Our Balkan adventure is fully operational now. After an epic 28.25 hour trip from St. John, New Brunswick to Toronto, then Munich, and finally Tirana, Albania we are soaking up a new country and culture. We have made the decision to travel Business Class whenever we are on extended flights. There are no words to express how good that was, with the delays in Toronto and the added 10 hour layover in Munich waiting for the next available flight. The endless flow of free alcohol and excellent food, along with quiet comfy chairs certainly takes the edge off the cost and the delays.
We were dropped off by our taxi in downtown Tirana at around midnight with a limited idea of the address of our apartment and no data on the phone as our eSim card chose this moment to malfunction and not activate (I may have pushed a wrong button). Fortunately Karen spotted a coffee shop where we were able hijack their wifi and we solved our navigation problem and were in bed by 1 am.
After a sleep of the dead, we started our first day in Tirana with a free walking tour. We have found these free tours to be a fantastic way of orienting ourselves to new cities and meeting new people. The tour guide, Aurora, was a native of Tirana and obviously loves her home. I think she did exceptionally well on her tips on this tour as she had to deal with a mentally disturbed individual who started threatening her. No physical harm to anyone and the situation diffused peacefully. She handled it well.
After this rather sombre beginning to the day we found a great little bistro, ‘Bitter’ to have lunch. While we were chatting with the owner, Kelly from Texas, he informed us it was going to be a rocking time in town that night due to a qualifying game for the European Football Championships. Albania was playing Czech Republic in Tirana.
On the second day in Tirana we took the public transit out to the suburbs to check out a cable car and yet another museum.
I had known Albania had been a communist country, however I had no idea the degree of isolation that had been imposed on its citizens. It truly is beyond the ability of most young people today to grasp how this could be done and that it was done for so many years. When I travelled through Yugoslavia in 1983 by train I had no idea the hell the people in the region were going through. It was a mighty reminder of how fortunate I am to have been born where I was.
Having said all that, I have to say that I quite liked Tirana. The coffee culture is insane in this city. I would not be exaggerating if I said there were 8-10 proper sit down and relax coffee shops on every single block of downtown Tirana. It thinned to 1 – 2 in every block once you get out of the core. And the coffee is great. None of that nasty drip stuff, every cup is crafted and they do it well.
We are on the road now and looking forward to exploring more of this little nation.
If you have 3 minutes to kill, here is what the trip down Dajti Mountain on the gondola looks like.