Tirana, Albana day one

Bye Kotor! We hired a transfer from M Rent-a-Car Montenegro and could not have been happier! Thanks to you and the driver you sent to pick us up – he is a champion! Here we come, Tirana, Albania.

I arranged the booking in late October but didn’t have to confirm till early December, all it took was an email and our apartment location. The drive from Kotor to Tirana was about 5 hours, the longest part being getting through the border checkpoint, but that was pretty painless as it was only waiting, really.

I highly recommend Kotor, and Montenegro in general as a travel destination. If I’m honest it’s probably the most fun in the summer, but if you’re creative you can have fun anywhere, anytime, I reckon.

Our hotel wasn’t the easiest to find, and neither our driver our I had any internet or phone service, so the driver asked two local policemen and they pointed us to a small sign down the street that said “Hotel Alen”. That’s it!

Hotel Alen Bar is where we stayed and it was fantastic. Here’s their booking.com page and you can find my review and their photos of the hotel, in case you ever want to stay there. And here’s a shot of the entrance courtyard; it’s small, but warm and welcoming.

We got settled in to our room and then set out for dinner. The place we wanted to go was hosting a private party, it had all natural gluten-free food! so we settled for some fruit from an outdoor market and bought some things from the local market next door to our hotel. We got picklesl Our love affair with pickles started in Latvia.

We settle in wherever we go pretty much the same way – it doesn’t take long!

Our cozy hotel room at Hotel Alen Bar
Our cozy hotel room at Hotel Alen Bar

The next day we were in full tour mode! I can highly recommend the Tirana

The Tirana AudioGuide4U app made our stay in Tirana so much more enjoyable
The Tirana AudioGuide4U app made our stay in Tirana so much more enjoyable

AudioGuide4U app which I used every day we were in Tirana. It comes with honest audio/text descriptions of the sights, many of which document their troubled past with the oppressive dictator, Enver Hoxha. It’s interactive map and content work without an internet connection which is very handy, my Greek Vodafone SIM card didn’t work in Albania.

The owner of the Hotel Alen Bar treated us to honey and jams from his farm outside Tirana, and even though he spoke no english, and my Google-translate-fueled Albanian, through gestures, smiles and “thank you” we managed to have a wonderful breakfast.

We walked from our neighborhood to the downtown centre and we stopped at the Tirana Bazaar along the way, this was the centre of town in the old days, and all roads lead here:

Walking toward Tirana's downtown
Walking toward Tirana’s downtown
The Tirana Bazaar markets, you can bargain here
The Tirana Bazaar markets, you can bargain here
Alice and I both loved the look of this side street
Alice and I both loved the look of this side street

Skanderberg Square

We went up the Clock Tower to get a better view of the downtown district called Skanderberg Square:

Skanderberg Square seen from the top of the Clock Tower
Skanderberg Square seen from the top of the Clock Tower
Skanderberg Square seen from the top of the Clock Tower
Skanderberg Square seen from the top of the Clock Tower

Check out this view:

Then we checked out Skanderberg Square, lots of Christmas cheer going on, with a huge tree as a centre piece:

Look at this gigantic Christmas tree in Skanderberg Square!
Look at this gigantic Christmas tree in Skanderberg Square!

To me, the facade of the National Museum shows Albania’s past struggles and its determination to move toward a bright, positive future, already in progress:

Albania has a troubled past, but is making great strides to move forward
Albania has a troubled past, but is making great strides to move forward
The kids eyeing the bumper car ride
The kids eyeing the bumper car ride

Skanderberg liberated Albania from the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s and is revered:

The statue of Skanderberg stands proudly at Skanderberg Square
The statue of Skanderberg stands proudly at Skanderberg Square

Bunk’Art 2 Museum

Bunk’Art 2 Museum is an in-depth look at Tirana’s oppressive past between the end of World War II and 1985, when the communist dictator, Hoxha, died. It combines art and historical facts to give a very clear impression that things were very brutal during this period. The entrance is similar to the over 700,000 other bunkers Hoxha built around Albania:

