And so to my last day in Albania. Heading down to my first breakfast here and I'm presented with a croissant and basket of bread, alongside the usual jam and juice. Two bites in and a hot pancake appears, plus cucumber, tomatoes, cheese. Halfway through the pancake and yet another plate lands on my table, bearing huge slices of melon. I was only after a few slices of bread - stop bringing me more food!
Breakfast having taken slightly longer than anticipated I set off towards Skënderbeg Square and the National History Museum. Three hours later I emerge, blinking, back onto the square, blasted by the wall of heat as I step back out the doors.
The museum was bigger than I'd hoped for, and although there were english translations of some of the labels and displays there wasn't quite as much as I would have liked. Purely from the point of view of wanting to understand what I was looking at, rather than expecting the entire world to yield to my demands for everything to be provided in my language. To be frank, even if I had been able to read the Albanian I don't think it had the detail I was after.
Its newest exhibits covered the brutal communist period, something I really wanted to learn about and better understand. Sadly there were almost no translations there, so I had to glean what I could from the photographs. And some of them were pretty harrowing. I think I will be doing some reading when I get home; I really want to understand what I saw today.
The other rooms in the museum take you right through from the earliest prehistoric inhabitants of the region (extending east into modern day Macedonia, Kosovo, and north into Montenegro) to the formation of the modern state of Albania.
Being geeky, and fascinated by prehistoric anthropology, as I am, I really enjoyed seeing the connections with places I visited last time around, the differences and similarities, the roots of the cultures. It was also a good opportunity to learn a little more about the different traditions of northern Albania, and confirmed what I already thought in that it was much more similar to what I had seen in Kosovo (eg traditional dress).
The rest of my day? A slow amble around Tirana's other sights, and some time enjoying its many parks and green spaces. It's a much more livable city than I thought it might be, but then it's not that old as cities go and has intentionally been made that way.
Among the other sights I visited today were the Et'hem Bey Mosque, part of a very small number of religious buildings to survive the enforced atheism of the communist period (when 95% were destroyed or converted to other uses), and an impressively grand orthodox church that still smelt new inside (due to the same).
The "fortress of Justinian" is Tirana's castle. Or a few old walls with a bar / restaurant / nightclub built on top. No contest there for the title of least impressive Balkan castle. And no difficult uphill walk to reach it either (otherwise I would have skipped it!).
Finally, a wander through the streets of Blloku, which was an area of the city only accessible to communist party elite under the old regime. Now it's the trendiest part of the city, full of restaurants and bars.
All in all a pretty low key day, but it was nice to just spend time soaking everything in, watching people go about their day, marvel at all the things that are different and interesting, and all the things that are just like home.
Oh, and to combat my end of trip sadness, I may have spent a little while looking through the Slovenia chapter of my guidebook, seeing as that is now the only Balkan state I haven't visited... September?