Tirana was in my first experience, jarring to my senses. I still had a European mindset and expectation when it came to Albania, but what I had scene was more of what I had experienced in Africa: Unfinished buildings, an emergence from an archaic mindset or war strewn past. But Tirana gave me that same feel with the added feeling of Mexican border town. The city to me seemed dirty, congested, polluted and over populated. I was not at all intrigued by it at first, but then again that first night I suffered an eye infection that left me blind and bed ridden for a day and a half so that as well could have dampened my spirits and outlook on Tirana.
When I returned back to Tirana which has now been well over 20 times I have found something new and mesmerizing about it each time. Now Tirana holds a deep fondness in my heart and I love any opportunity to go there. Tirana is the heart and soul of this country. Everything important, interesting, news worthy, and cultural runs through their capital city. The city will initially have a grungy almost dirty feel to it, but that will soon pass as you find the right places to visit. Again, there are not a lot of tourists here, but there are a lot more here than there are in any other city. In my visits it was not until like my 20th visit that I ran into a lady from Holland traveling through Albanian by herself, a Scottish couple backpacking through the area as well and later a lady from Malaysia doing some long term travel through Albania. Three travelers, not one tourist in one day- this when I had met only one traveler in my time in Albania.
Foreigners here, like I’ve stated have a certain bond to them. I believe that if you are here you are automatically in a minority group and this helps you bond quickly. Albanians are friendly and they very helpful, but they also don’t hold certain western manners most foreigners are use to. They will stare right at you if you are any different than them. At first it is cultural and nice, but after months or weeks of this it grows very tiring. Tirana is one of your rare breaks from this, as the people are much more use to foreigners than any other town or city in Albania. Still, when one foreigner meets another here it is almost courteous to at least say hi or even offer if they need any help navigating anything. I’m sure not all travelers have had such an experience but with everyone I know it is this way. If I see someone from Korea or from Europe or anywhere I will stop to say hi and at least get their story as to why their here. I totally respect the people who wanted to travel through here just to see what this unknown country holds.
As for Tirana as a city, from the center, where the Skanderbeg statue is located, as is the Islamic Mosque and their National Museum, you can reach anything significant within a ten to fifteen minute walk. Two places to note for navigation purposes is the main Blvd. with the "river" running through it. Really the "river" is a smelly little stream. From the main Blvd you can navigate any place you need to get. I believe it runs roughly north/south so everything from it is either west or east. My favorite street in Albania is Qasmil Ismail. On it you can find three of my favorite café’s, Coli, Diesel and Insomnia, all without nice outside furniture, large comfortable chairs and a great atmosphere ‘cause they sit one next to another, so you can find some the coolest and most modern Albanians in this area. Also, Era café and Lincoln Center are located and I will cover these places in my reviews, as I will the café’s. Another favorite places of mine have been the European Trade Center, located off the main Blvd. hard to miss, maybe the tallest building in the city. Great café’s, a modern grocery store and some stores to do some western type of shopping with western type of prices.