Tag Archives: Tirana

Mali i Dajtit

The best thing about our apartment is that you can walk onto our balcony and look up to the mountain of Dajti. We are the last apartment building before the mountain begins and after us its farm land, small villages and olive groves climbing up the lower slopes to the steep rock face.

Dajti watches over Tirana sprawling out over the flat land below. Its foothills mercifully prevent the urban growth from moving much further east. It’s gloriously fresh with blossom in the spring, green in the summer, orange and red in the autumn, snow-capped in the winter. We’ve come to think of it as our mountain. We have our favourite trails over the foot hills, around the lake, past abandoned tunnels built as bomb shelters during the regime.

Ten years ago the Austrians built a cable car up the mountain. The 20 minute ride provides spectacular views of the mountain (including our apartment!) and Tirana. It’s made the mountain more accessible as the road, while vastly improved, remains very potholed in parts. It’s become a favourite part of our standard itinerary for our overseas visitors.

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The Dajti Express runs from Linze. You can catch the Linze bus from the centre of Tirana. Look for the signs or ask the bus driver to tell you where to jump off the bus. It’s a steep hike from there up Rruga Shefqet Kuka to the cable car station. If you’re feeling less willing to battle public transport then a taxi from the centre of Tirana will cost you approx 700-800 lek.

It’s hard to give you solid operating times for the cable car. Generally, it seems closed on Mondays… and operates from around 9am till 10pm (earlier in the winter). The website currently seems to be closed for refurbishment!

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At the top of the cable car is a hotel, cafe, restaurant, walking trails and fantastic views over Tirana. Behind the hotel is a large grassy area where the kids can ride horses, clamber over bunkers, etc. There are also free mini-buses put on by the restaurants set up on the mountain. Our favourite, by far, is Gurra e Përrisë. The restaurant is in a gorgeous setting surrounded by forest. In the summer you can sit out under the trees. In the winter you can warm up by the log fire. The restaurant is also a trout farm and you can watch the chef catch your fish before its cooked and served.

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The mountain is very walk-able. Tracks are reasonably well-marked. I’m told it takes 3-4 hours to get to the level of the cable car. It’s another 2 hours to the summit. (Confession: we’ve only actually ever made it three-quarters of the way up to the cable car level! The full hike is definitely on our Albanian bucket-list!)

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More than a year in Albania?

Back at the beginning of the year I wrote a short piece on life as an expat and my move to Albania. It was published on a NZ news website and attracted over 100 comments – many were almost of the trolling kind – which totally made me laugh. One comment from a reader stuck with me. Referring to Albania, he said: “That country has a list of downsides that would take several weeks to recite.”

This annoyed me. I wondered how this person had compiled their ‘list of downsides’ and I would guarantee it wasn’t from actually, you know, living in Albania. It came across as a very ignorant comment. I mean, every country has downsides and certainly Albania’s would be longer than some others. But it’s also pretty blimmin amazing. It feels like there is something going on here… there is a sense of possibility… of the country going through a rapid transformation… of being on the precipice of something great (hopefully not a whopping great cliff).

This all came into play when hubby and I started discussing our next move. We set aside one year to live in Albania without working – without earning any money. We’re in the second half of that year now and, while there is a little bit of fat on our financial resources, being unemployed with zero income is not sustainable in the long-term (unfortunately)! We have to start considering our next move and we have to consider a number of key issues… jobs, houses, money, having kids, saving for retirement, being sensible and grown up.

And really it comes down to moving to a sensible grown-up country to buy a house, get jobs and settle down…  But as we talked, the thought of returning to that life of work work work to cover bills bills bills just really turned our stomachs. One of the attractions of moving to Albania was that we were leaving that lifestyle for something we felt would be more positive.

I love living here. I love how important ‘family’ is here. It’s more important than money, jobs – everything. (Note: this does also have downsides!) With the first world struggling to deal with ageing populations, I’m thinking that while it might be difficult financially (and physically) to be old here – you certainly would never be lonely. The elderly are embraced, cocooned, respected and cared for by their families in an amazing way.

I love how things are so local. We have our fruit shop down the road. The lady who runs it knows my husband’s cousin. The baker who makes our bread speaks English to me because he knows my Shqip (Albanian) is rubbish. The guy who runs the petrol station we frequent came to our wedding – because he’s a cousin. The butcher is a cousin of a cousin (or something like that). The guys who run the car wash say hi to us in the street. So does the man who runs the hardware store. The other day the man who sold us his car drove past – all flashing lights, tooting and waving. I have more local ‘community’ here after eight months than I had in 10 years in London. I love that.

