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Tirana To-Do List

This was originally posted elsewhere, hence some repetition.

Go For a Drive

Enjoy the views on the road from Tirana to Elbasan as you cross a 2000m mountain pass. Try not to scream as a Mercedes-Benz, overtaking on a blind bend at 60mph, forces you to the edge of the unguarded 500m drop.

Build Your Own Power Station

When Albania collapsed in 1997 everything that could be looted was looted. A browse round the electrical market, housed in a warren of old vans and shipping containers, might produce enough parts to start your own energy utility.

Offer a Safe Driving Award

Promise 10,000 Lek (US$100) to the first careful driver you see. Then go and spend the money on yourself. You will never have to pay out.

Dine At Piazza

Opened by an Albanian-American family, this is one of the best restaurants in town and one of the few places to offer good quality meat, well prepared. The service is good and the prices are reasonable.

Watch the Albanian Premiership

For only 300 Lek (US$ 3) you can watch Tirana's best soccer teams in action at the Qemal Stafa stadium. Albanian soccer is hardly top notch but the fans are entertaining even if the game is not. If you are a woman you will be the only one there.

Play 'Don't Fall Down the Hole'

Someone in the city government had the bright idea of offering money as an incentive to recycle. The result? Tirana's manhole covers disappeared. Amateur players are allowed torches at night; professionals play by moonlight only.

Buy a Cheap Mercedes

With the highest proportion of M-Bs in the world there are plenty of buying opportunities. Just don't try to take your new car out of the country. Most of them are stolen and still carry their original German and Italian licence plates.

Dine at Juvenilja

Juvenilja serves the best pizza in town in a pleasant location by the park. Enjoy some gangster chic at the same time. The previous owner was blown up in an elevator. Spot the furtive men in black through the fug of smoke.

Eat Bread

Spared the horrors of industrial baking, Tirana abounds in little local bakeries where all kinds of bread is baked fresh every day. All are good, some are superb. Wash it down with coffee and a sticky bun at one of the countless cafes.

Smile

The city is shambolic and endlessly frustrating, but the streets are safe and the locals are friendly. Experience the last outpost of post-communist chaos while you still can.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Very funny! Although nr 4 and 9, shouldn't be on this list.
And the number one activity to do in Albania is: (drum roll please)
Watch the free parlamentary boxing rounds, courtesy of the Albanian political class.
ITS said…
Alwyn,

That's a good list. Loads of fun.

However "Buy a Cheap Mercedes ...
Most of them are stolen and still carry their original German and Italian licence plates."

How do YOU know that MOST of them are stolen? Is that what the word on the street says? The same source of information that says all Whisky in Albania is fake too?

Come on. This is like saying that Irish people look like the Lucky Charms dude and are drunk 99% of the time dancing in circles and singing "potatoes, potatoes!"


=====

Anonymous,

"Watch the free parlamentary boxing rounds, courtesy of the Albanian political class. "

Yes, yes... we are the ONLY ONES in the entire world who do it. Give me a break!

cheers
Alwyn,

In Athens, the Albanians are always friendly. I've learned to say "Mir-me-jes" and "Falamen-derit", but what do Albanians think as a rule towards foreigners in their country. Are they snooty towards them or would they chat with me if I chatted with them? Maybe you could do a post where you discuss how they treat you at places. I'd be curious.
Anonymous said…
ITS what's up with you dude? Is it that cold up there in Canada, that it froze up your sense of humor?
Why have u taken up so fiercely to defend the national pride? Who cares afterall?
And bcause others do certain things, doesn't mean it ain't funny when we do them. Cause we got that special skill of taking it one notch further into hilarity. Take the pyramids for example. Egyptians made them pretty, but it was us who made them totally ridiculous.
ITS said…
Anon,

"Why have u taken up so fiercely to defend the national pride? Who cares afterall?"

-I do!
Joni said…
don't dude! Nationalism is what keeps us where we're at! scruffy Albanians are VERY frindly and if they know the language they will definitely talk to you. Albanians have a secial relationship with foreigners. They want forign people to have a good time while in Albania and try to please them. Anyway this is a very general statement and it depends on the conditions during which you are meeting those people!
Thanks Joni,

Of course living in Greece sometimes you see only the bad things about Albanians because the media here in Greece scares the people against Albanians. Now, the ones I've met, including our cleaning lady, and my handiman are very friendly and polite.

In fact, I made a comment about wanting to try Tirana beer last summer, and both of them brought me back 10 of them each, and I was shocked. Further, they would not let me pay for them. Now, this was great! Of course, they are friends as well and not just my staff. We treat them to dinners, lunches, etc, as well as tell jokes etc.

My other experience with Albanians is in Athens at different shops and they are also very friendly.

