Tirana Albania has really surprised me. All my life I have heard about Tirana Albania. Usually, Tirana has been preceded by dreary, boring, drab and dull. I am not sure how it was before but none of these words applies to Tirana Albania now. Maybe it is the beautiful September not to hot not to cold weather. Tirana today feels like a hipster town without the hipsters.
Many buildings are very colourful. The current Prime Minister who had been Tirana Mayor said he wanted to inject colour and transform the city from its drab communist past. In 2000 many buildings in the city went from communist grey to capitalist colours.
The streets are full of really fashionable bars and restaurants that you would see in Barcelona and Paris. I have been surprised that many of the communist buildings I saw in Bucharest and Sofia are gone or have been spruced up in Tirana. Many of the buildings in the city are new and of a high quality. Even the less prosperous areas a few streets back seem to be getting a makeover. Better footpaths and upgraded streets. A new National football stadium is also under construction.
It all seems a long time from before 1989 when even car ownership was not encouraged. It was felt as most people could not afford cars it would be fair on them if other people had them. Albania also had no loans to other countries and no unemployment back them. It also had no freedom. Everything was sacrificed in the goal to do what no other socialist country had achieved. Total communism even if it was going to be the last socialist government standing.
Football stadium Tirana
Bunkart1 Tirana Albania
If you want to understand how bizarre Albania’s communist period was under Enver Hoxha one word really sums it up Bunkerisation.
Hoxha was as most dictators are a little bit paranoid. With Albania’s borders and own people sealed off from the outside world he decided that was not enough. Albanian also needed to be protected from invasion and nuclear war by building bunkers.
Bunkart1 is located on the edge Tirana. This was the main bunker in Albania. To get inside you need to pass through a tunnel from the road to the bunker complex. Opened in 1978 you cannot be but amazed by the sheer scale of the place. More than 100 rooms and a large assembly room. Enough space for the chosen members of the Enver Hoxha communist government and military personnel. Hoxha himself had an office and a bedroom here. The only picture of him at the bunker was for the opening in 1978. I suppose he never got to use it which is not a bad thing.
Now in Enver Hoxha’s defence, he just did not build a bunker just for himself. Oh no. He built over 175,000 of them. One for every 11 people in Albania. 5.7 of them for every square kilometre in Albania. The building programme only stopped when Enver Hoxha died so it there could have been a bunker for everyone in Albania.
The bunkers are everywhere. In streets outside peoples houses. On beaches. In fields and even in children’s playgrounds. Today they mostly lay empty. Some are used as bars and small hotels but the big winners seem to be the animals such as pigs sheep and cows who get to use them during the winter. Animal Farm?
It is very interesting for an outsider to see this very bizarre part of Albania’s communist history. How one man could implement a policy that was clearly insane. You can only think of the money and time that was wasted. Badly needed resources that could have been used in building more productive things such as houses roads and hospitals.
I have tried to find something good about Hoxha and his 41-year rule. Education and healthcare did improve. He did build a rail network. I am not sure why it was not encouraged to travel to another area. The one thing I cannot understand is how Hoxha demanded more sacrifice from the Albanian people than any other communist leader. That makes it even more disappointing he and his chosen few lived in the Blloku neighbourhood in Tirana. They built a wall around the neighbourhood to separate them from everyone else. Here you could get western goods and eat well. The hypocrisy is astounding.
The end of communism in Albania
So how did this one of the most bizarre social experiments come to an end? Hoxha died in 1985. He was laid in state and very like the scenes we have seen in North Korea, the population cried their eyes out. It was expected to cry. The new rulers did try to introduce some very minor changes in giving people a bit more freedom but as communism collapsed all over the world it was too little too late.
Students began demonstrating in late 1990 and more protesters resulted in elections in 1991.
Believe it or not the communists actually won the 1991 elections. Why? Well, as they controlled everything the elections were not exactly fair. Also, it is important to know the Albanian people were so isolated that many people were confused with a choice on a ballot paper. They usually had just 1. The communist party. In 1992 as the economy went into meltdown more protests resulted in a new election. This time the communists were routed.
