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Albania

Tour Tirana

This morning, I checked out of the Hotel Republika, grabbed street breakfast that was as good as anything else I've had on this trip, and moved over to the Hotel International Tirana. It's my last night in a hotel on this trip- tomorrow I sleep on a plane- and I figured that I could splurge a bit since I actually got a pretty good deal. What a difference in hotel quality! International had strong wifi in the room (as opposed to having to go in the hall like at Republika). It was clean and pretty (although that's not super-important to me). What was important was that the bed was incredibly comfy and had a ton of pillows on it. After dropping my stuff there, I headed out to take the Free Tirana Tour. Our guide did a great job showing us around town and giving us an idea of life in Albania. He was very frank, answering our questions about the mafia with as much candor as questions about local foods. We learned how the cheating in the educational system works and how the medical system is a bit bribery-driven, but we also learned about how Albania has many religions living together in peace, in rare display of ultra-modernism. Part of this religious tolerance came from the atheism of the communist years. According to our guide, the Albanian communist dictator really believed in equality and communism, to the point where he stopped being allies with countries he felt weren't communist enough- like Yugoslavia, China, and even the USSR. His people were all equal- they all had nothing. Our guide remembered that growing up, they didn't have coca cola, bananas, or jeans. He remembers the first time some other kid got bubblegum. They all took turns chewing the one piece because it was so new and exciting to them. The tour basically covered the same part of town that I walked yesterday, but I had a bit of a better idea as to what I was looking at and what the significance of it all was. For example, in the park, he explained why there were bunkers still in the ground. Or at the big Pyramid, he explained why it was built and what it's doing now. The tour was very worthwhile. It ended at a beautiful, brand-new orthodox church, which was not so far from where my map said there was Chinese food. However, when I got there, it turned out to be a Mexican restaurant. Ok. I'm also curious how Albanian Mexican food tastes, so I ate there anyway. After my late lunch, all I really had left to see was the park and the artificial lake. They were quite pretty, and relatively calm and quiet. I sat there and read for a while. Then it started to rain. I taxied back to the hotel for a super-cheap price and hung out there for a while, still reading, but also catching up on everything else and getting packed. Tomorrow I have to be airport-organized, which is a step up from just dragging my bags around as I've been doing. I headed out for dinner, which was good, but again, nothing special, and then turned in for the night.

New Orthodox Church

New Orthodox Church


Park

Park


Bunker

Bunker

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Albania Comments (0)

On to Tirana

Without an alarm, I woke early enough to catch the 6am bus to Shkoder. I'm guessing the bus was built in the 80s. The driver had been smoking on it before we boarded, so upon entry, everybody let out a cough, but the back of the bus wasn't bad. The driver came around to collect our passports and then rattled out of town, picking up more people, most likely daily commuters, on the way.We stopped for gas at one point, but it wasn't a stop long enough for us to get off the bus. Apparently, just a top-up and a place for the driver to put his cigarette butt on the ground. The border was a little building and there was nobody else there, but it still took them quite some time to process our passports. The rest of the ride was uneventful, but pretty. I enjoyed the rural areas and the quaintness of the people walking their cows and working their fields. Upon arrival in Shkoder, I walked the city a bit. The city itself seems very nice and very lively. Unfortunately, there is no bus station, so there is no place to really live my luggage and go explore the castle. Instead, I hopped on a bus to Tirana. I don't think that they have official schedules. I'm pretty sure it just leaves when it's full. However, the price is right. I gave the guy 5 euro for the bus and he gave me 400 Lek (about 4 euro) change. I feel like I'm doing pretty well with prices for long bus rides on this trip. I enjoyed the Albanian scenery more than the Montenegran, and I also enjoyed chatting a bit with the lady sitting next to me. She was on her way to a job interview in Tirana, but took the time to tell me all about what it was like living in Albania. She gave me some suggestions for what to see and do in Tirana, and I wished her good luck with her interview. Also, there is no bus station in Tirana. The various buses just drop off in various parts of the city. I walked a bit towards the center, until I arrived at a street full of travel agencies. The windows were plastered with ads about tours, but none of them seemed to have any customers. I just popped in one and asked abut local tours. Unfortunately, she only organized tours abroad, so I didn't get that set up, but she did show me how to get to a hotel that she recommended as "not good, but cheap." I headed towards Hotel Republika, the recommended hotel, and by pure happenstance, stumbled upon a tourist info counter. I made a stop there for a map, and also got a list of recommended hotels, which included Republika. Unfortunately, she also couldn't set me up with day tours, but did give me a flyer for the Tirana free tour. The hotel is again, more of a motel. It's cheap and it has a smell, but it's cheap. A dorm bed in Venice cost significantly more than the whole private room with ensuite bathroom including a tub at Hotel Republika. After dropping off my stuff, I decided to tour around Tirana a bit. I walked around the main square a few times, looking for something to eat and something to do. It took me a surprisingly long time to find a restaurant. Finally, I got a seat at the University Book Store, which is also a restaurant that has crepes, so I at least ate something. After a short nap, I decided to check out the Albanian History Museum. Unfortunately, it was closed until later, which I found a bit odd, since middle of the afternoon seems like prime museum time. Instead, I walked the area around the main square and down to Mother Teresa square at the other end. On the way, I passed pretty much all of the sights, although I didn't know it until the tour the next day. One of the more interesting sights was the Pope and Mother Teresa church. There are tons of shrines and statues to/of her all over town, but one inside the church was a mosaic made entirely of sea shells. Finally, it was late enough to go the museum, which also contained a whole section on Mother Teresa. It's amusing that Tirana has so much dedicated to her since she was from an area of Albania more north than Tirana and she never lived here. But, I think it's great that a majority Muslim country is so proud of their Catholic saint that everybody wants to claim her. This is how multi-culturalism and respect is done. In addition to Mother Teresa, the museum taught about the various stages of the Albanian history (with signage in English and Albanian). Pretty much everybody was there at some point- the Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Venetians, Austrians, Italians, Germans. I guess that when you're in the middle of East and West Europe, you get passed back and forth from the border of one power to the next. One thing I learned that was particularly interesting was that Albania saved a lot of Jews during WW2, including a guy named Albert Einstein. I guess I knew he escaped, but never really thought of what kind of path he took to get out. I highly recommend the museum as a primer to Albanian history. There is some other stuff there that's less interesting (like the stamp collection), but overall, it was educational and worth the few dollars admission price. By the time I exited the museum, it was starting to get a bit rainy and wet, so I ended up taking a bus to eat at a mall food court for dinner. However, I at least got an Albanian sandwich there. I can't say it was any better than any of the rest of the Balkan food I've had here, but it was at least as OK as the rest of it.

On the drive

On the drive


Skodra

Skodra


Shkodra Mosque

Shkodra Mosque


Albanian History Museum

Albanian History Museum


Pyramid Building

Pyramid Building


Nana Teresa

Nana Teresa

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Albania Comments (0)

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