View from our apartment in Pogradec, Albania with the mountains of North Macedonia in the background.
Where are Kevin and Ruth now? Pogradec, Albania.

Where are Kevin and Ruth going next? Shkoder, Albania on May 19th!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The city of Tirana, and first impressions of Albania

Albania's population is about 2.8 million people, and about 500,000 of them live here in the capital city of Tirana. The country itself is only slightly larger than the state of Vermont!

Yesterday was our first day in Albania, and if the first day is any indication, we are going to LOVE Albania! Now of course it's only been one day, but so far it comes across as a mixture between Turkey and Romania, and we loved both of those countries.

We woke up to a mix of sun and clouds, and it never did rain. The high was about 13C (57F) with a light breeze.

The view from our apartment balcony.

We went for a short walk at 8:00am just to pick up some breakfast supplies. What fun it was seeing such a great selection of foods that are more to our liking. And cheese! We have probably missed cheese the most!

Ruth had made a list of the highlights of the downtown area, and I input them into our maps.me app so we wouldn't miss anything. We will be returning to downtown another time, but we wanted to see the highlights.

First stop was a Vodafone store to get a local SIM card. The girl spoke perfect English. She says all the young people study English in school.

We chose the option that is valid for 30 days and it comes with 3000 minutes of calling, 500 text messages, 8.5 GB of data, with another 10GB just for social media. Cost was 1,400 lek ($17 CAD, $13.60 USD) as a new customer for the first month, and 2,000 lek ($24 CAD, $19.40 USD) for every month after that. That should easily do us for a month since we plan to have WiFi at all of our accommodations.

Next, we headed for the central square.

Nice view of the mountains.
Notice the new office tower being constructed.

The white building is a casino and restaurant complex.

Wide boulevard with lots of decorations.

Colorful government building.

Another modern tower.

Old meets new.

This mosque is supposed to be worth visiting, but unfortunately it is undergoing renovations.

Albania has an interesting religious history. The Communist government that was in power between 1946 to 1992 had declared Albania as the worlds first officially Atheist state, and in the 1960's had attempted to eradicate religion of any kind. There are no official statistics, but the 2010 census declared that 55% listed Muslim, 26% Christian, and the balance "irreligious". But walking around yesterday we didn't see a single woman who would normally be identifiable as Muslim based on what she was wearing.

The main central plaza.

Mural.

The flag of Albania.

The Albania Opera House.

Scenery at the central plaza.

Ruth, and a fancy two storey merry go round.

Beautiful view of the mountains.

Albanian Orthodox Church.

Ruth at the entrance. 
Built in 2012.

And it's already having some work done!

Big chandelier!

Some of the traffic lights have sections where the entire pole lights up!
Green.

Yellow.

Red.
Odd, but it was a lot brighter in real life!

Pedestrian street.

Ruth, at an odd art structure called "The Cloud Pavilion".

Something going on.

We came across some kind of media event. Obviously involving some famous politician because there was a lot of security. 

Cameras!

This huge new mosque isn't open yet.

It looks like it has been taking many years to build.

Hey... I always wanted to have a bar named after me!

This old bridge dates to the 1700's.

What remains of Tirana Castle.

A shop displaying traditional clothing.

Quirky.

One of the thousands of concrete military bunkers located in Albania.
I will tell you the story of the bunkers in a future post.

Another modern building.

Right around when we were getting hungry, I received a message from our Airbnb host recommending a good restaurant that is reasonably priced and serves typical traditional Albanian food. Funny story, but we were going to go to a Mexican restaurant that we had read about! But this sounded better.

We arrived at the Piceri Era restaurant and were welcomed inside. It looked a little posh and we were worried that it might be above our price range. But when we looked at the menu, we were pleasantly surprised!

Just a word about Covid here in Albania. Like any other country in the world, the rules often don't make any sense. Here, it is law to wear a mask in any public place. We're assuming that includes outdoors, but can't find anything that says that specifically. Out walking around, we would say that about half wear a mask outdoors, and about half don't. To me, wearing it outdoors is overkill, but that's just my opinion based on the research that I've done. Anyway, we wear it outside. And we've noticed that everyone wears a mask indoors. Except when it comes to restaurants, which of course you can't wear a mask to eat and drink. And all restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are operating normally, but only until 8pm when the full curfew kicks in until 6am. So you sit down in the restaurant and everybody takes their mask off. We were easily 1.5 meters away from the nearest person, so that is supposed to be okay. The staff were all wearing some kind of fancy clear plastic thing that covers their mouth, but sits about an inch and a half away from their mouth. It's hard to describe, and we hadn't seen that kind of device before.

We arrived at about 12:30pm and it was nearly empty, but by the time we left at about 2:00pm, it was nearly full. I guess it is typical to eat lunch fairly late.

Our first wine and beer in Albania.

Me, enjoying my first Albanian beer!
I think there will be many more over the next few weeks!

We shared an appetizer made with peppers and cheese.

I had the pork sausage.

Ruth had the stuffed eggplant.

Ruth had two glasses of wine with lunch! And I had one beer. Including tip, the bill was 2,587 lek ($31.25 CAD, $25.00 USD).

I think that Albania is going to be very affordable for us.

We stopped at a bigger shop and did some groceries. Locally made Albanian beer and wine are inexpensive, but so are some imports. We bought a 3 liter jug of imported Italian white for 570 lek ($6.90 CAD, $5.50 USD). A half liter can of beer is approximately 80 lek ($1.00 CAD, $0.79 USD) Fruits and veggies were a little more than we expected, but still reasonable. And I think they will be cheaper outside the city.

