I’ve decided to leave Macedonia and head for a new country – Albania. After some breakfast, I head off to get some money out to pay the hostel and get myself to Albania. Though at the cash machine things don’t go that way – I was expecting some money to be in there by now to sustain my travels til Munich. But the cash machine isn’t budging and is denying any sort of funds to be withdrawn. Back at the hostel, I go check my bank account – at the threshold of the overdraft. And no sign of expected money (Note to self: Never rely on other forms of money – it’ll bite you on the ass). Somehow I figure I can get a bit of an overdraft extension on Internet banking and bump it up. Thank god for that!!
So after a bit the Irish singing gang (Caitlin, Aleesha, Jenna and the english man – yeah I’m so bad with names) all head off in cabs to Struga – a town about 15 minutes from Ohrid. We then wait here for an hour or so for the bus to Tirana. The bus to Tirana seemed a little worse for wear – like it should be in a scrap metal yard. But luckily they ship us off and make us walk the border – and out of all the english speaking foreigners I’m the one they ask silly questions too. Weird.
The rest of the journey isn’t too bad. I manage a bit of sleep on the bus as well. Though I have no idea why we do a full loop around to Durres before coming into Tirana – it logistically makes no sense at all. After finally making it to Tirana, Albania we set off to get to the hostel (Tirana Backpackers). It seems like a huge walk across town but it really wasn’t too far and we pretty much walk past all of Tirana’s main sights. The 5 of us haven’t made any bookings and are just hoping that there’s availability here. Luckily they can fit us all in – and after a bit of checking in on the internet. We set off to grab some food for dinner and of course 2L bottles of beer.
After getting back from the supermarket we (being Caitlin and myself) cook up a storm in the kitchen. The rest of the evening is spent outside sitting and talking to fellow travellers before getting up ontop of a squeeky bunk bed.
Getting up in the morning when your travelling is perhaps one of the hardest things – I’ve become accustomed to the lie in. Damn it. But its pretty hot so I get up and grab some breakfast (mainly yogurt and choc milk) and wait around for the others to slowly rise.
We set off on our walk around Tirana – which is the Capital of Albania. Its not exactly a pretty capital city. In no way at all. But what makes this place striking is the way the locals have gone about trying to add some colour and flavour by painting their houses and buildings in bright colours.
Just up the road from the hostel is the ‘Pyramid’. Its looking rather retro and graffiti’d. It used to be the Hoxha museum. and a nightclub hilariously called The Mummy. But the sloping sides makes you want to get a macca’s tray and slide down it.
We cross over the Lana River – its quite absurd to even call this a river. Its pretty much just a dirty drain and a trickle of water. Its a bit of a weird.
We continue walking down towards the main square – but make a slight detour as we see a sign for what appears to be a castle. But we don’t really stumble on it – instead we stumble on the Albanian Parliament building. It, too, seems rather dilapidated. Not to mention needing more than the lick of paint the security guard was giving to the fence. Yep – security guards are also handymen! Its not exactly a regal building and the surrounding gardens are pretty unkempt and full of old Albanian men playing chess and backgammon.
We make our way down to an old bridge that has some sort of historical importance. It is an old Ottoman bridge (Tanners Bridge) and lead to the highlands in the east. It seems a bit out of context with old soviet style buildings and the ‘river’ slash drain next to it.
Back up in the main area of Tirana, we encounter the Et’hem Bey Mosque. Its a small and elegent mosque which completely contradicts the surrounding area of construction. Inside its really small but quite enchanting.
Sheshi Skenderbej is the bustling heart of Tirana. It sure is bustling – there are no traffic lanes but at least 6 lane of traffic going around the square. It is also full of construction work (apparently Tirana are trying to build a metro). Its a scene of car horns and screeching brakes. In the middle, the heart of all this is the Equestrian Statue of Skenderbej. Skenderbej is the national hero of Albania and as such has massive statues around Albania. The statue is extremely macho and prominenet – rather good. Its just a shame the construction work around the outside ruins it for me.
However across the square we do see the UFO university. I immediately want to enroll – cause I mean who doesn’t want to enroll in a UFO Uni!
We head down to the ‘magnificent’ Lana River – past the massive modernish Clock Tower, and through Parku Rinia. Its through the park that I realise the streets of Tirana are riddled full of potholes but the benches and seats here seem to enjoy fresh paint and maintenance.
We head for lunch in the trendy Blloku area of Tirana. It has a bunch of trendy bars, cafes and the like with people chilling on outdoor lounges and what not. It could be any modern city – though look above and you realise you are in Tirana. We find a restaurant named Era one that the Hostel and Lonely Planet recommened so we hit it up for some tradtional Albanian cuisine. Not to mention a huge beer. Its rather good and cheap.
The rest of the afternoon is a chill out of Backgammon and more backgammon before we set off again to go visit the Martyrs Cemetery up in the hills a bit. Its a bus ride and we get there just as the sun explodes into a cacophony of different colours. The sunset was suprisingly, pretty amazing. The cemetery is home to 900 partisans who died in WWII. There is also the androgyn0us Mother Albania statue which is rather block like.
Mr Enver Hoxha (the former leader/dictator of Albania from the end of WWII to the mid 1980’s) was buried here. You can still see these little turtle shell bunkers littered throughout the Albanian countryside that are a legacy of Hoxha’s reign (and apparently where quite a few Albanians lost their virginity – according to LP).
Back at the hostel its a night of quick, easy food and a couple of bottles of 2L beers. Before settling in to watch Easy Rider on the big screen.