Life Is Beautiful

In Albania I only had 2 visit days with my 4 sponsored children (World Vision packing in two visits each-day). After my visits I really didn’t know what to do with myself, or the three days I had left in Albania.IMG_5155

I found a travel agency online that offered day trips around Albania.

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Somehow I was lucky enough to end up with a great tour guide who made sure I saw all this beautiful country has to offer.

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The bluest beaches and the most magnificent mountains that I believe put the Andes and the Himalayas to shame.

I have a confession to make. I was scared to travel here. When I told my parents I was going to Albania it seemed as though they were ready to start printing milk cartons with my picture.

Kim – I’m not Liam Neeson. If you get abducted by Albanian terrorists while you’re there, you’re screwed.

- My Dad

I tried to reassure them, Peace Corps. operates in Albania and I know by now… Peace Corps. wouldn’t operate in any country where it is unsafe to be an American.

I let Peace Corps. Ukraine know I was leaving and where I’d be. Still my parents seemed so certain that I’d step off the plane and bombs would start dropping around downtown Tirana.

Honestly their anxiety was making me nervous… and I feel so incredibly guilty about being afraid of Albania.IMG_5138

Because Albanians are the most gracious people I’ve ever met in my life.

When I travel as an American I’m used to being immediately disliked and even hated. But Albanians are just the opposite they embrace Americans…

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They even dare I say – love us? I know that’s a hard concept for me to process. (I’m usually used to the hatred).

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They thank us again and again for our involvement in rescuing their Albanian brothers in Kosovo.

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They offer us free Raki Rushi when they realize we’ve come to explore their country and learn from them.

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And they even find beauty in our former presidents.

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Former President Bush visited Albania once during his presidency… and Albanians erected a statue where he shook the hands of Albanians… he also has a street named after him in Tirana and a bar/square named after him as well.

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It was a weird experience for me to be traveling in a predominately Muslim country and feeling totally safe. As well as loved.

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But it’s just proof that you really need to get to know people so you can understand the heart of a country.

Albania for a long time was closed off from the rest of the world… because of that, none of us know much about it.

Americans mix up Kosovo and Albania – not realizing there’s a difference between the two… not realizing that during the Kosovo conflict Ethnic Albanians were fleeing to Albania rather than, from it.

Because of our ignorance Albania and Albanians have gotten a bad rap. That really needs to be addressed. If you travel here – people will treat you kindly, they’ll be curious about you , and they’ll want to help you.

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Historically Albanians have always been good to guests… this was a nation after all that refused to relinquish any Jewish citizen to the Nazis during World War Two.

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It’s a hidden beauty in the Balkans, just waiting to be discovered – if you’re brave enough to leave your expectations at the door. You certainly get more bang for your buck here – than in any other place in Eastern Europe.

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Albania is a weird mix of the Middle East meeting Eastern Europe. It is filled with some of the oldest parts of Balkan history alongside, some of the most modern apartments.

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It’s a country where the most common occupation right now is construction worker – because of the development boom. IMG_5359

I read in a Bradt travel guide 6 years ago that the roads were unusable and that power outages were frequent.

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Albania has changed drastically since then… it has better roads than, the ones I have experienced in Ukraine and I experienced 0 power outages while I was in Tirana.

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There is still no McDonalds in Albania but, this fast food place with broken arches - I like to think of as their equivalent.

There is still no McDonalds in Albania but, this fast food place with broken arches – I like to think of as their equivalent.

Albanian fare... Byrek (a spinach pie is my personal favorite!)

Albanian fare… Byrek (a spinach pie is my personal favorite!)

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What still amazes me, is how beautiful this country is…

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And how even more beautiful the people are inside and out… they ask questions because, they’re curious about us and our lives… and when they ask ‘how are you?’ they genuinely want to know.

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Kind of a healthy salty yogurt!

Life is beautiful here.

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The people are beautiful here.

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Another stranger offering me Raki Rushi – this person was very proud of the fact their front gate had 50 stars to represent the American flag. ;)

Albania will always stand as reminder to me – to never judge a book by its cover… On my last day I told my driver all the fears my parents had about me traveling alone in Albania (especially when there was a worldwide travel alert). The driver to the airport told me to tell my parents something(but I think it is important for you to know too ;))  :

You must tell that- if they ever come we will be good to them.

A part of my heart will always be here because, I love four very important people here. But I will also remember to never let fear limit opportunity because, when you do that – you can miss out on how beautiful life can really be.

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Travel with purpose.

Give with purpose.

Live life with purpose…

And never stop seeing the beauty in the unseen.

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The title of this post was inspired by my tour-guide Flori who kept on asking me: Life is beautiful isn’t it Kimberly? during our two-day tour of the country.

(He’s one of my favorite Albanians! :)  You can find him over at ATHS travel or through City Discovery tell him- Kimberly sent you ;))

2 thoughts on “Life Is Beautiful

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