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Tirana: In the Throes of Reinvention

We’re crawling our way up the Adriatic Coast!

Leaving the Greek Isles behind, we spent a day in Athens exploring the Acropolis and then we were off. Where were we headed? We didn’t know and we kind of liked it that way.

We thought this day would come, sooner or later…when we’d show up to a train station without a plan, look at the departures and just go. That’s exactly what happened in Athens and we ended up on an overnight bus bound for Albania.

Do you know anything about Albania? I sure didn’t, and that’s exactly the adventure I was looking for.

Arriving in the capital city of Tirana I learned this place was not the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to (in fact, quite possibly the least), however, it was a fascinating place. Until the 1990′s, the city of one million was under Communist rule. Today it’s trying to pull itself out of its Communist past. Seeing a city and a country in the midst of turning itself around and inventing a new identity was something we hadn’t seen yet.

Remnants of the Communist days are still evident all over the city. Most buildings are Communist-era block buildings where apartments are housed in what look like huge cement blocks. There are said to be concrete bunkers all over the place as well, signs indeed of a tumultuous past.

What I found the most interesting was seeing how the people of Albania are doing their best to erase this ‘grey’ history. They are planting green spaces all over the city, cleaning up their streets. Most noteworthy are the splashes of colorful paint they’ve added to drab building and park benches. A country reinventing everything, government, history, culture, and even themselves, we enjoyed seeing the worlds, old and new, collide.

We spent a day walking through the streets of the city and seemed to be the only tourists in town. People have asked us on the road, where we’ve found the strongest language barrier. China seems to be an obvious answer, but Albania even puts China to shame. We couldn’t find anyone who spoke English and certainly welcomed the challenge. Language barrier and all, we found the people smiling, happy and friendly.

We had a memorable evening out on the town. The old Communist government quarters which used to be off limits to civilians is now a trendy, sophisticated enclave of innovative bars, cafes and restaurants. We scoped out a local joint for a delicious meal, a creative mix of Greek meets Italian fare.

For those of you whose knowledge of Albania is as limited as mine was, here’s some interesting trivia I’ll leave you with:

- Albania’s population is approximately 3.5 million.-
- The most famous Albanian American is Jim Belushi.
- The national liquor of Albania is raki.
- The currency of Albania is called the Lek.
- Albania shares a border with Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria.

pixel Tirana: In the Throes of Reinvention

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  1. Kim says:

    We had the same sort of experience in Bosnia. We’re finding the history of the wars to be very interesting. We didn’t have as big of a language problem though. They learn English in school now. Love the park bench photo!