I remember a friend telling me in college that ‘potential’ was a scary word…that it put unnecessary pressure on someone to be better than what they were. I use ‘potential’ for the city of Tirana because it’s true…however, I see no one there feeling pressured to actually realize that potential.
This was a different trip for me, I’m used to solo-traveling but this time I went with a friend, Adrian. He’s a much more efficient traveler than me, so I ended up seeing in a few days what would’ve normally taken me a week. We got in late to Tirana, thankfully we arranged a hotel taxi to pick us up at the airport, as I not-so-fondly remember the screw jobs I’ve had taking cabs in Eastern Europe. After crashing for the night, we woke up early to hit the main sights of Albania’s capital city. Before I go into the experience, I want to preface this with the fact that Albania is one of the most economically challenged countries in Europe, so one shouldn’t expect a Paris-like holiday.
Let me start with the good: 1) very cheap place, beers cost half a euro, and you could get a full dinner for less than 10 euros; 2) Albanian women are very attractive.
Ok, now the rest of the story. Driving in Tirana was treacherous…aside from the lawless driving practices there were women holding babies begging in the main streets…traffic circles here were a nightmare. There was also a preponderance of stray dogs. I expect this in countries with poor animal control programs, but to see a local throw a glass bottle at a stray dog nearly spun me into a rage.
I also saw a lot of graffiti, but not ‘good’ graffiti. In my college days I lived for a brief time with a graffiti artist, the best artist I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, but the stuff in Tirana was hardly ‘art’. Mostly it was either crude vandalism or advertisements for parties at local clubs.
There was also the absence of things I’m used to seeing in European cities. There was no main square, no hub lined with cafes and cultural sights. The closest to that was a large traffic circle with a statue in the middle…which actually did look pretty cool.
Also, there was an utter lack of nice, sit-down restaurants. Every place we found ended up being a smoke-filled bar environment, even when the sign on the door clearly said ‘no smoking’. There was a castle, but it ended up just being a wall that used to be part of a larger castle.
One of the more interesting sights was a ‘pyramid’ in the center of town, that used to be a museum. Now, it’s just a trashed building resembling a pyramid that is covered in graffiti and surrounded by trash…totally not utilized. It would make a great art gallery or venue for punk-rock shows if there was any money for infrastructure.
The city still had a communist feel to it, even the local opera house seemed very cold and drab.
Back to the infrastructure thing, I guess I’m used to street numbers. I was excited to find an Indian restaurant online, the only one in Tirana. Unfortunately, the address listed was only the street it was on, which was a few miles long. After walking up and down it for over an hour with no luck, we decided to grab Italian food at a place with the smallest portions I’ve ever seen.
I wish I could say I liked the hotel, but the breakfast consisted of ice-cold scrambled eggs and ice-cold coffee, and when we checked out the credit card machine was down so it was cash only. Worst of all, the entire populace of Tirana seemed very despondent, which translated into people being not-so-nice. The ‘peace bell’ exhibit was ok, the bell was made from bullets used in the 1997 Albanian uprising, which was a great idea, but it could’ve been more artistically scintillating.
Overall, I cannot recommend this city for travelers, as I was greatly disappointed. I definitely wish the city well, and hope that one day it reaches its potential.