It definitely feels a little out of place to hear the call to prayer echoing through the streets. This country looks and feels like Europe and if it wasn't for the stats indicating Muslim majority and numerous minarets dotting the cityscape, I would definitely think it was like any other country in Eastern Europe – Europe in the 1980s of course. Seriously, someone here decided that nasty 80s hair and clothing should be the dominant fashion. These and other quirks definitely make the country interesting and reminiscent of our travels in Asia – the occasional donkey cart, some terrible roads, and squatty potties. There are other unique quirks as well like people carrying around drums and randomly banging them while walking.
Fifty years of Albanian communism was oppressive and has resulted in slower development compared to neighboring countries. Even 20 years after the fall of communism, the country remains one of Europe's poorest despite being a stone's throw across the Adriatic to Italy's heel. This has left an edge which we thoroughly enjoyed compared to some of the more modern and stuffy nations that have everything figured out.
Highlights in Albania:
-marveling at the fashion choices. Like Steve said, the 80s was in full swing complete with faux hawks, primary colour hair dyes, and bright pink lipstick.
-climbing the decrepit pyramid that was once home to Enver Hoxha's (the notorious communist leader) museum. It now gathers dozens of high school students every day (and of course Aya and Arwen) who climb to the top of the precarious monument and then run down full tilt.
-enjoying Albanian hospitality which embraces children wholeheartedly.