Normally, I prefer to keep this blog photography based. But, after my recent trip to Albania, I feel that it's extremely important to share my experience, and perhaps silence any negative preconceived notions people have about this amazing place.
Tirana is highly unappreciated and widely unfamiliar by most people. Controversy surrounded my interest in going, but it's been one of the most inspiring countries to visit. Can I also add that midway through my trip, my bus driver stopped on the side of the road so he could buy some fruit from a vendor? Anything goes in Albania. The people are quirky, beat to their own drum, and have a level of neurotic acceptability. To sum it up, Tirana = Colorfully Painted Old Buildings + Mercedes + Crazy Drivers + Cheap Everything + No Tourists + Nicest People Ever
First, I want to share some of the countryside that my bus passed through on the way to Tirana.
Before starting my trip, I only heard about Albania once, and that there are no tourists. But, otherwise, knew absolutely nothing. As I got deeper into my trip and started investigating Albania, and learned that the public transportation was unreliable. There is no main bus station, no trains, and poor roads. Buses could show up early, super late, or decide not to travel because of limited riders. With travel, you get used to finding the station, waiting for your transportation, and it's smooth and not very stressful. To discover that I would be dropped off at a random spot on a road, and have no place to purchase a ticket to my next destination kinda freaked me out. . . a lot.
There is trash everywhere, and the economy is the least developed of all European countries. When you drive through, there are food markets on the road, and other vendors selling anything they have created or grown. You see a lot of different aged men hanging out in cafes, in Tirana, old men play dominos in parks all over the city, and many people will wave at the tourist bus as it passes by. Albanians love visitors. Stray dogs wander the streets. They are vaccinated and fed by store owners to keep the rats away. The buildings are pretty old and run down; it reminded me of ghetto areas that I've seen in America. But, it's not. Instead, it's charming in it's own unique way. Here are images as we passed through Shkoder. You will also notice their impeccable pride for their country, and excessive display of their flags. I haven't seen any country so proud aside from America.
Before you start to think I'm crazy; why would I love such a messy place? You have to realize how unbelievable the people are. When I arrived in Tirana, I got dropped off here. This was my bus stop. Literally the bus stops in the middle of the street. In the place of the dark car next to the blue one. That was it.
Anyway; I needed to find wifi to contact my host to locate them. I asked two younger guys if they knew where I could find wifi, or help me with google maps on their phone to direct me to the right place. One guy spoke english, and after pulling up google maps on his phone, he motioned to follow him, and he walked me over to a taxi and told the driver where to go, paid for my fare, and refused any reimbursement. He was beaming with pride on his face to help a visitor in his country. I was speechless. I heard that Albanian's were nice, but that was more than I ever expected. This might be because I am American (I will discuss this when I share my Kosovo photographs. So stay tuned), but from what I've heard, overall, they are kind to everybody.
My favorite thing about Albania is the color. Throughout the country side, the same bold colors were adopted, but Tirana especially was the colorful and crazy designs all over the buildings. In the 90's, the mayor, Rama, invested money into painting the buildings wild colors to lift the spirits of the people. Albania had been isolated for over 50 years in a communist country, and left the infrastructure in terrible condition.
Because colored buildings weren't enough, the street lights down the main road were the absolute coolest thing ever. The entire light pole would change color with the traffic lights! (There's a sign pole in front of the base of the light in the left photo, so you can't see it going from top to bottom.)
There really aren't traffic rules beyond the red, yellow, and green. Anywhere aside from this main road, the cars will drive, even with pedestrians crossing. You're pretty much in a real life Frogger game.
I even watched a bus drive into a road of one-way oncoming cars. That was epic. I even got the whole things on a video on my phone. At one point, there was a car that almost got smashed between the bus merging in front of another one.
The rest, well, I'll let you experience it for yourself. Enjoy Tirana below :)