The first of our Travel Guest posts written by Salvatore Sampaoli in Tirana, Albania. One of Europe’s fairly undiscovered yet brilliant capital cities.
After a bleak start to the year with depressing weather and overtime every weekend, a friend suggested a trip to Albania. As flights were relatively cheap and it’s just two hours from London, I jumped at the opportunity, as I needed a break from everyday life.
Flying from London was pretty straightforward and British Airways fly directly from Gatwick Airport to “Mother Theresa” Airport, which is located 20 minutes from Albania’s capital – Tirana. The city is ranked in the top 10 of the sunniest cities in Europe with an average of 2544 hours of sun per year which is always great for the happiness levels.
As soon as we arrived in Tirana, I saw a lot of construction in what seemed like a half-built city. Parts of Tirana look like many other European cities with the addition of lots of colourful buildings. Other parts almost resemble a third world country. Tirana is the political and cultural centre of Albania with many of the large companies and museums in the country located there.
The locals repeatedly told me about the incredible food in Albania so I had to try it to see if it was worth all the hype.
I opened TripAdvisor to look at the Top Ten Best Restaurants – to my surprise, there were plenty of seafood restaurants which all seemed to have good reviews!
This dish was called “Linguine me fruta deti” which according to a dodgy Google Translate meant “Linguine with sea food” The dish contained mussels, crab and prawns. I have to say the food was outstanding and completely took me by surprise.
The best thing was that this dish only cost 600 lek in the Albanian currency. A giant, filling dish for the equivalent of around £6. The local beer, Birra Tirana or “Tirana beer”, tasted like any other lager, but for the great price of 100 lek per bottle – 70 pence!
After visiting Tirana for a few days, I was surprised that there were areas in the city with trendy cafés and places that people would class as “hipster” in England. One café in particular was called Colonial Cafe and was covered in Buddha statues and quotes from 60’s films. It is rated as the best places for cocktails in the whole city and also offers shisha and some live sports in the evenings.
Tirana has a very weird vibe that can’t really be explained. Parts of the city are trying to adapt to modern European culture, and other parts are still stuck in communism. For example, the historical bunkers that the former leader Enver Hoxha built between 1967 and 1986, are still present around the city.
However, other parts of the city in contrast have trendy bars and cafés where you can get food for a relatively cheap price and shopping centres that you might find anywhere else on the continent.
There are fairly good transport links in the city centre with taxis and buses. There are also cycle hire bikes and a great cable car – the Dajti Ekspres that takes you up to the top of Mount Dajti where there is a National Park with stunning views out over the whole of Tirana, and even snow in the winter months.
As my visit to Tirana came to an end, I was thoroughly impressed by the food and the hospitality that the locals shared with us. They will go out of their way to make you feel welcome and waiters will regularly offer you a flawless service as they rely on tips (local wages being absurdly low). Lots of locals also speak English as the younger generation are taught the language in school.
Tirana is a capital city that is definitely improving and worth a visit, however, please do remember that it is going through a transition and parts of the city still are not fully up to scratch. Due to this, walking at night can be difficult as the roads aren’t great or even filled in places.
All in all though it was a great city and with increased development, I look forward to seeing how it has progressed the next time I head to Tirana.