A World Cup Pause in Tirana, Albania
I had been told not to visit Albania by a few of my friends and by other travelers. I was told it was not safe and that the situation in Albania was not ideal for tourists. My response to each of these comments was the same. Have you ever been to Albania? The answer was alway no. This motivated me to designate five days to visit Tirana. I had not plans to visit the surrounding area or the seaside because I wanted to visit the capital and watch the World Cup. I am usually a sponge when it comes to travel, but after nearly two months in the Balkans, my sponge was at capacity. I needed to slow things down. In addition, I love football/soccer and I really wanted to watch as many games as possible. After all, World Cup only comes around once every four years. I grew up playing soccer and regret not playing the sport in High School. I follow all the major european leagues every year. My favorite team is Real Madrid and I cannot wait for the new season to begin in August. Anyways, my goal was to get to Tirana, do some site seeing, watch the matches, and rest. My five days in Tirana were enjoyable. I cannot say enough of how friendly people were to me during my stay.
This post is mainly about my world cup game watching and some tips on what to see and do in Tirana.
Where I Stayed
I stayed at Hostel Freddy’s. I reserved a private room way in advance and I was very pleased with the service, cleanliness, and location.
Hostel Freddy’s is ideally located in the center of town. It’s only a five minute walk to Skanderbeg Square and the National Museum. Be warned that Tirana does not have a bus station. Most busses will drop off passengers on or near Skanderberg Square. Also keep in mind that several hostels in town are pretending to be Freddy and actually greet people on the street claiming to be Freddy himself. I hope the pictures above will help some travelers find the real deal.
Where to Eat Near the Hostel
Bar Cafe Mezeri
I found a quant little place a few blocks from Freddy’s that I think anyone visiting will enjoy. The food is inexpensive and the beer is cold and refreshing. Cafe Mezeri is a good place to get out of the summer heat and eat in the shady patio.
Things to See and Do
Most of my days in Tirana were spent working. I had to deliver my photos to the Ministry of Culture of Serbia and the Tourism Board of Belgrade. Therefore, I spent about three full days sitting in front of my laptop ensuring I provided the best photos to my clients as possible. Once I was done working, I joined a Norwegian couple for four straight nights near Skanderberg Square to watch the matches on the big screen. However, I highly recommend visiting the National Museum, Skanderbeg Square, and the locally famous Tabaku Bridge.
George Kastrioti Skanderbeg was an Albanian hero. He was a noblemen born in 1405. He was actually an Ottoman Prince who later switched sides and created the League of Lezhe. This league helped defend the Albanian people against the Ottomans for nearly 25 years.* (sources taken from tourist office and wikipedia).
After site seeing during the early afternoons, I would head back to my room, change, and head to watch the world cup matches with my Norwegian companions. Below is a gallery of where we watched the games. The street was well decorated for the World Cup and I was impressed with the food and drinks that were available. Honestly, it was the best set up that I experienced in the Balkans. Screens were plentiful and prices were very inexpensive.
*Note: Permission was provided in writing for the above photo. (Yes folks, you must obtain model releases to publish photos of people on your blog).
The area was completely packed to capacity for the Germany vs. Ghana game and the Italy vs. Costa Rica game. Many Albanians speak Italian (that was my experience) and a lot of the locals I met either have lived in Germany or are striving to live in Germany. This mindset caught me by complete surprise. It seem that Germany is seen as the promise land.
Five straight days of watching World Cup matches was awesome! I met some amazing people during my five day visit in Tirana and I am very thankful for the hospitality shown to me by Freddy and his staff. My next stop after Tirana was Montenegro. I can’t wait to share my experience of the Mountain Fortress in Kotor.
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