Posted: October 5 2019
The Republic of Albania or Republika e Shqipërisë, capital Tirana. In late September, 2019 I went on a 11 day backpacking trip that included Albania, Montenegro and Croatia.
Albania, my 91st country and territory visited. First stop, the capital Tirana.
I flew BA from London Gatwick to Tirana. The times were the most convenient for me. I booked using Expedia.
There was a massive storm centered over Tirana and we were forced to circle for 90 minutes before squeezing in a bumpy landing. The rain was lashing down. Monsoon like. We came down the steps into 6 inches of water.
There is only one money changer in the arrivals hall. And it was not open for business. Not cos of the late hour (9.10pm). They were having 'issues'.
Taxi drivers quoted 20€, the bus driver said it would be 3€ but I had no desire to bus it into town and have to walk in the dark through flooded streets to the Sombra Hostel.
I chose to stay in one of the hotels across the road from the airport, the Jurgen Hotel. It was 50€ but as I was alone I could get it for 40€.
The storm finally abated at 3am. They had probably had a foot of rain in about 8 hours.
I took the first bus into town.
Made my way to the Sombra Hostel, via a money changer and a café. These Espressos are tiny and weirdly, not very hot. Normal price is 60LEK.
Breakfast at the Sombra Hostel
Then it was time to explore.
First stop was the Mother Albania monument, Nëna Shqipëri. It's a about a 45 minute, slightly boring walk from Skanderbeg square but I wanted to add it to my collection of Mother statues. Mother Georgia, Mother Armenia and Motherland Statue Ukraine. I still have yet to see Mother Russia in Volgograd.
Quote Wikipedia: The statue represents the country as a mother guarding over the eternal slumber of those who gave their lives for her. There are up to 28,000 graves of Albanian partisans in the cemetery, all of whom perished during World War II. The massive statue holds a wreath of laurels and a star. The cemetery was also the resting place of former leader Enver Hoxha, who was subsequently disinterred and given a more humble grave in another public cemetery.
The statue is made of concrete and it is a work of the sculptors Kristaq Rama, Muntaz Dhrami and Shaban Hadërri. It stands atop a 3 metre pedestal; engraved on the pedestal are the words "Lavdi e përjetshme dëshmorëve të atdheut" ("Eternal glory to the martyrs of the father Iand").
Summer in Albania is a time of very heavy rain showers. Thunder was rolling in. There was nowhere to shelter. I headed back, sheltered for a bit under the eaves of a house which was conveniently next to the bus stop. Single trip bus tickets in Tirana cost a mere 40LEK which is in 2019, about 0.33€/0.36USD. You pay the conductor.
I needed refreshment. It was around 14 degrees back in England. Here in Tirana it was 25. I took a beer. So I just go into a random café/bar and am given their best beer. A German beer I'd never even heard of. It wasn't bad but doesn't warrant a photo.
Then I walked all over Tirana. Albanian national hero Skanderbeg on his horse in Skanderbeg Square Tirana.
The Pyramid of Tirana, the former Enver Hoxha museum. Now derelict and awaiting refurbishment. Read more about it on Wikipedia.
The peace bell is casted from from 20,000 bullet cartridges, gathered by children in Shkodra in 1997, when the country was threatened by a civil war.
Albania's Head of State from 1944 - 1985, Enver Hoxka was paranoid of an invasion. So he introduced the Bunkerization program. The building of 173,371 bunkers across the country, from mountain passes to the city street. In layman's terms this equates to 5.7 bunkers per sqkm.
Postblloku (Checkpoint) is a memorial to Albanian communist isolation, created by Fatos Lubonja and Ardian Isufi. There is one small concrete bunker, the remaining supports of a mining gallery in the notorious labour camp Spaç and a piece from the Berlin Wall, taken from Potsdamer Platz. Also there are 2 other bunkers, near by.
He also had nuclear bunkers built under the Ministry of Internal Affairs and buried into the hillside under Dajti mountain. Both have been turned into museums, Bunk'Art 2 and Bunk'Art 1 respectively. Both cost 500LEK each. Both feature the history of Albania, Tirana, Enver Hoxha and so much info on his brutal regime.
To get to the Bunk'Art museum, take the Qender(center) to Porcelan bus from behind Skanderbeg Square where the Airport Bus stop is. Ride it to the last stop. Journey time is 20 minutes, fare is 40LEK, then walk straight ahead, round the left and the museum will be on the right hand side after about 5 minutes
No photos of the Bunk'Art 2 museum. I inadvertently forgot to take pictures. But there are plenty online.
Back in Tirana center, there is this fast food place on the corner of Ibrahim Rugova and Cameria. It's called Fast Food. Donor Chicken and a 500ml draft, 260LEK
And there is another one in the more expensive Blloku district. Pita Greca and an Italian beer, 520LEK.
You can combine a visit to the Bunk'Art 1 museum with a trip up Dajti mountain. The cable car costs 1000LEK return. Cabins are Swiss built. The cabling system, Austrian. The ride takes about 20 minutes. Awesome views from the ride up and top, but not if the weather is crap. Which it was.
I went for a bit of a walk around, despite the threat of rain. I found a trail. I followed it up through the trees. It was very slippery underfoot. The trail not that easy to follow. I had no idea where it would lead. But it started to get cold. So I gave it up as a bad job.
I also took the free Walking Tour which starts at 10am or 6pm from Skanderbeg Square. I rarely go on these tours but I can tell ya, The Tirana Walking Tour is well worth your time.
Transport out of Tirana:
Buses to Shkodra and Krujë leave from the North Bus Station on Rruga Dritan Hoxha. You can see the schedule in the photo below. It's just 20 minutes to walk there from Skanderbeg Square.
Fare to Krujë (where I went for a day trip), 150LEK. Fare to Shkodra, 350LEK. Posts on Krujë and Shkodra coming soon.
Buses to Berat and Durrës leave from the South Bus Station which is about 10-15 mins walk further up the road. Weird yes!
You can take the train to Durrës. They closed down the central station in 2013. In 2015 they started a service that runs from Kashar, which is 7.5km out of town, to Durrës. The service is very slow and infrequent but also very cheap. From Durrës you can take the train to Shkodra. Ferries run to Brindisi in Italy.