At the Crossroads of Europe & Asia

Photo credit: Mike Belton & Karen McGrath

Interview with a World Traveler: A Custom Private Trip to Albania

A sweeping view of the River Osum from Berat, Albania. Photo credit: Peter Guttman
A sweeping view of the River Osum from Berat, Albania. Photo credit: Peter Guttman

Closed off to visitors for most of the last century, the south Balkan country of Albania has emerged as a relatively undiscovered and culturally alluring destination that beckons curious travelers with jagged mountain peaks, imposing castles, crumbling Roman and Greek ruins, a vibrant capital, and sprawling Adriatic and Ionian coastlines. It’s a place where seasoned travelers have a chance to recapture the excitement of exploring destinations less frequented.

Sid Suarez, a frequent world traveler and longtime friend of MIR, took a few minutes to allow us to get to know him better and ask a few questions about his trip to Albania. 

Hello Sid, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you and learn more about you and your travels. What are some of your favorite places?

Sid: There are so many places that are extraordinary. I love traveling to Russia, Nicaragua, Namibia, Belarus, Albania, Japan, and Romania, to name just a few. I try to take three major trips a year. I have traveled four times with MIR: a wonderful Trans-Siberian rail journey across Russia, private and customized in-depth explorations of both Romania and Albania (separately), and Belarus & Russia.

When did the travel bug first bite you? What’s the best part of traveling for you?

Sid: I had it at an early age, but did not get to travel overseas until I was in my 40s and 50s — I had to earn my way into international traveling, and now I enjoy it at every opportunity. My favorite aspect of traveling is the abundant opportunity to learn. I’m constantly surprised how much I learn that I didn’t know before the trip – traveling truly is a great education.

How has traveling changed your perspective about the world? What was the most surprising thing you’ve ever learned on your travels?

Sid: Travel changes my perspectives all the time. Sometimes I am shocked by the misinformation and misperceptions out there. I have traveled to Nicaragua twice now, and while it’s never mentioned as a “must travel destination,” I found it to be incredibly beautiful with very friendly people and amazing scenery. My first trip with MIR, on a train from Vladivostok to Moscow, ended up being the best trip I have ever taken. The people of Russia are incredible and seeing the countryside and learning about it first hand for 30 days was stupendous.  Every chance I get to travel back to Russia now, I do.

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You’ve traveled to some places that are still relatively undiscovered. What kind of reactions have you gotten from people when you tell them where you’re going or where you’ve gone?

Sid: I do like the undiscovered locations the most and consider them to provide the most rewarding travel experiences. I almost always get friendly reactions from the locals when I travel, and everyone is very hospitable. Some of my long-time friends in the USA who do not travel have a hard time grasping my desire to visit places they know very little about. Fortunately, with modern technologies and social media, I can share my adventures so they are able to get a glimpse of what a place is really like, which is always appreciated.  

Please tell us about your recent travels to Albania. Before you arrived, what did you know about the country, and what kind of pre-conceived notions did you have?

Sid: I knew little about Albania before the trip. I played soccer with 20 Albanian friends in San Diego for 20 years, and decided it was time to pay a visit – one of the best decisions I ever made. MIR crafted an itinerary that covered almost the entire country, while hitting all of the highlights along the way. The drivers and guides on my trip were absolutely exceptional, and also very flexible. They made a few good jokes about never before encountering a tourist that knew more people in Albania than they did. As a result, the trip was made even better as I introduced them to my friends and we all went to the beach and made other itinerary adjustments — it ended up being great for me as well as my guides. I learned more than I ever imagined about the Adriatic and the Ionian Coast. It was a true discovery. My favorite town was Saranda – the hotel was superb and the views were unmatched.

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What made the biggest impression on you during your time in Albania? Was there anywhere you wish you could have spent more time?

Sid: I learned so much about the proud, brave history of the Albanian people, and the convergence of cultures and different faiths in one region. The minarets and churches and castles all side by side. I took it all in and it greatly affected me.  I would like to stay in the seaside town of Seranda for a full week next time, and I’d also like to visit the North of the country and proceed into Montenegro, where many of my friends in Albania come from originally.

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Was there anything you didn’t like about Albania?

Sid: No, actually I loved it all! When I was leaving, an immigration official looked at my US passport and said “you are welcome back any time.” I was  happy and surprised to learn about Albania’s particular fondness for American people. 

What were the people like?

Sid: I had the advantage of knowing many locals, but they will give you the shirt off their back, once you get to know them and they are comfortable with you. Albanians are very hospitable.

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Is there anything else about Albania that you’d like to share?

Sid: The coast and beaches are incredible. June through August is peak season. We got there the last week in May, and it was fairly deserted. 

If someone were considering traveling to Albania, what would you tell them to convince them to go?

Sid: Albania is an untouched gem. Many people travel to Greece, but Albania has much of the same coastal beauty, with great food and a relaxing ambiance at a much better price. Also, their yogurt is outstanding too!

Soak up the sun in the Albanian Riviera. Photo credit: Albanian National Tourism Agency/Europa Travel
Soak up the sun in the Albanian Riviera. Photo credit: Albanian National Tourism Agency/Europa Travel

What do you like about your travel experiences with MIR? What keeps you coming back?

Sid: The personalized experience.  MIR offers both private tours and small group tours, which I prefer. I have taken four trips with MIR and they have been some of the best of my life. This travel hiatus that we are all experiencing has me very excited for my next adventure!

PUBLISHED: October 5, 2020

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