On the road to Tirana

Tirana Travel Blog

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They do like NATO membership

It is after dark but I immediately notice I have crossed the border to Albania - ok maybe the fact that we stopped for an hour and some strange people took an unusual interest in my passport was kinda a giveaway - but even without this I would immediately notice the difference. Because there is no more of the good Kosovoian roads. This is Albania - the country where the potholes don’t like to live in solitude they like to form large family groups where they can keep each other company. Hence the bus goes along the road which doesn’t really feel like a road at all. Now is the time to get my money’s worth of travelling for the 20€ I paid in Pristina.

 

If you look at the map of Albania there is only about 200 km from the border to Tirana - I mean this should not take more than a couple of hours - but if you could do it in 2 hours - then the price would be a rip off.

Alternating flags of Albania and NATO
Hence the drive takes forever. We bump along on the road which may or may not be surfaced - in case it is surfaced there are so many potholes it do not really make any difference.

 

I really don’t understand how come any sane bus driver will even consider driving on an Albanian road at night - maybe this is the problem of this trip - the bus driver is indeed insane. We drive along and I try to get some sleep I don’t have much success in the effort but the constant twisting and turning may just make the trip go a bit faster.

 

We keep driving through the dark and at times the bus seems to be bumping a bit from side to side I can’t really figure out how this is happening but I am not sure I really wanna know - it may just make me too scare if I know what is actually going on.

NATO flags at the official buildings
This could be the second reason why the busses go at night - people would be too scared to make the trip during daylight hours.

 

After bumping through the night on the roads for around 10 hours we get to Tirana it is still dark and everything is kinda quite the town don’t seem to be waking up at 6 in the morning. I get my backs and try to make my way to the place I wanna stay - unfortunately I am a bit disorientated so I start walking the wrong way down the street I am looking for a street sign to tell me which street I am on. Unfortunately the concept of street sign don’t really seem to have caught on in Albania - and the idea of putting numbers on your door just doesn’t happen around this place. Hence it can be a bit difficult to find your way around at times. After a couple of attempts I find one of the few local English speakers and he tells me where I am and I manage to turn around and go in the right direction.

RJawad says:
great
Posted on: Apr 19, 2009
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Enver Hoxha pyramid and former museum

I don't really know why I am going to Albania in the first place. It is not like I know a lot of big tourist attraction spread all around the country - which I have been dieing to go and visit for years and years. Sure there are a few nice attractions which I want to go and see but then again this is the case of virtually all countries in the world.

 

I guess what is really attracting me to this place is the mystery. Albania is a country in the middle of Europe next to Greece and a short boat ride from Italy - and yet I know nobody who has ever been. Actually nobody seems to know anything about the place. Hence Albania is more or less as far off the beaten track you can come if you are not leaving Europe. They even got there ancient language which have survived through the centuries and is totally unrelated to the Latin and Slavic languages which are spoken in the countries all around them.

 

I want to go to a country which is famous for being the poorest country in Europe. This used to be the only country in Europe which was really sealed off from the rest of the world during the communist era. A country which for 40 years had a man in charge who made Castro look like a man you could do business with, who made Brezhnev and Ceausescu look like moderates, who made Gaddafi in Libya and the Kim's in North Korea look predictable.

 

I guess this is one of the things which attract me to the place. A country which got such a strange recent history and which pursued an economic policy so strange that no other country in the world would try it. I would like to go before the country is too deeply rooted in the western world. I guess it is now or never because the country has just taken its first major step into the western world by joining NATO. I guess you should never underestimate a countries ability to change - ten years ago I would not have thought NATO membership for Albania would happen in my lifetime - but now you never know maybe they will join the EU before Turkey.

RJawad says:
Fantastic - really enjoyed reading it
Posted on: Apr 19, 2009
hummingbird50 says:
Hey this is great thanks for sharing! :)
Posted on: Apr 19, 2009
bkretzer says:
Another well written blog! I enjoyed it!
Posted on: Apr 17, 2009
The opera house - covered in NATO posters

I get to the place I am staying for the next few days and the first person I meet is a Danish girl - what are the odds of that? I would imagine there would be that many Danish tourists travelling around Albania in the spring time. But apparently I was totally wrong in that assumption.

 

I get out getting some cash and having a bit of a look around town.  They don’t use Euros around here but their own currency the Leke. Fortunately it is not like in the bad old days where chancing currency in a place like Albania would have to be done in the black market.

The Albanian History Museum
Now the Leke is convertible and you can just walk in a bunch of different places to change money.

 

The first thing you notice when you are walking around the city is a huge number of flags commemorating the Albanian NATO membership stating Albania in NATO a miracle of freedom. All the official buildings in the central part of Tirana are covered by posters and flags about the NATO membership. The locals seem to make jokes about this. Like the president is giving a speech about the situation in Albania and no matter what the contents’ of a paragraph in the speech is about it always end with - and Albania is now a member of NATO. There was a big celebration of the NATO membership a few days before and it sounds a bit like the locals thinks the NATO membership is more about securing the reelection of the current government than the actual membership.

 

After a while I manage to take my eyes off all the flags and I start to notice another thing in Tirana.

Old Italian style buildings in the centre of Tirana
Almost half of the cars are Mercedes. Considering how poor Albania is the number of Mercedes is just astounding. Many of the cars are driving around the streets with German number plates or at least German nationality markers on the back - or Swiss, British or another western European nationality.

