The World Nomads Podcast: Albania
In this episode of The World Nomads Podcast, find out why Albania is undiscovered by many travelers, retrace the footsteps of a WW2 British SOE, and traveling the world when you're black.
What’s in the Episode
01:56 Retracing the footsteps of a WW2 British SOE
07:44 Impressions of Albanians
11:32 Life as a Reindeer Herder
14:59 Christina Tunnah
17:15 Full of history
19:21 A great place for vegetarians
22:49 Travel News
27:03 Traveling as a colored person
29:00 Racism in the US
36:22 Tim Neville
45:30 Answer to the Quiz Question
46:16 Next week
Who is in the Episode
Ash Bhardwaj is a travel writer, filmmaker, and storyteller who explores the world with “curiosity, excitement and a sense of adventure”. In autumn 2016, he walked through the Albanian Alps, retracing the footsteps of a WW2 Special Operations Executive (SOE) mission by British forces.
Tim Neville is a freelance writer for The New York Times, The Financial Times and many other publications. He’s also a contributor to World Nomads and has written about his time in Albania for us.
Christina Tunnah is Head of the Americas for World Nomads. Christina is well traveled and her adventures have included trekking Mt Toubkal in Morocco, the highest peak in North Africa. She has also enjoyed a high-calorie stint in southern Spain, and a trip to Albania where a 90-minute taxi ride cost just 30 Euros.
Stephan Brown has been to more than 18 countries, and every year, he tries to go to a new country that isn't a tourist hotspot. An African-American, as a Uni graduate, he made a documentary called "I am a Citizen of the World" … “I contacted 30 of my friends from over 30+ countries to speak on racism across the world, the importance of global friendships, reasons to visit their countries and other global topics that are of conversation. This documentary led me to speak at three conferences on global cultural diversity and to be a global ambassador for my college.”
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Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads' Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides. The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.
About World Nomads & the Podcast
Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads' Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.
World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.
The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.
Intro Welcome to the World Nomads Podcast, delivered by World Nomads, the travel, lifestyle, and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast. It's everything for the adventurous, independent traveler.
But, the whole time we're in town, and they were just so confused as to why I was hanging around with a blond kid. Everyone's face was just like, [inaudible 00:00:26]. Even when we went hiking, we got weird looks.
I don't really let it get to me. I just ignore it and keep it going, because life is short.
Kim That is [Stephan 00:00:36] who we will chat with later in the podcast. You'll love the discussion. It's about traveling as a colored person. That will include Albania which, Phil, is the focus of this destination episode.
Kim No, we're not. I know I thought that I thought that. But, let's start, as we do with your quiz question.
Phil All right, which airport, Kim, is the world's busiest? I'm measuring by passenger numbers here not air traffic, passenger numbers. Which is the world's busiest airport?
Phil I'll let you know at the end of the podcast.
Kim Ash Bhardwaj is a travel writer and filmmaker among many, many things. He makes videos too for World Nomads. In this chat, Ash shares with us a story involving Ed Reeves, who is an Englishmen who visited Albania to research a World War II special operations executive mission.
Phil Given Ash's connections to the military and a love of walking in the mountains, he planned the trip with Ed to retrace the British route of those troops. Ash, what is your connection to the military?
I was looking for something to do, and I did one of those career assessment tests, and it popped up with the army. I nearly joined the army at the age of 21, but I, in fact, went straight to do a ski season in France and, then, to go to Australia to become a jackaroo.
I went off to Australia to be a jackaroo, and then I went to New Zealand to be a cowboy. Sorry, I went to Australia to be a jackaroo and, then, went to New Zealand to be a ski instructor. I played rugby in New Zealand and trained as a ski instructor.
Through that, I was just enjoying myself far too much and went back to ski instruct in Europe and, then, moved into video production and journalism and writing. I just had far too much fun to join the regular army. I eventually joined the army reserve at the age of 31 which is quite an old age to be joining the army.
When I moved to New Zealand that was certainly when I started to try and explore the outdoors more. That was one of the things I intended to do there.
In fact, the very first time I went into the outdoors, I was utterly unprepared. I got some boots and some kit and headed up towards the Southern Alps, out towards the Aspiring Range, and had a very miserable night out on my own when I realized I didn't have proper navigational skills but could follow a path.
That was my first experience out there. I turned around and came back, not particularly rugged.
But, through then going off to do things in the army, you basically spend most of your time in miserable, wet wood blocks in southern or, indeed, northern England and learning how to carry heavy things on your back. That's mostly what you do.
