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Hoxha in the name of Love .. March 14, 2007

Posted by stagedive in Idle Thoughts, Reviews, Travel.

650382-tirana-the-block-0.jpgAlbania is unlikely to reach the top of the Holiday Top 10 this year, but when your good buddy suggests a boys weekend away before the imminent birth of baby #2, and they ‘couldn’t think of anyone else who would want to venture to such a destinantion’, in a back (double) handed compliment sort of way, who is to resist .. it was well worth it too ..

I amazed myself, and my fellow passengers by being the only person that was not only on time, but early (gulp).. I am not renowned for my punctuality, but with trains from Leeds and London running late, the East Coast contingent of James & I were ahead of the game..

Flying BA by necessity was very welcome. The ‘Deli Bag’ that I was greeted with was the most edible airline food I have witnessed and it does seem they are doing something to combat the sleazyjet and ryanair. Flight staff people were really friendly and relaxed too – woo hoo, that’s almost a glowing report ..

Tirana Airport is essentially a decaying shed. There is a new terminal opening in a month or so, but that wasn’t the greeting we got. The existing building is a bit like a high-class cow shed. Passing through Passport Control, you get the officious looking woman in a faux portacabin collecting the 10Euro ‘tax’ to enter the country .. it’s an odd term ‘tax’ .. the rather less than favourable exchange rate and short change suggested someone else other than the ‘country’ was benefiting .. or is that just the cynic within me .. James and I both gave the lady £10, and each got differing amounts of change – maybe the exchange rate changes by the second, but I have my doubts ..

To save money, street lights other than main intersections, and turned off at night .. obviously .. I guess they may be used on special occasions, but the drive from the airport is punctuated only by the myriad of petrol stations and passing cars. It was very eerie, in a David Lynch movie kind of way. On entering the city itself though, you get more of a feel for the metropolis that it is becoming, but it was a dusky sort of air that night & had all the elements of a Sccoby Doo mystery ..

We stayed at the Tirana International Hotel, right at the centre of the city on Skanderbeg Square. A great location and I since found out that the star rating sytem is self awarded in Albania, so the 3 stars that were placed on this place, were well deserved .. breakfast was fantastic, and as the high cost of pesticides means that all food in the country is organic, they find themselves ahead of the game in fruit and veg at least ..

As the weekend events could takeup a very very long post, I’ll paraphrase some notable points, in case you are thinking of a trip ..

We ate at a pizza restaurant on the 1st night, fantastic food for about £3 a head, including beers – a slight oddity when we got up to leave and the well dressed woman on the next table begged me for some money .. quite bizarre, maybe she should have thought about that before buying shed loads of wine and cigarettes ..

160px-enver.jpgThere is an area of the City that until Communism fell, was completely out of bounds. It’s called the ‘block’ .. Essentially a slice of California bay area housing and manicured gardens for the Nomenklatura. Enver Hoxha’s house was the best by some way, a fantastic pool and balcony to play with whilst the rest of your country struggles in decaying squalor .. thanks matey .. Imagine discovering a millionaires playground in your back yard when you are queuing for bread rations..

Up until 1991, there were only 600 cars in Albania. No one was allowed them. Since 1991, everyone has a car and the roads suggested that they wished they could press rewind! Very few road markings and no driving tests has resulted in some of the craziest driving manoeuvres I have ever witnessed. An excellent spectator sport, but not for the feint hearted… ‘what do mean you can’t overtake on a roundabout in England?!’ .. 

There aren’t a lot of ‘sights’ in Tirana itself .. we did the lot in about 40 minutes, but there is a lot of absorbing the atmosphere to be had. The locals are incredibly friendly and you really did feel welcome and warm. In bars we were offered humble hospitality without any feeling of neediness or a great desire to talk to the tourists. I really liked the attitude.

We hired a driver & visited the hills of Kruja on Saturday. Largely as we had done the City sights the day before. It was a good trip to do and we ate food at the top of a mountain, bought lots of tourist tat & had a wander round the museum. there isn’t a lot to see as such, other than the spectacular views, but it was great to get out of the city and see country life in the raw..

There is a distinct lack of Communist relics to be had. I have visited some spectacular ones in russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, but my 3 cohorts were all in hope of some crackers in Hoxha Country – it seems that nearly all have been destroyed. That is probably the sign of progress, but be warned if you are visiting as a Commie Tourist, that there is little here to see, move on ..

bunker.jpgEnver was pretty paranoid of attack and built thousands/millions of concrete bunkers to protect himself. They are everywhere! Little dalek structures at the sideas of the road, in the middle of fields that are nigh on impossible to uproot. You can laugh at them now, so long as they are not in your front garden …

It was hard to spend money in Albania .. in a good way that is. Three nights of great food and beers, plus the sights and taxi’s was less than £80 each .. the food was great too. We ate at Vila Ambasador Chocolat on Friday night, the former East German Embassy building, it was fantastic .. excellent service, slightly upbeat but not stuffy atmosphere, a couple of bottles of wine & the food was better than anything I’ve had this side of February .. and all for £12 a head.

We got to see a Serbian covers band on the last night. Not sure why that sounds odd, but it certainly felt like an ‘only in Tirana’ moment. They rocked, we drank and we danced ..

It was great to spend time with all three travelling friends. Graham works in Video production and as such entertained with tales of James Blunt’s butt cheeks or similar, Ed was Toy Camera-tastic and full of stories of Amy-love & jokes that I found funny & James snored like an angry bear and then woke up innocent like a wounded puppy. I had a lot of fun & don’t see them often enough..

Oh and to cap it all, the girl I got sat next to on the plane turned out to have just flown over for the weekend to get married to her Albanian boyfriend & she was/is Bob Marley’s 4th Cousin .. now that really is an ‘only in Tirana’ moment, or should that be Kingston?! .. bless you one and all ..



1. Donna - March 14, 2007

That’s twice so far this year if I’m counting correctly!! (being early)

2. stagedive - March 16, 2007

it is becoming a habit I am finding hard to shift .. tra la la

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