Admittedly I was happy to be back in a busy metropolis as you'd have to go back to Italy those weeks ago since I last sampled the heavily polluted city air. Since then its largely been rural villages, castles and vast amounts of walking. I came here then with minimal expectations and as such I would be less likely to be disappointed should the city not deliver me what I wanted it to. I needn't had worried though (not that I did) as I had enjoyable couple of days here and would have been happy to stay a day or two longer if the others did too. Alas, the time-frame for the others is not indefinite unlike my own.
I participated in the free walking tour which was interesting and largely focused on the communist regime before Albania's independence back in the early 90s. A lot of people speak Italian here in Albania, just like a lot of the Balkans. I actually remember being surprised at the amount of times 'CIAO' was exchanged in Serbia.
The tour guide explained that this was because the first outside TV airwaves to reach Albania after communism ended was Italian so people learned a lot of the language this way.
He spoke of a few wide-eye memories including when Madonna and Michael Jackson were at their peak in the 80s, people in Albania had never heard of them. He spoke of his Mother's concern and hesitancy when bananas were imported into the country.
Albania also claim to be the first atheist country in the world so its no wonder Religion here is a little lax. To my surprise, Islam is the predominant religion here and the majority of the people are Muslim-Albanian. The hostel manager from the Hairy Lemon in Saranda would say he was Muslim but he's never been to a mosque in his life so rather being Muslim was something in his ancestry and before Religion this was prohibited during the communist era.
Another quick stat for you - did you know that Rita Ora is Kosovo-Albanian and was actually born in Pristina, Kosovo.
Anyhow, the strangest thing we saw during the tour was this Pyramid looking structure.
It was also a former museum in Tirana that opened over 25 years ago. It was designed by the daughter and son-in-law of the late communist leader Enver Hoxha as a legacy thing after his death and before the fall of communism in Albania.
These days it does nothing other than look ugly and allow kids to pose on it and attempt to climb it. Getting down looks a little trickier though as you can see from the boy sliding down (bottom left).
Other notable attractions were Skanderbeg square (Albania's national hero from long ago) and the national museum. We also saw a bunker (not the first I'd seen) which is just 1 of over 700,000 in the country!!! These were ordered to be created to assist in the invasion from other countries....but this NEVER happened. Good work with that. They did get a piece of the Berlin wall though.
Knowing there wasn't much else to see here, we did manage to make good use of time and locate an artificial lake. This offered a pleasant and unexpected change in scenery to standard city imagery:
The rest of our day would be spent chilling, eating, drinking and of course socialising with fellow travellers. When daylight fell we would see a different side to Tirana. It was like being back in Weston-super-Mare and I bet you can't guess why? Well, we sat 'al fresco' style in a bar overlooking a busy main street and it was enjoyable for me to not just people-watch but to car-watch also. For the last ten days throughout Albania I could count the number of NON-clapped out cars on one hand. Suddenly in Tirana, it was the exact opposite as I was struggling to spot an old banger amongst the shiny automotive exotica performing 'laps' of the city. I'm not talking your average sports cars, I'm talking high-end Porsche Panomera's, Range Rover Sport's and Mercedes AMG's - oh and the occasional Lamborghini, Maserati and Mercedes SLS. Rather curious don't you think considering the drivers looked really quite young and that the reported average wage for the capital city alone is 500 euros a month.
Here we were across the road also living the 'good life' having just bought a round of four decent cocktails and a beer for a combined 7 euros (£5).
Who needs flash cars!?
Did I really just say that...? :-)
Seriously though ask anyone here about corruption, literally anyone, and they will go off on a rant. Apparently its prevalent throughout Albania but of course more rife in the larger cities. Then there is Albanian Mafia ties, protection rackets and whatever else goes on behind the scenes.
Early this morning a small group of us made it to Shkodra where we plan on staying for a couple of nights before looking to finally make the crossing into a new country. Does Shkodra have a castle? Yes. Did we visit it? Yes. Was it nice Yes. Do you need more pictures? No.
From northern Albania you would typically either go north west into Montenegro or north east into Macedonia - ultimately dependant on your subsequent route of course. We will be taking the north west option into Montenegro so its back to euros and slightly higher prices. As such, this might prove to be my last Albanian post as my time in this fabulous under-explored country comes to an end.
Check out how much of Albania I've covered in these last ten or so days:
Starting point was Saranda but easier for the map if I used Himara (which I visited and stayed over in) as the starting point.
See you in Montenegro I hope folks!