Finally we have found somewhere we don’t really like! After 3 nights in Tirana, Albania’s capital, we are glad to be packing up and heading off to a new location. Therefore this post will probably be quite short as we share the few things that we enjoyed in Tirana.
As a whole we found Tirana very big and noisy, so different from charming wee Shkoder. The people were still friendly but spoke much less English than they had in Shkoder making things a bit more challenging.
Getting to Tirana
The main way in and out of Tirana is by bus or plane. Many people fly to Tirana as a way to access Albania. We caught a bus from Shkoder and it was super easy, once we accessed some local knowledge. There is no information online and not even a bus station in Shkoder where you can go to read a timetable. A bit of a scary thought!!
There is just a place near the centre where the buses park on the side of the road and go from and there are men standing around shouting the destination of each bus. Thankfully the wonderful crew at the wanderers hostel told us where to go and when. You can’t buy a ticket in advance, you pay on the bus. Tickets are cheap and Daniel and I got to Tirana for about $10NZD (I think). Buses leave from Shköder to Tirana every 45 minutes in the morning and every hour in the afternoon. Easy as.
Where we stayed
Nothing much to talk about here folks. We had a lovely host who picked us up from the bus station. The station was about 6km away from our accommodation which made getting out of Tirana a mission after our stay. Our host explained how to use the local buses but we’re total wimps and chose to walk. It was close enough to some of the main attractions but the city is big and not easy to access by foot.
We were lucky enough to be upgraded from a shared appartment to an appartment of our own. We also had a washing machine which was very exciting after weeks of hand washing. I’m not joking, I was actually so excited!
Highlights of Tirana
It really feels like we spent a lot of time not doing anything in Tirana. This was for a few reasons; it takes ages to walk anywhere, we were trying to workout how to get to our next destination. We lost most of a day working out and buying a bus to Sarande. Then the laptop died. Most of our second day was spent getting it fixed. In between our missions we did find elements of Tirana we liked.
If you read our post about Shkoder you’ll know that we have discovered that the people in Albania are amazing. They are very kind and generous, despite very low wages. We talked to a number of people who earn under €150 per month but as one man told us “as long as I can buy cigarettes and coffee I am happy”. This seems to be the general attitude.
Everyone was keen to talk to us and wanted to know if we liked Albania. Every time we did we loved it, they were very pleased. We may have been a little dishonest about our thoughts on Tirana.
We experienced nothing but kindness from the people here. Our host picked us up from the bus station and drove us to a computer repair shop when the laptop died. People gave us directions and showed us how to pay for things. They gave us something to love about Tirana.
No other tourists
Other tourists visiting Albania had obviously done a little more research than us and decided to skip Tirana. This meant that while walking around the city we saw very few other visitors. It was great to visit each attraction without a crowd.
This also meant that we stuck our like sore thumbs, especially me. Wherever we went people states and stared. I look so different from the locals here. The women here spend so much time on their appearance while I was lucky to wear mascara. They all have long very groomed hair while mine is short. Some old women have short hair. We saw very few sunglasses while I can’t be without them in the bright sun. Finally, I was dressed so differently! The young women in Tirana all seem to live in high waisted jeans, cropped t-shirts and heels or glamourous sneakers. Occasionally there was a short skirt or tight dress but mainly it was the jeans and t-shirt combo. It was like 27+ degrees!! I tired to stay covered but lived in floaty skirts and gym shoes. The only other people wearing skirts like me were old women!
The fresh produce
Tirana has wonderful fruit and vegetable stalls on the streets they sell a wonderful range of produce. While in Tirana we mainly ate big servings of beautiful fresh vegetables or salad. The meat was a little questionable. I made a lot of ratotourexxxxx with lovely tiny aubergines and massive juicy tomatos.
We also ate ourselves silly on fresh fruit. The cherries and strawberries were amazing, and also very cheap. A large punnet of strawberries was about 80leke which is about $1NZD.
The Tirana pyramid
In 1988 the museum of Hoxha, Albania’s long term dictator, was opened. This was build by Hoxha’s daughter and son in law opened a monument to commemorate Hoxha’s legacy. It’s now a semi-ruin. Apparently some people want it torn down while others want it to stay as a reminder of how not to rule a country.
It’s a very strange building with a weird mixture of concrete and glass. Much of the glass is smashed and boarded over and it is used as a bit of a graffiti outlet. We love street art so this was very cool to see. The surrounding park is very well manicured and there are officials all around, picking up rubbish and shooing people who dare sit down to eat.
The national park
Just outside of the main business strip is a large park with lots of trees and many walking tracks. We really enjoyed taking a break from the busy city for a wander around the park. We saw many other people doing the same thing. Teenagers walking with their crushes and elderly couples sitting on benches.
The only downside of the park was that the closer you got to the lake, the more men were lying around in their underwear and did not seem impressed to see a woman wandering by. Despite the scouls in our direction it was lovely to sit by the water and eat a punnet of sweet Albanian strawberries.
Great computer repair shops
Very unfortunately our laptop decided to become seriously unwell. The operating system essentially disappeared. We asked our lovely host for advise and he ended up driving us around on a Thursday night, looking for an open computer shop. No luck.
In tj the morning Daniel and I walked to the closest shop we could find. “Easy” they said. We asked how much it was going to cost us and they said 10,000 leke, about $135 NZD. We thought this was quite pricey given the cost of other things in Albania but would be what we’d pay in New Zealand. After 4 hours we had our laptop back and when we handed over 10,000 leke the man looked very confused. “Is too much. Need 10,000 leke” he said. Turns out there was a wee error in translation and the actual cost was 1000 leke, $13 NZD! Yet another experience of amazing Albanian people. They were totally honest, they didn’t need to be, we wouldn’t have known.
This is me looking on the bright side of a few days we didn’t really enjoy. Everywhere we have been has charged for public toilets but in Tirana they are free! I mean they don’t have locks or toilet paper but neither did many of the ones I paid to use.
Tirana had been interesting but we are glad to be leaving. Now we head to coastal Sarande, on the Greek border. Albanians seem to love it and keep telling us to go, so we are. One thing I’d like to recommend that we didn’t do because of laptop dramas is Bunk’Art, you can find out about it here.
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Chloe and Daniel xx