Notes on Traveling Through Tirana

When doing research on flying to Rome, I discovered it was going to be much cheaper for me to leave from Tirana, Albania than Pristina.

At first, I considered renting an airbnb in Tirana the night before my flight. But then I would have to spend time/money getting back out to the Tirana airport (which is 18 kilometers outside the city center). Also, the bus from Pristina to Tirana stops at the airport on its way into downtown Tirana.

I had United Airline miles that were set to expire soon, so I decided to use them to book a room at the Hotel Airport Tirana. My cost for the room was only 16 Euro, after I used my miles.

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As my bus crossed the border from Kosovo into Albania, I looked out the window and thought, “Albania is so beautiful.” A second later, someone coughed on me.

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There isn’t much to do by the Tirana airport. I bought some snacks and spent the afternoon reading on my balcony (a fine way to begin a vacation, by the way). When I got hungry, I debated ordering room service. I’m not keen on eating in restaurants alone when I don’t have to, but room service is generally expensive. I’ve only ever taken one business trip (to Nashville, TN), and that was the last time I ordered room service. The fee was something like $16. Sixteen dollars is an obscene amount of money to order a mediocre cheeseburger, even if someone else is paying for it.

I called the front desk, and learned that the fee for room service at the Hotel Airport Tirana is 1.50 Euro.

WHAT?! SEND IT UP!

I ended up getting two room service meals during my stay, and the total cost for food + fees was 11 Euro. (Oh, Eastern Europe, how I love thee!) I got to eat dinner in my pajamas! In bed! 🙂

So, my total cost for traveling through Tirana, Albania was 10 Euro for the bus, 16 Euro for the hotel, 11 Euro for room service, and probably 3 or so Euro for snacks. (Free breakfast was included in the price of my room.) The 40 Euro I spent (plus my 70 Euro flight) was still significantly cheaper than flying to Rome from Pristina.

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The airport view from my balcony

The Tirana airport is across the street from the hotel, which makes this the only time in my life I have ever walked to catch a flight. 🙂

The Accursed Mountains

Last week, in a post about Istog, Kosovo, I mentioned Albania’s Accursed Mountains. One of my blog readers (hi, Mindyandy!) asked about the name.

The Accursed Mountains (or Bjeshkët e Namuna in Shqip [Albanian]) got their name because of their massiveness and density. My friend Ingrid wrote this guest blog post about her adventures hiking in Albania.

You could see the craggy peaks of the Albanian Alps in the distance. They looked imposing. Another name for them is the Accursed Mountains. This part of Albania is known for its rugged isolation, both of the environment and its native people, and until recently, few outsiders ventured there.— Ingrid Lantz

Albania (well, all of the Balkans) has a varied history. A book that’s on my to-read list (I first saw it in a bookstore in Tirana, Albania) is Albania’s Mountain Queen.

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Here’s a description from Amazon:

Young ladies in the Victorian and Edwardian eras were not expected to travel unaccompanied, and certainly not to the remote corners of Southeast Europe, then part of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. But Edith Durham was no ordinary lady. In 1900, at the age of 37, Durham set sail for the Balkans for the first time, a trip which changed the course of her life. Her experiences kindled a profound love of the region which saw her return frequently in the following decades. She became a confidante of the King of Montenegro, ran a hospital in Macedonia and, following the outbreak of the First Balkan War in 1912, became one of the world’s first female war correspondents. Her popularity in the region earned her the affectionate title ‘Queen of the Mountains’ and she is fondly remembered in Albania until this day. Marcus Tanner here tells the fascinating story of Durham’s relationship with the Balkans, painting a vivid portrait of a remarkable, if sometimes formidable, woman.

The book was nearly 30 Euro at the bookstore, so I didn’t buy it. But once I track down a (hopefully cheaper) copy and read it, I’ll post a review.

I hope this post answered your question, Mindyandy!

If anyone is interested to learn more about Albania, here are some links to previous blog posts I’ve written:

Fun Links (Kosovo and Albania)

Below are some links to articles I’ve enjoyed about Kosovo (and Albania).

