If asked to name the most interesting place I visited in 2015, I’d have to say Tirana. Other words that would apply to Tirana would include dysfunctional, fascinating, surreal, unforgettable, etc. It’s very Alice in Wonderland, a city of constant contradiction.
The Lanë River begins in the mountains east of Tirana and flows through its center. On our first full day in the city, we took a tour and the bus went up one side of it for about 5 blocks, crossed to the other side, and drove down the opposite bank for about 12 blocks. That was the extent of the tour. The narrow Lanë, little more than a rivulet, looked both inviting and toxic. One source said it was so polluted that fish can’t survive in it.
Ruth & I went to the Et’hem Bey Mosque. Some sources call Albania a Muslim country, and the call to prayer can be regularly heard here. Et’hem Bey is one of the oldest buildings in Tirana. It was spared during the long Communist Era because it was considered a cultural monument. Without official permission, it’s back to being a mosque in a country that Tirana inyourpocket, a for-sale travel booklet, says is 21% Muslim and 70% non-religious.
Every Albanian Jew survived The Holocaust because the national honor code necessitated hiding them and providing forged documents.
We went to the fairly new Orthodox Cathedral, Christ’s Resurrection, that was consecrated in 2012. The 3rd largest church of its kind in Europe, it does not conform to traditional Orthodox cathedral design. After calling it “ostentatious and vulgar in equal amounts” inyourpocket suggests that visitors see it after dark when it lights up like a Las Vegas casino.
About being out a night…visitors, especially those from the United States, home to more than 2 million Albanians, are told to expect to be overwhelmed with hospitality but to hide any valuables. Do not wander into unlit areas at night, it advises.
Smoking is not allowed in public places but enforcement is weak. inyourpocket claims, “Albanians generally enjoy sitting in clouds of smoke”.
Mercedes are regularly seen passing carts pulled by donkeys. I specifically named Mercedes because during the Communist Era only party officials were allowed to drive and they favored them. They were about the only cars seen on city streets. When the restriction was lifted, Albanians went to other countries and returned with every existing Mercedes-Benz model. “Several hundred polished Mercedes, mostly with German or Italian registration plates, are parked in formation in a muddy field strewn with litter…” noted The New York Times in 2002.
It was announced this week that Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian, will be declared a saint late in 2016. There’s a major square with a statue of her in downtown Tirana. One evening Ruth & I noticed that an event was about to take place there, so we walked down to see if it was a mass, a prayer meeting, etc. It was a political rally, and we were discouraged from hanging around.
Surreal, fascinating, etc.