We spent one week in late November 2020 in Tirana and here are our thoughts on the Albanian capital city.
Well, although we might agree on a few specifics, the two of us don't really share the same general feelings towards Tirana. Ying felt it uninspiring, dusty, dirty, overwhelmingly busy with people and cars. She felt rather trapped inside a dusty and crowded bubble and couldn't wait to get out. On the other hand, Brad felt that it was a comfortable up and coming mid size city with plenty of green space, lovely tree lined streets, and a certain positive buzz about it as people went bustling about their day.
What we agree on
We do agree that it's an upcoming developing city, still trying to shake off all the horrible unrest, past burdens and suppression. Among all of this effort, the city has done a great job in preserving green spaces and adding modern architecture to the skyline, whilst maintaining some historic presence.
We both loved the Grand Park of Tirana and happily spent a couple of hours hiding among the greenery each day, taking in the peace and serenity.
We both enjoyed the ubiquitous cafe scene. It is said that Tirana comes in second as the city in the world with the highest number of coffee bars per Capita. Most cafes are well designed and decorated with nice furniture, looking very inviting. If it was not the threat of Covid, we would have visited more.
We both enjoyed the food scene. Tirana offers both traditional Albanian food, Greek food, Italian food and other international cuisines. Eating out is very affordable with a main dish costing an average of USD$4-8. The quality of food and service are excellent. In this category, Tirana beats all the other places we have been so far (Mexico, Spain, Portugal...)
We both found alcohol surprisingly expensive. The lower end cost for a bottle of local Albanian wine is USD$10. After only paying USD$2.5 for a bottle of quality wine in Portugal, we found ourselves struggling to accept the new norm. We also agreed that most supermarket items too were surprisingly expensive, probably on par with prices in Australia.
We both felt the local people were very friendly with a high level of English speaking ability.
We also agreed that a lot of drivers could be less aggressive by waiting for the pedestrians to cross the street when the "green man" is on. Drivers could also do with less amount of honking as their communication method.
What we don't agree on
Ying felt it stressful to have to constantly dodge people on streets, walk next to busy noisy traffic and walk on narrow footpaths littered with dog poop. Streets outside the city center and even side streets within the city center are very unsightly with rundown apartment buildings, overflowing garbage bins, broken footpaths and a lot of dust and dirt. These elements contributed to a very unpleasant environment when exploring beyond the few "brown" patches on the map.
Brad agrees that it is often dusty, especially as you get further away from the center, and certainly there were a lot more people around than we have been accustomed to in the Covid era which generates traffic and noise. But the city has a vibrancy to it that comes from activity; the bustle of small shops, market stands, and more coffee shops than you can poke a stick at. It is hard to quantify, but it feels as though the city is rapidly modernising and that it is finding its way with increasing confidence, like a teenager shaking off their awkward years and developing to a young adult.
There are a lot of luxury cars, especially Range Rover, Porche, Audi, BMW and Mercedes. We also some Bentleys and a Rolls & Royce. Compared to the USD$5209 GDP per capita (2019), the number of luxury cars is extremely out of proportion.
We hardly saw any graffiti around. There are some nice murals and a lot of artistically painted electric boxes on streets.
Cigarette smoking is very common, almost as popular as their coffee culture. As a result, cigarette butts are littered everywhere. It's also difficult to sit in a coffee bar for long without someone puffing a cigarette at you.
We saw that among the people exercising in the Grand Park, a very high percentage were 50+. It was lovely to see so many active middle and senior aged people there. This is probably one of the reasons there aren't many obese people.