My time in Tirana in the last near week has been an education in itself. It doesn’t mater what the day of the week you are here, this city is on the move; people are what makes this place so electric to me. The young seem to power it now. Monday nights are just like Saturday nights. The cafes are packed with people drinking coffee, with some smoking – some not. During the day older men sit in the shade of a tree or awning talking through the hottest part of the day, and it’s countrywide. Everywhere I went I would see it.
If I had briefly touched on Skanderbeg, I would like to just give a short look at him here. Gjergj Kastrioti, also known to the world as Skanderbeg, was born in what is now the central portion of Albania. I pored over maps from the period of his birth and many were difficult to divine as being an accurate. Many early polities and most modern countries claim him as one of their sons. Even cultures as far away as Serbia and Greece have tried to co-opt Skanderbeg into their historical narrative. One thing is clear, myths and legends aside, Skanderbeg was the real thing. Just as the US has George Washington in myth, and legend, so does Albania. Skanderbeg most certainly makes Washington look like a chicken farmer with a sword.
In those early days of conquests and empire building renewed. The Ottoman Turks were THE force to be reckoned with. The Church in Rome was feeling the threat from the Ottomans, not only in the realm of religion, but politcally as well. The two (religion and politics) were deeply intertwined during this period. He was born to a father who was a vassal to the leader of the Ottomans. Albania at this time was a shifting sand of two rivers; one being the powerful Republic of Venice, and the other was Ottoman Turkey. At birth, Skanderbeg was given to the Sultan to make sure of his father’s allegiance to the Turks. In his late 30’s, during battle he deserted and went back the Albanians. He would lead a resistance to the Ottomans that would make Robert E. Lee seem like a mere checker player. For many years he would fight against overwhelming numbers, and thus held back the Turks from completely covering the rest Europe in blood.
It has taken me about 4 hours of reading to feebly attempt to winnow truth from fiction, and with Albania’s national hero it is an impossible task. His exploits are real, as countless historians can attest; where the myth-making comes from…well that’s history! Skanderbeg died in Kruja (Krew-ya), not far from Tirana. He was 63 years old and passed of old age. I would encourage anyone to Wiki this man and take a cursory look at what he did, and why Europe owes him a debt of honor. Indeed there are statues in Belgium and Italy. There are operas and poetry to pay homage; Lord Byron wrote one to honor Skanderbeg. The Turks would eventually extend to Hungary, across the east to Ukraine and surround the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov. The siege of Vienna in the fall of 1683 would call an end to Ottoman expansion into Central Europe. The players are too numerous to count, and the politics too complex for an overview of this nature. The Balkans would remain in the hands of the Ottomans for another 230 years, bringing their grand total in the Balkans to 500 years…give or take.
My point here, dear reader, is that this ancient place is finally free of the rulers with their own agendas. From the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, to the Ottomans, and guys like Enver Hoxha, whose despotic rule has abated; there is a strong sense of culture and hope here in Albania. I have seen it and heard it from the Albanians that I have been graced to have met…and it will carry on for another two weeks. I really like this city in the south of Europe. We will see what the “grand plan” has for me. Add this wonderful country to your travel plans. It is important to remember that I have only seen a rather small portion of what Albania has to offer. There is the south, Berat and the crystal waters of of the Vlora area. I still have much to see to properly asses this country overall.
So, I continue my road through the trees and stones. I have to give a mention to the shops and cafes that I frequent. I bought a new pair of eyeglasses at Lux Optika on Rruga Ibrahim Rugova. I was warmly greeted and taken care of like I was the only customer that mattered…I can’t wait to put them on and not squint in the sunlight. The doctor who gave me my eye exam nearly scolded me for waiting so long to get new glasses. The pair that I have are from 2017/18…can’t remember. The transition is no longer darkening, and I am pushing my eys through the bottom of my progressives. I was just passing by, and curious to see what they would cost. The glasses will cost me less than 1/3 of what I would payed (with my union insurance, I shouldered 10% of the cost…$900) in the US. Since my watch band fell apart, the young man at Lux Optika directed me a few doors down to Tuffina. The wonderful young lady there jumped right on it, attached the new band, and it was very, very inexpensive. Conversely, all of the watch shops prior wanted to sell me a new watch. Also, I have settled into a coffee shop rotation. I have a sumptious breakfast and dinner at Tony’s right around the corner from me. I met “Tony” yesterday and he is the best! I have “my guys”; Lawrence, Donald, Ulie (Yuly), and Ares are simply the at the pinnacle of service. They are very good about directions to a place I am looking for, and never hesitate to be tableside when needed. In the end, during my walk after dinner, I end up at Dua. There are always football matches, and yesterday I went to watch The Spanish Grand Prix there. It was a disastrous day for Ferrari, but I enjoyed the coffee and comradery.
I have offered only a thumbnail sketch of my time here in Tirana. I will post again soon. With more photos, and more events, it will be easier for you to grasp why I like it here so much. Thank you for following me, and I wish you well.