Surviving Tirana, Albania

Surviving Tirana, Albania

Posted by on Feb 1, 2016 in Albania, Europe

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

We had hired a car in Croatia but weren’t allowed to take it into Albania (all rental car providers outside Albania forbid taking rental cars into Albania, for a good reason!) so we arranged a private car to drive us from Kotor to Tirana. It was a bit confusing as it was organised through a youth hostel, however it was the only way we could work out how to do it. The cost was around 99€, and just after 8am a large white van turned up and off we went to Albania.

Where is Albania?

Albania is a small country on the Adriatic Sea, tucked between Montenegro and Kosovo in the North, Greece in the South, and Macedonia in the East.

Again, like Montengro and Bosnia, I barely knew anything about Albania. I couldn’t even point to it on a map about a month before we landed there! However after the glorious write up in our Lonely Planet guide, Scott and I both felt that it needed to be moved to the top of our list and to this day it remains as one of my favourite countries I have visited.

My gush about Albania however, did not come from our time in Tirana!

Crossing the boarder from Montenegro was interesting, time consuming and a little bit unnerving. Apparently it can be a bit hit and miss as to whether they let you in. I am not sure why though – as as far as I can see Northern Albania doesn’t need to give anyone more reasons to avoid travelling through there, however after about an hour of waiting at Immigration they deemed we were OK and let us through.

Once we crossed the boarder the road severely deteriorated. We went from nice flat smooth bitumen roads in Montenegro to rough, pot-hole filled, outback dirt tracks in Albania. To top things off, it appeared no-one else had noticed the road deterioration and continued to drive at over 100km an hour!

We were fascinated; the land was barren and ugly, the roads were terrible and we were wondering what the guide book had been talking about. After a while I noticed that ‘most of the cars’ around us were Mercedes Benz’s which was confusing. I had read that Albania was one of the poorest countries in Europe, yet I was looking at a lot of very elite and very expensive cars. After a few days of investigation Scott found out that the ONE Mercedes shop in Tirana sold only a handful of cars the previous year, yet the country boasts the highest number of Mercedes cars in Europe, with three out of five cars being a Mercedes! Apparently they are all stolen from Western Europe and brought back down to Albania! I found this somewhat amusing and now understood why we weren’t allowed to bring our hire car across the boarder.

Albanians are very hospitable towards foreigners, despite media frequently portraying them as thieves and mobsters. Tirana itself is very approachable if you’re the adventurous type – crime is rare, if ever directed towards foreigners and the costs are very low by regional standards. The worst experience you may have is with erratic driving style of Albanians. Wikitravel

Tirana, the capital city of Albania

Five hours of driving later we landed in Tirana, the capital of Albania. It was warm, dusty and by far the scariest place we have ever driven. It makes downtown Denpasar, Bali look like a drive through the country! There were plenty of rather unattractive ex-communist looking buildings and it was all a bit retro and kitch.

We rented this cute little apartment in the middle of the city on AirBnB and when we arrived no one had any idea who we were. After a few phone calls and a bit of a wait a man came and informed us that the address he had given us was incorrect??? I thought “Here we go” however much to my delight he was right, apparently he managed a bunch of houses and got us mixed up with some other guests. Our little apartment was actually quite nice, it was compact, clean and comfortable. No one spoke a word of English but the two old Albanian ladies out the front in the courtyard thought the boys were delightful and were quite welcoming.

As we were right in the middle of town we could walk everywhere which as a bit of a blessing as the traffic was manic. The boys were tired after the long drive and needed a stretch so we found them a park where they could run around. It was there that I saw how poor, yet beautiful this country really was. There were little vendors with carts on wheels, people sleeping on park benches and plastic outdoor toys in the park in place of proper playground equipment. We bought the boys some popcorn and wandered through the pretty trees and grasslands.

Where to eat in Tirana

I had heard about a very famous old, traditional restaurant called Oda and wanted to give it a try. It was very close to our apartment so we took our chances walking.

Set down a little alleyway off a bustling street is this tiny little homestyle Albanian taverna. There is a seated area outside, or you are welcome to go in and enjoy one of the little rooms available. They are all personally decorated and they whole restaurant has a wonderful and warming feel. The menu is simple but very authentic.

The food was delicious. It was so good in fact that we went back again the next day for more and couldn’t bring ourselves to order anything different so we just ordered the same food again plus a little bit more! Very tasty stuffed peppers, vine leaves, feta, pies and cakes. Even the boys liked it!

The streets are busy and very interesting. It was quite common to see people selling things like hand rolled cigarettes or pipes next to someone selling eggs or bread on the sidewalk. There are also parts of Tirana that are quite modern and others that are less so. We stumbled upon a few fabulous food markets (always a bonus for me) and loved all the different fruits, vegetables, eggs meat and bread on offer.

Tobacco obviously plays a large part in most peoples lives in Albania. It is fresh, cheap and everywhere. The kids thought the pipes were a fun toy much to one old man’s dismay. I also managed to take a photo of a few ladies who were knitting in the markets and got a mixed response. One pretended she really didn’t want her photo taken and I was a little worried I had offended her at one point, but when I turned the camera around and she saw her picture she was so excited and her face lit up. I wish I could have a taken a photo of that!

We spent a total of three days in Tirana, and to be honest that was enough. I am glad I went, but as far as European cities go it was nothing special (except for Oda’s Restaurant). I really can’t stress enough how scary it is to drive there or even be close to a road. When we finally left it was a bit of a relief to hit a highway and head for the coast!


Share and Enjoy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *