Another early start saw us again having breakfast in the Hotel Gjallica before heading off for Tiranë, Albania‘s capital city. Learning from our mistakes of the previous day we had a sensible amount of bread and cheese and none of the sticky, syrupy ‘jam’ we over-ordered before.
Thanks to Jeta we’d found out that ridiculously low-priced scheduled buses left Kukës early in the morning so we headed towards the street they left from in plenty of time to secure seats as we hadn’t booked in advance.
Setting off through the streets of Kukës we soon left the town behind and joined the main Prishtina – Tiranë highway crossing the bridge we’d seen the night before and wending our way through some spectacular mountain scenery. The higher mountains eventually gave way to some lower foothills before emerging onto the plain where the city stands where the landscape was dominated by agriculture in what seemed already to be a more prosperous region than that around Kukës.
Hitting the outskirts of the city itself we could already see that it is a city of contrasts. The outer suburban area has a few large houses and more modern apartment blocks while a little nearer the centre we could see extensive areas that contained the same crumbling communist era blocks that were all too evident in Kukës but multiplied many times over.
Further into the city there was a curious mixture of ultra-modern developments, both industrial and residential, juxtaposed with functionalist, dreary, drab Hoxha-era buildings.
Despite being the capital city with a population of over half a million Tiranë, in common with all Albanian cities, has no formal bus station so we were dropped near a large roundabout at the side of a main road with virtually no signposting to identify where we were. Taxi time again.
After stopping a couple of times to find out where he was going our driver eventually managed to find the hostel we were staying in during our trip and we were welcomed to the hostel by an American guy and the Albanian who owns and runs it and shown our room which was clean and comfy enough although the shared toilets and showers weren’t exactly to our liking. Still, it was cheap and central which were the main factors.
Having dumped the rucksacks it was time to take off into the streets to explore and get our bearings, something always best done on foot. We grabbed a map from the reception and set off for the main Skanderbeg Square area from which all else could easily be found. We also had the bonus of being right next to the TID tower which is the city’s tallest building at 85m (279ft) and was a great landmark.
Passing the tower we came up towards Skanderbeg Square where we could see our first historical landmark, the Clock Tower of Tiranë built in 1822 by the same man, Haxhi Et’hem Bey, who also completed the mosque next to the tower. Both of these lie at one side of the city’s main square, Skanderbeg.
Leaving the square behind we set off down one of the main boulevards running off it past an area of Italian style buildings and towards the Rinia Park area where there is a pleasant open space which hosts the Summer Festival in March of each year and has fountains and restaurants surrounding it.
From here we carried on in the same direction crossing a bridge over the Lanë stream and the Boulevard Zhan d’Ark heading through a fairly affluent area containing some of Tiranë’s foreign embassies, plush hotels, restaurants and bars en route to the Big Park.
Walking on for a few blocks we soon found our way to Tiranë’s biggest park known as Big Park (Tiranë Park on the Artificial Lake). This is a huge 230 hectare park on the southern side of the city and sits on an artificial lake and contains many monuments such as Saint Procopius Church, Commonwealth Grave and the Presidential Palace. It is so large that we missed many of these but still had a wonderful time exploring some of its nooks and crannies and walking along the shores of the lake.
Coming along the lakeshore we turned up again into the park past more monuments and an outdoor gym and quickly found ourselves back where we entered the park. We set off back towards the city centre, stopping off at some shops to pick up a couple of souvenirs on the way.
We came back up to Skanderbeg Square again and took in a couple of the sights nearby including the Opera and the National History Museum.
Getting a bit peckish by this time we decided to grab a bite to eat before chilling out in the evening so we set off in the direction of the hostel hoping to find somewhere nearby for a meal. In the Rruga Luigj Gurakuqi, parallel to the street where our hostel was, we found a small restaurant run by a Tiranë native who had worked for years in Athens so we both opted for souvlaki which was excellent washed down by local beer and wine.
Satisfied after a decent meal and an hour or so of watching the world go by we headed back to hostel but not before Mrs M purchased a bottle of the local plonk since the bar in the hostel had run out. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the hostel’s pretty courtyard where Mrs M drank her awful wine and I had several beers at 120Lek a half-litre (around £0.80/€0.94/$1.25) and slept quite well!