Tirana, the capital city of a fascinating country, has a population of around 1 million. It is located in the centre of Albania and it’s geography is the main reason why it was named the capital in 1920. Tirana is surrounded by small mountains, is off the coast, and is pretty far from all neighbouring countries. This made it the ideal location to name Tirana the capital of Albania.
I took a 4 hour bus from Ulcinj, Montenegro to arrive in Tirana. After arriving and losing the directions to my hostel, I was able to immediately test out the Albanian friendliness. As I would again experience during my next few days in Albania, the people are more than happy to help in the most genuine way possible. Just awesome hospitality in a country I knew very little about, before entering!
Anyways, the actual city of Tirana isn’t really anything special. It sort of reminded me of a less developed Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina with mountains surrounding the city centre and a shallow river running through the core.
* Here is the main city square. Up until 1991, there weren’t any cars in the city and Tirana was considered the cleanest city in Europe. That has definitely changed…
* Bush was the first US president to ever visit Albania and there is now a major street named after him. A 2011 poll reported that 88% of Albanians approved of US leadership. This might be one of the few countries where I’d consider changing my Canadian flag for a US one on my backpack .. ; )
* In 1968, Albania decided to build 750,000 of these bunkers as a sort of defence system. They are still here, located throughout the country. On beaches, in the mountains and as in this case, in the main city centre. Pretty cool!
Some other notes on Albania:
– The population is 50% Muslim and the rest is a mix. However, the communist government, led by Enver Hoxha, banned religion from 1967 to 1991. Albania became the worlds first Atheist country.
– My walking tour guide grew up during the 1980’s and he provided some very interesting insight into those times. Albania was completely isolated from the outside world. Tourists could only come with special visas and they couldn’t leave their hotels unless they were with an appointed group. Meanwhile, Albanian people were not allowed to leave and they had no idea what was going on outside of Albania. The only channels on TV showed Albanian propaganda and occasionally there were documentaries displaying US homelessness.
– As Albania broke off all ties to Yugoslavia, Russia and China (for not being communist enough!), they experienced tremendous food shortages as well. My guide compared the ’80s in Albania to North Korea today.
– Despite the horrible restrictions, he did outline a few positive aspects of the communist era. First, due to the lack of cars, Tirana was very clean compared to today. The healthcare was free and due to the extreme police state, Albania was very safe. Each child was also required to learn either English, French, or Russian in school but they didn’t get to choose which one!
– Today, the general perception in Albania seems to be very pro-western which makes total sense considering it’s history.
That’s all for now! If you see an Albanian say “Sh-kemi” (how are you?). Or just start saying that to everyone and hope to get lucky..