Day 121 : The New HNIC

Trip Start Mar 23, 2010
Trip End Mar 23, 2011

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Where I stayed
The Presidential Zone

Flag of Albania  ,
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Driving into Tirana, it would be a lie to say we were not more than slightly anxious of what we'd find.

The majority of the morning was spent travelling on tight twisting roads around the coastal mountains, which were at best broken asphalt with uncovered manholes and at worst just pure rubble and dust - all of which was surrounded on either sides by a variety of wild animals and hawkers selling anything from honey to coal charred corn-on-the-cob. As we neared the city things started to pick up a little as we suddenly were amazed by mega-malls and expo buildings as large as we'd ever seen (think over-the-top Yank stylings) and the streets were now not only paved but also lit.

We then entered the main part of the city, and a transformation occurred once again, and this time we were really amazed. What had once been a dreary communist nightmare of uniform apartment blocks had been painted over by the revitalised Tiranan's with a willy wonka eye for colour scheme and re-decorating. Buildings were purple and pink striped, yellow and blue concentric circles and all other kinds of insane and awesome combinations. The Albanians really did a great job of transformation here.

We then drove along the river, which was beautifully lined with trees, plant life, parisian-style street lights and other additions to really enhance its position within the city - and - to be honest, the best use of such a dividing river we've seen all trip. Enter the old communist leader block, which was once only allowed to be entered by high-ranking party officials and dignatries, and you were confronted with some of the best laid out and cohesive commercial blocks you could visit (central planning at its finest, perhaps?). 

The architecture was amazing, and the Blocku, the area for the young and trendy with a mirage of cafes and bars was not only good but in fact great. The place had a fantastic atmosphere and vibe.

All of this was cool, but what really made Tirana an amazing place to visit, and at the risk of sounding like George Castanza, was the parking spot we got! Having avoided paying for parking all trip, we toured around a few streets trying to suss out where we'd leave Fiddy for a few hours. When we found, what seemed like the perfect place, I thought I best ask what looked like a policeman whether it was fine to park here. Unknowingly I asked the equiivalent to a Federal Guard to the President of Albania's White House, who told me it was fine but I should move it forward. Confused at first, and making 2 trips between the car and the guard across the street, I then managed to work out through hand gestures and broken english that not only was he going to let me park the car in a spot reseved for the presidential envoy - but he was also going to watch the car for me to make sure no one fuck's with it, including the police. Tirana is awesome!

Word to the wise: When the guide books say don't drive at night in Albania, they may be onto something. Seeing people drive the wrong side of a highway, twice the speed limit without lights on at 11pm is frightening. Pure and simple. 
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