So what if we considered Albania as something more than a one-year adventure? Change is happening rapidly here. With the hope of EU membership status proving to be a substantial carrot, the government is pushing through changes at great speed. Some people are proving to be reluctant followers when forced to pay tax, pay for utilities and generally follow the rules. But, as the giant EU bureaucratic juggernaut rolls into town, it is bringing opportunity.

It feels like, to us, that if we moved on from Albania without making the most of the opportunities – without seeing if we could sustain ourselves financially while enjoying the phenomenal lifestyle that this beautiful country affords – then we would really be missing out.

And so this becomes our goal for the next few months. Can we make Albania work – at least for another couple of years – before caving in to a sensible life in the first world?

A whole month

This week it’s a whole month since I said goodbye to London and lugged four suitcases and a wedding dress to the airport for the short flight to Tirana. A whole month. It feels like a lifetime ago!

There have been some achievements for us so far. The most recent being the purchase of a car. This was a priority for us – we’re so keen to hit the road and explore this incredibly beautiful country. But I am nervous about adjusting to driving in Albania. It’s chaos out there! The roads, while vastly improved even in the three years since I was last here, are still really bad in parts. The road down from our apartment just turns to a river in the rain and the potholes are brutal. If it isn’t the potholes, then it’s the random holes in the road where drain covers have been stolen for scrap. Locals have described their driving style as ‘aggressive’. Road rules are irrelevant and pedestrians will cross the road whenever and wherever takes their fancy without a glance for traffic. Wish me luck!!

Testing the car on Tirana's roads
Testing the car on Tirana’s roads

We are settled into our lovely, albeit scantily furnished, apartment and feel at home in our neighbourhood. I love the proximity to the mountains, that we can walk 15 minutes up the road and be in the countryside. A 30 minute bus ride and we’re in the centre of Tirana.

Hoxha'a Pyramid in central Tirana
Hoxha’s Pyramid in central Tirana

I’ve found myself some volunteer work with a NGO working on civil society projects. It’s keeping my brain going and has meant I’ve met some pretty interesting people. I’ve also found myself connected to Tirana’s diplomatic WAGS and am looking forward to developing some new friendships.

There were days in the beginning when tears were shed – when coping with everything in daily life being new or different was just too much. But I love not having to get up every week day morning and go to work! I love that hubby and I are getting to have this adventure together – it is a luxury to have time with each other that doesn’t consist of us being too tired to talk and just falling asleep on the sofa. I love being a part of a big Albanian family! The hospitality and generosity are phenomenal. Everyone has been so welcoming and it makes me feel safe here.

We’re now just three months out from our Albanian wedding in June (I can’t believe I’m back in wedding planning mode just five short months after our London wedding!) and we are looking forward to hosting friends and family from overseas. And the best time to be in Albania is fast approaching – spring!

Culture shock

We’re here! In Albania!

It’s my second full day. It is starting to feel like we’re here for more than just a holiday. And its overwhelming on a number of fronts.

We’ve moved into a brand new, almost completely empty apartment that’s being generously loaned to us. It’s awesome but it feels a little like we’re camping so today we hit the markets to find some bargains to help kit the place out – primarily deck chairs so that we can sit on the balcony with a Birra Tirana and watch the world go by!

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We’re also in the suburbs – a big change from living in the centre of London. But the suburb is brand spanking new – eight years ago there was nothing here. Now there are roads, blocks of apartments, shops, restaurants, a school and a cable car up to the top of Dajti, the tallest mountain overlooking Tirana. And the development continues at great speed.

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While the hubby’s family has  helped make our transition the smoothest possible, there is no mistaking that this is a whole other world we’ve just moved to – from goats grazing on the side of pot-holed roads, to some very creative construction work.

Then there is the language barrier. I’ve never been a great one for languages but I can comfortably say my vocabulary has doubled since I arrived – not hard when I only knew half a dozen words before my arrival. I’m coping for the moment – but being someone who likes to chat, I know that learning the language is critical to my future happiness.

I’ve also become the proud owner of proper slippers… no Albanian home is without them:

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And the pace of life has slowed to a crawl. It’s awesome. There is no rush for us to do anything and the whole year is  yawning out in front of us. Bliss.