Tirana
As I pointed out in "Destination Albania", the country is one of the smallest, least populated nations in Europe. However, neither it's small land mass, nor population means there isn't an abundance of sights see, culinary delights to enjoy, and things to do. This is especially so in Tirana, the capital city of Albania.

 

Transportation...

 

Buses are a cheap means of transportation within Tirana, and all other major cities.

 

Taxis are an alternative mode of transportation that is quite inexpensive compared to most countries. Many Tirana hotels have taxi stands right outside the door.

 

 

Car rentals are available in major cities. If touring Albania by road is your plan or you simply want the use of an automobile while in Albania, it's advisable to reserve one beforehand. Surplus vehicles kept in car rental companies' inventories for walk-in customers are extremely limited.

 

Tirana was founded as an Ottoman town in 1614 by Sulejman Bargjini, a local ruler from Mullet. Tirana became Albania’s capital city in 1920 and has a population of 433,000 as of 2012. The city is host to public institutions and private universities, and is the political, economic, and cultural centre of the country. The city has four artificial lakes, the Tirana Artificial Lake which the Big Park was build around, Tufina Lake, Farka Lake, and Paskuqani Lake.

 

Tirana is on the same parallel as Naples, Madrid, Istanbul, and New York, and on the same meridian as Budapest and Krakow. The city is mostly surrounded by hills, with Dajti Mountain on the east. The Tiranë River runs through the city, as well as the Lana River, which is actually a more of a brook than a river.

 

Dajti Express Cable Car
While in Tirana, visit Dajti Mountain and experience Dajti Express Cable Car for an unforgettable 15 minute ride passing through Dajt Oark to reach Tirana. The route is about 4.2 km long. Photo courtesy of Albinfo

 

Tirana sits on land that has been populated since Paleolithic times, dating back as much as 30,000 years. This is based on artifacts and tools found near Mount Dajt's quarry and in Pellumba Cave.

 

Following the fall of communism, Albania was transformed from a centrally planned economy into a market economy. Private car ownership was reinstated and businesses re-established. All buildings and apartments were denationalized, second-hand buses introduced, and modern water, telephone, and electrical systems built during 1992–1996 which form the backbone of modern Tirana. However, during the same period poor city lighting and road quality became major problems as mud, potholes, street floods, and dust became permanent features on the streets.

 

In 2000, then mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama, undertook to demolish all of the illegal buildings that had sprung up around the city centre, and on Lana River since the fall of communism. In addition, Rama led an initiative to paint the façades of Tirana's buildings in bright colours, although most of their interiors were left to deteriorate.

 

Building in Tirana, Albania

Brightly coloured buildings in Tirana, Albania. Photo courtesy of Albinfo

 

Public transport was privatized during Rama's time in office, and newer second hand buses were introduced. Municipal services were expanded, a rich calendar of events introduced to promote tourism, and a Municipal Police force was established. Most main roads underwent reconstruction, such the Ring Road (Unaza), Kavaja Street, and the main boulevard. The common areas between Tirana apartment buildings were cleaned up after decades of neglect, while parks, city squares, and sports recreational areas were renovated, giving Tirana a more European look.

 

 

Rama was accused by critics of political corruption relating to the issuing of building permits. Traditional Albanian houses within the city were being threatened by continuous construction of apartment buildings, while some green areas were approved for the construction of skyscrapers. Rama has denied any wrong doing, and dismissed the claims as baseless. Regardless of who is to blame, decreased urban space and increased traffic congestion have become major problems as a result of the construction boom in Tirana.

 

The main Bajram Curri Boulevard in Tirana, Albania

The main Bajram Curri Boulevard in Tirana, Albania. Photo by

Tourist Info...

Tirana, indeed all of Albania, is a unique experience for travelers in that not everything is as it should be. For example, restaurants aren't always heated sufficiently so it's advisable to always wear warm clothes if you are going out for dinner during winter. Actually, inadequate heating, and virtually no airconditioning is common place in much of Albania. It's best to assume the worst and be prepared for some level of discomfort if you're going to venture outside one of the 5 star hotels in Tirana, which is the only way you can fully experience and enjoy Tirana or anywhere in Albania.

 

Foreigners in Albania are charged more than the locals. Admission fees, as well as any merchandise you may want to purchase will be priced higher than what Albanians pay. Unless you speak the language, or have someone you can count on to make purchases for you, you're going to be paying a surcharge.

 

Driving at night outside the city centre should be avoided because of the absence of street lights beyond urban areas.

 

Vehicles in Albania drive on the right-hand side of the road.

 

There is a shortage of gas stations in the countryside, so filling the gas tank completely before leaving the city, and whenever passing through urban areas is recommended.