You develop some of the skills that become quite useful for when you go do expeditions. I think the most useful skill that you learn in the army is the ability to hang on through what you do in all of your elements of training. You do various bits and pieces that teach you that when you think you're about to give up, you can certainly keep on going.
Kim Awesome. But, what about Albania?
Ash Bhardwaj Well, all of my journeys and all of my expeditions have been rooted in trying to get a better sense of history. I think it's very easy to go traveling and just go, "Well, this place is great. There are cool beaches here. This is really nice," or, indeed, go off Instagramming various places around the world.
But, I've always enjoyed going off in search of a story. That certainly fits in very well with the point I was making earlier about it not always being fun. I think part of your journey needs to be going off in search and having that sense of endeavor.
I was very lucky. I spent quite a bit of time going on expeditions with my friend who's a British explorer, Levison Wood. We did some big expeditions in Africa and Central America, South Central Asia, so the Himalayas and the Caucasus.
All of his journeys were long-distance journeys with a sense of trying to uncover stuff along the way. Similarly, for me, what I did with the Albania trip was I discovered this story about this British secret operations executive mission to Albania that happened in 1943.
What happened was after Italy had surrendered to the Allies, the Germans realized that Albania which had previously been under Italian control was quite a useful place. The Germans went in there, took over Albania.
The British realized that if they could interfere with German operations in Albania, they could tie up a lot of German military forces. They could reduce the flow of arms and people down to reinforce the German occupation of Greece which the British also we're trying to get back, and it would also distract the Germans from fighting in Northern Europe.
These very plucky blokes had been conducting secret missions trying to find allies in Albania and trying to get them to fight the Germans. But, then the Germans had figured out that they were there and got in search for them. This bloke, in particular, one guy called Trotsky Davies, he was a brigadier in charge of the whole operation, spent the best part of three months throughout winter running away from the Germans and hiding in various villages and towns.
I thought, "Well, this is an amazing journey that nobody really knows about in Britain." If you think about our war narrative, it's about Northern France. It's about Singapore. It's about the Kohima and the Indian border fighting into Burma and then D-Day and, then, going through that way.
But, it doesn't, not really much about what they were doing in the Balkans. I thought this was interesting, just because it was interesting to me as a soldier, and it was interesting to me as a story.
Albania's one of these places that you hear about, and you just don't really know much about it. What is Albania? What does it to mean to you? What is the story of Albania?
I thought I could do, I could explore the two things together, retrace a story, have a bit of adventure walking around in the mountains but, also, learn a bit about Albania. That was really the genesis of that story.
Kim If you were to ask me my impressions of Albania, I have a girlfriend who is Turkish-Albanian, and that makes for a very fiery combination.
Ash Bhardwaj Oh, I would certainly say the Albanians are fiery people. One of the ... Great, they're lovely though. I didn't have a problem with any Albanians when I traveled there. I found them incredibly hospitable people. I found Albania to be a lovely country.
Tirana is a very charming city, and the mountains are stunning. The hospitality and generosity I encountered in Albania were lovely. The time I spent there was just magic. It really was lovely.
When you read Trotsky Davies book about his time, he eventually did get captured by the Germans, the brigadier that was out there for the British. He talks about how difficult it was to get the Albanians to do anything.
The Albanians believed that there were four great allies in the fight against the Nazis, the Americans, the British, the Soviet Union, and the great nation of Albania which every nation has its war narrative, and you don't want to demean a nation for the sacrifices they make in war. But, strategically, Albania wasn't contributing a huge amount to the war effort, but they still expected the same level ... They wanted to be at the same table as Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill.
Kim Well, let's get to some of the content that you do make for World Nomads. I recently watched your video where you were on the Russian border?
Ash Bhardwaj Yes, in Estonia. Well, the whole trip was part of a journey down the Russian border. In September 2017, I went to Estonia with the British Army Reserve. It was part of a deployment called Op CABRIT which is basically a reaction to the changing security environment in Europe, and I guess a more boisterous Russia.
I became really curious about why this had happened. I became curious about, why is there tension? What is going on, on the Russian border? Why does Russia feel that it has the right to Crimea, or why are people concerned that they may have aspirations to take back parts of Estonia?
There were these questions in my mind about, what is identity nationalism? What's going on along this border? I set about this project to travel the entire length of the Russian border with Europe.