Now, the dark side to them is that of course, there are some criminal elements here in Athens, but every country (including America and Greece) has criminals.
annabengan said…
After 1,5 years here as a foreigner that does not speak the language (shame I know!), my conclusion is first of all that there is a difference between the way people treat you in Tirana and the way other people treat you. Tirana is more or less getting like any other stressful city and people there don't take so much notice of you - but they ALWAYS treat you very well. If you leave Tirana and go to areas where foreigners are not so common visitors you get far more attention and stares - but again, everyone is always very friendly and helpful. If you ever get the chance to visit an Albanian family - if they invite you, you will see an incredible hospitality and that they have prepared everything for days - the food, cleaning of the house etc. Another thing - Albanians always insist on paying your coffee - really a nice thing! What sometimes makes me frustrated and sad though is that most Albanians I know - even if we have spent quite some time together - still act rather formal with me. It is HARD and I would say that for me it's been almost impossible, to get their TRUE opinion and reaction to situations and subjects if they think I could feel offened in any way. It feels like they ar protecting me from the "hard reality" very often - which drives me crazy! Conclusion: As a foreigner you are treated differently and more formal thus. And always with great hospitality. And being a woman without any ring on my finger - people keep asking me about marriage - which I find rather tiresome. And also, many people seem to think that a woman (foreign or not?) is weak by nature and can't carry anything herself and'or open doors herself etc.
ourmanintirana said…
Hi anonymous. What's the problem with 4 and 9? Thought the parliamentarians were pretty good as well.

ITS - please don't exaggerate. We are only drunk 97% of the time. How did you know the potato song, byt he way?

Regarding stolen cars how about the Italian finance police quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle 11/5/99:

In Chronicle interviews three months ago, clan leaders in Vlore openly boasted that two-thirds of all automobiles in the country are stolen. ``We regard that figure as entirely credible,'' said Lieutenant Domenico DiGianturco of the Guardia di Finanza, Italy's customs police.

Or an Albanian government official quoted in the New York Times 10/11/02:

"Many of the newest top-class cars that you see on the roads have been
stolen," an Albanian government official said. "But they invariably
come with keys and valid papers, usually because the owner has agreed
to the theft in order to defraud their insurance company."
Once in Albania, almost every Mercedes is legitimately registered with
the authorities in Tirana without further checks, making it difficult
to trace stolen vehicles. DaimlerChrysler, the German company that
owns the Mercedes brand, wants the system changed so that chassis
numbers are compared with foreign police databases before Albanian
plates are issued for a car.
"This system is in force all over Europe — except in Albania,"
said Mr. Kodra, the salesman. "It destroys our business if people can
buy the same car from someone else for a fraction of the price."


Or - if this doesn't offend your politics - Edi Rama quoted in The Guardian 27/3/04:

Edi Rama, the city's mayor, said: "It is time the government clamped down on air pollution and got some of these vehicles off the road.
"Most of the cars in Albania are stolen; no one knows how many there are and where they come from. An easy first step would be to ban all stolen cars from the city streets."


I won't bore you with page details but you could also do a search on the Europol website (www.europol.net)

Scruffy, looks like Anna's done that post now. I would go along with everything she says - except the last bit about her experience as a women. Can't commment on that for obvious reasons.

I can back it up with one story though. We reverse the car into our driveway and I need more space for this manoeuvre than my wife because she's a better driver. When I told the landlord not to reduce our space by building a wall outside our house (it's a long story) he immediately assumed it was because my wife couldn't park the car.

That said, I would expect to get exactly the same reaction from most men in Ireland.
ITS said…
Alwyn,

You got me. I couldn't argue with your sources. Let's see: clan leaders in Vlora (whatever that means), an anonymous government official in 2002, and Edi Rama's big mouth. If these guys state the cars are stolen, because that's what the foreign media wants to hear, by God they are stolen.

If you believe Edi Rama yakking, why not believe that "there were Weapons on Mass Destruction in Iraq"?

Let me just update you on the situation since are willing to quote anyone. According to a personal study with about 200 family members, friends, and neighbors that own a car in Albania, it resulted that only one of them drives a stolen car. And my bad math tells me that's .5% of cars in Albania are stolen. That's closer to reality.

The stupid generalization, are often started by equally stupid Albanians, who love myths.

The reality is that people in Albania love their cars, and have good taste for Mercedeses.(Even the old ones are charming) Nano's government passed quite a bit of customs legislation and came down hard on stolen vehicle crimes in Albania already. The biggest issue right now is that considering the often ridiculous customs fees for an old car, people will just buy them abroad, bring them to Albania, and will not register them there at all. Does this explain the multitude of foreign license plates?

Since I was criticized for my lack of sense of humor, I am going to close with a German joke:

"Fly to Albania. Your car is already there!"

=========

Oh, and Anna. I have an uncle in Albania who is single. You two would be perfect for each other. Just think. He likes to argue MORE THAN I DO. ;-)
ourmanintirana said…
Gratifying to know after all that Albania seems to have not only the lowest rate of car crime in the Balkans but possibly on the planet.

Seems a shame that Europol, Interpol, CoE, EU, Stability Pact, Italian Police etc seem to have got it so badly wrong and are spending so much money on a non-existent problem.
annabengan said…
Its - I know you are joking - but you actually hit right on the spot: every body here seems to think that a woman's highest dream and purpose of life is to find a man, marry him and get a kid (and a mercedes)!!! Tiresome.
ITS said…
Alwyn,

I love sarcasm. I couldn't get enough of it. Now you have achieved true Albanian debating skills.