 

There is no national vehicle recovery system in Albania as of yet. Therefore, travelers should be prepared for an emergency or breakdown, which means making sure you have a fully inflated spare tire, two if possible, a jerry can of petrol / gasoline, a tow rope or chain, a basic tool kit, and jumper cables in the vehicle. Also, it's advisable to have cash on hand if you're traveling by road. Few, if any, rural mechanics will accept credit cards and none will cash traveler cheques. In fact, few Tirana mechnics will accept credit cards either, though most service stations will. I have yet to hear of service stations or mechanics that are willing to accept traveler's cheques.

 

When driving anywhere in Albania, you should carry all of your documents, passport, International Driving Permit, and your own national driver's license, just in case you're pulled over by police or, God forbid, you're involved in an accident. FYI: This vagabond traveler avoids driving when traveling abroad. I prefer trains, which in all of Europe will get you pretty much anywhere you want to go. However, if driving is unavoidable I hire a local to drive, which in Albania is incredibly inexpensive, and far cheaper than a taxi in pretty much any country. A caution when hiring locals though, they'll often want to drive their own car. So far I've once missed a flight because of a breakdown, and another time spent hours sitting on the side of the road while the car owner effected repairs. If going on a road trip is unavoidable, and the local driver's car doesn't appear to be up to the task, I'll rent a car and have the local driver registered and insured to drive it.

 

Things that are prohibited to have in your possession in Albania are firearms, narcotics and ammunitions.

 

Special export permission is required for precious metals, books, antiques, work of art, or material of national or historic value. If you are found to have purchased any items requiring an export permit and do not have one, the item or items may be confiscated, or you may be permitted to keep them after paying a fine and any duties or taxes that may be applicable. A worst case scenario is that you're arrested, which is often the case when found trying to leave with undeclared antiques or material of national or historic value.

 

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Things to see and do in and around Tirana

National Archeological Museum The museum houses exhibits from prehistoric and historic times up to Middle Ages. It is also responsible for conducting many archeological expeditions in the country and is the parent institution of several other museums in the country including the Durrës Archeological Museum. Located at Sheshi Nene TerezaTiranaAlbania. (+355-4) 22 65 41

 

Et'hem Bey Mosque Located in the center of the Albanian capital Tirana. Closed under communist rule, the mosque reopened as a house of worship in 1991 without government permission and 10,000 courageous people dared to attend. The police did not interfere, and the event became a milestone in the rebirth of religious freedom in Albania. NOTE: Take your shoes off before entering the inner room.


National Arts Gallery of Albania The gallery contains a collection of over 4,000 works of art by Albanian and foreign authors, spanning seven centuries of Albanian cultural heritage. Website: www.gka.al


National Historical Museum Easily identified by it's gargantuan mosaic on the facade, the National History Museum represents the development of Albania's history, from Illirians to the partisans of World War 2 represented. Each hall is dedicated to a single stage of the Albania's development. Looting in the 1990s robbed the museum of many artifacts, but it remains the best place in Albania. Admission is 200 lek.

 

Petrela Castle Located close to Tirana, Petrela Castle is perched on a rocky hill, above a village with the same name. It has a triangular shape with two observation towers that were originally laid down in the sixth century AD. Although construction was stated in ancient times, the present collection of buildings date back to the 15th century. With it's fantastic view of the Erzen valley, and excellent restaurant, Petrela Castle is popular with both tourists and Albanian visitors.


Skanderbeg Square The main plaza of Tirana, Albania was named after the Albanian national hero Skanderbeg. A Skanderbeg Monument can be found in the plaza. At the time of the Albanian monarchy, the square was composed of a number of buildings that demolished but the communist regime. In March 2010 former Tirana mayor Edi Rama, with financial aid from the State of Kuwait, began a revitalization project to modernize and Europeanize the square. In September 2011, the earlier plan of mayor Rama was scrapped and a new one introduced by the new mayor, Lulzim Basha. Sadly, Rama's plan to limit the square to pedestrian and public transit was abandoned, and use of the square by all motor vehicles will be restored through the construction of a narrower road around the center of the square, including bicycle lanes.


The Clock Tower of Tirana Originally, the clock tower had a bell from Venice that marked the time by ringing every hour. In 1928 the Municipality of Tirana purchased a new clock made in Germany to replace the existing one. The clock was destroyed by bombardments during World War II and was replaced in 1946 with a Roman numeral clock taken from a church in Shkoder, Albania. In 1970 the Roman numeral clock was replaced by a Chinese clock. The tower underwent renovation in 1981 and again in 1999. A new restoration undertaken by The Municipality of Tirana was started in 2010 and is ongoing. Access to the top of the tower has been available free of charge since 1996.


There are, of course, many other sights to see in Triana, but those listed I have personally had the opportunity to check out on my one trip to Albania, on which I spent time in the capital. I will add more when I get back there once again, and take photos this time. My only visit to Albania so far was a short business trip, with a very full itinerary. I want to return and stay for an extended period of time so I can take in all of the sights.

 

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