At first sight, Tirana is not a beautiful city. You need to get in a little closer, look around and sit down. Then you’ll see the unpolished gem she is.
For many years Albania was a closed country under strict communist rule. When the dictator Enver Hoxha died, all statues and images of him were torn down and destroyed. The people wanted a new start and a new future. Today, one of Europe’s cheapest countries is experiencing expanding tourism, not only to the charter destination Sarandë, but also in the rest of this beautiful country. Tirana gives the impression of a cool and vibrant capital.
It was when today’s Prime Minister Edi Rama was the mayor of Tirana that he had many of the old grey Soviet buildings painted in bright colours. He thought the colours would have a positive effect on people. Many were sceptical at first, but now the colourful buildings are among the things people travel to see in Tirana.
That the dark past is over is clear in the massive Skanderbeg Square among other places. The faithful statue of Joseph Stalin that used to be here, has now been replaced by the national hero Skanderbeg himself. There was also a statue of Dictator Enver Hoxha here, but like every other icon of him, it was removed after his death.
We wanted to sit down and feel the city for a while, just being in the centre of Tirana. We became a little lost searching for an ATM and ended up in the Melbourne Bar in Rruga Mine Peza. Chilled white wine in the glass and something to eat. The temperature was just right and everything was fine.
The air is clammy and depressing, enhancing the impression of oppression
Albania is full of bunkers; there must be hundreds of thousands of them around the country. These concrete ‘mushrooms’ are so solid that removing them is impossible. Thus, they have tried to do something positive with them instead. There are miles of tunnels and bunkers underneath Tirana itself and in Bunkart, in the centre, you now have a museum and culture centre. The museum is probably the most prominent, at least when we were there. At the entrance there are pictures of people who disappeared during communist times and in the underground world you can read more about what happened there. It’s not nice reading. The air is clammy and depressing, enhancing the impression of oppression.
We had not made plans for dinner, so we took a walk in the direction of the area of Blloku, hoping to find a suitable place. This lively district is full of bars, restaurants and cafes.
We decided on Artigiano at Vila (close to the pyramid *) and were very happy with our choice. The food was excellent. That the place is popular was very clear being almost full (as we returned to our hotel we were given a recognizable nod of approval, when we told them where we had been).
We have experienced in this region that people tend eat a lot at dinner and we saw no difference here. Dish after dish was ordered and portions were not small either. We felt a little strange surrounded by all this food. We ordered considerably less and were still well satisfied.
The dessert! A chocolate ball with a delicious filling inside, all being melted by a flaming (literally) hot sauce of rum. To finish: A raki (on the house, of course) as the perfect end. A very nice raki it was, too.
This lively district is full of bars, restaurants and cafes
As we had a rental car, we preferred to stay somewhere with secure parking. Vila 15 was centrally located and slightly secluded from the Lana River with the busy road that runs alongside it. Here there were plenty of parking spaces and everything we wanted to see was a short distance away.
* The pyramid was designed by Hoxha’s daughter and finished in 1988. First, it was a museum to the country’s leader. Later it has served as a NATO base and the office of a local TV station.