Tuesday, Aug 10 — Tirana
I meet with my driver and we leave Macedonia, drive around the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid, down the mountains and foothills, and into Tirana. During the last leg of the driver, the driver gets the car up to 160kph in a straightaway. We roll into downtown Tirana and I am dropped off at the Sky Hotel Tirana. After check in, I take a nice walk across Parku Rinia. I notice all the trees have grown tall since the previous time was there, when many of the trees were saplings. down to Skanderbeg Square, where I see the have renovated the entire square. Many new high-rise towers can be seen in all directions, and the National Museum is under constructions. I cannot believe how much things have changed in 14 years. I find an outdoor market area called the New Bazaar and then discover Qofte Tradita Met Kodra. I decide to try their specialty of Qofte, or literally “grilled meatballs.” I take some bread too and enjoy outside. I pass many gelato places and temptation finally breaks me and I order a scoop. In the evening I wander around the Blloku neighborhood trying to find a bar I can go into, but the hip, fun places seem too intimidating with their bouncers and lines, and the boring places seem, well, boring. So I walk on, again in disbelief how much Tirana has changed. Another thing that also changed was that there were no more pot-bellied men walking around, not were the 300TD Mercedes that were ubiquitous before. Now, it’s styling, fit youth, wearing the latest fashions, driving new cars, and many new cafés, bars and fun places to spend the evening. Good job Albania!
Wednesday, Aug 11 — Tirana
Breakfast at hotel. Nice walk to Grand Park of Tirana, to the lake and then back through Blloku, past the Lana River (sewage river as the passenger to my left pointed out), down the back alleys to Skanderberg Square, back through Youth Park and to the hotel for some last-minute business. Took taxi to the airport. The evening before I was quoted 15 euro, but when I double checked as we were pulling away from the hotel, the price had risen to 30 euro, which was counteracted with me trying to get out of the taxi. Anyhow, we worked out a fair price, but the ride to the airport was interrupted with stop and go traffic all the way to terminal where a man was giving out tickets to each car pulling up. Well, you could assume this guy was causing the traffic, but remove him, and see what a congested mess the drop-off area becomes. The line to check in was line, the line for security was long, passport control was a piece of cake, and the Priority Pass lounge was empty.
After an hour we board Lufthansa flight LH 1425 and our Airbus A319 (D-AILE) takes off for Frankfurt slightly late at 3:15. Sitting next to me are two Albanian brothers. We chat a bit about life in Albania during covid. It seems Albania mostly ignored covid. One boy offers me some homemade food his mother had made, some type of savory cake. We land in FRA Frankfurt on time. By chance, my friend Dan Newmark, the same person I am flying to Finland to see, is also in the Frankfurt Airport, so we plan to meet up in the lounge. For some reason, though, getting around the airport during covid is a complete nightmare, as many of the previously open passages are now sealed off. I end up exiting the airport and clearing security in the next terminal over to meet Dan, which I eventually do. I like the German lounges because there is always free-flowing beer and pretzels! After some hours, I head over to my gate board Lufthansa flight LH 854. Our Airbus A320neo (D-AINH) takes off on time at 21:30, and headed to Helsinki, Finland.