Tirana, back to the Balkans...

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July 29th 2015
Published: August 15th 2015
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Back in the summer of 2013, I did a small amazing train trip in part of the Balkans. It was a first, and I knew I would come back to tour the remaining capitals I hadn't visited.

So first stop, I'm in Albania....I know, who goes on holidays in Albania, if you don't really have a connection to the country...not that I don't have one somehow! Instead of going direct, I flew through Istanbul in order to try the huge Turkish Airlines lounge, saving the cost of a hotel night at the same time. Lounge is huge, but not that impressive with their offerings...except for the pool table, and yes, the golf simulator. It's a first for me to play on a golf simulator....all this at midnight, drinking some nice Merlot, and ended up even playing with fun Germans. Sadly there seems to be not much maintenance on it...the censors are completely out of control...since when do I hit a 7 iron over 220 meters.....so for the quality of the experience, I'll have to try another place!

I made my way early morning from airport to Tirana, took a taxi to town, and was checked-in in a pretty nice suite at the Sheraton by 9am, all this for just 100 euros. Well, no Euros here yet, so I had first to change some hard currency for some leks at the airport. Funny to think that just 15 years ago, this would have happened all around Europe, and today, with USD and Euros....you are going in so many countries around the world.

I'm also back to the free walking tours. The idea is simple, a young local is setting up a business by offering free walking tours of his native city. These take on average 2-3 hours. The idea is to tip at the end. So the guide, with 20 people in average per day in the summer is doing way more than an average income....and you get a nice tour for a serious bargain, feeling more than happy to tip him, or sometimes her. Today our guide is Gazy. He did a pretty cool job getting us all around the main sites of town, great morning walk! You can find those tours all around Eastern Europe by simply google them, the city name and "free walking tour" will do it!

So, are there or are there not tourists visiting Tirana? Well, that morning we were around 20...mainly 20 to 30 years old touring the Balkans. Do not forget, the great deal of Europe is here...people are nice, accommodation is cheap, let it be 5 stars or hostels...food is really cheap....and the sun is there! Oh, and I forgot, it is really safe, and packed with the history of the last 100 years! I smiled when Gazy mentioned the movie "Taken"....it did remind me the comment of a guide in Bucharest who said...you know what....all the bad people in our country, are living in your countries....here it is seriously safe! Sadly, I may have to agree with them.

Tirana has something else special....they have seriously few foreign tourists...who come truly to discover their place...so once they found out you are here, they take care of you! In Albania, this hold specially true!

Do not forget, prior to 1991, this country was an outlaw....they were even more Communists than USSR for many years. No cars...nothing....just isolation....the North Korea of Europe....not a country, rather a huge jail....full of a nation! In 1997, Albania was...without law...dangerous...full of weapons...a place not to be!

Today, Albania is....Mercedes land! Yes, at least 20% of the cars in Tirana are Mercedes....sound crazy in a poor country! Something to do with the show-off effect of the region. They drink coffee on terraces, and drive Mercedes. The country is also at least half Muslim, but in summer time, it's rather short cute dresses in the city center....ok, I didn't see many wine or beer on the terraces, it's all about coffee....but I didn't see many covered girls in the daily life of Tirana. This is a pretty good news to the secular I am, at least for now...and that's a good thing, for me!

Next entry is just 4 hours bus ride from here....no trains out of Tirana, not sure they ever even had one over the last 50 years...

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