I started all the way up at the top of Norway in the Arctic Circle where Norway touches Russia. Norway actually goes around the top of Finland and touches Russia right up in the Arctic, beyond the Arctic Circle.
I traveled all the way down through Finland into Russia by St. Petersburg, then Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kaliningrad which is this other bit of Russia, then through Poland, Belarus, Ukraine. Transnistria, which is this fascinating little sliver of land between Ukraine and Moldova, into Moldova, then back to Ukraine and, eventually, down to Crimea.
The Russian border was my eternal shadow companion on this journey. It was the thing that I was there for or the reason for this whole journey.
In Estonia, there's this fascinating place called Setomaa. What happened was Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939. The Germans took it for a bit of the war, and then the Soviet Union took it again. Lots of Russians moved into Estonia during that time.
Then, when the Soviet Union ended, there was a patch of Estonia that got taken into Russia. What that meant was this region that was ethnically distinct within Estonia called Setomaa was cut in half. The people that lived in Setomaa were suddenly cut off from half of their land. They had a choice: Do you move to Estonia, or do you move to Russia? That was the story that I went there for.
Ash Bhardwaj Oh, yeah. [Anna-Luisa 00:11:25]. Yeah, she's absolutely great, isn't she?
Kim Ash, as you were wrapping up, you said that she gave you a lot to think about. I really wondered what you actually meant by that.
Ash Bhardwaj Well, I think she, for her, she has a deep connection to the land and to those animals in particular. It's part of her heritage. Her grandmother, she talks about repeatedly, was clearly an extremely influential person in her life. It was her grandmother that gave her her first reindeer, gave her the reindeer mark, taught her how to be a reindeer herder.
For her, being a reindeer herder is not just a job, it's this connection with this identity that goes back, and this identity of who she is as a person, this connection to herself and her heritage and her family, and the things that matter to her.
I think when we ... When you think about work, so many jobs that we have in the world, and so many of the things that we do are quite meaningless. You think, "If my job disappeared, would anybody really care?" You think, "Does my job really matter to me a huge amount?" Work is something we have to deal with, and we have to do, but does it connect with our soul, and does it matter to the world?
For Anna-Luisa, her work connects her to the environment. It's physical. It's something that gives her a real sense of mortality as well because she's very aware of the fact that these animals die. She has to slaughter them. She cares for some. It gives her a real sense of understanding the reality of life.
But, also, it has this deeply personal thing for her as well as the fact that it's a very tangible job. The reindeer would not survive, or people would not eat meat, or they would not get reindeer fur if she did not do her job. I just got a really strong sense of the importance of what you do, and how you pass your time. Then, that was very much the vocational aspect of it.
Then, the being in the wilderness, the way she talks about the work, and how hard it is. How from one season to the next, things can change. If they have a very hot spell, then they can't get the reindeer to the pastures they need them to, or the snow melts, and then it freezes over, and then they can't get to the moss underneath.
All of that just made me realize how disconnected I am from nature in what I do. It's approaching winter here in England, but I can turn the heating on. If there's a cyclone somewhere in the world, it doesn't matter. I can still go and get my fruit and veg from the supermarket, or I can still go and get my chicken. I'm so disconnected from the reality of things.
My work, I love my storytelling, and I love finding ways of sharing these ideas. But, it's quite different from the tangible reality of the work she does.
Kim Just like that, Ash, has given us a lot to think about. Links to those videos he created for World Nomads in show notes.
Now, Christina Tunnah is the head of the Americas for World Nomads. She's been a guest on the podcast previously, Phil, a few times now.
Phil A couple of times, yeah.
Kim Yep. But, we have her back. This time for a fireside chat about Albania.
Christina T. Thanks, guys, great to be back.
Christina T. Oh, yeah, well-
Phil Three times now.
Christina T. I need to talk to my agent.
Kim Okay, so Albania, tell us about it. What prompted you to go there as a destination?
Christina T. It actually stems off of one of the podcasts that we had back in the day. But, ages ago I was in Albania, and it was on over tourism. That was the real motivation for wanting to have a holiday somewhere where we could get to the great outdoors, do some amazing hiking, and not really run into the crowds.
We ran through the big list of places that we wanted to go, and I just thought, "You know what? Let's go to Albania. No one seems to be going there."
Getting there was a bit funky in that from the States, it became really spend-y, whether you flew into Athens or connected in Frankfurt, or wherever it might be. It just became really expensive.
We decided to fly to Rome, which, at the time, we had a really good deal on the ticket. We basically over-landed our way and took the ferry over from ... I think on the way over we took it from Bari to the coastal port town of Durres.
