The Economist magazine’s Pocket World in Figures, 2015 edition, ranked Albania 11th among countries with the highest economic growth, 1992-2002. It tied with Iraq. Albania applied for full European Union membership in 2009. It was confirmed as a candidate in 2014 but is not expected to join until 2020 at the earliest. According to BBC News, “…the EU urged Albania to do more to tackle corruption and organized crime, especially crime relating to immigration and human trafficking, and drugs.”
The Lonely Planet I consulted before going to Albania called its capital city, Tirana, lively and colorful. Indeed, it is. There’s an undeniable energy and spirit in its streets. “It’s amazing what a lick of paint can do,” Lonely Planet concluded.
The most common question I was asked before going to Albania was, “Why are you going to Albania?”
Albania was fascinating but it and its capital have a long way to go before they become destinations most travelers will want to return to. We stayed at the Rogner, which is considered to be among the best hotels in Tirana. Across the street from it was a popular urban park. All of its benches looked like this one.
Yesterday in The New York Times travel section there was an article about Tirana. After I read “In the Heart of the Balkans, a City Transformed” I had to ask myself, “Did Alex Crevar and I see the same city?” He visited Tirana one month after I did. Then I noticed Elie Gardner’s closeup photo of The Pyramid. Below is my photo of The Pyramid. We passed this derelict building designed by Envar Hoxha’s daughter several times each day, and our driver seemed embarrassed by it. He said it might be torn down.
Alex Crevar met Edi Rama. He identified Rama as a former mayor of Tirana and now the Albanian Prime Minister. Half of Alex’s article was about his visits to restaurants and bars. He noted that Komiteti’s bar served “25 flavors of Albanian liquor called raki.” He and Gent Mati, owner of an adventure tourism company, contemplated Tirana’s special spots “over cocktails at Radio Bar”. Crevar said he found his special Tirana Spot the next day at Hemingway Bar. In the middle of his article Crevar said, “Admittedly, I develop city crushes easily, and I am a sucker for underdogs.” I agree with Alex that Albania and it capital Tirana are underdogs, with promise. But for now, Tirana is struggling despite Edi Rama’s “kaleidoscopic paint jobs”. So is Albania. Just ask the EU.
I went there because Ruth and I are trying to visit all of the European countries. Ten to go!