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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

9/28: Discovering Tirana Anew

Each morning we left the back gate of our hostel, we were greeted by this mini-sidewalk flea market. We sure wouldn't have seen this if we had been staying at some fancy hotel!

Multitasking! We made eye contact and waved each time to this tailor as we came from and returned to our hostel during our three day stay in Tirana. How welcoming seeing what came to be his familiar face.
Our hostel backed out onto Bicycle Alley as befitting a city that relied on its bicycles for getting around under Enver Hoxha who tyrannically ruled Albania from 1944–1985.
Street scenes to give you a sense of the area where we stayed:

I didn’t want to get on this scale after enjoying the chocolate croissants of late! We saw scales on sidewalks later, too, and guessed someone would have appeared to charge a fee if I had stepped on it. Luckily, I wasn’t that curious!
A very familiar sight throughout southern Europe is of men grilling ears of corn on tiny bbq's on countless street corners.
Today we decided to retrace many of our steps we had taken last night on the walking tour so we could revisit the sights in a more leisurely fashion and also see what we might have missed in the dark. I wrestled how to do that in a post. Steven suggested that I combine last night's tour with photos from our walk today but that seemed too unwieldy to me. Plus, there were a number of sights we had only seen last night from the outside so this post will, I hope, offer a fresh view. So, at the risk of boring you with including nighttime and daytime photos of many of the same sights, here goes. For those who may have missed it, that previous post is titled '9/27: Life Under a Brutal Dictator in Tirana, Albania.'

Our first stop was the Et'Hem  Mosque, the country's only religious institution left standing after Enver Hoxha banned all expressions of faith. Its exterior:

Unlike most mosques and temples in many other countries, there was no admission fee here to enter. Virtually every free inch of the walls was richly decorated, again unlike other mosques we had seen. 

What a beautifully painted dome.
There was very little in the way of calligraphy which is standard in most mosques except for this one painting, if that is the correct word to use. 
It had the tiniest script I have ever seen and I was in awe of how someone could have written that much without going blind.
A view of the Clock Tower I had climbed:
We strolled down Murat Toptani pedestrian street next where the National Gallery was located. How different the street looked in the daytime as we had not seen the lovely canopy of trees before.

Behind the Gallery was the Fortress of Tirana, also called the Fortress of Justinian. It was the last remnants of a Byzantine-era castle. Thank goodness we didn't take the time to gaze at the paintings this man was hanging up as we have precious little wall space left back home to put up any more pictures from our travels.

Interesting bit of English graffiti: Unlike pretty well all of the cities we toured throughout the former Yugoslavia, Tirana had virtually no graffiti except on temporary structures like this one.
At the end of the mall were these archeological foundations. 
Men in Tirana favor playing dominos in public spaces and not chess which is the game of choice for their northern neighbors.

A gift from Kuwait in 2015; even though it was so new, the taps no longer worked.

It was interesting to see what Tanner’s Footbridge looked like in the daytime as it was way too dark last night to walk across it.

The Congress Building, a creation of the former dictator's daughter and son-in-law:
A rather unusual sculpture; it reminded me of a distorted version of the Pillsbury doughboy!
Books for sale including one by Donald Trump. Later, we saw other impromptu book stalls and also noticed another book by Trump.

St. Paul's Catholic Cathedral and the statue of Mother, now Saint, Teresa out front. It was one of the starkest churches we had been in. 

I was, though, greatly attracted to the small chapel and stained glass windows off to one side.

The noon bells rang for several minutes and we had to walk around outside to discover the clock tower. Rarely have we actually seen the bells ring as opposed to just hearing them.

I had no idea why these empty, wooden huts were in a prominent location on one of the main thoroughfares.
We finally arrived back at one of the strangest sights in Tirana, the Pyramid. Its once white marble walls, stripped of the tiles that once covered them, were now crumbling and painted gray to cover the graffiti. 
No decision on whether to demolish or restore it appears to have yet been reached. The Communist star at the top had been removed. Some officials want to tear it down to get rid of the Communist symbol and put the new Parliament Building there but some argue that it should be kept intact as an apt monument to Stalinism’s ugly spirit.
The right hand side of the Pyramid now housed a TV station.

We saw people attempting to climb the Pyramid but the spot they had chosen was far steeper than that suggested to the thrillseekers last night by Gazi, our walking tour guide.

There were a lot of press vehicles near the Pyramid but we couldn't figure out why.
Located next to the Pyramid was the Peace Bell. It was made using melted bullets collected during the 1997 riots following the collapse of the Albanian economy due to the world's biggest Ponzi scheme.
The Socialist-style Office of the President:
The Memorial to Communist Isolation area comprised of three elements: This part of the Berlin Wall was given to the people of Albania from the city of Berlin. The wall was built in 1961 and became a symbol of communist isolation in the world. It was demolished in 1990.
The bunker in the light of day that guarded the main entrance to the segregated area where the former dictator and senior officials lived.
The last part of the Memorial were these pillars that came from a mine at a notorious labor camp where opponents of the Communist regime were incarcerated.
There were lots of press around this building directly across from the Memorial but none of them admitted to speaking English when I asked what was happening.
A common scene:
Now we could actually see what Hoxha’s home looked like.
We stopped in at the French bakery and café in the very upscale Block area that we had walked by last night on our tour. Steven had pinned it on his app on his ipad so we could get back here today. I had a chocolate confection which was good but the ambience and company was much better than the unfortunately nuked pastry.

All three cars in the intersection were Mercedes Benzes! I would love to know if there are more Mercedes Benzes, Audis and BMWs per capita in Albania than any other country as, after spending over a week in four cities throughout the country, I remain nonplussed at the number of luxury cars.                                     
Another view of the wobbly-shaped unfinished building I was drawn to last night:
Visiting The Resurrection of Christ Greek Orthodox Cathedral was our next goal:

We had never seen row upon row of chairs set up before in an Orthodox church; normally there are never more than a half dozen at most and they are always set up around the perimeter. Perhaps that is the difference between Greek Orthodox and other Orthodox churches?
This painting of Christ on the dome took two years to complete.

So many of the Orthodox churches we have toured recently have had very dark interiors. The white, intricately detailed woodwork was a refreshing change and set off the beautiful icons perfectly in my opinion.

Across the street was the House of  Leaves: The Museum of Secret Surveillance. In hindsight, I wish we had gone in but, even after doing a lot of research on Tirana’s sights, this one had never crossed our radar.

I didn’t know what the story was behind these mammoth lampshade-looking things on this small square. I wish I could have asked Gazi, the guide, about them.

The Friendship Monument was again from Kuwait. Note the minaret shapes in the pillars below.

We were both glad to have had the luxury of time to delve more into Tirana's sights. One could never say that Tirana is a beautiful capital city but, considering I thought it might be little more than a cultural backwater because of its relatively recent turbulent history, I found it surprisingly appealing. 

Posted from Saranda, Albania on October 5th, 2016.

1 comment:

  1. Albania, who knew! A testament to the resilient human capacity to create beautiful things in difficult circumstances.


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