To see this week’s Vlog on a short walk around Tirana Albania click here
I was walking around a museum in Tirana Albania. There was a replica of a standard apartment of an Albanian family in 1973. I could not help thinking of the housing and rental crisis in most of the worlds main cities. With crazy prices now being demanded for housing and people paying more than 50% off their salary on rent. If I put the picture below on a rental website in Dublin how much would I get? 1000 euro. Maybe 1500 per month? As I walk around Tirana City and enjoy the inner city and its blossoming regeneration. I look at the small cafes. The trendy bars. The local bakery and I wonder. Once the regeneration is complete and it becomes a more desirable location to live will it be business as usual as happens in most capital cities. First on the agenda will get the people who have lived here all their lives to move. Get investors in to buy their apartments. Raise rents so these people can never live here again. Have apartments rented short term and empty half the year? I cannot come to any other conclusion. It is a one the biggest problems working people face worldwide. People deciding an area must be an expensive area to live because the few want to make a profit. Fuck everyone else. Enjoy this time Tirana.
The Grand Park of Tirana
One thing the communists did get right is the Grand Park in Tirana. Built in the mid-1950s it includes an artificial lake and many restaurants and bars. I enjoyed many a coffee here.
Solo on the road
One of the hardest parts of travelling solo is you will get times when you go through a period of isolation. When I was in Bulgaria I found the people there very chatty once you got passed their sometimes grim exterior. In Macedonia, the people did not have that grim exterior but they were not very chatty. So far I have found the Albanian people the friendliest and very chatty people. I had heard some not so good things about Albanians before I came here which have turned out to be 100% incorrect. Tirana feels very safe and people are very helpful when you need it. They also act and seem happier than most other places I have been in the Balkans.
This week I was very lucky to enjoy the company of 2 very special people. Ellie Mae and Teldy from the USA. They have decided to retire early and live their dream of travelling the world for however long it takes. Like most people, they have been through some tough times but they came out the other side and are still together enjoying travelling and seeing other cultures. Check out how their adventure is going here.
Where to go from here
When I started the blog I did say it would be honest. I am now almost 10 weeks on the road. This part of Europe is extremely interesting. There is a lot of nonsense spoken about this part of the world. The people are backward. They have extreme views. There are packs of wild dogs roaming the cities. Ah yes, the wild dogs. I actually am a bit disappointed not to see packs of wild dogs roaming the streets. I think I did see 2 poodles together one day.
The people in the Balkans are like any other people. They are trying to get along the best way the can.
My blog. Man, I never thought this would be such hard work. I really like doing the blog and am enjoying writing the posts. I am getting a lot of positive feedback which I really appreciate. Expanding the readership is the biggest challenge. Google does not make it easy to attract new visitors to new websites. Google wants to see your website around for a while and consistently active. There have been times when I feel like the 3 am DJ wondering if anyone is listening.
This is very common for Blogs. I read that the month 2 and 3 are when people stop blogs. The questions start. This is not working. Am I wasting my time? I am probably there right now. I am really not sure where to go next and what to do. My plans as they are is to go north but I am not sure. I have avoided the last 5 winters. My wardrobe is 99% shorts and t-shirts. I need to earn a wage soon. I don’t need much. Food, beer and bus fares.
I am unsure what is the next step. Carry on blogging. Return to Las Palmas or even Ireland. Cork city in Ireland is my hometown. The more I travel and see other places the more I realize how beautiful a country it is. It also rains a lot there. I think it would take a lot to make me return there as winter starts. I am not seeing it happen. Today.
From BEER to eternity
I am beginning to think there is some price fixing going on in Tirana. Beer is mostly 100 lek. That is 0.79 cent for 500ml. The first time I can see positive price fixing in operation. Keep it going Tirana.
Join me on my journey.
Sign up for email alerts and know when a new post goes live.