web Musings of The Global Traveller

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Joy of Travel - Challenging Thinking & Stereotypes

I love to travel for many reasons. The other day I was reminded of one of the reasons. Travel challenges my thinking and shatters stereotypes.

I was in Albania - had not long arrived. Just long enough to drop off my bag at the small family-run hotel I was staying at and head out for a walk. Whenever possible at a new place on arrival I like to explore on foot with no particular destination in mind just to get a sense of the place and help adjust to local realities.

I had only gone a block and decided to take a break and watch the world, or rather the local portion of it, go by for a while.

It wasn't long before I saw a small truck with a cow in the back drive by, pouring diesel fumes out as it went. Here I was in Scanderberg Square, the very centre of the capital city of Tirana, having arrived less than an hour beforehand, and it seemed the stereotypes were becoming true. The hotel I was staying in (a block away) was on a dirt pot-holed road. It had a glamourous view of a power substation. There are several large chunky Stalinesque buildings around the square, and now I had just seen a cow go by.

I felt despondent. Surely the stereotypes couldn't be right? There must be more to Albania than this? I like to think I have an open mind but perhaps this time I was being too hopeful? This was not a case of being in a poor country and experiencing culture shock. I've been in far poorer places than Tirana and not gotten the same feeling I had this time. Perhaps my expectations were unreasonably high from previous visits to other Eastern European countries?

Over the following few days I explored the city on foot. I met many nice locals and gradually became to appreciate that I had been looking at it wrongly. My initial impressions were based on material manifestations which merely represent the reality of life in a relatively poor semi-rural country. I think the things that matter more, though, are the present and what people will make of the future. On that score Albania was much more uplifting. Spring had arrived, and perhaps that added to the ambience, but there was a sense of hope, and of positive attitudes.

I'm not very good with words, and so this post cannot adequately describe what I thought & how I feel. Suffice to say I enjoyed my few days in Albania as it challenged my thinking to look beyond the superficial, and acts as a reminder to forever keep a guard against having a closed mind or too many preconceptions.


Alan Perlman said...

Couldn't agree more. Nice post! Will actually be heading to Tirana for 9 days at the end of May. Any immediate recommendations? Restaurants? Things to do?

The Global Traveller said...

If the weather is good head up to Dajti. Otherwise most tourist things are close to Scanderberg Square. The national museum is a good wet day filler.

Sorry I can't help with restaurant recommendations. I just picked places that looked like were popular with locals that I happened to wander past.

If you have 9 days as tourist (as opposed to working) then you may want to head out of the city for a few days.