We never imagined to love Tirana as much as we do, but this city has grown on us. It really has a unique charm to it. Granted, we are staying next door to our amazing friends, the first reason we came, which definitely brings a lot of joy to us and our children! We also have a spacious apartment with a great city and mountain view. We love to watch the sunset from our balcony every night. We originally were going to stay here for 2 weeks, which somehow turned into 1 month and, now, 2 months. We can’t help ourselves. As an American, you get a visa for 1 year upon entry. We just finished our first month here, and these are a few of my favorite things about this city and our time here.
#1 The many, many cafes and restaurants
I think you could eat at a new place every single day for a year and not run out of choices. Also, it’s less than a dollar for a coffee macchiato, which is my favorite. Calvin loves the atmosphere and coffee at Mulliri I Vjetër cafe, and I found a really “hidden” and eclectic one called Komiteti Kafe where I am currently writing this post. Almost everywhere, you can find free wi-fi and tons of students studying or hanging out. It’s a cafe culture without a doubt.
You can expect to pay $4-5 for a meal in a sit-down restaurant, although you can find more expensive restaurants with prices closer to American restaurants. There is an area in the city called “The Block” (Blloku) which has so many different options for food and cafes.
#2 The Grand Park of Tirana
This park is less than a 10-minute walk from our apartment, and Calvin and I quickly fell into a daily jogging/walking habit here. The park is huge, spanning much of Tirana. It’s really an escape from the city, and the air is so fresh. You can stick to running trails that are paved or wander off the path into trails in the woods. I tend to do a bit of both.
There’s a man-made lake, the presidential palace, numerous restaurants and cafes, parks for kids, and the famous workout machines scattered throughout the park. I am quite entertained, especially by the adorable elderly working out so freely in the park. I have to discipline myself to not take photos because it’s quite adorable. It’s not uncommon to see people stretching, lifting rocks as their weights, or just doing their own random things. Hey, whatever gets the job done, I’m all for it! You will also see many people just hanging out in the park on the benches or random tree stumps sharing a conversation or food.
#3 Skanderbeg Square
This has to be one of my favorite spots. The kids have an absolute blast playing in the water fountains that come up out of the ground. Our first time here, we ran into an Italian photographer who wanted to take our kids’ photos while they played in the fountains. I love the bigness of the square and the beauty of the buildings in every direction you look.
You will also find the National Historic Museum here. It’s worth checking out. If you’re there, be sure to stop by the cultural bookstore on one of the corners of the square; it’s so cool! I have a weakness for bookstores, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The square is also a short walk from Rruga Murat Toptani, a very charming pedestrian-only street. It’s seriously so beautiful with all the trees and cafes and shops along the way.
#4 The Dentist
Okay, so the dentist isn’t one of my favorite things, but the prices? Yes! I needed to replace this crown I had that wasn’t done well and fill a couple of cavities. Not fun at all, but I found an amazing dentist here, Elsa at Integra Dental, who does incredible work at amazing prices. The crown cost me $200 and a filling $30, so it was a fraction of the prices in America.
I also had quite a funny experience trying tooth whitening for the first time. I don’t know how it’s done in other places because it was my first time, but you have to have this very awkward tray put in your mouth to hold it open and then get some stuff ‘painted’ on your teeth and then sit for 20 minutes with sunglasses under the laser. The dental assistant came in during the 20 minutes and asked me if I was uncomfortable at all.
I burst out laughing because, clearly, I was not comfortable, and it was super awkward laughing with the trays in my mouth. She was like, “No, no, don’t laugh,” which only made me laugh more. She ended up having to help me with the drool coming out of my mouth. It was an experience I won’t soon forget, but it actually worked! Oh, and it cost $100 in case you are wondering!
Obviously, if you are on vacation and only have a week, going to the dentist probably won’t be your first priority. But if you are here for 2 weeks or more and need some work done, I would highly recommend going. It may be worth noting that the process of a crown requires 3 follow-up appointments with the 3rd being where she puts the tooth in. But the appointments may be done every other day. I actually had the 2nd and 3rd appointments done in the same day! So you could have a crown done in a total of a week, whereas, in America, it takes about 3 weeks. Maybe I should have done a separate blog post about my dental experience here in Tirana. Haha!
#5 My sweet Albanian babysitter
Dona, who was referred to us by our friends, has changed our lives! She comes a few times a week for 3-hour blocks to watch the kids while I study/write/get some headspace and Calvin works/writes or studies as well. When I say study, I am referring to studying languages, of course. 😉 It’s a new experience for us to have someone help out this often with the kids, but it’s been such a blessing, especially because we have been traveling for the last 3+ months with a rare moment away from the kids.
It’s very affordable to have a babysitter here in Albania. You can expect to pay anywhere from $3-4 an hour compared to the American babysitter of $10-12 an hour. Dona speaks English with the kids and loves to play with them. So, with that being said, if you have children and are looking to be in Albania for more than a couple of weeks, it’s definitely worth the investigation.
Tirana has a vibrancy to it with the many, many youths here. There is so much life in this city, so much kindness. I haven’t struggled to get around in English, but Italian has also come in very useful as well. Today, in the grocery store, I was looking for baking soda and asked a woman in English, which she didn’t know, and we ended up having a conversation in Italian with phone numbers exchanged at the end and plans for a coffee.
I love how easy it is to meet people here, the friendliness of the people. More than once, I have been offered help when I wasn’t even asking for it, but I am guessing I looked lost! Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that this city is very safe (with obvious common sense in use) and walkable. We walk everywhere, every day! It’s really the best. If you haven’t checked out Tirana, you have to put it on your list. I really think it’s up and coming, worth the visit whether it be a few days or a few months!!
What about you? Have you visited Tirana? What did you like best about it? I would love to hear from you! Mirupafshim!
Written by Camille Hanson
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on theholisticpursuit.com
Featured Image by Daniel Gonzalez
In-Text Images by Calvin and Camille Hanson