Bills and coins from Albania

Albania is not part of the EU or the eurozone, but at least some restaurants, shops, and museums accept payment in euros. (Neighboring countries Kosovo and Montenegro unilaterally adopted the euro as the de facto national currency in 2002… Europe is complicated!)

According to Wikipedia, the Albanian currency lek (plural leke) is named after Alexander the Great, and Albania operated on a gold standard until 1939.

The value of the lek is not pegged, but at the moment, 100 leke is worth about 1 US dollar or 1 euro, so the tourist shopping math is trivial, converting from one of those currencies.

More about my experience with Albanian bills and coins below.

Oh, and here are the other two souvenirs I brought back (apart from three books).

embroidered Albanian flag patch
flag pin

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From Tirana back to Hangzhou

Again, a journey of many pieces, though not nearly as many as to arrive:

  • from the hotel to the airport (short taxi)
  • from the airport terminal to the plane (very short shuttle bus ride—we could have just walked)
  • from Tirana to Frankfurt (short flight, medium-sized plane)
  • from the plane to airport terminal (shuttle bus)
  • from Frankfurt to Shanghai (lonnnnnng flight, big plane)
  • from Shanghai home to Yuhang District, Hangzhou (we hired a driver… convenient!)

See below for photos of:

  • Tirana International Airport
  • transfer at Frankfurt Airport
  • interior of Air China plane
  • Shanghai Pudong International Airport
  • and something surprising I saw online after reaching home

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Dajti Ekspres Cable Car

In terms of tourist activities, mostly all I did in 3 days in Tirana was walk around, look at buildings, and buy books. It was fun. But I’d read about the cable car that goes up Dajti Mountain, and I figured it would be a fun and different thing to do with Siqi in the afternoon after seeing the sights in town. So we got a taxi to the bottom station of the Dajti Ekspres Cable Car and bought tickets (1,400 leke or 14 euros each; a little over US$14), and then up we went! Totally worth it. Lovely scenery (as shown below).

On the way down, we shared a gondola with a young Albanian woman (who spoke English) and her mom. We chatted with her most of the way down. She likes traveling in affordable places in the region and collects cigarette lighters and good food. She gave us a restaurant recommendation for dinner. She also drove us from the bottom station back to the Mariott, which was very kind. I gave her my business card and an American bill and a Chinese bill as souvenirs.

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Tirana, Albania (Day 3)

On the third day in Tirana, I took some cards in addressed envelopes to the hotel front desk and said I wanted to mail them. They told me I needed stamps. (Thank you, Captain Obvious!) They did not have any to sell me, or any idea that a hotel might be expected to have such things. (They were more helpful when I asked to swap some small coins with them, so as to collect a whole set.)

So Siqi and I went to find the post office and mail my cards, then went and visited some of the interesting places I’d explored previously on my own, including the book stalls at Rinia Park.

See below for photos of:

  • Namazgah Mosque
  • Park Fan Stilian Noli
  • Statues of the Unknown Soldier and Sheshi Sulejman Pasha
  • Skanderbeg Square
  • Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral

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Shopping for Books in Albania

Wherever I go, I look at the books. Doesn’t matter if I can read them, although books in English have spread across the globe just like English itself has. I’m always interested to see what books look like, whether they are originals in the local language, world classics translated into the local language, or books in English imported from overseas.

See below for photos of two very different types of book shopping experience.

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Tirana, Albania (Day 2)

My plan, after having walked around soooo much the previous day, was to get a massage. I found a place online and walked to it, but decided to walk along the street a little first… I walked all the way to the end, turned around and walked back the other way, then took a turn through a street market and went around the block before I finally made it back! Then, they didn’t have a massage therapist available right away, so I made an appointment and went and sat and read in Rinia Park until the appointment time. After the massage, I went to the The House of Leaves: Museum of Secret Surveillance, which I’d walked past before the massage. It was a bit like Bunkart2, except for the architecture. After exiting the museum, I went back to the hotel to prepare some snail mail. About the time I’d finished that, I think it was time to go out and meet up the workshop people for dinner: we had a huge delicious meal (including pizza) at Artigiano.

See below for 17 photos of the neighborhood I walked through, plus another 3 from the hotel area in the evening.

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Tirana, Albania (Day 1, banquet)

At the end of a very, very long day of walking (over 20,000 steps), I was amply rewarded with a huge, delicious meal and live music in the most atmospheric place you could dream up.

The restaurant was called Sofra e Ariut. Check them out on social media:

See below for photos related to the workshop that hosted the banquet and photos of the restaurant.

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Tirana, Albania (Day 1, evening)

When the sun went down, the lights came on, and the buildings looked different. I took pictures of many of the places I saw in the morning as I walked back to the hotel, but in reverse order!

See below for photos of:

  • Et’hem Bey Mosque
  • Skanderbeg Square
  • The Cloud Pavilion
  • The Pyramid of Tirana
  • Various buildings along Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard
  • Mother Teresa Square and some nearby university buildings
  • Tirana Marriott Hotel and Air Albania Stadium

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Bunkart 2 Museum in Tirana

I’d learned about Bunkart and Bunkart 2 while browsing listicles about tourism in Tirana. Bunkart is a bunker used as an art gallery somewhere farther from the center of the city where I was wandering around (and around) on my first day as a tourist in Tirana. Bunkart 2 is a history museum. I stumbled across the entrance (well, actually the exit and *then* the entrance). Upon learning that entry tickets were only 7 Euros (or 700 lek), I bought one and went in. I learned a lot.

Albanians were spied on by secret police, sent to work camps where many died, or were just executed, in the not-too-distant past. The security agency was called Sigurimi.

This museum was by no means world-class, but, located as it is underground in a series of small rooms, it does what it set out to do: press upon visitors the need for freedom.

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Tirana, Albania (Day 1, afternoon)

Albania was constitutionally atheist under communist rule and religious people suffered persecution. Now, religion is back. On my first afternoon in Tirana, on my wanderings, I saw a new church, an old mosque that somehow survived, and a mosque so new it hasn’t opened yet.

See below to find out who the guy on the horse is and see photos of:

  • Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
  • Skanderbeg Square
  • Et’hem Bey Mosque and the Clock Tower
  • Toptani Mall
  • Toptani Castle
  • Namazgah Mosque (and Downtown One)

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