Thursday, July 21, 2011

Getting off the beaten path in Tirana

While we have been seeing a LOT of tourists so far, it seems that nobody but the most seasoned of travelers head on to Albania. The second-poorest country in Europe, after Moldova, is not well connected to Montenegro. In order to get from Budva to Tirana, a person would need to take a bus to Bar, transfer to Ulcinj, take a twice-daily bus to Shkodra and then transfer again to Albania. Yikes. In order to save time and sanity, we did a second tour organized by the Hotel Montegro and got a mini-bus to take us to Tirana with a stop in Stari Bar and a quick photo of the oldest olive tree in Europe (scraping the bottom of the tourist bowl, don’t you think?)
Something like 2000 years old

Our first driver dropped us off in Shkodra, which is the old Albanian capital and definite border town. The atmosphere in Albania immediately felt different: dusty streets, grand mosques, crazy traffic, and guys picking at their belly buttons Chinese style. Our driver than passed us on to a new guy to make the last leg to our hostel in Tirana for ten euro a person. Not too shabby!
We stayed at a nice hostel near the center and spent the first evening just relaxing and chatting with other travelers. While a lot of people in Croatia were traveling for two or three weeks, the people we met in Tirana were all on gap-years or around the world trips. It was exciting to hear their stories and wonder if I could do the same myself- after two weeks of traveling, I tend to get homesick. I like living abroad, but I don't know how much I like nonstop traveling. Dinner was a disappointment. We were told to go to this traditional restaurant, but they definitely microwaved all of our food. At least it was cheap. If you are in Tirana, definitely stick to the street food. Roasted chickens, sausages, fresh bread. Mmmm... We got cevapcici the next day for lunch. How can you not like hot bbq, with fresh bread and raw onions? Did I mention it was only a dollar a portion?
Tirana was kind of a disappointment. It was a big city, with a lot of blocs. Unlike other architecturally unfortunate cities, Tirana decided to do something and painted many of the buildings with bright colors and interesting designs. However, there still wasn't much to do. We went to the art museum, walked around the fashion district, drank coffee, and saw the hideous pyramid. This building was originally a mausoleum for Enver Hoxha, who was the dictator in the late 20th century. Designed by his daughter and son-in-law, it is a real eyesore. 
Gross gross gross
Ugly building rebooted!

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