July 20, 2008

Tirana, Albania

Little did I know at the time that I was to have a guided, local experience in Tirana from the friendships I had made in Progradec. It was nice to arrive in a new city and not have to think of how to get places or where to stay; I was led to a simple and private room in the University section close to the center of town and, armed with the phone numbers of my” bodyguards”, I became immediately comfortable in my new surroundings.
Tirana is made up of three elements; Mercedes cars, coffeeshops and bars and cigarette vendors. Mercedes because of the bad roads (so I am told), coffeeshops and bars because of the bad economy and without jobs people get together and drink and cigarette vendors because, same as above, without jobs people get together and drink and then smoke. The ratio of restaurants to these other elements are very low and I have concluded that either Albanians do not eat or they only eat at home or they only eat coffee, beer and cigarettes. But besides for the lack of food options (although I did manage a medieval feast in a castle one afternoon) and second hand smoke, I found Tirana to be a relaxed city with an energetic early-evening-nightlife-vibe and some pretty groovy post-communist architecture; the town center is a circle of heavy buildings which were painted a soft yellow from the previous “revolutionary red” and has a museum with a large, communist mosaic on it’s facade that the city is in debate about weather to keep it up and preserve history or take it down and hope one day for an E.U nomination. I had wanted to walk the streets a bit more than I did, but I was “kidnapped” by my “bodyguards” into partaking in some serious cafĂ© time, but I did manage to break free for a while and take some photographs of the city at sunset, with the Dajti mountain range surrounding the perimeter as the people gathered with their friends and families in the park by the casino and ate ice cream, played ball, and sat on benches talking.
After two days of being shuttled from coffeeshop to coffeshop and attended to as if I were the Princess of Tirana, it was time to say goodbye to my new friends and head North to see if the hospitality in the rest of the Balkans could match what I had been so lucky to find here.

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