Land of eagles and bunkers
Albania is not only the land of eagles, but the land of bunkers as well. During our trip along the coast we have seen many, but also other parts of the country is scattered with them. Over hundred thousand (some says 700 000, but didn’t see that number confirmed) bunkers were built in Albania during the era of Enver Hoxha, and now they are abandoned or re-purposed. We have spent one month among the bunkers.
What to do in Tirana?
I think a day is more than enough to see everything touristy in Tirana. Most of the visitors only stay two or three days here, and I can understand that. The seaside and the Albanian Alps are much more stunning.
Tirana does not have as many spectacular places to visit as many capitals do. It has a pretty center with the main square and Skander beg statue, surrounded by the History Museum, Cultural Palace, an old mosque and other colorful buildings, which were built during the Communism. The castle, an old bridge and the pyramid (Piramida) worth a visit too. The Piramida was built by Hozha’s daugter to open a museum for her father. It was one of the most expensive building built during the communism. Nowadays it is abandoned, pieces were stolen from it. We have seen kids playing and climbing on it without any concern from the parents either.
At the end of the main street, there is a big, but very crowded park (Parku i Madh Kodrat e Liqenit) next to one of the water reservoirs. It was absolutely FULL with people in the evening. Kind of the only clean place where you can go walking or jogging. Not for me. I don’t like doing sports when I have to slalom among people (well, I prefer not to see anyone else), so I skipped that opportunity. We also found some more remote water reservoirs on the hills. It was much more pleasant to have a walk there – although no shadows at all. Some of the lakes have good roads and new buildings around, other have expensive villas and hotels and they are kind of private, while many were still surrounded by pastures and we have seen every kind of animal herds feeding on them. I loved the duality.
You can find many cheap restaurants and byrektore everywhere in the city, where you can eat yummy things. If you are around the Balkans, you must try burek (byrek). It is a pastry filled with various things: meat, cheese, spinach and so on. Karol preferred them from Bosnia, but I liked tasting the spinach-cheese combo ones. We lived outside of the center, but it was easy to buy some even there. Supermarkets don’t really sell bread or pastry, so you will find many bakeries. Also, vegetables you can buy from the little stalls and markets, and there are butcher shops for meat. Karol found it hard to get the different ingredients from different places, but he managed to adapt after a while. 🙂
Few micro breweries (like BrauHaus) are also in the city, so we went to taste some local beer too. First with a couchsurfer we met, then on our own as well. I am not a beer person, and I liked the Korçä dark beer the most, I still liked exploring the options in Tirana as well. We’ve heard that the nightlife is also great, but we were not so interested in it, so our social time was watching football (Euro2016) only. Albania was also participating, first ever, so everyone was crazy about football! Flags were literally everywhere, on car windows, hoods and tops, on fences, on building, etc. Albanians were the football jersey all-days-long. Every pub, bar, cafe, and even some shops were broadcasting the games. They got projectors everywhere and people were watching the cup from the streets. Albania did not have too much luck with the first two games, and basically they had no chances after that, but they still won the last game. The whole city celebrated all night! People were shouting, singing and honking. Probably it was similar at home, it was nice to feel the atmosphere. 🙂
Our favourite tourist place was the Bunk’Art museum bunker. The bunker is few kilometers away from the center of Tirana, and most of the part of it is open as an exhibition. That’s where the name comes from. Of course, you can see the smaller ones even in the city center, in the parks, but why not to check out the one, which is a bit more than only a small place for shooting? Even few military operations were lead from there.
It’s an anti-nuclear underground bunker, and it was built during the communist dictatorship. It is 4-story deep, full with bigger and smaller rooms, corridors, air-filters and lot of thick doors. You can check how the leaders’ rooms looked like, and can get a detailed picture of the Communist times and Hoxha’s regime. Lot of text and artifacts, old photographs and sound effects from war. It is a great choice for a hot afternoon in the city.
Our accommodation and the surroundings
We have stayed in an apartment rented through Airbnb few kilometers from the center. The area, even tough it was few corners from the busy places, had only dirt road and little houses in the street. Also, there were some bigger houses, with very tall walls and wires on top. The walls were very common in this district. Otherwise the city is developing fast. New roads, apartment buildings and shopping centers were built everywhere. And the center has a totally different outlook.
There was also a stream just nearby, which could be a lovely place, but it wasn’t. It was the landfill for the locals. We even seen people walking to it and then throwing away a plastic bag full of trash. The stream after emerging with others, in the center becomes bigger and cleaner. There is a grassy lane on both side of it, with different trees and bushes. They are watered and taken care of well. For the contrast, we have seen people grazing their animals (horses and sheep at least) there also, even it was already in the center!
In summary, I really liked Albania. And also Tirana. It was a bit of time-travel for me. To somewhere, where the city develops fast, new roads and shopping centers are under construction, while the little unpaved streets are still having a maze on the other parts. The kids were still playing a lot outside. Donkeys are still widely used. Markets and little shops are everywhere. Older men gathered in the afternoon to play chess, cards, backgammon and other games in the parks or simply on the road side. Yes, probably the traffic is a bit chaotic, the roads are bad, there is a lot of dust, but the people are friendly, the weather and nature are great. I would like to go back for another month!