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So..........

So. Tirana. Looks nice from the air. Some people think that’s probably the best way to see it. Not me. Only one way to know a city – walk. I’ve been walking. Everywhere. Tirana is compact – twenty minutes and you’re there. Wherever. Unless your driving – make that an hour, at least.

We came expecting the worst – maybe it was a cunning ploy, but it’s not as bad as ‘they’ told us. Yes there is rubbish everywhere. Yes the roads are falling apart, caked with mud, the footpaths disintegrating. The air is bad. Nobody seems to have a job. There are beggars in the streets. The electricity goes off at nine, so does the water. Minor details. I grew up in Belfast in the seventies – it wasn’t that much better. And at least in Tirana no-one is blowing things up or shooting people – not very often anyway.

The people are friendly – not effusive, but accepting. This is probably the most non-threatening city I’ve ever been in. The bread is fresh – baked ever morning in dozens of little bakeries scattered around the city. The pizza is superb – not surprising with the Italians just across the water. There are plenty of good restaurants. At the International Bookshop on Skanderbeg Square I can buy the Economist and 4-4-2.

Cafes are everywhere. People – mostly men – sit for hours on end. Turkish coffee, glass of water, packed of cigarettes and mobile phone. Mobile phones are rarely used but often displayed. A fashion item.

Ten minutes to the artificial lake and the park. Sometimes its called Tirana Lake, but everyone here calls it the artifical lake. The park is quiet and wooded – the best place to run, the best place to sit and drink coffee. Unless I’m sitting on our balcony – one of our balconies – drinking coffee and watching the boys of FC Dinamo, one of our local teams.

‘They’ told us at various times that you could not get: broccoli, French cheese, mushrooms, spices, fresh milk, French wine. ‘They’ were wrong – its all here. Sometimes you have to look a little harder; sometimes you have to go with a different brand; sometimes the instructions are in Greek or Italian. But if you want it, you can find it. Well – apart from Midget Gems that is. Still they are not the same since Maynards took over Lions and substituted blackcurrant for licorice. Very bad decision.

Now we have the Euromarket – it opened this summer. It’s Tirana’s first proper supermarket. More Stewarts than Tesco (for those who remember Stewarts). Does have McVities Digestives in the exotic foreign foods section, though. Yes, I bought some – pricey, but still cheaper than Washington.

There’s an IKEA in Thessaloniki – about 7 hours away. I imagine our car will be making the trip soon after it arrives. We will probably go with it. Good thing we can take the back seats out. Swedish meatballs. Lingonberry jelly. Good coffee. And some furnishings I suppose.

And the streets with no names. Our street has a name – we think – but it’s not named on any map. Even the streets that are named on the map often have no street signs. Sometimes the streets don’t even appear on the map. We walk down one of them every day. It feels real enough, but it doesn’t exist as far as the mapmakers are concerned. No doubt there are deep metaphysical and existential issues to be delved into here – either that or the map’s just wrong. Sometimes streets appear on the map, but don’t quite match where they are on the ground – going in the wrong direction, non-existent interesections and the like. Makes walking around a bit of an adventure.

Comments

ITS said…
Well, enjoy it!

Having seen quite a bit of this world, I still believe that Tirana is the best city in the world. :) Well, I might be biased, Tirana being my hometown and all.

However, one of your observations is of. The cell phones are heavily used, but in contrast of western counterparts, Albanians make the cell phone calls very brief. It pains me that Vodafone charges the Albanian subscibers so unjustly.

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