We boarded the bus at Struga, just down the road to Ohrid in Macedonia, as this is where the bus to Tirana departed from. As the bus itself originated somewhere else, it was already almost completely full when it arrived. Walking down the aisle when we first boarded was reminiscent of that scene in Forrest Gump where the title character is on the school bus for the first time, and the kids tell him "Seat taken!" whenever he tries to sit down. There were two passengers that were part of a bigger group (which you will read more about below) that were taking two seats each for themselves. We managed to get them to move so we could sit next to eachother, but it felt like we weren't off to a good start.
The bus trip to Tirana was one of the less pleasant ones. Due to the heat, the AC did not work efficiently. Half of the passengers were from the aforementioned group of young men that were rude, obnoxious, and would often shout to each other from one end of the bus to the other. They all had a strange inability to buy clothes that weren’t two sizes two small. The last part seems like a minor gripe, but being locked in a hotbox on wheels, seeing hairy stomaches and arsecracks at eye level as their owners move up and down the aisle is enough to make you go postal.
At the border, we were waiting for almost two and a half hours, witnessing the driver bribe the border officials on both sides. The second time backfired, causing most of the delay, as an official came out of the office as we were about to leave, and re checked half of our passports, and took his sweet time doing it.
We arrived in Tirana in foul moods and sweaty clothes. Adding to the frustration was the fact that Tirana, inexplicably, has no central bus terminal, so we had no idea where the bus was to drop us off. I had the maps on my phone, and had to make an educated guess as to how close the bus might go to the hostel.
After some hesitation, we got off at the same time as another backpacker, and walked in the hot afternoon sun through unfamiliar streets, dodging the crazy traffic whenever we had to cross the road. All of this carrying our full packs. We arrive at the hostel, blast the air-conditioning and take a breather before getting some food and retiring to bed.
The temperature at this point was getting into the high 30s during the day, and made it very difficult to do our usual thing of walking around a city without a solid agenda. Instead, we had planned to head out earlier in the morning, or later at night in order to take advantage of the slightly cooler temperatures.
Unfortunately though, we both contracted some kind of stomach bug which made it difficult to do anything other than sit in our room and feel sorry for ourselves. I was less affected, but Jess copped the full brunt of things. We ended up extending our stay by a couple of days, as the prospect of travelling on a bus with no toilets - for hours at a time - did not seem like a pleasant one. So, ironically, even though we extended our stay, we ended up not seeing a whole lot before we left.
We were able to visit the main "attraction" that I was interested in, which was “The Pyramid”. Built in the late 80s, it was used for a short while as a museum, but over the years has been used for many other purposes, including a base for NATO during the Kosovo war, and as a television station, which is it’s current purpose. It is more or less in a state of disrepair these days, but it really drew me in for some reason. I could have taken hundreds of photos if it wasn’t so oppressively hot.
On one of the evenings we left the saftey of our apartment (and more importantly it's toilet) and went out to "The Block", which can best be described as the Albanian answer to Chapel St in Melbourne. People driving their expensive cars around and around the cafe and bar lined streets seemed to be the thing to do. And all of this was on a Wednesday night. I can only imagine what Saturday night must be like.
Towards the end of our stay, I braved the heat one afternoon and went out for a photowalk, randomly walking around the city. I didn’t see anything particularly breathtaking, but I hope the photos I took will give a feel of the place. I don't want to give the wrong impression about this city. Note: Whenever I go out with the singular purpose of taking photos, I usually try to tell a story. That is, I need to have a bit of a theme to stick to, or the results never seem to have any coherence. The blog allows me to weave the photos I've taken into a story as a whole, but to take a big chunk of photographs over a short period requires a more narrow focus. What I'm attempting to convey is that just because the photos in this writeup make the city look decrepit and run down, doesn't mean that the city as a whole is like that.
It is hard to come up with a definitive opinion about Albania, as being limited due to our stomach bug and the heat, we couldn’t experience things to their fullest. Also, the capital city of a country is rarely a good representation of the country as a whole. I can say, however, that the people of Tirana were for the most part warm, welcoming and friendly, possibly more than any other country in the region. I was speaking to another traveller after we had left Albania, and he was under the impression that the Albanians are a proud people, and want to make sure that visitors leave with a good impression. While my impression of the country is perhaps not as positive as they would like, I only have good feelings towards the people.
— Thomas 2015.07.28
If you want to get in contact with me, shoot me an email at thomas[at]carbon.cx. Just remember to swap the [at] with @. This stops robots from scraping my email address and spamming me.