From there we basically took a cab. We took a cab. It turns there is a railway system, but most of the over-landing around Albania was through buses. But, when I managed to find a website that had some of the bus timetables, our arrival time from the ferry would not really be conducive to an elegant, seamless connection up to where we were heading towards, which was a city called Shkodër, wasn't a lot of great connections up there, to go up there.
I overheard these two backpackers on the ferry talking about where they were heading. I heard that they were going to the same town. I asked them how they were going, and they basically said, "We don't know."
We banded together, found where the bus station was, where there was also a cab rank, and we shared a cab for about an hour and a half, and it was 30 euros.
Phil This is a place that's really getting off the beaten track. We're back to good old days of travel here, Christina.
Christina T. Yeah, it really, really is. It hearkened back to my early backpacking days, which is decades ago. But, that actually does prompt another main reason for why we decided to go was. Because it was just absolutely chokka with history, from the Crusaders and the Byzantines and the Serbs and the Ottomans, you fast forward to the modern times and the 20th-century history of Balkan Wars, Serbian attacks, Italian occupation, Communist era. It was just a real nice tapestry of all kinds of influences both historically, architecturally, and culinary. That was a real attraction.
The fact that it was really soon after the wars was an appeal. But, why aren't people going there? I think it's, just because it's just not really written about. It's not a place ... There are other places that are trumping popularity.
I think that whole, there is a trail of people who do the northern Greek-Macedonia-Montenegro trail. I think that that's going to be a really, really up-and-coming hotspot for the budget traveler as well as a backpacker.
Phil Yeah, well, it was the poorest country in Europe or the poorest country in the region for a very long time. I know that's changed in the last five years or so, but it has been underdeveloped for a very long time.
Christina T. Yeah, it has, and I think the fact that getting around, for example, there isn't a very good train system that has lots of connections and lots of times. It's very much a bus over-land country would speak to that fact, that it's most people, the transport of the people is buses. That tends to be very cheap and slow and clackety.
The roads aren't very good, so I don't know if that really lends itself to the fact that there isn't much infrastructure, investment on infrastructure. All those things I think culminate to point to a place that is still a bit tough backpacking or tough travel.
Kim Yeah, totally.
Kim It does.
Christina T. It is. It's totally slow travel, guys. Don't be in a rush to get anywhere. Don't do, if it's Tuesday, it must Tirana. Take your time, because it will take you time.
Christina T. It's worth-
Kim ... that-
Christina T. ... it.
Kim Sorry, as part of that tapestry, you talked about the culinary offerings. What is the food like in Albania?
Christina T. Very mixed, so obviously, on the coastals, you'll get a lot of the fantastic seafood, also, inland too. It's not a big country, so fresh fish does make its way into the interior.
But, a lot of olive oil and vegetable dishes, very Middle Eastern type of fare, a nice cross-over there of some of those foods. Put it this way, vegetarians can eat there quite comfortably, because my better half is a vegetarian, and he ate quite well.
Kim Nice, a bit of baba ganoush.
Christina T. A little baba ganoush.
Phil Tell me about the people. Obviously, it's not over-touristed. Hopefully, they haven't gotten jaded by all that now. What were the people like?
Christina T. Oh, the people were so lovely and warm. Obviously, we don't speak the language. Later in the trip, we realized that oh, there's vestiges of Italian. I could have rustled that up earlier in the trip, so that does help. But, in the shops, a lot of pointing, a lot of smiles.
Public transportation, people were super, super lovely and helping us navigate some of the older, windy roads and towns and hills where we needed to take maybe a certain bus that we had no idea what bus to take. Women would say, "Come with me, come with me," and they'd pass us on to other people taking the same routes that we needed to get to and pointing to our little lodge up in some upper hill that we never would have found otherwise.
It was interesting when [Mustafa 00:20:48] and I was there because he's ... He was raised Muslim being Iranian and because of the heavy Islamic influence in the Albanian history in modern-day Albanian life, it was interesting to have people recognize him as a fellow haji if you will. That opened up some very interesting doors, and some very interesting warmth and connection with the locals, so that was really quite lovely.
Phil Sure, but not proscriptive Islam, it was pretty open?
Christina T. Oh my gosh, very open. It was gobsmacking to see the beautiful central mosque in Shkodër as well as Tirana and the other towns that we visited. Yet, at the same time, and I took many photos of this juxtaposition of women with short skirts and very elegant or very modern walking in front of a mosque or a cathedral quite openly without any sense that I could pick up of pressure or tension around that type of modern versus more conservative religious life.
