Albania, Tirana: forgotten piece of the globe
Political phenomenon, the Asian reality in the heart of Europe, a sad country that seeks its future - Albanias description in a few words. However, we decided to go this winter in this godforsaken part of the Mediterranean, and our only motive was - curiosity.We came to Albania from Montenegro, Ulcinj-Shkoder road. Because of the isolation from the side of the former Yugoslavia, Albania has not invested anything in the construction of these roads and border crossings, and the situation is not much different even today. The road to the border crossing looks like a country road, where you can barely pass each other with two cars. In this desolate spot one seizes the impression that it is going to the very end of the world.
As in many other poor countries, customs formalities and the payment included small fee for non-existent services. Several forms, stamp with the image of an eagle in the passport and - here we are, in the most remote corner of Europe. A sort of baptism by fire arrived within a few minutes.
In the suburb of Scutari bridge over the river is very narrow, so we had a short stop. All of the sudden, a group of beggars trying to open the doors of our car appeared. When they failed to do so, they started banging their hands on the baking tray, showing us to give them some money, and later the chocolate they have noticed in the car. Fortunately, the road ahead was soon freed and, apart from one of them briefly driving on the hood of our car, they went to harass the car behind us. When we came to a main road Shkoder-Tirana, no more were there such scenes. Relatively decent roads soon brought us to the heart of Albania. We found a nice and affordable small hotel in the center of Tirana, where we can relax.
Tirana, only pleasant oasis surrounded by drastic ambience
And already the first evening walk showed another face of Albania. Dozens of restaurants and cafes located near the main square are pleasant stay in Tirana. Of course, it`s not Vienna or Rome, but Tirana is not bad at all. If nothing else, a great number of students everywhere and vivid colors make the city a fresh and cheerful place.
The heart of Tirana is Skanderbeg Square, which together with a lovely wide avenue gathers the most important institutions in the city. Like the main square in Zagreb, Tirana`s main square is dominated by a monument to Prince Skanderbeg on horseback. This hero for for decades successfully defended the country against the Turks is the symbol of Albania, of its freedom and independence. However, the architecture around the square, as well as in Albania, in general, is far more influenced by one anti-hero - Enver Hoxha. Specifically, how Skenderbej is positive person, so is this communist lunatic a symbol of everything bad that went through Albania.
One of the monuments of his folly are new churches and mosques, as is religion in this country did not exist before. However, the old ones are gone because Hoxha simply - crashed them. Or, at best, repurposed for some other purpose. Miraculously, the mosque on the Skanderberg square remained intact. It is not a grand architectural work, but this nice mosque refines cold socialist architecture and serves as a reminder that the Albanian history did not begin and will not end with the dark period of Hoxha`s dictatorship.
Parliament House is hidden in the park a hundred meters from the main square and is surounded by heavily armed policemen. When they say "no photographing", that is not a joke. Access to parliament is obstructed by rolls of barbed wire. All this is reminiscent of the riots that have been going on ten years ago. And even in the courtyard of the parliament we encountered - piles of garbage. Specifically, Albania can not seem to solve the problem of collection and disposal of garbage and the whole country is choking on dump sites. If trash is piled even by the side of a parliament, that speaks something. Tirana has several interesting museums, a large park in the city center, beautiful panoramic view of the colorful city, and much more. And while we are slowly accustomed to staying in the capital city of Albania, we will soon be reminded that Tirana is only a pleasant oasis, surrounded by far more brutal atmosphere.
Dictator with style
Very interesting place in Tirana is a former elite neighborhood, reserved for the highest leaders of the Communist Party. As the entire country was unknown to foreigners, so these few streets were inaccessible for decades to the "mere mortals". In the center is palace of the terrible Enver Hoxha. Although we expect that the dictator will be placed in a megalomaniacal and aggressive building, something like the Palace of Nations in Bucharest, we were pleasantly surprised. Residence of former Albanian dictator is very beautiful and moderate, harmoniously blended in the gardens that surround it.