Now I’m American so I love having a moment in anything that feels European. If you're European and you’d like to edge away from that a bit head to Skanderbeg Square and then from there walk past the National Museum, take the first main street behind it and head right. Off that street you’ll find Albania as Albanians live life there. There are cafés and pubs off this street (usually the same place) with football matches playing when in season and great little eateries. There is a great Bar-B-Que store Albanian style that is to be found on the left. Fast food suflaqe/donner/hamburger little restaurants can be found off this street as well. A note here, all the food I’ve eaten here has been very good and safe. Your only warning is if you are in a fast food restraint they will have a rack of meat rotating over a heater. If that rack of meat is raw, and they cut from it to heat it on the grill, pass. Don’t go there (its happened only once- I tried eating it and it just didn’t feel right so I threw it away. Even the Albanians were disgusted and said that rarely happens.) So make sure the meat is cooked and hopefully juicy that means its being cut and used a lot a good sign.
Lastly, the Stephen Center. Almost any foreigner seems to be pointed here ‘cause it can be a gathering spot for ‘expats, missionaries, foreign aid workers, travelers and tourists or Albanians connected any of these types of people. Prices reflect a western feel and the atmosphere does this as well. If your just traveling through, outside of a place to get some good advice or free wireless Internet, you’ll probably want to avoid this place. If you need an American or English coffee fix and your tired of espressos and macchiatos this is a good place to change the pace up. Pass on the food- outside of breakfast. It is really good, but if your just traveling through you probably don’t want tastes of home. If you do, go to the Stephen Center, this place will also be in my reviews, but use it as a place to meet other foreigners, get some English help and maybe a good old cup of American style coffee, cream included.
Right in front of the Stephen Center is a front Vegetable, fruit and nut open air market for a much larger market that stretches further back. Past the Market are some meat shops, a fresh bread or buke store to the left and within plain sight of the market is a little shop with plump, juicy rotisserie chickens for only 300 lek. Grab one of these, take a seat in the store and ask for “goata me u-ji” (again not has its spelled just pronounced) this is cold water they have on hand. Some cold water, free bred, and a delicious whole chicken for only 300 lek is hard to beat. Don’t balk at the poor conditions of the store or its surroundings, the food is totally safe and the atmosphere is totally Albanian/Shiptari.
All in All Tirana is a city of two worlds. On the outskirts its Albanians trying to make it, they have their houses and apartments, cafes and little grocery stores or fresh bread stores. Its dirtier, chaotic and more confusing. Inside the city you get very nice beautiful tastes of Europe. The people are busier here, but love opportunities to talk to you and they love asking you questions about you and where your from or why your there. Soak it up, enjoy it, Tirana is the most active city, that I’ve found in Albania and at night, don’t stay in your hotel or apartment- get out there after seven pm. You’ll love walking around with the locals, and at night almost everyone blends in so you can just get lost in their life and how they like to spend their time. This is my favorite thing to do. Dinner for them is usually after 8:30 or 9 so try eating a late meal after a walkabout and then walk around some more before heading to the place your bedding down. Soak it up, there are few places like this where you can walk around and not see people just like you trotting around you as well. You’re a foreigner to them and to the area around you and it shows and this is as a traveler a very pleasant feeling because its appreciated here, they love people visiting and taking an interest in their country that they are so fiercely proud of.