Tirana, Albania turned out to be one of my favorite stops on my road trip through the Balkans due to its diverse architecture, which juxtaposed the styles of Italian fascism and Soviet realism.
Read more of my classic trip report through the Balkans
Introduction: Road Trip Through The Balkans
Review: US Airways A330-300 Business Class Philadelphia To Munich
Balkans Day 1: Sick In Belgrade
Balkans Day 2: Belgrade – Sarajevo
Balkans Day 3: Sarajevo – Dubrovnik
Balkans Day 4: Beauitful Dubrovnik
Balkans Day 5: Accused Of Espionage In Montenegro
We departed Podgorica in the late morning for a relatively short four-hour journey to Tirana, arriving in the middle of the hot afternoon. It was nearly 100ºF, the warmest day of our trip and frankly quite miserable to be outside.
We passed an “In-N-Out” near the Montenegro/Albania border. Who would have thought In-N-Out would have licensed a franchise there. Had we not been in the bus, I certainly would have stopped…
Border formalities were easy, with a quick stamp out of Montenegro and shortly thereafter into Albania.
We found a little apartment behind a mini-market in the heart of Tirana that was only about $30 and perfect for our one-night stay. Looking at hotel options today, there are still no chain hotels but several very nice choices.
After a nice afternoon nap with the air conditioning cranked up and blackout shades lowered, we ventured out into the scorching late-afternoon sun.
I suspect that most would not use “beautiful” to describe Tirana. That said, there is fascinating history behind the style of the city.
The Architecture of Tirana, Albania
The city blends the styles of two totalitarian regimes with new modern minimalist high rises springing up. Many government buildings were designed by Florestano Di Fausto and Armando Brasini, Benito Mussolini’s top architects. Italy occupied Albania during World War II before becoming a communist state. Skanderbeg Square, once the heart of Stalin Boulevard, provides a dose of Soviet Realism, with artwork and friezes that are an ongoing testimony to the communist era.
The pyramid pictured below was built in honor of Enver Hoxha, the strongman who ruled Albania from 1941 to 1985. It was used as NATO base during the 1999 Kosovo War but now sits abandoned.
President George W. Bush was the first American president to visit Albania. During his visit in 2007, a street was re-named in his honor.
Albania is a majority Muslim nation, though just a slim majority. Officially a secular state, there is great religious diversity, which you can see by the juxtaposition of mosques and churches in Tirana.
We stopped for dinner at an outdoor café and enjoyed kabobs. The owner was not used to seeing American tourists and brought us beers on the house.
Overall, I quite enjoyed our brief stop in Tirana. My only regret was not trying more authentic local food. We’d depart for Kosovo early the next morning.