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Monday, December 19, 2016

Tirana, Albania: The Balkans by Bus Road Trip Christmas 2016 pt. 3

This is a six-part blog. Here are the links:



5h30 at Skanderbeg Square, inaccessible due to construction
5h30 at Skanderbeg Square, inaccessible due to construction

Day 8: Wake up and we've arrived in Tirana at 6h15. Clocks are an hour back, so it's really only 5h15. Ten cab drivers are outside and darn near enter the bus trying to offer a taxi. I go into the main office to ask for directions to my hostel and they ask a cab driver who really wanted to drive me but was nice enough to still give me general directions for free. 

I walk about 10 minutes when I see Skanderbeg Square under construction and find an open Wi-Fi to use Google maps. There is a mosque at this square and the morning call to prayer is playing. About 15 minutes later I'm near Trip'n Hostel but can't quite find it, and a random guy on the street helps me to find it despite the language barrier. Ina, a small Albanian girl, opens the door and is super hospitable and sets me up with a heater, coffee, and Wi-Fi. They have phone and computer chargers in the walls already. Ina has Christmas music playing while she cleans. I put out the sweets Nancy gave me to share with the others in the hostel so they can all have a delicious Greek breakfast. 

Meet Jamie, an American guy who is the interim manager, and who made a map of things to see, with some pretty good recommendations. Then I meet Ingrid, a Canadian volunteer on permanent travel mode. Head out to the free walking tour and it's a beautiful day, but they are doing construction at Skanderbeg Square and the normal meeting point is inaccessible. I can't find the group, so I do my own tour. First to the clock tower to read the signs there. A local named Andy, who is hungry, approaches me in French and tells me a story about how he lost his job and has family in France, but his passport expired and he is waiting two years to get a new one. The fact that he is speaking decent French and is giving me some history about Tirana, is why I don't decline his request for some food. I buy he and I burek for breakfast and we walk a bit and then part ways. 

Head into Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral during the communion Sunday service, so there are many people inside. The church looks quite new. I continue walking and come across Fujimoto's "Cloud Pavilion" in front of the National Art Gallery, then head into Bunk Art 2, a museum about the secret police of Tirana, that was recommended by Jamie. 

I am greeted by nice staff with great English. Free Wi-Fi and interactive tour for less than 4 euros. I had been communicating with the free walking tour guide, Gazi, via whatsapp and he actually comes into the museum to see me and make sure I am finding everything ok and to give me some recommendations. Nice guy, I'll do his tour tomorrow. Finish the museum tour and head to Tirana Metropol to buy my bus ticket to Prizren for tomorrow. 

Head to large bazaar and buy oranges, since I have a bit of a cold from all the smoke the last few days. Outdoor markets are everywhere. I walk along the river until I see the Pyramid of Tirana, where another guy approaches me, with the same request as Andy, but this guy hasn't eaten in six days and he has eight kids and one of his daughters is fluent in Spanish from watching telenovelas; this time I refuse his request. 

I walk to E7E, also recommended by Jamie, that has nice atmosphere with loaded bookshelves and wood burning stoves and a separate dining area, in which I'm the only one, since I want to order food. I order tavë dheu me mish (ground meat/chicken mostly casserole). Delicious! While I'm eating, outside in the garden a stray cat attacks the restaurant's cat and one guy unsuccessfully tries to break it up with his foot but another guy runs over and picks up the stray cat and throws it at the wall like a stuffed animal. Thug life. 

I go to the Christmas market at Mother Teresa Square to see what they have and then head back to the hostel. Completely dark at 16h45. Arrive back to the hostel and meet the others staying there. They are so grateful for the Greek sweets Nancy sent with me. One couple is from Cádiz. Head out to the Christmas market with Jamie to grab something to eat and to test out his drone.

Thoughts: The street outside our hostel is lined with yard sales. I didn't realize how many dictators there were in Europe, during and after WWII. I've been to so many museums in so many countries, and yet, everytime I see a new one in a new country, I learn something new. 

So many people outside today, walking and sitting in the parks, and even all the buses are packed. Albania accepts the euro many places. So far on this trip I've traveled from seeing Cyrillic to Greek to Latin letters. More gypsies, especially children, begging on the streets than in Greece or Bulgaria. In the parks, I notice a bunch of fountains donated by Kuwait. The city of Tirana is super into Christmas lights, as they are on every building except the mosques. Our hostel is dominated by North Americans. 


So full of life during the day
So full of life during the day 

This is not a suggestion
This is not a suggestion, and they're watching you

How did you get this number?
How did you get this number?

The propaganda machine is... right... behind... me
The propaganda machine is... right... behind... me

This is how you see a museum
This is how you see a museum

A beautiful Balkan day
A beautiful Balkan day

Still full of life at night
Still full of life at night

Day 9: Jamie makes a delicious omelet for breakfast. It's almost as good as mine. The three other guys having breakfast are also going on Gazi's free walking tour with me,  Edwin (Holland), Miles, and Noah (Americans). We head out together to the walking tour. It's a good tour with anecdotes and historyEven more people on the street today. Usually go somewhere on Sunday and everything is closed, so people aren't out, but not here.

What we learn on the tour:
-3 million Albanians in the country,  one third in Tirana. More living abroad than at home. 
-The country has only been driving for 25 years, since it was illegal to own a car during communism.
-George W. Bush more popular in Albania than America. 
-Mother Teresa who is from Skopje, is very important in the country. 
-Amazing facts about how they lived during communist times. 

After the tour, we part ways and Edwin and I go for postcard stamps for me, and a bus ticket for him. Interestingly enough, we end up on the same bus. Go back to the hostel to get my stuff, stop for a quick bite to eat, and then head back to catch bus. When we get on, the bus driver is pumping hard core hip hop. There are only 10 people on the 50 pax bus. Driver smoking entire trip. Gonna need a super detox when I get home. 

Thoughts: Still dealing with my cold, though it's quite mild. I think it's more irritation from cigarette smoke and smog. So much to see and do in Albania and impossible to see in such little time. I will have to come back another day. Crossing the street in Albania is like Russian roulette. Spent exactly 40€ in 36 hours including hostel, food, souvenirs, medicine from pharmacy, tip for walking tour, and bus ticket to Kosovo. Bus ride from Albania to Kosovo first time in Europe that I heard censored radio.  


At Fujimoto's Cloud Pavilion I see I can knock out a set
At Fujimoto's Cloud Pavilion I have to knock out a set

The Albanian flag has my favorite colors
The Albanian flag has my favorite colors

On the tour, in front of the Tanner's Bridge
On the tour, in front of the Tanner's Bridge

 Me and former house of Enver Hoxha, communist prime minister who ruled 40+ years (small photo)  Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant (large photo) Communism and Capitalism faceoff
 Me and former house of Enver Hoxha, communist prime minister who ruled 40+ years (small photo)
 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant (large photo)
Communism and Capitalism faceoff

So little artwork inside Resurrection Cathedral, for now
So little artwork inside Resurrection Cathedral, for now



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Location: Tirana, Albania

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