In June 2017, I went to volunteer in a hostel in Tirana, Albania. I did not know anything about it, I just knew the colour and symbol of the flag and its geographical position and that’s all.
A bit of History
So Albania is part of the Balkan as well as Bulgaria, Greece, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. It has borders with four countries: Greece in South, Macedonia at the west, Montenegro and Serbia in the North.
It was a communist country until 1990, so from there a lot of things have changed. For example, Albanians started driving at this time. That’s why the traffic is a bit chaotic. I had the chance to take a dum-dum ( a car with only 3 wheels, one at the front and two at the back), because we had to carry heavy stuff to the hostel, and it was amazing! First, the vehicle did not have a car radio, only three buttons were on the car board, I don’t even know what they were used for … Second, it’s a bit like in Africa, if you can put more people than the number of seats available it does not seem to be a problem! And third, the traffic is a complete mess, every time, the drivers are about to knock over the pedestrians.
The other local transport I took was the bus and it is also something really interesting to experience. Indeed, in Albania there are no machines to buy tickets, you buy it directly in the bus from the ticket inspector.
Very nice people
the Albanians are very nice and helpful; I was freshly arrived in Tirana and was looking for my way to the hostel that two Albanians helped me. One of them, a lady, even asked where I was coming from and called a friend of her who was speaking French to help me find the street I was looking for. It was incredible! And this woman, Suzanna, also came with me to the street I needed to go. Moreover, I found that quite a lot of Albanian people, especially the younger, speak and understand English.
A really tasty food
Albanians eat a lot of meat! It’s their favourite food. When you go to a restaurant and you order meat with sides, the sides come first and the meat comes at the end. Or you can also see people ordering only meat! Also, they cook a lot of pasta with the water that is used to cook the meat to give a meat taste to the pasta. At the hostel, for breakfast, we served byrek which is a kind of pastry with cheese inside. But you can also find Byrket with spinach, meat, tomato and onions or even yoghurt.
The Capital itself
One amazing thing about Tirana is that it is surrounded by mountains so the view is always nice. Moreover, it is a really chill place. I was there in June, the weather was really nice maybe a bit too hot for most of the foreigners but the Hostel I volunteered in, had this amazing rooftop with a bit of the wind which made it just perfect.
And Tirana has also a huge park in which you can find an artificial lake. A lot of people are going there. The athletes run around, while the kids play football or any other games and the elders relax under the sun and play dominos (one of the guests was spending a lot of time playing with them, which I found very cool). Or they even take a bath but it is not really recommended to swim in the lake as the water is quite dirty.
What’s more, Tirana is a very colourful city, with flashy colours on some houses or buildings. On some of them, you could find different designs. Those designs are inspired by the Qylym (Albanian word for rag).
Bonus and tips about Tirana
But I would say one of the most intriguing things of Tirana is their habit to have fireworks every time, and when I say every time is not an exaggeration, they do it even during the daytime! If there is a wedding or a birthday there will be fireworks, so one night I saw 5 fireworks! That’s so crazy but when you are on a rooftop it’s amazing!
I will give you the last tip about Tirana, do not come in August! Everything is closed. All the bars and restaurants, they all move to the coast where the weather is a bit more bearable.
And for more information about the life in Tirana, you can read the interview I made with Megi, an Albanian girl I was working with: Click here!