So, based on first impressions, we are going to love Albania!

This morning, we have to vacate the apartment by 11:00am, so we will go put our things in the car and then do some more walking around. Then after 3:00pm we can check into our new place on the outskirts of the city where we will be staying for a full week.

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28 comments:

  1. This city is so lovely! Never thought Tirana or Albania was so joyful, with street decorations and lighted street poles! Glad you're enjoying this new country. What language do they speak? And what is the main economic activity in that country? It is so unknown to us, in Canada! Stay safe and enjoy!

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    1. We think the city is lovely too but maybe part of that is just that it is so modern compared and clean compared to what we have been experiencing for the last seven weeks or so. It definitely has the European feel to it.

      They speak Albanian here but most Albanians also speak a second language and apparently Italian is probably the second most popular language spoken here and then Greek and English.

      The main economic activity here is agriculture.

      We think that Albanian is unknown to many countries, not just Canada. By the time we are finished exploring Albanian, you will know so much about it and will have seen so much of the country through our pictures that we hope more people will consider traveling here. :-)

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  2. Lots of servers here in BC wear those small clear plastic face shields.

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    1. Neat! This is the first time that we have seen these masks, what we thought was odd though was that it didn't seem to come up high enough to cover the nose properly.

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  3. Knowing you are not big city people your first impressions are saying this is different.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. No we aren't big city people but certain cities interest us a lot, we just don't want to spend too much time in the city itself and this city will be no different. While we are enjoying this city it will also be nice to get out into the country as well.

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  4. I think I am going to love Albania as well. Thanks you.

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    1. We can't wait to get out there and really explore the country. Kevin has lots of things marked off, so we won't have any problems keeping ourselves busy while we are here. :-)

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  5. Looks like a wonderful place to stay for a month. Lots to see and do. Enjoy!

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    1. This is only a small part of the country, we are going to have a great time here, we just know it. And our stay will probably be close to two months at least if not more. :-)

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  6. You’ve inspired us to check out Albania and Romania! Thank you! We look forward to further updates.

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    1. We absolutely loved Romania when we were there back in the fall of 2016 and can't wait to go back there again but in the spring or summer months next time. We really think that Albania is going to be similar and we are glad to be here for the spring weather and to be here for at least two months so that we can really explore the entire country. I hope that we can show more people why they should visit this off the beaten path country. :-)

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  7. Oops I commented on March 3rd post by mistake LOL...senior mind. Based on yours and other travel blogs, my daughter decided her next destination is Turkey! I was so hoping she'd pick Turkey. Love Albania too...enjoy your wine, beer and cheese!

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    1. That is great to hear, we don't think you daughter will be disappointed in Turkey at all. It has so much to offer and the people are friendly and helpful.

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  8. Looks so nice, clean, and modern - we like it! 😍

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  9. Ah yes, the country famous for bunkers! What a great picture!

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    1. We put that picture in just for you Chris! There is also a Bunker Museum here which we didn't see the other day but plan on visiting but maybe not until we return to Tirana at the end of our time here in Albania or if there happens to be a rainy day over the next week, we will see.

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  10. If I have missed this discussion, please excuse me. Have you considered trying to get vaccinated since you will be in Albania for a month? It may be necessary for European travel, or at least be the one thing you can do to facilitate travel.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It has been mentioned a couple of times through comments but not in the blog itself. At the moment we haven't really considered it, mostly because as a tourist in almost every country the vaccine is not available. The majority of countries are still trying to vaccinate their own people so they just don't have the number of vaccines available for non-residents.

      I doubt that it will be mandatory for European travel but yes, it could make travel in Europe easier when you are vaccinated because then it would most likely remove the restrictions in place, such as the PCR testing and quarantining.

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  11. Good stuff!

    I’m somewhat surprised that $31.25 (Canadian) for LUNCH is considered affordable.

    Time to splurge on all your hard work, life is short!

    Enjoy the special journey!

    Thank you Kevin and Ruth!!

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    1. It is affordable when you consider that this was at a higher end type of restaurant, one that we would not go to in Canada. The meal that we had there would have easily been a $60 to $80 meal in Canada. We also used this meal as our main meal for the day and considering that the bill also included two glasses of wine and one beer, we thought we did quite will with the pricing. Admittedly this was a bit of a treat for us! :-)

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  12. Tirana looks very modern and clean! I already love it just reading this first couple of blogs! another country to to put on my wish list!

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    1. So far for the parts of Tirana that we have seen this seems to be the case but a lot of the time most city's downtown areas are clean, however once you get out of the main central area things can change.

      We think that Albania will be like Turkey, and we will have many of our readers thinking about adding Albania to the must travel to list. :-)

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  13. Looks like a really pretty city! I love the decorated roads, especially the pedestrian street. Lunch looked delicious. So good to see you enjoying yourselves!

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    1. The downtown area of the city is definitely very pretty, the outskirts are quite good too but there is certainly more garbage around and the area that we are in right now, is again very close to many things but there is so much traffic. A lot of the traffic problems have to do with two huge road construction projects going on in the same area at the same time!

      Lunch was very nice and we tried to have some of the traditional Albanian dishes. We are not going to have a problem enjoying ourselves here in Albania. :-)

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  14. My sister who travels extensively says that Dubrovnik is the cleanest place she's been. Not too far, I think.

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    1. Dubrovnik isn't all that far away but I doubt that we will be seeing it on this trip. Hopefully we will make it there at some point when we are traveling around Europe in our new motorhome.

      We often find that the downtown cores of major cities are very clean but once you get out of that area then the garbage starts to show up, and that is the same with Tirana as we found out yesterday and today.

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