Monday, June 22, 2009

A Tirana Conversation

Not only were we the only non-Albanians flying into Tirana, but upon entering the arrivals hall (at Mother Teresa Airport!) after getting through immigration, we were confronted by about 200 huge Albanian families...and one lone driver with a sign that had my name on it. Collecting tourists at the airport is definitely still a novelty. And further to this point, throughout our stay in Albania the first conversation always went like this:

Serious-looking Albanian: "You working for UN?"
Me: "No. I'm on holiday!"
Befuddled-looking Albanian: "What? Why you do this?"
Me: "I wanted to see your country!"
Bemused-looking Albanian: (Slightly confused, slightly satisfied grunt) "Okay. Welcome."

Tirana is quite a small city and our hotel was in a great location, so we were able to wander around all of the relevant parts and not have to worry about transportation (which we discovered the following day was a serious blessing). The centre of the city is home to Skanderbeg Square (photo above) which has the Opera, Natural History Museum, Kulla e Sahatit Clock Tower and Et'hem Bey Mosque dotted around it.

The city is an interesting blend of a few pretty buildings built in the early part of the twentieth century and then a lot of Communist-era cement block structures. In 2000, the "Return to Identity" campaign was started with the aim to return public space (especially the potential green space around the river) back to the actual public. The results are showing and the area around the newly trendy neighbourhood of Ish-Blloku (the Block - originally where the Communist administration was housed) is now full of families and young lovers in questionable fashion hanging out at outdoor cafes.

Also, fairly easy to outrun the police in Albania.

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