  • Makeup is a big deal in Kosovo. Women, especially in the larger cities, tend to be much more made up than what I think is typical in the States. I got a kick out of Blonde Gypsy’s look at beauty routines in Pristina.

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    Photo credit: Blonde Gypsy
  • Heart My Backpack posted some gorgeous photos of Pristina during her trip to Kosovo. It was also fun to read someone else’s take on the city.

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    Photo credit: Heart My Backpack
  • This great post captures 23 “Day in the Life” photos of Kosovo from around the country.

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    Photo credit: Admir Idrizi via rferl.org
  • I loved visiting Tirana, Albania’s capital city. It’s got a mild, Mediterranean climate, a varied history, and a gorgeous public park. (I previously wrote about its nature, history, and the city today.) So I was super excited when this article popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. It’s a great, one-day itinerary for visiting Tirana.

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    Photo Credit: One Day Itinerary
  • I don’t cook much in Kosovo, for many reasons. 1) I think it would be rude not to eat with my host family. 2) I don’t like to cook often. 3) My village doesn’t have a grocery store. 4) My host family owns a wood-burning stove, and I have no idea how to use it. However, many of my friends like to cook, so I wanted to link to another recipe for traditional food. (I previously posted some good recipe links in this post.) In the One Day Itinerary article above, Oda was suggested as a good traditional dining spot in Tirana. I ate at Oda during my trip to Tirana and loved it. Fasule, a popular bean dish, was one of the dishes I ordered. I found this blog post (written by a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Albania) that lists a simple fasule recipe (in English).

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    Photo Credit: Albania Adventure

Friday Gratitude: Tirana, Albania

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April and Val, outside the National Art Gallery of Albania

This week, I am so grateful I had the opportunity to visit Tirana, Albania. I am grateful to my friend, Val, for suggesting we visit (and for putting up with me for 3 days straight).

I feel especially fortunate I was able to explore with someone who has a connection to the city, and who was every bit as excited to be there as I was. Thank you, Val. 🙂

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Val took me to a traditional Albanian restaurant (we ended up eating there twice). I’m not a food pornographer so I didn’t take any pictures of my meal, but we had eggplant, beans, lamb, bread, and rice-stuffed peppers. If you ever find yourself in Tirana, look for a restaurant called Oda.

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Like I said in an earlier post, Albania is a huge mix of influences … Mediterranean, Islamic, communist, western … and there’s a pyramid in the middle of everything. I can honestly say Tirana is the most thought-provoking place I have ever visited. I am still processing everything I learned on my trip.

This coming week, I am heading into Pristina for a 4-day Peace Corps conference. It will be the first time since our swearing in ceremony that my cohort will be together. Another friend and I were laughing about this: Why are we so excited for what is, essentially, a business trip? Welcome to life in the Peace Corps, where every little thing becomes exciting …

Tirana, Albania: Today

This is the third post in a three-part series I am writing about my recent trip to Tirana, Albania. — April

Monday morning, my friend and I were trying to decide how to spend our last day in Tirana. It was raining, but all of the museums were closed due to it being Independence Day. A man on the street overheard us and stopped. Turns out, he is a tour guide, and he took us on an impromptu tour of the city.

We made several interesting stops along the way, including the Albanian parliament. We were standing outside of the building, talking, when the guards invited us inside.

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As I posted yesterday, Albania was under communist rule until 1990. Today, its government consists of two parties, the Socialists and the Democrats.

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One thing that really struck me about Tirana (and Albania in general) is the mix of influences you see. Like Kosovo, Albania is largely Islamic (due to influences from the Ottoman Empire) and has a minority Catholic population. Our tour guide told us that under communist rule, religion of any kind was banned. The churches and mosques in the city today are all new.

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This mosaic of Mother Theresa is made with seashells.

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This pyramid is a famous source of controversy in Tirana. It was built by Albania’s communist ruler, Enver Hoxha, as a tomb for himself. He died in 1985. His body was entombed in the pyramid for only a few months, and was then moved to a cemetery outside the city in order to discourage protests. There has been much debate about whether to tear down the pyramid, or to keep it as a reminder of history. According to our tour guide, Tirana plans to begin restoration on the building sometime next year, and turn it into a museum.