Phil Okay. I think we're going to have to add another one to the list there, Kim. I think Albania's on my list now as well.
Christina T. Oh, yeah, no, definitely, go, it's just UNESCO sites, really cheap, cheap, cheap to get around. I have to say the one thing if you are at all inclined to hike is to take the ferry up from Shkodër to Koman Ferry. Which is this amazing alleyway, a canyon of a lake that stretches up.
It's a four-hour ferry ride. You get dumped off at the end of a jetty with nothing else. A van picks you up, and it drops you off at this town called Valbonë.
From there, that's where the road ends. Mustafa and I backpacked literally with our packs on our back nine hours over the Accursed Mountains, over the summit and dropped into this village called Theth.
That's a journey, an experience that a lot of people are doing. We saw people, more people on that mountain path than anywhere else, really. But, that was magic.
Kim Yeah, thanks, Christina, definitely sold us.
Kim Phil, what's travel news?
Phil Okay, less than a week after being named as the hottest destination of 2019, Sri Lanka has been beset by political turmoil and violent protests. The Prime Minister has been sacked, and a former hardline President installed. This had led to protests and sadly a shooting in which several people were killed.
Expect more protests in Colombo and Kandy. Shouldn't really affect your visit to the rest of the country or even to those cities. But, please stay away from any public gatherings that you see or protests or rallies, because they are just too unpredictable.
Kim Such a shame, and a recent podcast too which just uncovered what a beautiful spot it is.
Phil Yeah, I don't think it's going to affect you too much. Just, those things usually happen outside parliament buildings.
Phil Just stay away from those places, go and enjoy the rest of the country.
Wild storms have lashed Europe causing damage and quite a lot of travel disruptions. Venice was hit particularly hard, because the rain combined with some strong winds coming off the lagoon and an unusually high tide, so the joint is flooded. It's actually-
Kim Which is ironic.
It would be funny if it wasn't so serious because there are these amazing pictures of people sitting in restaurants wearing Wellington boots up to their mid-calves still being served with pasta and pastry and what have you. Life must go on.
Phil The same storm system that hit Southern Europe brought snow to France's Massif Central mountain range. A thousand people got stranded in their vehicles overnight. That would be pretty uncomfortable, wouldn't it?
Kim Cold, very cold.
Kim The Orient Express.
Phil Only if there's a murder. Gale force winds also hammered the Adriatic coast of Croatia, so maybe Albania copped a little bit of that as well.
Speaking of storms, this is a very stormy travel news segment, isn't it?
Kim It is.
Phil Winter storms have hit the U.S. too. Time to put the snow tires on, folks.
But, let's head somewhere warmer now. Boracay in the Philippines has re-opened. The island resort was closed down by the government after the Philippines President declared it a cesspool. It literally was due to overcrowding and poor infrastructure. Raw sewage was going through and-
Phil ... into the water and that sort of stuff.
Six months of cleanup has happened, and it's been re-opened to the tourists under new rules. Visitors, there's only going to be allowed 6,000 a day, and they're going to be asked to sign a pledge before they step onto the island to follow all the new rules, including, disposing of your waste properly, a ban on liquor, smoking, and bonfires, parties on the beach, and to act more responsibly.
I don't mind that. That sounds pretty good to me.
Finally, what is expected to become the world's biggest airport has opened, the new Istanbul Airport. It's very sleek and modern, covers 19,000 acres. That's 76 square kilometers. It will handle 90 million passengers a year in the initial stage. But, that number is planned to rise to over 200 million passengers.
Now, it's going to overtake the airfield that I have asked you about in the quiz, the world's busiest airport. It will become the world's business airport, taking over from-
Phil [inaudible 00:26:32].
Kim [inaudible 00:26:33]. Yep, nope, find out until the end of the episode.
Well, Phil, in previous podcasts, the World Nomads Podcasts, we've touched on lots of topics, traveling with children, traveling solo, traveling with a disability. But, what about traveling when you're a person of color? I come back to your favorite travel quote from Mark Twain.
Phil Yep, my favorite one, yeah, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."
Kim Yup, well, what happens though if that is your reality? Stephan Brown reached out to us to have a chat about that topic specifically, traveling as a colored person. Look, is that the right term? Even now, I'm worried about how I should phrase it.
Stephan Brown A lot of people say traveling while black, traveling while African-American both terms work interchangeably.
