From here to God knows where.
Skanderbeg Square Tirana Albania

I dont know why but I have always wanted to visit Tirana Albania.

I have heard both sides as I go for my bus to Triana Albania.  Tirana It is a very interesting city. Tirana is extremely boring.  The Albanians are very friendly.  Albania is one of the most dangerous countries in the world.  Well, at least I know that is not true. Not these days.

Bus from Skopje to Tirana Albania

I made my way with my one bag to get the Skopje to Tirana Albania bus.  7 hours I was told it would take.  At this stage of my Balkin travels, I know it will not take 7.  It actually took 8 hours which is not to bad.  Usually, I find whatever time I am told on buses in this region of Europe it will take at least 25% more.

For anyone that may take the bus from Skopje to Tirana, I travelled by Hak Bus.  They have an office in Skopje bus station.  The cost was 20 euro.  Before you get on the bus you do need to check-in your ticket at the bus station and pay about another euro.  I think this is a passenger charge the bus station charges.  The bus departed at 9 am.  I think they also have a 9 pm bus from Skopje to Tirana. The border stop took about an hour.  The stop for international buses in Tirana Albania is located close to Zogu Zi roundabout.  There are taxis here should you need them.

 

Tirana bus station

 

Albanian Trains

If I had a choice between a bus and train I would always take a train.  I love travelling on trains. There is just something about trains.  A bus trip for 8 hours is a necessity.  8 hours on a train is a journey.  During communist times Albania had very few cars.  After WW2 Enver Hoxha the dictator began to build an extensive rail network from nothing.  Sadly in the recent years, the rail network has been mostly shut down and even the railway station in the capital Tirana is now shut to build a road through it.

On my journey from the Macedonian border to Tirana, I saw what I think must have been one of the most beautiful train lines in the world.  The line passed through meadows and it looked like it actually went into peoples fields.    Watching the line as the bus made its way to Tirana I could not help thinking what an amazing trip it must have been and I would have paid twice the bus price to make it.

Trains in Albania

Accommodation in Tirana Albania

Ok, I am going to say something I never thought I would say.  Anyone that reads my blog should know my views on the worlds taxi drivers. Not all taxi drivers to be fair.  Just the majority of them.  I used just one taxi in Skopje as I was based in the centre and walked everywhere.  I took a taxi to the bus station with my heavy bag.  No meter.  No receipt.  No surprise from me.  Overcharged but not in a crazy way but it is why I dislike using taxis.  There is a feeling they have a right to rip off tourists. So  I was nicely surprised to meet a really nice taxi driver when I arrived in Tirana Albania.

The bus stopped about 5km from where I was staying so I had no choice but to get a taxi.  I had been told it not to pay more than 600 lek which is just under 5 euro.  I had changed a small number of Macedonian denar at the border so I had 800 leks.  I said that will do me.

This guy waved at me as I make my way from the bus.  Red alert a friendly taxi driver.  Shields up.  I showed him the address and he said he knew where it was.  I asked how much and he said 500 leks which were about 4 euro.  On the way, he told me his son had just returned from London after 2 years.  He did not have the right papers to stay there.  Albania is not in the E.U.  The apartment was not the easiest to find and he called and spoke to the owner. He was really helpful and friendly.  I gave him the 800 leks I had and wished I had more to give him.

Apartment in Tirana

The apartment I booked on AIRBNB.   It costs 16 euro a night which is a bit more than I normally pay but it has what I need.  A place to cook.  Washing machine.  Aicon and wifi.   It looks like a nice neighbourhood.  The U.S embassy is around the corner.  The W Hotel is across the road.   I looked up at the W Hotel as I had my first 40 cent espresso in the nearby local bar.  The W was part of the Starwood hotel brand that also had Sheraton hotels who I used to work for.  I had stayed in a few W hotels in my life.  I wonder where would I prefer to be now.  In the W or the local bar.  To be honest I am not sure but I do know the espresso is really the same but not 40 cents in the W Hotel.

Apartment in Tirana

 

So why visit Tirana Albania

One of the main reasons I wanted to travel to Tirana and Albania is I am extremely curious of Albania’s communist past.  How did Albania the country that borders Greece end up so isolated from everyone else in the world?  Communist and Democratic governments.

Italy under Mussolini invaded Albania in 1939.  When Italy changed sides in 1943 Germans occupied Albania or as they called it liberated Albania from the Italians.  The communists provided the main resistance to both the Italians and Germans.

As seemed to happen a lot in this region of Europe after WW2 the communists were in the best position to assume power and did so without much competition.  This might sound strange to many people today but these countries did not have a good standard of living before WWW2 so most people were willing to try a change after the war.

As usual in these situations, a strongman emerged. Envar Hoxha.

So how did Albania become friendless?