BunkArt 2 is a memorial to Albania's oppresive Hoxha regime
BunkArt 2 is a memorial to Albania’s oppresive Hoxha regime

No tour of ours would be complete without investigating the dunny. This one while in the Bunk’Art is obviously not original:

True to the title of our blog, we investigate dunnies around the world, this one at BunkArt 2
True to the title of our blog, we investigate dunnies around the world, this one at BunkArt 2

The hallways have historical quotes and facts as well as actual items used to repress the people; free-thinkers, intellectuals, and teachers were especially at risk because they were seen as a threat to the state.

BunkArt 2, looking back in the direction of the entrance, there are many rooms off this main corridor
BunkArt 2, looking back in the direction of the entrance, there are many rooms off this main corridor

Fear and paranoia of attack meant this bunker was equipped with a decontamination chamber that was never used:

BunkArt2 looking toward the decontamination room
BunkArt2 looking toward the decontamination room

There’s a room for presentations, daughter took advantage of the pulpit to give us her message of hope:

Daughter giving a speech in the BunkArt meeting room
Daughter giving a speech in the BunkArt meeting room

Cloud Pavilion and Toptani Mall

The Cloud Pavilion outside the National Art Gallery was installed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, and you can walk inside and climb up some stairs so you become part of the art.

We had a look, and when I asked if it was ok for me to take pictures, the security guard took it upon himself to take snaps of us. Thanks security guard! Lennox hid so he’s not in the photo:

Us at an outdoor art installation, thank you friendly security guard for taking photos of us (Lennox hiding behind the banner)
Us at an outdoor art installation, thank you friendly security guard for taking photos of us (Lennox hiding behind the banner)
The friendly security guard and another view of the art installation
The friendly security guard and another view of the art installation

Toptani Mall via the pedestrian-only walk:

This is a cool car-free walking zone, there's an old castle with a movie theatre and concert space in the middle
This is a cool car-free walking zone, there’s an old castle with a movie theatre and concert space in the middle

I love street wisdom. Here’s some I really take to heart, “Don’t let your mind bully your body.”

Don't let your mind bully your body, sage advice painted on this wall
Don’t let your mind bully your body, sage advice painted on this wall

The Toptani Mall looks brand-spankin new, and has lots of clothing shops (I was tempted by a blue jacket but held off; I already have a jacket, ha ha).

This Toptani Mall was huge! Most of the floors except the ones at the very top, were full of clothing shops
This Toptani Mall was huge! Most of the floors except the ones at the very top, were full of clothing shops

We were amazed to see this view at a cafe in the mall, and the largest mosque in Tirana was on full display, so amazing. You can hear calls to prayer from this and other mosques throughout the day, as is customary:

In a cafe in the Toptani mall you can look out on the largest mosque in Tirana, beautiful!
In a cafe in the Toptani mall you can look out on the largest mosque in Tirana, beautiful!

Anytime we see street art in a city we know there’s a good vibe, and lots of room for free expression (eg. this is good!) In our neighborhood we saw several of these sunflowers, and they have a great message, be yourself; you are valuable. I reckon!

In our neighbhorhood in Tirana we saw several of these sunflowers - You are a sunflower, they say. Indeed!
In our neighbhorhood in Tirana we saw several of these sunflowers – You are a sunflower, they say. Indeed!
In our neighbhorhood in Tirana we saw several of these sunflowers - You are a sunflower, they say. Indeed!
In our neighbhorhood in Tirana we saw several of these sunflowers – You are a sunflower, they say. Indeed!

We headed back to our apartment and ate the dinner we bought at the market in Toptani Mall (yay gluten-free bread!) and after only one day I love Tirana.

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Nathaniel Flick

American born, Kiwi made. Bass player, black coffee, dark beer. Travelling Europe till 2018.

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