Phil All right, can I put my hand up straight away and say I'm one-eighth Spanish?
Kim Well, I do have a splash of something, and there are rumors among the family that it could be of an indigenous nature. But, I've read a couple of articles in the last 24 hours, and I've read quite a few from Muslims that travel. They get quite jittery, particularly, the women if they're wearing hijabs, and they're coming into security checkpoints, they suffer anxiety. I can get that.
But, as an African-American or as a black person, what prejudice do you come across?
Stephan Brown Oh, boy. Traveling's pretty good, but some things I've heard that you will laugh. I've been asked if I knew how to rap? People automatically assume that I knew how to rap.
Phil Well, hang on a minute, do you?
Kim Do you?
Phil If you do, give us one now.
Kim That's funny. I guess the next question is, can you dance? What are your moves?
Stephan Brown See, right, I can't even dance. I'm the not stereotypical African-American, can't dance or rap. But, I can talk a lot and [Chaplin's 00:28:34] pretty cool, and I know how to have fun.
Phil Are there some places that you go to that are worse for you than other places? Yeah, are places different?
Stephan Brown Yeah, so, what's funny about traveling while black is the most prejudice I received was in my own country, in the United States. I can say a story when I went to the Midwest to visit one of my good friends in Minnesota.
We were hanging out, and since he grew up there, he didn't realize, oh, because there's a lack of diversity how the people would react towards me. When I went, I just went to see where he grew up. There was this little town, that's a little over three hours outside of Minneapolis.
I remember going in, and this was a year and a half ago, and I walked into the supermarket, because he had to go to the bathroom, and people were literally following me. I couldn't look around without people watching me. I noticed a camera following me everywhere I went down the aisles, and I just bought something just so they can get off my back.
Literally, when I tried to pay for it, all the registers spontaneously closed at the same time. The only was from another African-American that was working at the supermarket who then proceeds to tell me that the manager told everyone to be on alert for you because you walked in.
Phil Oh my god.
Kim Total distrust based on the color of your skin.
Stephan Brown Yes, exactly. I was so upset. Then, my friend came out and freaked out, because he's like, "Wait, I am so sorry you had to go through that," because he didn't know. I was like, "No, it's fine."
But, the whole time we're in town, they were just so confused as to why I was hanging around with a blond kid. Everyone's face was just confused. Even when we went hiking, we got weird looks.
I don't really let it get to me. I just ignore it and keep it going, because life is short. But, it's just things like that, and that was a year and a half ago. It wasn't even long.
Kim That's redneck mentality basically.
Stephan Brown Yes.
Kim I've also read, I think it was last year, in Greece of all places, there was a racially motivated bashing of an African-American tourist. Have you ever been amongst anything like that, or know of your mates that have?
Kim Yeah, well, that's-
Stephan Brown Well, yeah, there was a country specifically. Last year, I went to Lithuania. When I went there, because a few of my friends that I met when I lived in Europe live there, so I decided to visit.
One of my friends said the N-word, and they didn't know it was bad. At first, I was a little upset, but then I realized the country is basically 99.9% white, so I can't assume that they would know.
It caused us to have a conversation. We all spent about four or five hours, and I was literally explaining in detail why the word is bad, the history, and everything like that. Within a conversation with me and seven Lithuanians, they understood, and then from then on, they were telling their friends, and their friends were telling their friends.
Because of that easy conversation about it, they know never to say it, the history behind it, and why it's important to know about prejudice against African-Americans, and what we go through.
Kim There are countries too where people haven't seen a black person.
Stephan Brown Yes. Yes, I have a lot of experience with that, so, basically, anywhere in Eastern Europe. A country specifically is I can remember is going back to Lithuania, again. Last year, I did Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Austria at the same time.
I was in the Baltics, I still remember going out, and my friend picked me up from the airport. We just hung out at a bar, and everyone just was looking and staring. They honestly were freaking out.
This one person, [inaudible 00:33:00], ran up to me to hug me. I had a lot of free drinks that people bought me at the bars. Literally, when I went to this one ... My friend was like, "Hey, we should go to this hip-hop bar just to see how they will react." Because [inaudible 00:33:14] if a black person goes to a hip-hop bar.
I walk in and everyone's faces dropped. They either thought I was famous or just someone. They just ran over, and I still remember this one guy freaking out saying, "Oh my god, I love Tupac. Tupac's my favorite."
