it belongs to the old world of wine producing countries. Its wine is characterized for its sweet taste and traditionally indigenous varieties.


Getting around


By bus
Most people in Albania travel by public bus or by private minibuses (called “furgons”) which depart quite frequently to destinations around Albania. Furgons have no timetable (they depart when they are full) and in addition to big cities provide access to some smaller towns where buses don’t frequently run. Furgon stations aren’t always in obvious locations, so you can ask around to find them, or keep an eye out for groups of white or red minivans gathered together. Destination place names are generally displayed on the dashboard; prices are never posted. Furgons are loosely regulated and provide a real “Albanian” experience.
From Tirana, many furgons a day depart to Shkoder,Korca, Durres, Elbasan, Fier and Berat. Furgons departing to southern destinations like Gjirokaster or Saranda tend to depart fairly early in the morning. Generally, furgons cost a little more and go a little faster than buses, but can be uncomfortable over long distances because of the close quarters with other passengers. The following approximate operating schedule for services leaving Tirana was provided by the tourist information office there.
Buses are cheaper and more comfortable and run on a time schedule (though it is very difficult to find printed schedules), and they are generally well regulated. There are different bus stations in Tirana for different destinations. The following timetable for services leaving Tirana was provided by the tourist information office there on the 4th of September 2013. It is subject to change and should not be considered 100% reliable.


By train
A train ride is a must, as there are few such enjoyments in Europe these days. Tickets are very cheap, journeys are very long, and the views and the atmosphere are usually priceless. Among the things you will see along this unforgettable journey are people working their land with primitive tools, beautiful landscapes and wild terrains, houses under construction with various things hung on them to ward off the evil eye, and a chance to meet interesting passengers, mainly from rural areas. At most stations you’ll find people selling sunflower seeds, fruits, chewing gum and many other different things.
Services operate between Durrës and Shkodër, Fier, Ballsh, Vlorë and Librazhd via the Vorë junction. The train route from Lezhë to Shkodër has scenic beauty.
No direct service to Tirana has operated since September 2013, due to planned relocation of the capital’s only railroad station and redevelopment of the previous site into a residential area. Kashar is thus the closest rail station, at a distance of approximately 10 kilometers. The station was completely renovated in May 2015. Rail replacement bus services are reportedly operating between the old station sites at Tirana and Kashar, departing twenty minutes prior to the advertised train departure from the Kashar station.
Train timetables are available here:
Albanian trains are still in relatively poor condition. Wealthier Albanians never use trains and, if not traveling in their own cars, use the many mini-buses. On the other hand, trains offer more space than the often overloaded minibuses.


By car
Roads between important destinations have been re-paved and fixed recently and offer most of the security measures one would expect on a highway. There are no fees for using the highways.
Beware of minor roads: road surfaces can be poor, deeply pitted, or non-existent, and sometimes a decent paving can suddenly disappear, necessitating a U-turn and lengthy doubling-back. This is the case for the road between Tirana and Gjirokastër. It seems that all the expensive cars in Albania are SUVs rather than low-slung sports cars – and for good reason. Consult the locals in advance if you are planning to travel away from a highway.
Highways have frequent changes in speed limit, sometimes with little apparent reason, and there are frequent police mobile speed checks. Police will stop you if you have not turned on your car lights. Police will often stop foreign cars (often owned by Albanian and Kosovan expats returned home), which seem to be good targets for extracting fines or other money. However, it seems that once the police recognize you as a foreign driver, they wave you on with minimal fuss, sometimes without even checking your documents. Expect to be stopped by police once per hour while driving in Albania (that frequently!). Beware of temporary lane closures and temporary rules such as no left turn which serve no apparent purpose but are watched by police who are ready to stop you if you misinterpret the confusing signs. Make sure you travel with a proper driver’s license and insurance documents (ask your car hire company for these) to present to the police.
Car-driving behavior on the highways is not as orderly as elsewhere in Europe. Expect cars to pull out in front of you, little use of indicators, and hair-raising overtaking. Lanes on dual or triple carriageways tend to be observed. Also expect pedestrians, horses or donkeys to cross highways or walk on them. Especially beware of cows on the motorway.
Navigation is pretty easy, although some maps of the country are out-of-date or contain errors. It is strongly recommended to have an up-to-date GPS in your vehicle, as new roads are constantly being added to the Albanian road network. In case the GPS does not work, have a paper or internet-based map available as an alternative.


By bicycle
There is a lack of respect for people riding on bikes on the highways. Also, there are few places to put your bike. These and other challenges make Albania a difficult cycling destination, but a rewarding one. Often asking around to see if you can stay in somebody’s home or camp in their garden is the only option. Food and water are easily available in the many roadside cafes and bars.
It is OK to camp in all not-strictly-private places, and even if a place is private, there should be no problem with your stay; just ask someone if you are in doubt.
Be aware that it’s very hard to get parts or repairs for modern bicycles. Be careful with the dogs while riding bicycle… Many stray dogs walking the roads, some of them in groups and can be dangerous. Just like the dogs guarding the sheep and cows. That’s why it’s the best to travel in group or have something “special” for the dogs.

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