Though seemingly eons ago, it has been just a month since I was simmering in sweat with all sorts of heat in Tirane, Albania. Though I did not spend much time in the country at large, I can safely say this capital city was of the most "backwards" and possibly most fascinating I've experienced in Europe. I was initially drawn to the city for it's old communist housing blocks painted with dizzying designs of vibrant (some have argued fowl) colors. Edi Rama ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edi_Rama), painter and Tirane's Capital Mayor is responsible for starting this phenomena which has been continued by other artists and has visibly influenced current ongoing development.
These patterns of paint operate astonishingly well at dealing with an otherwise dire urban condition. As of March 2004, Tirane has been considered Europe's most polluted capital, and it doesn't smell like it's improving. Filth is not the only issue. Not only is there no tourist office in Tirane, but there is no bus station (which made my night arrival very interesting), and a rundown train station serving a ramshackle network that few people use.
Frenchie David, whom I met in Cappadocia, likes to measure how developed a country/city is by its tap water. Apparently he is frequently surprised which countries' tap is drinkable, though it was no surprise to me to find Tirane's totally non potable. I would also add dependable power supply as a measure: power outages of at least four hours in duration occurred everyday I was in Tirane. It may be obvious, but one quickly realizes how crucial electricity is to sustaining an efficient and productive, if mundane, modern life: no lights, no computers, no cooking, no water (pumps?), no showers, no washing clothes, no running half naked through sprinklers, etc. Most stores/restaurants have generators they'd fire up to keep business going, pumping smoke into the hot, burdened streets.
Honestly, as a tourist there is not really much to do in Tirane, but this only adds to its allure. The only visitors around are the curious type, wanting to walk through a post-communist disaster climbing it's way out of its past. Albania was the world's only official atheist state from 1967-1990, and though citizens are now free to practice their religion, the society remains refreshingly very secular. It's interesting to see what of the Communist history has been scratched, and what is being kept.
Perhaps the one aspect of the city that cannot be voted away is the insatiable summer heat (note this is coming from a Texan). It was so unbearable that most people just end up lazing about in the hopefully breezy shade of buildings and trees. Whatever you do, do it in the evening. When Nuri Jean from Seoul, South Korea and I decided to explore city's more populated drinking spots, we waited until dusk, though we were ready by mid-morning . While drinking huge beers and listening to "Georgia" by Willie Nelson in the city's tower top rotating bar, Nuri diagrammed a short history of Asia for me on post-its.
More catching-up to come...
- Strutting towards their future
- "Alright, let's head west."
- hasta luego BCN, merhaba Istanbul
- Just touching base
- Phone & Keys