Kim It's pretty [crosstalk 00:33:30]-
Stephan Brown Yeah, he told me that. He gave me this big hug. I'm like, "Okay, cool." I'm going back to find my friend, and we go out to the balcony, everyone's just surrounding me, asking me questions, where I'm from, have I been to New York, because foreigners love New York for some odd reason. They just were so into it.
When we went to one bar, we barhopped, and the more bars we went to, the more people tagged along. All day, it was either I got random high-fives on the street. People apologizing for certain things that their people say, or just a lot of people flirting and hitting on me. That happened a lot too.
But, it was a great experience. Some people would be overwhelmed, but I ended up getting so much free stuff, free food, free drinks. You know what? This is pretty amazing. I can get used to it.
Phil I'm not going to ask you to speak on behalf of an entire community or anything like that, but do you think this racism that people encounter, actually, prevents African-Americans from wanting to travel outside of America?
There are just certain countries that automatically African-Americans are like, "No," to, which is Russia and Ukraine and those type of countries. I feel as though there's just a stereotype that if we go there it's not going to be a good time. You're going to be treated badly.
But, when I first got to college I had that mentality, and I wanted to change that because I got introduced to so many different cultures. Ever since I stepped foot on my first plane to Cyprus and chose the most random country out of them all. You explore that change.
I feel like by me going and showing my blogs, my videos, and my posts, I'm inspiring other people to be, "Okay, this is not that bad, and I can do this." Because you just can't go based off of what you hear. You have to go experience it for yourself, and then you can determine if it's good.
Kim Phil, to all people of color or any minorities in general that think that travel is either inaccessible, or they'll be judged don't let that be held against you. Get out there and enjoy.
Phil Yeah, right, oh, that was a fantastic chat with Stephan-
Kim Wasn't it?
Phil ... it really, yeah, love him, great bloke.
Look, if you're wondering about travel to Albania as a colored person, there are plenty of forums and blogs available discussing this topic for pretty much every country. But, one woman asked her black, African friend who lives in Albania's capital, the question recently and was told her mate has never experienced any form of racism in Albania in the five years or so that she's been there. She feels safer there than when she lived in Sweden.
Kim Great to hear. Tim Neville is a freelance writer for The New York Times, the Financial Times, in fact, we'll cut it off there, because he writes for many, many publications, including World Nomads, and he's written an article for us on Albania.
Tim Neville Thanks for having me.
I think the thing that captivated me the most about the country was how little people really know about the place. They have these stereotypical notions of the place I guess. Then, you actually go there, and you realize how wrong a lot of those thoughts are.
How beautiful the place is. How incredibly friendly the place is, and the thing that's most surprising about this, is that it's Europe. It sort of feels like Europe. The signs look European. Italy, you can literally see Italy across the Adriatic at night. Yet, it feels so different from anything in Europe that I've ever experienced.
Phil Seven years, that's a long time, Tim. The place must have changed in that time though.
Tim Neville For sure, yeah, and that's the other thing that's so exciting about Albania is that it has this crackle about it. You can go into cities or go into villages and feel the changes happening. It feels incredibly dynamic.
I think every place in the world is going through changes, of course. No place really ever stays the same, but something about Albania just, really, you can just feel this energy. Yeah, things are just completely changing.
The first time I went ... The country's not that large, so it's pretty easy to get around. But, I think some of the biggest changes you're seeing are along the coast.
The first time I went there, even then, I was pretty late to the game, in terms of how much change is happening. But, on that first trip compared to the last trip, you can see a lot of development happening along the coast. You got to wonder if they're going to keep it under control, or if it's going to get out from under them.
Sadly, there's a good argument to be made that it's getting out from under them. Fortunately, at the same time, you can also highlight several attempts, some really cool things happening to try to maintain what's special about the country.
Tim Neville Yeah, you can't really blame them, of course, not. It would be ... I don't know what it would like. It would be like if I lived all my life on a dollar a day. Then, all of a sudden, somebody's offering me a million bucks, well, of course, I'm going to take the million bucks. If someone were to hand me a million bucks ...
I guess one of the reasons why I might have second thoughts about it if I were Albanian, is because they have something there that no other European country has that at least I'm aware of. That is because they were so poor, and because they had this incredibly harsh dictatorship for so long, nobody in or out for many, many years, in a way, they're a little bit like a time capsule. They're a little bit like what the Adriatic coast used to be like before everything happened, let's say.
You have these pockets along the coast that are just like Italy, let's say, or just like Greece but without the development. Where it's this naturally beautiful place. What's that worth? Those are the sorts of things that they're wrestling with. It's what makes it so exciting for a traveler right now.
