I’m not typically a fan of cities but sometimes you come across one that is so interesting you can’t help but love it. Tirana, Albania is one of those places.
Here are some highlights of the city:
All about the currency
Lets start off with one of the best parts of Albania, its dirt cheap!! Seriously you can live for under $20 a day if you spend right. While I was in Tirana I ate out nearly every meal (breakfast was included at my hostel) and drank like a fish. I didn’t go in search of anything cheap and still only spent under $3 per meal. Beers are under $1 and the hostel was about $9/night. Throw in a few shots of Rakia (very strong locally made brandy) for .50 cents and you’re having a party! One of the best meals I had was this chicken stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon and a greek salad. I splurged and spent nearly $4 on all of this and was never happier. Not sure if the pic does it justice but damn it was good.
Tirana Backpackers Hostel
Have to give a shout out to this wonderful hostel as they really did make my stay in the city even more enjoyable. Located very near to the city center, restaurants and shops. The staff is super nice and Ilir (the owner I think) arranged trips to a nearby lake and tours in the mountains. The best part about this hostel is the garden. Huge area with plenty of seating, art, plants and a giant fan spraying cool water on those hot days. Not to mention the kitchen ran by a fantastic chef and happy bartenders that keep your belly full of Rakia. They truly cultivate an atmosphere of fun and togetherness. One night we even had a big jam sesh with Ilirs friends coming and playing great music all night. I swear these guys could play any song you wanted to hear, including every single Sublime song I requested. If you stay in Tirana come here.
Located east of Tirana, Mount Dajti is quick day trip. To get there a local bus will take you most of the way for about .40 then you transfer to a van that finishes the trip for free. The bus will wait until it’s full to leave so if you have time and can stand the heat enjoy the 20 minute walk to the cable car. The ride up to the top costs 6 euro, takes about 15 minutes and goes over some beautiful landscape. At the peak you will find a nice little restaurant and a fancy schmancy hotel with a bar on the 7th floor. The floor spins slowly so you can get a 360 view while enjoying a cold beer. Above the hotel they have a patio which to me seemed to be the only way to really get a full panoramic view of Tirana and the surrounding mountains. Funny enough though the rooftop is closed because they don’t have glass around the perimeter, so it is dangerous if you are a child or an idiot and just walk right off. They didn’t want to let us up but I sweet talked the guy and promised I wouldn’t fall to my death. He didn’t think it was so funny when I sat right on the edge to highlight the missing glass.
Mount Dajti is a National Park so once you’ve had a beer you can go exploring. It is quite beautiful and in the winter a lot of locals flock here to play in the snow.
One sad thing about this mountain is the lack of respect for the nature. There are no garbage bins up on the top so the trash from hotel and restaurant just goes everywhere. Even when we were on the top of the hotel I was needing to throw something away and the staff who came up with us very insistently said “Oh its ok just throw it, the wind will blow it away!” Where does he think it goes??
Pyramid of Tirana
Albania was run by what some would call an insane and paranoid leader, Enver Hoxha, for 40 years. He was known for his Stalinist style and led the country to believe they would be under attack at any moment; which led to over 700,000 bunkers being built around the country. With his death his children had this insane pyramid built to honor him, some call it the Hoxha Mausoleum. Since the fall of the Socialist Republic the pyramid has been used as a convention center, base for NATO and exhibition site. Now it is covered in graffiti and has broken glass everywhere. It is such a weird structure. There is a petition to have it demolished but personally I think it is an interesting part of the history and worth staying around. Plus at night you can climb to the top and drink on it. Who doesn’t want to do that?? Across the street from the pyramid you will find a park that has bunkers, a piece of the Berlin wall and other random bits of communist era memorabilia. Definitely worth stopping by.
Also called Gabi, these markets remind me of being in the markets of Thailand again. All about the barter and all sorts of stuff you probably don’t need. It’s a fun time to go check out and you might even find some things you like. They do tend to have some nice fashions from Italy for exceptionally cheap if you know how to barter.
Black Cave and The Never Ending Hike
The backpackers hostel organized a tour with 12 of us up to see Pellumbas cave and go for a swim in the nearby river. I thought this would be an easy peasy day but it turned into one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever done. The hike to the cave is no big deal. Maybe 30 minutes, simple incline on a nice trail and of course amazing views. The walk through the cave was quite cool and only about 20 minutes long. Inside you will find massive giant stalactites and stalagmites that will blow your mind. Ilir, our guide, had names for all of them. The most incredible thing here is the remains from cave bears that are thousands of years old. If you didn’t know they were there you would just think it was a rock as they are just barely protruding under the mud.
After the cave came the real hike. Our guide said there are 2 ways to go, one by car and a little hike and there would be many tourists or we can go the untouched way that is a bit rougher but empty and worth it. Of course we all agree to go with the latter. Off the beaten path does not even begin to describe this trek. There literally was no path about 60% of the way. We spent the first hour or so carefully slip n sliding our way down the side of a mountain grabbing trees and rocks or anything that would keep us from somersaulting all the way down. Once at the bottom we were greeted with the saddest little stream of a river barely deep enough to cover your feet. It was a giant let down after that struggle to the bottom. We decided to go another 20 minutes up the river to see if we couldn’t find a nice swimming hole and were not disappointed. We found a huge pool with beautiful water tucked away in the canyon. It was incredibly beautiful and cold and heavenly.
Now came the hike back. There was some trail for this portion but when there wasn’t it was really rough. Some bits along the way required rock climbing and incredibly strategic moves to keep from falling to your death, or maybe just falling to broken arms. Overall it took about 2 hours or so. The most challenging part of this entire day was that we thought lunch was happening early so nobody packed a thing to eat. The day started at 9 and we ended the hiking at 4; out of water and famished. Add in that the temperature was around 105 (41) and you have a recipe for disaster. One really happy moment near the end was running into a farmer who offered us water from his hose. We were like kids in sprinklers dousing it all over and just guzzling and guzzling. Water has never tasted so good. All in all it was an amazing day with sites that many people will probably never see. I hope that this area doesn’t get too overrun with tourists so it holds the pristine beauty.