Tirana

Tirana, the capital of Albania, evokes images of old bearded men riding donkeys through a Soviet-era concrete wasteland. In reality Tirana is a modern European capital. Many parks, small streets lined with old trees, international shops, and bakeries, bars, and restaurants that would thrive in Paris or Berlin. Not only in the center but out in the suburbs too. The communist past rarely shines through, but there is no ancient town, most construction dates from the 20th century. A very friendly city!

At the eastern edge of the city, near a funicular to the top of Dajti hill, is Enver Hoxha’s command bunker. It’s absolutely huge, far larger than the one in Gjirokastra. Much of it is a museum describing the time of WWII and communism, but there are complete apartments and communication rooms filled with original equipment too, and art installations including one that simulates a mustard gas attack. I didn’t know they had gas masks for horses. They even had an enormous theater extending over two floors. None of this was ever used.

Downtown is a curious structure built by Enver Hoxha and his daughter as a cultural center. It’s a pyramid with narrow glass strips extending from the ground to the top. It’s completely smashed, even higher up because it’s shallow enough to walk up.

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