Holiday in Albania Part II: Kruje and Tirana

Kruja from the top of the hill

     The drive to Kruja Albania was pretty straight forward, the Albanians have built a pretty good highway from the Kosovo border that goes most of the way to the capital, Tirana.  We got within about 50 km of Tirana and turned off to go to Kruja.  It is about a 10 km drive into the mountains to Kruja.  If it weren’t for the geography it would be easy to see the town from the road to Tirana, but there is a foot hill that obscures most of the town from direct observation from the highway.  It is a small town with a more-or-less modern communist era area and there has been some recent construction. 

Market at Kruja Albania

     The part of town that everyone seems to want to see is the old part of town with its cobblestone streets that lead to a large fortress on a high point overlooking the town.  When you get close to the fortress you enter a marketplace lining both sides of the narrow street.  Many of the items for sale here are cheap tourist knickknacks, but a number of the shops did have some interesting antiques and handmade items.  I looked at some large intricately painted and carved dowry chests, there was some interesting antique furniture and I even found a couple of old Albanian muskets that were heavily decorated with sliver metalwork.   I ended up buying a handmade, traditional Albanian rug. 

Inside the walls of the Castle at Kruja

     Once you get through the market area you enter the fortress which is  ruins, completed restorations and a large fairly new building that houses the Skanderbeg museumSkanderbeg is the Albanian people’s national hero.  He was a 15th century warrior who held off the Ottoman invaders for a surprisingly long time.   The fortress was interesting and we toured a restored, historically accurate living quarters for the owners of the castle.  The tour guide did a great job of explaining what all the objects in the house were and how they were used. 

Sculpture of Skanderbeg at the Museum in the fortress at Kruja

After we toured that museum we went for a cup of coffee then toured the Skanderbeg museum, which was an excellent museum and very well done.  Being able to read Albanian would have been a huge advantage here as only the primary label for each exhibit was in English and Albanian, all of the written information on the exhibits was in Albanian only.

     After several hours of shopping exploring and going through museums we headed back to the car and on to Tirana.  The drive to Tirana was hectic but somehow we deciphered the Albanian street signs and made to the center of the city and the area of our hotel without much trouble at all.  Once we got to the center of the city things changed.  Using a map downloaded from the internet we tried to find out Hotel but no matter how many ways we tried to get to where the hotel was it didn’t seem to be there.  After stopping and asking directions a couple of times and eventually calling the hotel we figured out the hotel wasn’t where the map said it was but several blocks away on the other side of the city center.  Eventually we got there.  

The "Hotel California" Tirana, Albania.

     The “Hotel California,” a place picked solely as a result of its name.  We checked in and during the process a number of lame jokes where made about whether we would be able to leave in the morning.  The hotel was nothing special but it was clean enough and reasonably priced.  After getting cleaned we walked to dinner where we were going to meet some people who were also in Albania for the week-end from Kosovo and a guy who had recently moved to Tirana from Pristina.  We met them the International Hotel bar a walked a few blocks to the restaurant.

     The restaurant was traditional Albanian and the food was good but no better than you can get in Pristina.  After dinner we headed back to the hotel and after visiting for a while went to bed to get rested for the next day.

     Tirana, is a big city.  I belive the population currently hovers around 1 million.  I was only in Tirana overnight and we only drove one road into the center of the city and another road out.  We spent a little time in the middle of town but I did not see much of it.  What I saw I was not particularly impressed with but my Albanian friends tell me there are many historic and architecturally interesting places in town.  I will have to come to Tirana again, maybe with an experienced guide, before I make a deicision about whether I am a fan of the city or not.


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