Tirana, a funky, modern capital city

Tirana is a busy capital city with a population of about 850 000 including the metropolitan district. It is busy with people walking, shopping, eating and drinking coffee outdoors. It just has a very positive buzz 😊

Skanderbeg square is amazing and is the biggest pedestrianiased square in the Balkans.

One of the popular grocery store chains was SPAR which surprised me as I always thought this was a South African brand, but it actually is Dutch based and the franchise is bought per country. Balkin owns 64 SPAR’s throughout Albania.

Otherwise, there are lots of bakeries, fruit and vegetable markets, dentists, shops selling running shoes and florists. All bits of available space are taken up and many stores are set into the underground level, so you go down stairs into the shop.

Vodacom is a popular mobile network and we bought a new sim card for the month which cost 1500 lek for 20 GB of data.

Tirana has four very modern shopping malls, we didn’t visit any, but the photo below courtesy of Suela shows the modern 8 floor Toptani centre.

Because a lot of Albanians have lived in Italy, pizza is very popular and good. But there are a huge variety of other restaurants and like in any capital city you can eat anything from Sushi to Thai to French cuisine. Typical Albanian starters or snacks include olives, taramsalata, hummus, and a pita type bread.

Each part of the bill is brought to the table as you order the item, so you may have three little bills lying on your table, the one for your drinks, the one for your food and the one for your coffee. I guess this way you can never claim you didn’t know how much a meal cost.

Interestingly the traffic lights run their red or green colour LED all the way to the ground. They also give a countdown as they are about to change colour.

The Austrian built Dajti Express cable car is 30 minutes’ drive out of the city and is a fun thing to do. We were adventurous and took the local bus which takes anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes. It costs 40 LEK (0,33 EUR) each way. It’s a blue bus that can be caught from the Clock tower and has 17 stops. The actual cable car ride is one of the longest in the world at nearly 5 km and takes 15 minutes. You are perched at 800 metres about Tirana and can get wonderful views. Sadly the view in the winter months is often very hazy.

The Et’hem Bey Mosque is well worth a visit. It was built in the 19th century. For over a century Albanians were not allowed to practice religion and entry to the mosque was forbidden. After the fall of Hoxha on the 18th January 1991, 10 000 people arrived at the mosque in silent protest and this marked the beginning of the fall of Communism. The mosque is also very unusual as it has waterfalls and plants on the frescoes in the main prayer hall. It is very pretty.

Then there is also the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox cathedral that was opened in 2012 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the revival of the Albanian Orthodox Church. The structure is designed in a very modern clean style. It is the third-largest Orthodox cathedral in the Balkans.

A visit to Tirana should also include a visit to one of the museums to learn about Albania’s isolated communist past. Bunk art 1 and Bunk art 2 are both museums explaining the history of nuclear bunkers in Albania. We visited Bunk art 2 in the city centre.

Adu needed a haircut and we had read that they were very reasonably priced in Albania so he didn’t get it cut in Brittany, France but waited. He paid 400 LEK (3,3 EUR) for a good haircut.

Edi Rama who is now the prime minister of Albania was the major of Tirana in 2016. He is an artist and mandated that houses be painted in cheerful colours to brighten the environment. The photo immediately below was taken from another blog many years ago and made me enthusiastic to see these building rainbows. Sadly the paint on many of the buildings have faded over the years as you can see from my photos below. I think is is such an uplifting idea and would be great if they could be repainted.

Tirana is a very treed city. There is also the stunning Grand park of Tirana that surrounds an artificial lake and is a 289-hectare park on the southern side. It is used by so many people for running, walking and exploring. There are also several restaurants and coffee shops and it is a very popular spot in the city.

We loved the airbnb where we stayed in Tirana. It was very central with a bakery, fruit and veg market and SPAR within the block.

Tirana was a modern positive surprise!

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