 

The first bunch of cars came at a stage when the roads in Albania did not have the quality they have today. Considering the current quality of the roads they must have been pretty bad back then. Of course the country came from a situation with 500 cars in all of the country just after the fall of communism and today there is ½ a million cars on the streets of Albania. But the poor quality of the roads meant only a few cars could possibly survive on that sort of roads. Quite soon it became clear that Mercedes would be the most reliable make of car on the roads of Albania hence everybody who could get their hands on a Mercedes would do that. The first Mercedes had a somewhat questionable origin coming into the country from all over western Europe in a huge import scheme- the main problem with this import business were the people who imported the cars had a tendency to forget to pay for the car in the country they came from.

Skanderbeg statue on the central square in Tirana
It got to a situation where the Albanian foreign ministry after a trip to Greece got his Mercedes impounded on the boarder to Greece because he did not have the correct papers for the car.

 

Apparently there were a couple of big parking lots in the big port cities in Albania where you could just go down and get a nice newly imported Mercedes from a western European country. Of course you would not be able to take this car out of Albania ever again. Today there is sort of some order in Albania hence there is no longer a big lots with stolen cars anywhere - but there is still used Mercedes coming to the country which may or may not be legally imported.

 

I start a short walk around the centre of town - the centre is not really big you can see that Tirana used to be a small capital in a small country with most of the population living in the country side. But around the big square in town the Italians made some nice governmental buildings in the centre.

Inside the mosque on the central square
The square is dominated by a huge statue of the all Albanian hero Skanderbeg on his horse with his goat helmet of his head. The statue look so must like it is in its right place. But only 15 years ago there were no statue of Skanderbeg instead there were two huge statues of the present day heroes of Albania - Lenin and Stalin.

 

On the central square of the city are two of the main attractions in the city. There is a big mosque which survived the atheism strategy during the communist era because it was deemed to be a cultural monument. On the one end of the square is the Albanian history museum which has a big mosaic out on the faced with scenes from the Albanian history. Inside is an exhibition of the Albanian history which is sort of interesting but a bit difficult to follow because it is mainly in Albanian.

 

As I walk back from the museum I pass a strange looking building. It looks most like a pyramid and it used to house the Enver Hoxha museum.

The British empire war cemetery
The museum was designed by his daughter after his death and allegedly it is the most expensive building in all of Albania. The museum had a very short life as a museum after the fall of communism it was turned into a conference centre instead.

 

A bit south of the centre of the city is a small park where you can get a bit away from the usual car craziness of the city centre. It is a nice little area with a lot of locals going down there for their daily run in the park. In the park is a couple of old cemeteries’ from WW II. There is a fairly big British cemetery where the British soldiers who fell during the campaign in Albania are buried. The British cemetery is on a top of a hill and there is a nice little view over the city. A bit down the hill is a German war cemetery which is not quite as well located. It could be because the people in Albania had a better relationship with the British than the German just after the war.

 

Below the park on the hill is a little lake which looks like an area which could be the most attractive in Tirana area.

Lake south of the city
But surprisingly there are not that many buildings around the lake. Considering the way the city has been developed the last decade it is amazing there aren’t any more apartment buildings around the lake. I guess the city will develop this area in a short while given the Klondike development style they are using in Albania.

They do like NATO membership
They do like NATO membership
Alternating flags of Albania and N…
Alternating flags of Albania and …
NATO flags at the official buildin…
NATO flags at the official buildi…
Enver Hoxha pyramid and former mus…
Enver Hoxha pyramid and former mu…
Old Italian style buildings in the…
Old Italian style buildings in th…
The opera house - covered in NATO …
The opera house - covered in NATO…
NATO flags at the official buildin…
NATO flags at the official buildi…
The Albanian History Museum
The Albanian History Museum
Old Italian style buildings in the…
Old Italian style buildings in th…
Skanderbeg statue on the central s…
Skanderbeg statue on the central …
Inside the mosque on the central s…
Inside the mosque on the central …
The British empire war cemetery
The British empire war cemetery
Lake south of the city
Lake south of the city
Former Enver Hoxha museum
Former Enver Hoxha museum
Old Italian style buildings in the…
Old Italian style buildings in th…
Old Italian style buildings in the…
Old Italian style buildings in th…
The opera house - covered in NATO …
The opera house - covered in NATO…
The opera house - covered in NATO …
The opera house - covered in NATO…
The old mosque in Tirana - one of …
The old mosque in Tirana - one of…
The Albanian History Museum
The Albanian History Museum
The parlament in Albania
The parlament in Albania
The parlament in Albania
The parlament in Albania
The parlament in Albania
The parlament in Albania
Inside the mosque on the central s…
Inside the mosque on the central …
Inside the mosque on the central s…
Inside the mosque on the central …
Inside the mosque on the central s…
Inside the mosque on the central …
Mosque and clocktower
Mosque and clocktower
Trafic in front of random building
Trafic in front of random building
The German war cemetery
The German war cemetery
The German war cemetery
The German war cemetery
Lake south of the city
Lake south of the city
Lake south of the city
Lake south of the city
Enver Hoxha pyramid and former mus…
Enver Hoxha pyramid and former mu…
The house of the primeminister.
The house of the primeminister.
Tirana Hostels review
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photo by: EmEm