I am going to exit this discussion by saying that NOBODY knows how many (what percentage) stolen vehicles there are in Albania. Everybody pulls statistics out of their arse.

Beliefs are a funny thing. You can continue to belive what you chose to believe.

I will continue to believe what I know that it's real.

cheers,
Black Helicopter Groupee said…
ITS said: why not believe that "there were Weapons on Mass Destruction in Iraq"??

There are some in the industry who believe that the weapons of mass destructions were moved to Syria or Iran prior to the invasion of Iraq. This is a theory that not only crackpots with tin foil hats believe in, but also seasoned veterans of various military and government agencies.

The problem is that the world media agrees that there were no WMD, and the rest of the world's fish took it hook, line and sinker.

Nothign is as it seems. The sky is falling!
ITS said…
/goes to get a tin foil hat to place on black helicopter groupee's head
//the Holocaust never happened
///off topic
////I am too easily engaged in meaningless arguments, and expect to be moderated
Anonymous said…
Alwyn,
Parlamentarians ... I don't know, from the pic on Shekulli it seemed very bad, but I could be wrong.
The problem with 4 and 9 is, they are too lame to be on the same list as the others, as far as funny putdowns go.
So, for the sake of consistency, I would for example add alongside the likes of "eat bread", "smile" and "take a ride", a few more:
Drink water - you only have one hour to do so before it's out for the rest of the day.
Turn on the lights - you might experience the joy of electricity. Or ... may be not!
Breathe - it's not as bad as it smells. It's only garbage rotting on the street ... hmm ok, every street.
Quit smoking - enough second hand opportunities everywhere you go.

As for the stolen cars though, I think that ITS is right (much as I hate to admit). The choice of Mercedes, is simply that with Alb roads only the strongest cars can survive (call it car's world natural selection process). An old Benz is way better than a new Huyndai, when a driven on a crappy road.
You can test this for yourself: ask people around you that own a car, how much they paid for it, you'd have a pretty good idea of who bought it and who stole it.

Ahhh, the suffering of pretty girls, sometimes so unbearable :)
vloraboy said…
About the stolen cars...not that it really matters, but I don't think there are as many as you may think. But then, some of the cars I saw in Tirana...pretty amazing! My wife and I were there a little over a year ago (going there in July). While we were there, (of course I was in shock, but mostly in heaven to be back after 5 years) my wife kept asking the same questions. What do people do here? How do they make it? Most things are more expensive in Albania than in America (a little exaggaration), the pubs are full at any time of the day. When do people work? And where do they work? All the (colorful) buildings in Tirana are "pallate" apartment buildings. She got her answers when one of my family friends, ex-high-up-interior-ministry-officer (after several shots of raki) said to her in very few words:
...droga, prostitucioni, dhe evazioni fiskal..."

I don't want to admit that he was right, but I couldn't come up with any better explanation for her. What do you guys think?
Agron said…
How do they make it? Who knows. Much of Albanian economy is under the table, so you can't rely on statistics, but one thing is for sure, Albania's real gdp is much higher than reported in official numbers. Tax evasion, you bet! Drogs, prostitution (in western europe), of course, but not everyone has the guts and the skills to survive for too long in these "professions". Don't make Albanians look like some sort of a super race, where everybody can just go in europe, and start making millions right off the bat. From the amount of stories I've heard, most of these guys have ended up in jails anyway.
So, how do they make it? Best explanation I've come up with, is hard work and frugality abroad. Don't forget that out of 3.5 milion Albanians, roughly 1 milion of them is working abroad: Greece, Italy, Germany, Swiss, US, England. Personal story: my neighbor came to the US, about 6 years ago. He's 65, he and his wife work two jobs, they live on bread and tomatoes all year long, but he just bought his second house in Tirana for 70K USD, and doesn't seem to be ready to retire just yet. If I remember correctly, only last year emigrants sent home some 700-800 milion dollars. Now, there's a lot of coffee and beer for 2 million people to consume. And Tirana's lifestyle might seem lavish, because all the best bars and restaurants are located in a small part of the town, and they're all the time full of happy people, but there's also a lot of poverty and misery that you as a casual visitor don't get to see. Go in some areas of Laprake, Kombinat or Bathore, and when you see how some people live, it makes you wanna cry. How many people you hear on the news ending their lives in desperation, how many are homeless or beg on the street, worse than in Africa. Albania's new glitzy capitalism has an ugly side too. Very, very ugly.
annabengan said…
Agron - you are so right! It can't be enough said that Tirana - especially the little very limited area around the Sky Tower building - is NOT a representative image of Albania. Get out of Tirana and see for yourself! I would even say that people that have only visited Tirana have not really seen anything of Albania.
ourmanintirana said…
Anonymous - I think you should do your own list. Sounds like it would be good.

ITS - fair enough we will agree to disagree on this one, no harm in a bit of fantasy. Though I am 100% with you on Rocky IV.

Black Helicopter Groupee - I always though that 'seasoned veterans of various military and government agencies' were the crackpots with tin foil hats.

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