It started fairly quickly.  In 1948  Albania ordered all Yugoslavian diplomats out in a row with the Yugoslavian dictator General Tito.  Hoxha was a great fan of Stalin so Moscow and Albania were best buddies for a while. Of course being friends with Moscow meant being enemies with the west.

After Stalin died Hoxha was not happy with all the anti-Stalin propaganda from the new leaders. In the 1960s the USSR and China were not getting along.   Albania took Chinas side on many issues.  Eventually, the Soviet Union broke relations with Albania.

So now China is Albania’s best and only friend. After Mao’s death in 1975, Hoxha criticized the new Chinese leaders.  Needless to say, relations cooled.  Although Albania tried a little to have better relationships with the west it did become the worlds most isolated country.

Tirana Albania

Albania’s Pyramid scheme.  

Going from obscurity to capitalism was always going to be a bit challenging.  We have all heard of Pyramid schemes.  I never have got involved in one but I have done worse things so I am not making any judgements.  Usually, people just lose their savings but in Albania, it also caused a civil war.

In the early 90s, Albania was still trying to make the leap from communism to capitalism.  New shops, restaurants and bars opened up.   Enter the pyramid schemes.  After being such an isolated country for so long financial regulations were not exactly an understood requirement.  These pyramid schemes offered interest of up to 100% in some cases.  It is estimated up to two-thirds of the population invested in the schemes.  When the day of reckoning came as it always does the country fell into anarchy.

In January 1997 the Pyramid schemes collapsed.  Protests and riots broke out in the major population centres. Military barracks were overrun. In August under the UN, 7000 troops came to restore order and so began the slow return to normality.

The Pyramid of Tirana

Pyramid of Tirana

Now for a different type of Pyramid.  In 1985 Enver Hoxha died.  Little did his fellow communist buddies know that in only 4 more years that the Berlin wall would be knocked down.  I am sure they thought it would be business as usual.  They decided to build a museum dedicated to Enver Hoxha.  The Pyramid of Tirana was opened in 1988.

One year later communism collapsed in many countries.  Nearby Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed on Christmas day 1989.  The execution played on the mind of new communist Albanian leader Ramiz Tafe Alie.  The museum closed in 1991.

The Pyramid of Tirana has had a complicated history since 1991 as Tirana is not sure what to do with this building in central Tirana.

In 1999 it was used by NATO as an HQ during the Kosovo war.  These days a local TV station is based in a part of the building.   Proposals have been made to demolish the Pyramid of Tirana. Most people have expressed that they want to keep it.  Not out of any love for Hoxha but as a symbol not to forget those time.  Also, they want the building to be used for something positive.  There are proposals to make it a tech centre for start-up companies.  I am happy they will keep the Pyramid of Albania.  Not because it looks great.  Because I never like anyone knocking history.   Even bad history.

To see my Vlog on The Pyramid of Tirana click here

Tripadvisor Tirana Albania forum

When I go anywhere I always look online and do some research.  I used TripAdvisor Albania forums to look at and ask questions about Tirana Albania.

I also review Hotels on TripAdvisor.  I use it to decide what Hotels to stay in.  I have a few rules when I read hotel reviews.  I am looking for consistency in reviews.  If there are 100 reviews and 5 are not great I am ok with that.  As a guy who checked many a person when working at the front desk, I know well there will always be people who cannot or do not want to be happy during a hotel stay.  If there are a lot of bad reviews that that is consistency in a bad way.

I do also review hotels on Tripadvisor as I feel if I use to help me book I should return the favour. I very rarely slate a hotel unless it deserved.  I have a policy of if a hotel charges me 200 euro a night I review based on what they feel they should charge for the service.  If I am charged 20 euro a night I will review based on that.  I don’t expect a freshly squeezed orange juice at check-in for 20 euro.   I miss my freshly squeezed orange juice from my days working at Sheraton hotels.  Also, it is a long time since I paid 200 euro a night for a hotel.  Probably in Dublin for a concert or a rugby game.

I don’t review restaurants as I like all food so I might not be the best person to review restaurants.  Anyway, I think a good meal for one person can be a bad meal for another person.  Bad service at a hotel is bad service for everyone usually.

I do add reports on Tripadvisor if I see scams in places to warn other travellers.  My friend and I almost got pickpocketed in Bucharest Romania a few months ago so I put some info on TripAdvisor to advise others of this pickpocket gang working in the old town.

From BEER to eternity

After a frustrating month in Macedonia where I felt cheap beer was possible but not the cheapest I am back on the hunt for the cheapest beer in Europe. My first pint of draft beer in Tirana Albania coming in at 120 leks which is 0.95 cent and a fine beer it was. I am sure I can find rougher cheaper establishments.

Join me on my journey. 

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