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One thing to note, while our tour was interesting, our guide was evasive about the price until the end. My friend and I both feel like he overcharged us. So I would say if you’re a foreigner traveling in Tirana, use extra caution and insist on prices up front!

Tirana, Albania: History

This is the second post in a three-part series I am writing about my recent trip to Tirana, Albania. — April

Disclaimer: Some of the images and descriptions in this post are graphic in nature.

When we were talking about things we’d like to do in Tirana, my friend suggested visiting BunkArt. I didn’t do any research on it beforehand, and kind of assumed it was an old bunker turned into a modern art museum.

Boy, was I wrong.

BunkArt is a museum dedicated to teaching about Albania’s communist history. When it comes to Kosovo, I feel like I finally have a grasp on at least the country’s recent history. But when it comes to the rest of the Balkans, I am only just beginning to learn.

While Kosovo’s population is largely ethnically Albanian today, Kosovo and Albania have had very different recent histories. Kosovo was a part of the former Yugoslavia and fought a war against Serbia, whereas Albania was not part of Yugoslavia and was under communist rule until 1990.

I am no historian. I can’t pretend to be an expert on Albania’s history. But here are some pictures I took at BunkArt, along with descriptions of those pictures.

“The weapons displayed in this room have been deactivated and turned into museum objects.”

This coat was used to train dogs to attack people trying to illegally cross the border.

From a posted museum description:
“Throughout the communist regime, police dogs were considered as a strategic element to the aid of the police: there were more than 200 dogs that were used along the border mainly to signal those trying to leave the country, or those trying to enter illegally … The use of dogs in the border was so important that, if one of them got sick the General Commander should be informed, until reaching to the level of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs.”

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It is hard for me to begin to wrap my mind around such horrors. And Albania was under communist rule until 1990, which means it happened in my lifetime, not in some distant past.

I’d like to end this post with a quote from Mother Theresa (who was Albanian):

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“Evil settle(s) roots when a man begins to think that he is better than others.”

Tirana, Albania: Nature

This post is the first in a three-part series I am writing about my recent visit to Tirana, Albania. — April

Hi, everyone! I am back home in Kosovo after having spent the last three days visiting Tirana, Albania. Tirana was high on my list of places I wanted to visit here in the Balkans. I was thinking I would visit there for spring break. But then my friend (who has been to Tirana several times) asked me if I wanted to go for a long weekend, and I figured, why not go now?! We (the Peace Corps) have been on a travel restriction since we arrived in Kosovo in June. But the restriction ended this weekend, so now we are free to start using our vacation time. (If you’re curious, volunteers accrue 7 weeks of vacation for the 2 years we are serving. That sounds like a lot until you realize we don’t get weekends off … any travel done outside of Kosovo counts against our vacation time.)

My friend and I left Pristina, Kosovo on a 6 a.m. bus on Saturday. We arrived in Tirana at 11:30 a.m. After we ate lunch, we took a long walk through the city down the main boulevard.

Tirana is bigger than Pristina. The streets are much wider. The city was decorated for Independence Day (November 28).

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Tirana is south of Kosovo and has much milder weather (it’s been freezing at home … I wore my winter coat last week.) I had debated whether to pack my peacoat or my winter coat for the trip, and am glad I opted for the former. We lucked out with the forecast, too. It was supposed to rain all weekend, but it only rained on Monday.

The weather still felt like autumn. In Kosovo, the trees are all bare, but in Tirana there were still pops of color everywhere.

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As I said, my friend has visited Tirana several times in the past, and she was commenting on how much the city has changed since her visit 2 years ago. She said it was much cleaner than she remembered.

At the end of the main city boulevard, we reached the city park.

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My friend was also telling me about the recent changes made to the park, which included the addition of an awesome playground.

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After walking through the park, we reached Tirana’s (man made) lake (which is still very pretty).

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Stay tuned for more posts about Tirana this week! I’ll be writing about history, art, and the city as it is today.