Truth is our expectations were not that high regarding Tirana. We arrived at Mother Teresa, Tirana International Airport, with a flight from Athens, since there is no flight connection with Thessaloniki. Most people from the north prefer to drive the short distance. Our driver who would take us to Tirana International Hotel, waited for us all dressed up and really polite. The distance from the airport to the centre was 17 impressive kilometres. The big and modern highway went through contemporary office buildings, banks and universities with the odd run down structure here and there. We observed everything in detail as we were stuck in traffic for most of the time. When we asked our driver if this was rush hour he informed us the city, everywhere you go, is always in rush hour. Our hotel was right in the centre, at the top of Skanderbeg Square (Sheshi Skënderbej), where the statue of the national Albanian hero George Kastrioti stands, an imposing figure right in the middle. The hotel was an old building fully renovated in 2014, with modern rooms and impressive views to the square while its service was worthy of its stars. On the front left and right of the hotel, one can see the Town Hall, the National Historical Museum, the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet of Albania, the Ethem Bey Mosque and the National Gallery of Arts. Most buildings are of Stalinist architecture, but amongst them one can see structures dating back to Second World War, though the latter do not differ so much.
After we checked in and settled in our rooms, we visited the hotel’s bar. Between a drink and a cigarette we made our plans for our night out in the city. A slight drizzle began to fall, but we were not discouraged. We took a cab towards Blloku, the most cosmopolitan area of Tirana. The place was buzzing with life. Young crowd, really well dressed, everywhere. Restaurants, café and pubs, one next to the other. So hard to choose! All these co-exist with old but renovated buildings reflecting the era of the Hoxha regime. The area used to be a restricted residential neighbourhood for the members of the Albanian communist elite and this is why it was guarded and isolated by bars (blloku means block). Today it’s a fun destination with hip places and smart people. We ended up for dinner at Era Restorant Piceri in Ruga Ismail Quenali. Mediterranean dishes and good wine. Time flew until we returned to the hotel for our night’s rest.
On the next day, we met with the project team at the hotel for some fine tuning on our event: Promotion of Epirus as a Tourist Destination and Agricultural Producer. Our local partners who spoke Greek fluently had taken care of everything. After we checked the halls and finished with all technical details, we had our dress rehearsal and relaxed with some coffee. The hotel lobby was full with local and Greeks entrepreneurs. There was a lot of talk in a friendly atmosphere and a general feeling lingering that the two countries can achieve wonders if they work together. We renewed our date for the next morning and decided to try the hotel’s cuisine. Italian and other Mediterranean dishes without the wow factor. We relaxed until it was time to meet with our partners for a night out. Our guide was a Greek friend who does a lot of business in Tirana and knows the city well. He took us to Capriccio in Rruga Brigada VII, a bistro bar serving local beers and food. Pleasant environment, nice crowd and music. Here we are in Blloku again. People who know tell us that the ‘western’ part of the city lives here, within 1 km around the centre. We learn that life outside of the centre is hard and that the rest of the country moves in a different pace. But right now the voices, the laughter, good mood, good food and plenty of drinks makes Tirana look like a party city.
Time to go back to the hotel. During the night, we got scared thinking someone came into the room. But we soon realised it was just a power cut. We soon found out there is a power and water cut almost every night for saving purposes! Outside the centre, the cuts occur during the day also. It seems that outside of the centre there are no comforts and people still struggle. Morning came and positive energy came with us to the event. Lots of guests, Greeks and Albanian, journalists and business people arrived for the big business venture. Photographers, cameramen, TV channels, interviews all happened that day under the rhythms of traditional dances and the delights of delicious Epirus food. Just perfect! We didn’t even mind that local businessmen need some extra work to be considered punctual and trustworthy. Thrilled with the result and totally exhausted we enjoyed our coffee at the hotel bar overlooking Skanderbeg Square. Traffic was quite impressive once more along with the big number of luxury cars inside it.
Last night in Tirana and we are hanging out with the four chefs from Epirus who prepared the event’s buffet. We are going all together for dinner. This time we decided to go to Era Restorant Piceri 2 in Ruga Papa Cjon Pali II for pizzas and beers. They disclose their secret for fluffy dough and we committed to working together in the future. The following morning we headed towards the airport with mixed feelings about Tirana. It is interesting to visit its historical buildings and the joie de vivre of its night life, but it is better to combine this with business. If you have flexibility, ideas and contacts, then yes, there is business to be done@Tirana.