Kim At the start of the podcast, we mentioned that it appears to be undiscovered. Both Phil and I felt pretty guilty that we're sharing it with the rest of the world.
Tim Neville That it's still undiscovered? I would say that the word is definitely out about Albania. It's funny. I've had several people write me out of the blue just saying, "Hey, we're thinking of going to Albania, what can you tell us?"
Whereas before, I don't think ... No, it's hard to gauge something like that. But, you can tell that they're definitely welcoming more tourists. You see more things, more travelers. You see more services for them.
It's still very much undiscovered or so. As far as feeling guilty about that, I can understand that, of course. At the same time, from the Albanian perspective, they are super excited to have people come to visit them. In a
One of the most surprising things that I've seen over the years there is how they can't quite really believe that people want to come to see them. There's still this novelty aspect where you show up, and they're like, "Wait, you're traveling around Albania? But, Greece is right there, and Croatia's right there. Italy's right there. But, you're coming to my country?"
They have this little bit of surprise in some way. But, they are incredibly hospitable and thankful and, just unbelievably welcoming, let's say. It's very hard to buy your own meal there sometimes.
Without a doubt, you sit down at a little seaside restaurant, and somebody's going to buy you a drink. It's just incredibly friendly. In terms of whether you should feel guilty about getting the word out there or not, I think Albanians themselves would argue quite stringently with you on that.
You see obviously Turkish influences. The Turks were there for 500 years. That's embedded itself in everything from the cuisine to the architecture. Then, you have that communist era, and unlike a lot of places in ex-communist Europe, the Albanians have been a little bit slower, let's say, to rid themselves of some of those landmarks and statues. You still get a good feel for what the place looked like then. Of course, everything's been painted and things are ... A lot of statutes have, of course, come down. But, you still get a good feeling what it was like under those days.
Of course, it's very, very, very, very different, very different. I'm not trying to suggest that it's still like that by any means. But, it is very eye-opening, let's say.
Phil That nostalgia for those Soviet symbols, it's like they're really cool now. But, Jesus, we hated them at the time, didn't we?
Tim Neville Yeah. That's something also that's really interesting is that there are no real Soviet symbols. The Albanians were their own thing which makes them really interesting in my opinion. They broke ties with the Soviets. They broke ties with the Chinese. They, of course, courted both for a long time, but then they also broke ties with them. They hated the Yugoslavia regime.
Albania was its, in one of my stories I called it the North Korea of Europe. I don't think that's an exaggeration. Nobody was allowed in, nobody was allowed out. It was very tightly controlled. You could be arrested for wearing shorts in a city because that's too bourgeois.
You had just that weird, super-oppressive government for a long, long time. When you go around you see this Albanian, this Hoxha, the dictator who ruled over the place for many, many years, was named Enver Hoxha, and so it was this Hoxha brand of communism which was very Stalinesque and very dark and not a happy place at all.
There is a little bit of a dark tourism element happening that you can see. But, what's super fun and interesting for me, and something that has led me to write about the place over and over again is that you see these clashes between those dark days and this incredibly bright future. Not clashes, but those, where those two are rubbing up against each other, and all the interesting things that burble up when that happens. It's endlessly fascinating.
Kim Thanks, Tim, and that wraps up Albania and another on the list, Phil, of places to visit.
Kim Just check-off [crosstalk 00:45:13].
Phil Yeah, this list is getting ridiculously-
Kim Isn't it.
Phil ... long by the way.
Phil Quiz question, okay.
Phil All right, yeah, yeah, yeah, I had two gos at this one for you already. The world's busiest airport is Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta.
Phil More than a hundred million passengers go through there every year. Why? Well, it's a central hub for all of America. According to the airport itself, 80% of the population in the U.S. is within two hours of the airport.
Kim That's insane.
Kim That's ... I can't deal with that amount of people.
Phil Yeah, well wait until Istanbul gets going. Seriously, 200 million people a year going through an airport.
Kim All I can do is laugh.
Kim That's the-
Phil When you're-
Kim ... kind of thing that-
Phil ... waiting for your flight.
Kim ... goes through my head, yeah? Or the loo.
You can download the episodes from iTunes or the Google Podcast app, or ask Alexa and Google Home to play the World Nomads Podcast.
Phil Next week, polar expedition leader, Lauren Farmer, in another of our Amazing Nomads episodes.
Phil See you then.
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